The Culture/Politics Thing (again)

I thought that I was done writing about either Bristol Palin or Dancing with the StarsDancing voters, however, sent her along to the show’s final round, at the expense of singer, Brandy, a somewhat older single mother.  The decision shocked many Dancing fans, who angrily noted that Bristol had survived much longer than many contestants with higher judges’ scores.  And the real fans make their own judgments about the quality of dancing as well.

Clearly,  Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin fans were among those voting for Bristol, maybe even gaming the producers’ rigorous voter voter fraud obstacles to overvote.  It will take a few seconds online to find a conservative site offering instructions on how to vote (example).

Bristol’s victory was apparently the last straw for Steve Cowan, a 67 year old man in Wisconsin who sat down with a few drinks to enjoy the show, and ended up shooting his television.  Others may have been no less outraged, but a little more tempered in their reactions.

It’s understandable, I guess, that people who care about Bristol, Sarah Palin, or the Tea Party more than ballroom dancing might take on this cause.  They are trying to translate their political passions into a miniature culture war.  But even if this passionate support succeeds in gaining Bristol the coveted mirrorball trophy (and I doubt the show’s producers would let this happen), it won’t do anything for the Tea Party, the federal budget deficit, or even Bristol’s (more than a little ironic) cause of preventing teen pregnancy through abstinence.

People try to use cultural commonalities for political efforts as well.  This morning NPR’s  Morning Edition ran a story on Andrew Slack, a Harry Potter fan who is trying to build a political movement among fellow Potter enthusiasts.

Tapping into a fan base even larger than that for Dancing with the Stars, Lack started the Harry Potter Alliance.  He explains:

“There are so many of us who love Harry Potter and want to do more for our world,” Slack told an audience of several hundred at a recent HPA event in Somerville, Mass., that marked the group’s fifth anniversary.

About 100,000 Harry Potter fans have been mobilized by HPA for causes including marriage equality, genocide prevention and literacy. They raised enough money to send five cargo planes to Haiti bearing medical supplies after the earthquake there, and they’ve bought thousands of books for libraries in Rwanda and the Mississippi Delta.

But any substantial cultural project has to reach beyond those who sign onto the political program.  Even writers with as well-developed a political approach as E.L. Doctorow or Saul Bellow reach audiences who might find their political views offensive.  We can listen appreciatively to the music of Bruce Springsteen or Richard Wagner without signing onto their political programs.  Can we expect any less of an artistic commitment from J.K. Rowling or Dancing with the Stars?

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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