The “culture wars” have been a feature of American politics for almost a century, but recently a number of commentators have declared their end. Conservatives have lost, swept aside by a wave of enthusiasm for marriage equality and sexualized mass culture, and so liberals, the reasoning goes, must have won. But conflating the lessons of a winner-take-all political system and the state of pop culture obscures an important point: in television, movies, and music, just because conservative ideals are receding does not mean that liberalism has actually carried the day.
“Liberal social values are deeply embedded in our culture, from pretty much everything on TV outside the Christian channels at the fringe of the channel lineup, to any movie of note,” Markos Moulitsas wrote on April 14. “‘Captain America’ has grossed nearly half a billion in 10 days, with its overtly civil-libertarian and anti-neocon message. I mean, Captain America is saying that a fear-based (read: Republican) foreign policy is not the ‘American Way.’ For a crowd that flinches at any notion of sex, it’s gotta be impossible to escape sexual imagery, from advertising to media to Miley Cyrus’ latest whatever-the-hell she is doing.”
In a long piece in New York Magazine published in 2012, Jonathan Chait made a similar argument: