NEW HARPER’S, TORO AND VANITY FAIR

Greetings,

People who know me would say I’m a huge magazine buff. I love magazines, mostly because they allow for lengthier pieces than, say, a newspaper can deliver during the week. I love my newspapers too, but certain magazines are the kind of thing I will probably subscribe to for a long time.

HARPER’S: The new Harper’s came out this week and it is, as always, a terrific read. The big story this month is about how the Republican Party has managed to capitalize on the so-called “culture wars” that dominate American social life. Here’s the central argument.

The 2000 presidential election firmly polarized the U.S. into two “nations” as it were: the Blue States, mostly costal and highly urbanized states that voted strongly for the Democrats and Al Gore (think California and New York) and the Red States that voted en masse for George W. Bush and the Republican Party (the American Mid-West, the Deep South and the Mason-Dixon Line States). The divide between these two “nations” is being analyzed through the lense of cultural values, or rather the lifestyles that “average” voters from these regions live. The Blue States are cosmopolitan places with worldly viewpoints, where the Red States are supposed to be representative of Middle America. The mythology of the Red States is striking and, unfortunately, a complete fabrication: the myth is that simple, earnest values that harken back to the Capra-esque world of pre-World War II America still exist in places like Kansas and other Red States.

These are major generalizations, to be sure, yet this mode of thought has given ammunition to conservative pundits that argue that Republican values – family-oriented, Church-going, et al – are being aligned with these Middle Americans in order to ensure that the liberal “elites” of the American Northeast don’t control the White House, Congress or the Supreme Court. In other words, the Republicans have firmly mastered the “culture wars” in America by associating Republicans with conservative cultural values. No big deal there.

But the arguments get more unsettling when you consider that by lumping these cultural values in with an economic agenda, the Republicans are saying they are giving power back to the “real Americans” by voting for not only a value system but also a series of economic moves that actually *enhances* the power of the corporate elite in America. The Republicans are doing the old bait-and-switch: vote for us because *we* reflect your hatred of say, abortion rights, but you’re also voting to take power away from the old money of the Kennedys and such – that’s because they’re not “real Americans” like the Middle Americans that vote uniformly in favour of the Republican Party. So to quote the article, “people are voting for Republicans to take back power from Wall Street elites.”

Think about that statement for a minute. Is this for real?

Yet that argument is wrong and preys on peoples’ worst instincts towards those they don’t understand or care much for. People have been convinced that by voting Republican, you’re voting for a “people’s party” when in reality you’re only voting for a party that seeks to take the U.S. back to the 19th century from both a cultural and economic viewpoint.

The evidence is striking: when Ronald Reagan became U.S. President in the early 1980’s, he was the greatest cultural crusader of them all. He wanted to “clean up” Hollywood and make it more reflective of “real Americans.” Yet when the time came to do this, he never delivered on his culture war promise – he merely instituted Reagnomics, arguably the worst economic policy ever created by a Republican President until the current president’s mega tax-cuts that only benefit the rich. More evidence lies in George W. Bush’s re-election efforts this year: is it any wonder that Bush Jr. has talked openly about a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in an election year? Bush Jr. knows there is little chance to get that amendment passed (constitutional change in the U.S. is an exceedingly complex and difficult process) but it firmly solidifies him with core Republican voters. It also lends justification for his economic policies, given that “average Americans” voted for him.

Does this mean that those Middle Americans are deluded to the point where they’ve become convinced that Bush Jr. and the Republicans are for the working class? No, it just means that the Republicans are winning the culture wars in the U.S. The Democrats really stink at this part of American politics, mostly because the Democrats aren’t even sure where they stand on the culture wars. Do they stand up for progressive forums like National Public Radio, liberal newspapers like the New York Times and intellectual TV like PBS? Or do they firmly align themselves with the cultural values of an urban, forward-thinking populace, embracing gay marriage, cultural diversity and minority groups’ cultural values? Do they do both? Do they do neither? John Kerry is the living embodiment of that “liberal elites” mindset that Republicans loathe; it is a virtual certainty that Karl Rove (the President’s main adviser) will exploit this Middle American distaste, regardless if it is real or imagined by cultural theorists, for those “blue bloods in Maine.”

Fascinating stuff.

TORO: I love this men’s magazine because it is an intelligent, if not slightly tongue-in-cheek and self-knowing, forum for Canadian males to appreciate all things certain men love. Of course, it also helps that the truly stunning Jessica Pare is on the front cover. This woman is going to be a huge star in a few years, that’s for sure. She’s 23, from Montreal and seems to be very “real” and doesn’t want all the trappings of the modern celebrity lifestyle.

There is also an article about Conrad Black and his rapid fall from grace – another fascinating piece. Check out the magazine online.

VANITY FAIR: This was a good month for my favoured magazines. Keira Knightly, the star of last year’s big hits Bend It Like Beckham and Pirates of the Carribean, is featured on the front cover. Moreover, there is a very big feature article on the culture of blogging in the U.S. It’s always interesting to read about other bloggers, at least the ones that people know and read about. I always take the time to check out Andrew Sullivan’s blog and the blogs listed on the Arts & Letters Daily web site. It’s important to read up on what people are thinking.

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