I became an opera fan. There were not many forms of entertainment. The word "entertainment" was considered a dirty bourgeois word. The opera was something else. It was a proletarian statement. The revolutionary operas created by Madam Mao, Comrade Jiang Ching. To love or not to love the operas was a serious political attitude. It meant to be or not to be a revolutionary. The operas were taught on radio and in school, and were promoted by the neighborhood organizations. For ten years. The same operas. I listened to the operas when I ate, walked and slept. I grew up with the operas. they became my cells....
--Anchee Min, Red Azalea
The modern conservative movement hasn't developed quite so loyal a following for its cultural products, but it's not for lack of trying. Maybe you saw the article in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago about Brad Stine, a right-wing, anti-evolution Christian comic who's itching for mainstream success. Getting somewhat less attention -- at least so far -- are the Right Brothers, a conservative Christian country duo whose lyrics are 100% GOP talking points. The Brothers have a new single -- country but with a jittery soupcon of "Subterranean Homesick Blues," or maybe "Life Is a Rock (but the Radio Rolled Me)." It goes a little bit like this:
Freedom in Afghanistan, say goodbye, Taliban,
Free elections in Iraq, Saddam Hussein locked up,
Some are staying underground(?), al-Qaeda now is finding out
America won't turn and run once the fighting has begun,
Libya turns over nukes, Lebanon wants freedom too
Syria is forced to leave, don't you know what all this means?
BUSH WAS RIGHT!
BUSH WAS RIGHT!
BUSH WAS RIGHT!
Bush was riiiight....
Ted Kennedy wrong, Cindy Sheehan wrong, French wrong, Zell Miller right....
Hear a sample at the link above, and click on "Music" for more song samples, lyrics, and videos -- "I Want My Country Back," "The Illegals," "Dear Mr. Reagan" (which, alas, doesn't segue into "You Made Me Love You [I Didn't Want to Do It]"), and more.
The songs are (in an annoying, insidious way) catchy, the musicianship is competent, the Web site is a professional job -- these guys seem kind of legit. But it's weird -- politics is all they sing about.
In the sixties, Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte-Marie mixed the political songs with Child ballads. Phil Ochs at one point did Elvis and Buddy Holly covers in concert. And Dylan, obviously, packed even his early topical songs with surreal imagery that transcended politics, then discovered feedback and rejected protest altogether.
The Right Brothers boast that the video for their anti-John Kerry song "The Waffle House" won a "Pollie Award" from the American Association of Political Consultants. Rocknroll!
(See the video here, but be warned: it's annoying and, at least on my PC, plays automatically.)
Brad Stine claims to be a bit less monomaniacal, as that Times article notes -- but only a bit:
In his study in suburban Nashville, Brad Stine was working out a routine about intelligent design. The bit was in its formative stages, but Mr. Stine, a born-again Christian, felt the topic had potential. "I'm trying to find elements of evolution that are suspect," he said, ramping up into character. "Like, if it took a billion years for a bug to develop camouflage, what did he do in the meantime - hiii-iiide?" He sneered the last word into two escalating syllables.
"And then I'll go off and talk about toilet seats," he said.
The Right Brothers' site boasts that theirs is "Issue based Conservative music" (emphasis theirs). Stine's site calls him "America's conservative comedian." (There are other similarities: Stine's latest DVD is called Tolerate This!, which is also the title of a Right Brothers song.)
So, is all this going to work its way into mainstream culture soon? Hard to say. Stine, in particular, desperately wants mainstream acceptance -- but, as The New Yorker noted in this profile from 2004, his circuit is pretty damn insular:
Last year turned out to be one of Stine’s busiest ever. He played dozens of church dates, at five thousand dollars a show.... He recorded his first DVD, “Put a Helmet On!,” at the Thomas Road Baptist Church, in Lynchburg, Virginia -- or, as he sometimes calls it, “Jerry Falwell’s joint.” He went on an eighteen-city tour with the Promise Keepers men’s ministry. He appeared on Pat Robertson’s television show, “The 700 Club,” and he entertained at private holiday parties for the staffs of Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, Falwell’s church, and Promise Keepers....
The Times adds:
In January, he entertained at the Republican House and Senate Retreat at Greenbrier Estate in West Virginia, trading banter with the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, and having his photograph taken with Katherine Harris, Dennis Hastert and Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Stine's site lists seven upcoming appearances; four of them are with the Promise Keepers, a fifth at a Baptist church. (Perhaps mainstream bookers are a bit turned off by riffs like this: "To all those powers in ivory towers that -- for too long -- have ignored, censored, refused to tolerate, marginalized, and behaved as closed-minded bigots towards those artists who are politically right-of-center and sincere religious believers: BRACE YOURSELVES... This is the wave of the future…YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET!!!" -- or by the photos section of his site, in which he's pictured with Ann Coulter, Alan Keyes, and right-wing reverend Ron Parsley as well as with Zell Miller and Reverend Pat.)
The Right Brothers' upcoming appearances are at a "Take Georgetown Back" Day at Georgetown University (which I'm guessing has something to do with purging that Catholic institution of gays and liberals) and an "Operation Welcome Home" rally featuring fellow GOP shill Lee Greenwood. They appeared at the anti-Cindy Sheehan "Support the Troops Weekend" rally a couple of days ago. They've also appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (twice -- once in honor of Ronald Reagan, the second time for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth).
Will there eventually be Americans whose pop-culture diet consists of nothing but liberal-bashing? It didn't happen in the sixties -- after a while, even the protesters wanted more than a steady diet of earnest acoustic-guitar topical songs. But this is a weirder crowd.