The Philistine: Why if art and culture were a demographic, it would vote for John McCain

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “a lack of necessity somehow bred excess, while suicide carried off many, drink and the devil took care of the rest.”

This has always puzzled me. What he means is that we tend to act the opposite of what one might expect under the circumstances. Make hay while the sun rises, have sex as the plane’s going down, that sort of thing.

Think of how this played out over the past couple of decades. In the ’50s, we saw an unprecedented amount of growth and economic stability in the middle class. It was a very contented time, happy to sit at home with the second wave of feminism and civil rights simmering on the back burner.

In the ’60s, life was unstable, the CIA was throwing coup d’état-themed parties all over the world and the reigning ideology was free to rear its ugly head.

This opened the space for culture to mount its opposition in the form of rock, George McGovern and LSD, to name a few. In the ’70s, politics stayed awful and it bred a kind of hedonism and decadence. Dance music. Shiny stuff. Cocaine. Under Bush, these things are again flourishing.

Under Clinton, for a brief period, everything felt better. If you remember the way that hip-hop fashion used to look – early Eminem stuff and Dr. Dre – kind of drab compared to today’s collaborations between Kanye West, Louis Vuitton and Takashi Murakami.

The great thing about more socially oppressive cultural values is that it allows for a freedom of mind. On a superficial level, it becomes as simple as the paradox that out of great evil comes a greater good.

Hospitals need their sick. Police need their criminals. Intellectuals need a Stalin to react against. In a Straussian way, art needs the conflict that arises.

Under a socially oppressive regime, like Bush’s, everyone is concerned with subverting the ideology. But, under a socially sound and open regime, the question will no longer be, how can we subvert an evil, but are we in danger of subverting the good? Under Obama, the tendency to make “state art” like Socialist Realism in the late USSR, will become more prevalent and it will be boring as hell.

Under McCain though, the tendency will be to make art that challenges the values of the state and to resist the party line on all things Republican. I don’t know, maybe this is why Daddy Yankee felt it prudent to endorse McCain – for art and culture, change is bad.

John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Lewis Black and Seth Rogen all owe their careers to Bush and the god-awful last eight years. They’re the most obvious examples – but I would argue that this notion extends broadly over the rest of the cultural landscape, from Lil’ Wayne to Fernando Botero to David Simon and “The Wire.” Even though some music, books and films might not appear as being outwardly political, they are.

Now of course I’m not saying that anyone should vote for John McCain so that we can have great art at the expense of horrible social inequalities and violent war, I’m simply saying that we should get ready for a pitfall in the arts if Obama is elected and we need to plan accordingly – no matter how much he likes The Fugees.