South Park Conservatives
'South Park Conservatives' -- q&a with Brian Anderson
Talk radio and Fox News are doing a fine job of countering the liberal tilt of such mainstream media outlets as CBS, NPR and The New York Times. But as Brian Anderson shows in his thin but valuable book, "South Park Conservatives," the revolt against liberal bias also is picking up speed in the pop culture, in book publishing, in the blogosphere and, of all places, on college campuses. I talked with Anderson recently by telephone from his offices in New York City, where he is senior editor at the Manhattan Institute's magazine, City Journal.
Q: Briefly, what is your book about, and how does it differ from previous books about liberal media bias?
A: My book is explaining a remarkable transformation that's taken place really over the last 10 years. It's a brief history of new media. What this book is emphasizing is how the old liberal media are being undermined by the new media of political talk radio, cable news and the Internet and the blogosphere, all of which are allowing right-of-center voices, ranging from libertarian to social conservative, to get a hearing in the broader culture.
Q: What is a "South Park Conservative"?
A: I didn't coin the term. It's actually been circulating out there for a few years. But as I use it, it's someone who's not necessarily a traditional conservative, especially when it comes to things like popular culture or censorship or even some social issues, but who looks at today's kind of politically correct, weak-in-fighting-terror, negative left, and says, "I want nothing to do with that." In the book, I find growing evidence of this anti-liberal attitude, as I call it, among college students and also in a new kind of political comedy which goes after not just conservatives but also the left. "South Park" itself, the Comedy Central cartoon, is a prime example of that.
Q: Let's say you've met Bob Dole at a bar and he wants to know what's the story with "South Park" and you have to explain to him why he should check it out.
A: I would say that it is unlike anything that precedes it in the history of popular culture. It's an extremely offensive show in terms of its language. It regularly gets an MA rating. It opens with a warning that says it's so offensive that nobody should be watching it. But its politics are very strange and atypical of what you would find coming from Hollywood. It's a show that has mocked hate-crime legislation, environmentalism, multiculturalism, even abortion rights, and a host of liberal celebrities, including Rob Reiner and Whoopi Goldberg. One of the creators of the show, Matt Stone, says that he hates conservatives but that he really "expletive deleted" hates liberals. That kind of gets at the weird politics of it. Topical comedy, historically, for the last several decades anyway, has targeted almost exclusively conservatives or the right, so this show really does break with a long pattern.
Q: What's so important about the "South Park Conservatives"?
A: The show first of all is very, very popular, and the sensibility is very common among younger Americans. The book concludes with a look at what is going on on campuses. It's quite interesting. Everybody thinks that students are going to be reflexively on the left, but that's no longer true. In fact, Harvard's Institute of Politics came out with a study several weeks ago which said 47 percent of students identified themselves as liberals but 53 percent placed themselves on the center or on the right. That's a big shift.
Q: How do you describe your politics?
A: I wouldn't call myself a "South Park Conservative." I'm much more conservative. I'm conservative on many social issues. I would say I've got a libertarian streak when it does come to popular culture.
Q: In all the media places where non-liberal voices are being heard more and more, which is the most important?
A: The most important of these new media are the Internet and blogosphere. Even though it is so far the smallest in terms of the number of people who are partaking in it, it's growing fast, and it has disproportionate influence among the broader media.
Q: Do conservatives really have anything to complain about today? Hasn't the idea of the dominant liberal media now become a myth?
A: I hesitate to go that far. The mainstream media outlets are still very powerful. They still control a lot of the flow of information. And they are still very biased. Here's just one tiny example, but I think a significant one nonetheless: Jennifer Loven is a reporter for The Associated Press, and she covered the presidential race last year. Well, she's married to one of John Kerry's top environmental advisers, and she was writing snarky news articles that were in fact quite critical of the president, including on the environment. This is the kind of thing that drives a lot of conservatives right around the bend when they see this. There are many other examples I quote in my book. I do think these old-line media institutions are no longer the exclusive voice, however, and that is making a big difference. I think it helps explain why George Bush is in the White House today.
Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org. © Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.
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