« Photo op | Main | More Kerry photo op pics »

The McDonaldization of Conservatism
(and country music)

Even though he hasn't been involved in the day-to-day running of National Review for years, the recent news that William F. Buckley was relinquishing nominal control of the magazine triggered a wave of nostalgia in me.

Like many right-wingers my age and older, I became a conservative/libertarian because of Bill Buckley. Even during my college years, conservatism had yet to become fully mainstream. It wasn't easy to come across an issue of National Review, and there were precious few alternatives to sustain and nourish the young conservative mind. To find intelligent conservative thought, one had to seek it out. But when you did, it was invariably of a higher quality than the ubiquitous dreck which clutters the bestseller lists these days. It is a tribute to Buckley's success in mainstreaming conservatism that NR is all but lost these days in an ocean of (typically inferior) conservative content. Alternative conservative media today is nothing if not plentiful.

The term "McDonaldization of conservatism" was coined by my friend Godzilla, who is himself not a conservative, but I believe his description is spot-on. The ascendancy of conservatism has caused the movement to be popularized and (dare I say it?) dumbed-down. The conservative standard bearers are no longer the Bill Buckleys of the world, but rather the Rush Limbaughs, the Sean Hannitys, and the Ann Coulters.

The popularizers may be instrumental in reaching an ever-widening audience, but as keepers of the tablets, they leave something to be desired. They reduce complex issues to simplistic good-versus-evil morality plays, and inconvenient facts are either tortured to fit their worldview or ignored altogether. It's unfortunate, but that's what sells. As far as I know, National Review has never had a profitable year. The latest offerings from Hannity, Coulter, or O'Reilly, however, are big business. Neither is this phenomenon particular to conservatism. I am reasonably certain that Michael Moore earns a bigger paycheck than, say, Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Another passion of mine which has succumbed to McDonaldization during the same time frame is country music (I know, from the sublime to the ridiculous, right?). I find the soulless, mass marketed pablum that passes for country music these days nearly unlistenable. That being said, I still adore my country music heroes from decades past, such as Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and George Jones (I also like much of the current "alt country" scene -- Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, etc.). Still, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw are big business in a way that Loretta Lynn never was.

It's the same phenomenon. Country music was destroyed by its own success. As its audience grew, the music became less and less country, and more and more "soft rock feminist crap", to borrow the words of Robbie Fulks. Ah well, I suppose that's the normal evolution of such things.

The deterioration of conservatism and country music into mediocrity share another connection besides their simultaneity -- Sean Hannity. Hannity pisses me off frequently, but seldom more so than when he waxes eloquent about how much he loves "country music," and how great "country music" is, and then follows it up by playing some swill by Toby Keith. Arrggghh!! I never wanted to reach through the radio and strangle him more than recently, when he was berating a caller for not listening to "country music." He recommended as a starting point the "great Garth Brooks song" "Callin' Baton Rouge." ARRRGGGHHH!!! It is not a Garth Brooks song! It is a New Grass Revival song that I once admired, before it was defiled by a pudgy poseur in an ill-fitting cowboy hat with more handlers, packagers, and marketers than talent.

All right, enough bitchin' for now. Happy belated 4th to everybody. Sorry the blogging was light these past few days, but I spent the weekend in the Hamptons, which will be the subject of a future post.


Do you know that Bill Buckley hates you? If you're not an overeducated member of the richest 1% of Americans, he lumps you in with all the liberals, minorities, and other assorted peons he so frequently and eloquently excoriates.

Buckley doesn't hate me, but he hates my sin.

Barry, what resources can a young conservative like myself turn to, then? I chaf at Limbaugh and Hannity's brashness, but still thrist for solid, conservative thought. Any suggestions?

Good question. Wish I knew a good answer. To tell the truth, I mostly read blogs these days. Andrew Sullivan, Instapundit, and Tech Central are among my favorites, and they're all linked on my site. Their conservatism is a bit like mine, tainted by geek culture and social liberalism/libertarianism.

While I think it's great that you listen to Steve Earle, you obviously aren't paying attention to his lyrics ... otherwise you'd be lumping him in with all the people you characterize as "morons."

And fuck William F. Buckley - he and his followers SUPPOSEDLY care so much about personal freedoms and libertarian values that they worship an asshole like Ronald Reagan who did more than any other president in history to restrict the personal liberties of Americans (well, until Der Bush Jr. came along).

If you, like Buckley, want to legalize drugs, prostitution, gay marriage, etc., great. I'm behind you all the way. But don't support Republicans (or Democrats) who DON'T share your opinions!

Eric, I like Steve Earle's music, but his politics to me seem infantile, frankly. But that's okay, because listening to music is not, for me, a political act.

And I do wish to decriminalize drugs, gay marriage, etc. Sorry if I haven't been devoting enough space to these issues, but they are not exactly the great debates of the day.

Post a comment