Make Culture, Not Think Tanks

Mike Flynn recently wrote a cri de coeur on Big Government asking why conservatives have failed to move back the needle on government spending despite the profusion of conservative think tanks, foundations, policy shops, grass-roots organizations, and sundry other pointy-headed groups, mostly based in Washington, DC (although every state now has their equivalents, usually in the state capital.)

Why? It’s the culture, smarty-pants.

By “culture,” I don’t mean Washington, DC culture. I mean pop culture.

While the brightest and most talented conservatives pour into DC and pump out one study after another, endlessly debating arcane policy with a handful of other pinheaded intellectuals, the left has been busy consolidating their iron grip on the real reins of power — movies, TV, music, art.

If half the conservatives who pine to work at Heritage or Cato would only turn their ambitions to moviemaking and showrunning, conservatism might have a fighting chance.

As it is, you can move the musical chairs in DC around all you want, but if you don’t recapture the culture — or even a healthy slice of it — you may win a political battle or two now and then, but you’re destined to always play catch-up in the war long-term.

The way to win a modern war is to win over the people’s “hearts and minds.” There’s a reason “hearts” are listed first. Whether you like it or not, most people think with their hearts. Conservatives have focused on the “minds” part almost exclusively since Ronald Reagan left office.

And don’t tell me the problem is that conservative and libertarian ideas stem from logic while liberal positions are based on emotion. In the first place, the left thinks exactly the opposite is true. Second, if you don’t believe concepts like freedom, patriotism, family, personal responsibility, property rights, and the struggle against tyranny can be portrayed with heart and passion, then maybe you should stick to writing policy papers.

Ever since our ancestors gathered around a fire at night to swap tales of that day’s hunt, nothing tops the power of story to get a message across, even if it’s one as simple as, “Don’t get within tusk’s reach of a woolly mammoth!”

Not only do movies and TV reach millions, they can reach otherwise unreachable people, beyond the proverbial “choir.” As Big Hollywood and Ben Shapiro’s new book “Primetime Propaganda” have painstakingly chronicled, movies and TV often sugarcoat left-leaning messages with humor, thrills, romance – all elements of a good story.

Why do you think most beer companies advertise their product with hot chicks or funny stunts that have nothing to do with beer? How did cigarette companies sell cigarettes? By touting the health benefits of their product, or by showing us how cool it was to smoke?

So conservatives, stop trying to be Karl Rove and be Steven Spielberg for a change. If that’s too hard, try being Steven Soderbergh or even Steve Guttenberg.

Still not sure how to go about it? Well, if you have some experience trying your hand at filmmaking or screenwriting, apply to the Filmmakers Workshop (August 19-21, 2011 at UCLA). Attendance, room and board are absolutely free, and travel costs may be reimbursed.

The workshop is run by the Taliesin Nexus, a new organization founded by me and Patrick Reasonover, which educates and promotes promising new filmmakers who share a passion for a freer society. Our faculty includes seasoned producers, writers and directors of such movies and TV shows as 30 Rock, Angel, Liar Liar, Legally Blonde 2, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

The regular application deadline is June 24, but if you mention this article, we’ll let it slide to June 27.

As Patrick and I go about gathering support for our fledgling organization, we frequently run into resistance from donors who are accustomed to simply handing their money to the usual suspects – think tanks, foundations, political campaigns, and other policy-oriented efforts.

But our foray into pop culture seems to throw many conservatives and libertarians for a loop. It’s like the computer in the old Star Trek series, intoning “Does not compute” over and over again, until the cognitive dissonance causes its mechanical head to explode.

It’s a shame that it’s come to this. Because once upon a time, conservatives dominated Hollywood. Virtually all of the early moguls and many of the filmmakers who built Hollywood were conservatives — Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, Daryl Zanuck, Irving Thalberg, John Ford, Cecil B. DeMille, and Frank Capra, to name just a few.

The movies these legends made are beloved to this day, though their legacy is fading with each passing generation. It’s time for a new generation to take up the camera.

Don’t have one? If you’ve got a smart phone, you’ve got a video camera. Start using it, or keep losing it (the culture, that is). It’s a lot more fun than sitting at a desk in a think tank – and a lot more influential, too.

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