Interview with Brian Anderson
By Bernard Chapin
Brian Anderson is the Senior Editor of City Journal, but he often contributes pieces to the magazine itself. His new book expands on the idea of the South Park Republican, or a strain of conservative who believes strongly in the free market and our national defense, yet is socially liberal on many issues. The term was first created by Andrew Sullivan, but Anderson joined in on the discussion via his 2003 essay called “We're Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore” . He now celebrates this ultramodern breed of anti-perfectionist in his newly released South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias. Here's an excellent review of the work. We are most fortunate that the author was able to give us a few minutes of his time and answer some questions.
BC: Let me begin by congratulating you on the publication of your book, South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias. I very much enjoyed reading it, but, for those readers who may be unaware of what a SPC actually is, can you define the term?
Mr. Anderson : Thanks Bernard. I use the term, which I didn't coin, to refer to someone who might not be a traditional, across-the-board conservative, especially when it comes to things like censorship and pop culture, but who finds today's politically correct Left repugnant and brain dead. In South Park Conservatives, I describe the emergence of this anti-liberal attitude in a wickedly irreverent strain of topical comedy -- South Park itself being the model -- and among college students today, many of whom are rebelling against their politically correct elders on campus.
BC: Could it be that this modish, libertarian form of conservative is a political asset because they maneuver so comfortably within the general population? It seems to me that the presence of non-stodgy rightists does much to dispel popular stereotypes.
Mr. Anderson: I think it's very important for the Right not to ignore or simply denounce popular culture, where the Left has dominated for so long. When you have millions upon millions of people watching television sitcoms or dramas or going to movies, and almost all those cultural products express a generally liberal worldview or sensibility, well, that's a tremendous culture-forming power lost to conservatives. As my book explains, the proliferation of new media outlets of opinion and information -- talk radio, cable, the blogosphere -- gives right-of-center voices a chance to be heard and persuade, to blast through the liberal media force field that had contained them for so long. I believe the same thing is starting to happen in entertainment and popular culture, though as of yet it's a nascent development. Younger, “non-stodgy” right-of-center types -- South Park conservatives -- who've come of age saturated in popular culture will be able to make inroads in areas like film and screenplay writing that have traditionally been left-wing preserves. They're already doing so in comedy, as my chapter on anti-liberal humor shows. There's certainly a market for such creations.
BC: What kind of reaction has your book gotten from the left? You in no way adopt a polemical tone, but it is clear throughout the text that the narrator is not disappointed about the way liberals now find themselves publicly lampooned and ridiculed.
Mr. Anderson: Some left-wing blogger compared me to Al Gore trying to be hip, which was a real shot! And the Air America people are mad at me for pointing out in the pages of the LA Times what I argue in my chapter on political talk radio: liberal radio is probably doomed to fail (the radioequalizer blog has been relentlessly charting the poor ratings Air America has been getting in major urban centers across the country). And I had a couple of moronic one-line Amazon reviews from lefties who hadn't even opened the book. But so far, most of the interest in the book has come from other conservatives.
I am happy about the synergistic developments South Park Conservatives chronicles! What conservative wouldn't be? After years of watching on TV and in movies evil businessmen, corrupt religious people, and Nixonian Republicans, on the one side, and heroic lawyers and tough-minded but big-hearted journalists and social workers and Dems on the other, I have to say I enjoy it when South Park depicts Rob Reiner as a monstrous, alien fascist. I remember -- it was merely a few years ago -- when I'd feel a constant state of frustration after getting my New York Times and Washington Post in the morning and realize how hard it was going to be for my side to answer the liberal spin. Now I can turn on Fox, or talk radio, or visit a blog like Polipundit or a website like Frontpage or NRO, and see a real debate being engaged in our political culture. It's thrilling, and I hope my book conveys some of the excitement I feel.
