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