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Those of us on the right are repeatedly told to “embrace the culture.” These cries were amplified after 2012 Republican losses were blamed on “low information” voters who pay more attention to pop culture than the news cycle.
Many liberty-loving folks have agreed that engaging the entertainment world is essential. But where do we start?
Believe it or not, there are small-government, free-market fans working in Hollywood. Eager to get an insider’s perspective, I talked with Andrew Leigh, a screenwriter and independent producer working in the belly of the beast. Leigh and fellow filmmaker Patrick Reasonover founded Taliesin Nexus, a Hollywood-based group that educates and connects right-leaning creatives.
Andrew Breitbart, a friend of Taliesin Nexus, repeatedly claimed that "politics is downstream of culture” — a sentiment Leigh shares.
“He who controls the culture controls the terms of the political conversation,” Leigh said. “[Breitbart] knew that without winning at least a share of the popular culture, the right was doomed to lose in the long run.”
“I don't think anyone can deny that the cultural climate paved the way for Obama's electoral successes,” Leigh continued. “If those of us who love liberty want to see it defended in Washington, we need to see it promoted in Hollywood.”
I attended a Taliesin Nexus filmmaker’s workshop last summer. The weekend provided nascent writers, producers and directors invaluable hands-on training from celebrated Hollywood veterans. Not only did participants hone their visual storytelling skills, they gained detailed insight into the business side of the entertainment world. Information vital for liberty-friendly filmmakers to succeed.
Leigh says that the right’s best and brightest need to stop dreaming of working for a campaign or a think tank and instead turn their talents toward movies and television.
“It's no coincidence that the Golden Age of Hollywood coincided with the dominance of Hollywood by conservatives,” he said. “There's no inherent reason why conservatives and libertarians couldn't dominate the culture again.”
And regardless of your creative medium, storytelling is the coin of the realm. “[Conservatives] need to stop trying to make their case solely through dry reason and make the emotional case for their beliefs,” Leigh said. “How often in real life have you seen logic win out over emotion? Film is an emotional medium, and the best films and TV shows appeal to the heart as well as the head.”
Look how pop culture has changed the social and political landscape of America. “Ellen, Will and Grace and Modern Family did more to advance the cause of gay marriage than a million newspaper editorials. If you think that concepts like freedom, family, personal responsibility, property rights, patriotism, and the struggle against tyranny can't be portrayed with heart and passion, then maybe you should stick to writing editorials — and watch the values you believe in vanish one by one.”
According to Leigh, conservatives are beginning to impact the culture. He praised the success and quality of documentaries such as 2016 and Frack Nation, but would love to see more classic Hollywood films.
“If only greater numbers of freedom lovers would get involved in narrative film and TV,” he said, “then they may start having a real cultural impact.”
Follow Jon on Twitter at @ExJon.