America, America

Following the Battle for America strand at the Battle of Ideas festival in London in November 2008, Culture Wars is exploring the past, present and future of the USA by bringing together new and old reviews of books, films and more.

Europeans sometimes disdain the USA as the land of soulless materialism, religious fundamentalism, chronic obesity and high school shootings. But is there still something in the American idea to inspire the rest of the world in the 21st century?

Friday 7 November 2008

The accursed cultural theory, excess and the morbid imagination

Great Satan's Rage: American Negativity and Rap/metal in the Age of Supercapitalism by Scott Wilson (Manchester University Press, 2008)

Wilson sets the stage for a logical reconstruction of self loathing as it currently appears in the most advanced capitalist nation.

Thursday 6 November 2008

The puppy in the White House

US election blog - part five

A McCain victory would likely have reinforced illusions in ‘what might have been’, while the realities of an Obama administration are likely to be more sobering.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Unreal ethical realism

Ethical Realism. A Vision for America’s Role in the World, by Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman (Vintage, 2007)

Whilst Europeans and American liberals are convinced Obama will take a more multilateral and non-interventionist approach, the authors are not so sanguine: there is little difference between Republican neoconservatives and Democrat liberal hawks who will be influential in any Democrat administration.

Friday 17 October 2008

On a promise? Obama glides on

US election blog - part four

As is usually the case, the final presidential debate was a competition to seem more ‘presidential’ than the other guy. In these terms, Obama won, confirming his frontrunner status, but rather undermining his claim to represent substantial change.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Republican presidential failures

Frost/Nixon (2008), directed by Ron Howard

Nixon jeopardised the entire system through a crime he refused to admit, and got away with a pardon for all his actions by the president who replaced him. For Frost this was entertainment, as it gave him a chance to play a cat and mouse game in television close-up.

Monday 13 October 2008

McCain and Obama: whipping who-knows-what?

US election blog - part three

McCain’s choice of the words ‘you-know-what’ might indicate more than coyness. For all the candidates’ eagerness to have out a vigorous debate, it is still not clear exactly what is at stake in the campaign. McCain’s and Obama’s tentative strategies for dealing with the financial crisis resemble competing brands rather than representing competing worldviews.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

The domestic limits to American international leadership after Bush

A Battle in Print essay from the Battle of Ideas 2008

What both Republicans and Democrats fail to grasp is that international legitimacy of the kind that caused the West to accept American leadership after World War Two must derive, ultimately, from domestic politics. International legitimacy cannot be restored solely through actions in the international sphere.

Monday 6 October 2008

In control of the narrative

Now or Later, Royal Court, London

Eddie Redmayne as John is almost too perfect a poster-boy for liberal sensibilities. Pretty, pouting, petulant and fiercely intelligent, he comes across as a kind of idealised Democrat Hamlet.

Friday 26 September 2008

Taking a break from politics to fix capitalism?

US election blog - part two

To the extent that the banking crisis has become an election issue, it concerns the generic character traits of the candidates, and their perceived ability to handle ‘a crisis’, not any political differences in terms of ‘this crisis’.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

The scene is set: the phony culture war election

US election blog - part one

While the red-blue divide is still conventionally seen as a sublimated or distorted form of the left-right divide, it is becoming increasingly apparent that ‘culture’, or more accurately lifestyle, is all that’s left.

Friday 12 September 2008

Cops and dealers (and The Wire)

Gang Leader for a Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh, Cop in the Hood, by Peter Moskos, Homicide, by David Simon

Venkatesh and Moskos both put themselves at the centre of their respective narratives, and thus make much more of the cultural gulf between cops and dealers on one hand, and academics and writers on the other.

Thursday 11 September 2008

Bark without bite

Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow (Vintage)

It can only be assumed that, much like the story, the dogs merely ran around chasing each other’s tails until they collapsed with a worn out thud.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Dinner with America

A reading of ‘Dinner with America’ by Rajni Shah, Pinter Building, Queen Mary University, London; 29 March 2008.

The fuel for both this individualism-for-liberty and individualism-for-consumption is neither liberty, nor capitalism – nor even a shabby looking American dream. Instead, it’s desire.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Wrestling with angels

The Terror Dream, by Susan Faludi (Atlantic Books)

In considering how America might understand itself more honestly, Faludi goes back to the genesis of anxieties about terror in Puritan New England, and makes a qualified but unexpected and thought-provoking defence of the Puritan ethic and its possibilities.

What Bush supporters?

The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, by Bill Bishop (Houghton Mifflin Company)

Bishop’s exposition of liberal churches, blaring out Sting instead of hymns, filled with Wiccans and ‘neo-pagan’ pastors who feel that ‘the church needs to birthed within …indigenous cultures and take on that indigenous expression,’ is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a revelation.

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