Pop-culture conservatism

Andy Matthews

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

Pop-culture conservatism

I’ve been writing this Week in Review column for about a year and a half now, and ordinarily, the topics I cover in this space deal with some pretty heavy stuff.

But every now and then, it’s nice to step back and examine the political/policy world from a slightly lighter perspective.

One of the most consistent complaints I hear from conservatives and libertarians is that nearly everything associated with popular culture comes with a leftist bent. Whether we’re listening to music, taking our kids to the movies or simply trying to enjoy a weeknight sitcom, it seems we’re constantly bombarded with liberal talking points and other assaults on our ideological sensibilities. Most annoyingly, this happens quite often even when the song/movie/show has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.

Fortunately, however, there are some exceptions — some pop-culture offerings that either express a conservative message or, at the very least, direct criticism at liberal assumptions. I thought it would be fun this week to share a few favorite examples of mine. Since I’m woefully out of touch with current pop culture (especially for someone who’s only 34), most of my examples will be pretty dated. But since this list is hardly official, I hope you’ll give me a pass.

When we think of examples of conservative music, most people’s minds probably fixate on the country genre — and understandably so. But even though rock music (my personal favorite) has generally leaned leftward, there are a number of great exceptions from some of the most influential artists in rock-music history.

Some of my own favorites include The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and The Beatles’ “Revolution,” both of which serve as stinging rebukes of the revolutionary Left. Others that make my list are The Kinks’ “20th Century Man,” John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” and Cheap Trick’s “Taxman, Mr. Thief.” The Canadian band Rush has produced several songs that convey an unmistakable libertarian message, while Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” could easily serve as the anthem for the modern-day school-choice movement.

And the Ten Years After classic “I’d Love to Change the World” contains one of my favorite lyrical offerings of all time: Tax the rich, feed the poor, ‘til there are no rich no more. I have no idea whether it was the band’s intent, but it’s difficult to imagine a more brilliant encapsulation of the lost-on-liberals irony of redistributionist schemes.

The film industry, of course, is known to most conservatives as a wellspring of liberal propaganda. And it’s hard to argue with that view. Still, for those right-leaning moviegoers looking for something more politically palatable, there are some excellent options.

At the top of my list are all of the “Rocky” movies, as well as nearly anything featuring Clint Eastwood (the “Dirty Harry” films and, more recently, “Gran Torino” are particular favorites). Other great movies that convey at least partially conservative messages include “Groundhog Day” and “Forrest Gump,” and the Pixar film “The Incredibles” has become a well-established favorite among righties. Throw in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and you’ve got a pretty well-rounded list to get you started.

The TV category is much harder for me to address, mostly because, other than the news, I don’t watch much TV. But growing up in the 1980s, I was a huge fan of the show “Family Ties,” which starred Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton, a conservative teenager who was always at odds with — and more grown-up than — his nostalgically hippy parents. More recent shows that have been popular among particular subparts of the conservative population include “24,” “Dog the Bounty Hunter” and “South Park.”

Of course, these lists are hardly exhaustive — which brings me to this week’s request of you. Please email me with some of your own favorite examples of pop-culture conservatism, and I’ll be sure to share the most popular entries in next week’s column. And if you’ve got examples from the present day, that’s even better. You’ll be helping me get up to speed.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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