BC: As your subtitle illustrates, a much needed revolt against the mainstream media has occurred, but when, if ever, do you think there will be a freedom uprising against the left's python hold on the American academy? In the chapter, “Campus Conservatives Rising,” you express optimism for the future.
Mr. Anderson: Guarded optimism would be a better way of putting it. Students are moving away from the Left -- a brand-new Harvard Institute of Politics survey of college kids finds 53 percent of them place themselves on the center or the right. David Horowitz's Students for Academic Freedom and other groups are helping fight the excesses of the campus Left. The new media have brought greater public attention to just how out there many professors are, which could begin to pressure school administrators to try to open the campuses to greater political and intellectual diversity.
But professors remain overwhelmingly liberal or even socialist in their politics, and far too many of them have contempt for the West and even American democracy. And until the tenure system is reformed, there's unlikely to be much change in the kind of political thinking that prevails among the professorate.
BC: I notice that there is a disclaimer on the front cover warning that “this book has not been prepared, approved, or licensed by any entity that created or produced the cable cartoon program South Park .” Did you include this due to a request from the show's creators? Were they supportive of your project? I noticed that Matt Stone and Trey Parker are quoted within.
Mr. Anderson: I have no idea what Stone and Parker think about the book -- I certainly praise their work for its satirical edge, and I don't think I've mischaracterized it. Indeed, I quote them extensively talking about what they're up to.
The request for the disclaimer came not from South Park 's creators, but from Comedy Central, which wanted to make sure the book wasn't viewed as an official, licensed product from their camp. We were perfectly happy to accommodate them. The South Park Studios website has actually hosted a fan forum discussing the book.
BC: In your opinion, what Samizdat source has done the most damage to political correctness? Do you have any idea as to what journalist or publication is most despised by [anti] liberals?
Mr. Anderson: I think the synergy of all these new media has really been what has done in political correctness -- and forced the liberal media to account for its distortions. The rise of the blogosphere, though, seems to have led us to the tipping point, or near the tipping point, and I think we're only starting to see its effects.
Perhaps I'm seeing things from a New York perspective, but the New York Times has long been perceived by many on the Right as a chief source and defender of much that's gone wrong with America over the last several decades. It still has a lot of influence and obviously has enormous resources to push a story. The network newscasts don't have nearly the influence they once did -- in fact, the average age of a typical network news watcher is now 60. Sam Donaldson recently announced the “death” of network news, the end of an era.
BC: You're the Senior Editor of City Journal, which is a publication of which many readers may not have heard, can you explain to them how CJ differs from its competition? What does it uniquely offer?
Mr. Anderson: We offer a lot of thickly reported stories, where our writers actually go out into the world and find things out about policing, or education innovations, or anti-terrorism efforts, or any number of other subjects. Abandoning any false modesty for a moment, it is also a superbly-edited magazine: Myron Magnet, my boss and colleague, knows just how to get the best from our great authors and how to craft a piece into its sharpest, most muscular form. We also offer long-form journalism that isn't dumbed-down in the least, while remaining accessible to the average informed reader.
BC: What would you say to those who dismiss City Journal as being primarily of local interest for those living in New York City?
Mr. Anderson: I'd say: check out the magazine: www.city-journal.org. We're a general interest political and cultural publication. We'll do lots of first-rate policy stuff on New York City and other urban areas, sure, but we also run thoughtful pieces on just about everything under the sun: Theodore Dalrymple on the underclass, literature, and England's decline, Victor Davis Hanson on the War on Terror, James Q. Wilson on Islam, Heather MacDonald on the PATRIOT Act and policing, Stefan Kanfer on vaudeville, Kay Hymowitz on the family, Steve Malanga on the mob, me on pit bulls -- as I say, everything under the sun. It's a joy to work with Myron Magnet every day and be publishing such intellectually cutting edge authors.
BC: What's your next project going to be?
Mr. Anderson: Something on sports or on movies, maybe -- we'll see.
Bernard Chapin is a writer living in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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