Last month in this space we discussed right-wing consternation with the content and character of American popular culture. The Right cares about the signals sent by popular culture, we said, because they understand that those signals matter in people's everyday lives. No sooner was the ink dry on that column than Vice President J. Danforth Quayle leaped into the breach and made Murphy Brown's baby the number one social issue of the political year.
Aside from confirming my own astute grasp of the obvious, the Quayle-Brown flap does illustrate the close symbiotic relationship between top right-wing politicos and the well-funded think tanks of the Right, such as the American Enterprise Institute (sponsors of a spring conference on U.S. popular culture).
It is no accident that the opening salvo in the election year pop culture wars came from Quayle, because Quayle's staff represents the main beachhead of Far Right influence in the Bush administration. While mushy-headed moderates, like the president, persist in thinking that private life is not public business, the Far Right, in its own perverse way, knows what the feminists taught us--that the personal is political, and vice versa.
It is also interesting to note that Quayle's injection of pop cultural images into the political debate came as part of his response to the Los Angeles uprising. A key element of the right-wing cultural strategy is the reassertion of authority at every level--home, school, work place, and state. This is part of an economic shift from a single-minded emphasis on consumption (which carries the cultural values of individual gratification and "choice") to a renewed stress on productivity (more work for less wages). The "productivity" strategy, of course, calls upon the cultural values of duty, hierarchy, and docility.