Feature 06.20.2024 15 minutes

Politics Is Not Downstream From Culture

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“Art” is not the answer to your political problems.

Sometimes someone says something that sounds so true that it becomes a maxim, and the maxim gets repeated so many times that no one stops to ask how true it actually is. This is what happened to Andrew Breitbart’s “Politics is downstream from culture,” which, while true, isn’t as true as the intellectual Right’s think piece army has decided it is. In fact, nothing is that true.

Recently, right wingers have been pining for “right-wing art” and “cultural relevancy” with the belief that these fixtures will somehow “move the needle” politically.

But, when it comes to art, the intellectual Right possesses a naive leftism of its own. Since its members grow up in universities, think tanks, and unpaid influence journalism, they believe too strongly in the purity of art. They think all artists and even audiences pursue truth for the sake of it. So then they unconsciously reverse their own maxim, forcing politics upstream from culture so that it may affect culture, which then in turn may affect politics.

The Right does have an artistic opportunity today, because we’ve been completely ghettoized and shunned from mainstream culture right as it has grown unbearably rotten. This is, in fact, our greatest advantage. It’s naturally occurring. We don’t need to “try” to do anything with it. We don’t need to influence it so it will influence the masses, and even if we did, it wouldn’t make any difference. The last thing we should do is wait around expecting billionaires to magically show up and fund our unproven art simply because we’re right-wing. All that will get us is a bunch of really crappy right-wing art to match the really crappy left-wing art that drove us right in the first place.

We should forget entirely about “moving the needle” one way or another. Instead, we should embrace our status as outlaws.


Back in 2014, when I was a columnist for LA Weekly, I was offered the first ever one-on-one interview with Chief Keef by his manager, Peeda Pan. Chief Keef is arguably the most authentically gangster rapper ever, known for his fantastic hit “I Don’t Like,” which is an unapologetic, inarticulate-yet-forcefully-stated list of things Chief Keef simply does not like, including fake n****as, snitch n***as, bitch n***as, and stalking-ass bitches.

Peeda Pan had taken a liking to me after we met at a “secret” “culturally relevant” L.A. event called the Pancake Epidemic held on Sunday mornings above an iHOP in Miracle Mile. It was populated by the sort of people who run creative agencies, art galleries, and restaurant pop-ups. Stoned Hype Dads and pinched-face art AWFLs doing retro brand collabs and sneaker drops. Entirely sh*tlibs, of course, but back then I didn’t quite understand why I didn’t fit in.

What I did notice, however, is how they salivated over Peeda Pan, yearning to collab, and collab hard, with Chief Keef. But Keef was notoriously elusive—he didn’t take pictures with people, didn’t grant interviews, didn’t do influencer crap, didn’t sign clothing deals—which made them all the more eager to get their hands on him.

Did it matter that he, an impoverished 18-year-old from the South Side of Chicago, rapped about raping women, hating homosexuals, and shooting lots of black people with guns? Did it matter that he was known to have not just rapped about these things, but to have actually done them? No, this was in fact the whole point. His videos were absolutely irresistible for culture curators because, after two decades of gangster rap, they needed something even ghettoer than anything that had come before. Since I was the only bona fide “music writer” at the Pancake Epidemic who wasn’t sweating pure desperation, Peeda Pan gravitated toward me and offered me the interview.

It ended in complete disaster. I drove to a McMansion in the Valley and waited for four hours to interview Chief Keef while his crew of cackling teenage thugs plied me with Hennessy and blunts. The whole thing melted down into a violent confrontation between various crew members, and I was thrust out, utterly trashed, onto the baking streets of Sherman Oaks. I never got the interview.

I wrote a little gonzo piece in the style of “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” about the subjective experience of getting hammered with murderous teen blacks from Chirac while Chief Keef peeked at me from behind corners, and called it a day. I was later told by an editor that he had deeply regretted publishing it because it “was written from the perspective of Otherness.” Five years later, after he was attacked by the woke mob as a white Jewish dork enriching himself by publishing books about the career of gangster rappers, he apologized to me via email.

Afterwards, Peeda Pan felt guilty so he allowed me to take him out for Korean BBQ. Over bubbling hot pots, he told me stories of Chief Keef’s insanity, saying that I’d gotten off quite lucky, in fact, and things could’ve gone much worse.

Sure, he’s wild and crazy, I responded, but why is he so publicity shy?

“You have to understand something about these guys,” Peeda Pan explained. “They’re not musicians. They’re not artists like how you think about it. They don’t see things that way.”

“What way?” I asked.

“They don’t think of what they do as making art. They’re not in it for that. For them, music is just another lick. One of many.”

“Lick” in this context means money source. What he was saying was that Chief Keef didn’t want to be interviewed by music journalists, because Chief Keef wasn’t interested in making music. He wasn’t interested in forwarding his message via the media, or promoting his art. Chief Keef was interested in making money. Music was equivalent to selling drugs, committing crimes, or any other sort of arbitrage. There was no deep spiritual meaning in it. Maintain the flow of money, girls, blunts, and Hennessey—that’s it.

It is because of this purity of purpose (or impurity, as the intellectual Right would see it) that Chief Keef, like so many rappers before him, is so irresistible to the mainstream. They simply “don’t think about it that way.” They’re not here for spiritual meaning. They’re here to create sh*t that people will buy. People will buy the unapologetic rambling of a hood rat? F**k yea. Pay me.

Their forebears created the blues because people were fascinated by expressions of their sh*tty lives. White audiences could feel their pain and its alleviation. It’s laughable to imagine Robert Johnson playing the blues to “move the needle” on civil rights or to “change hearts and minds” over some cause. And he certainly wasn’t doing it even for some kumbaya notion about artistic expression. Johnson played the blues because he was drunk, bored, and poor and wanted more money for booze. He was shut out of the mainstream entirely—and he turned that from weakness into strength by creating something the mainstream never could. And it became arguably the single most “profound” form of “needle moving” the world has ever seen.

Having become ghettoized himself, the unapologetic right-wing white man has a similar opportunity now. But he will fumble it royally if a bunch of nerds keep telling him how important it all is, how much it means, how much “cultural impact” his art is going to have, and how it will influence our “broader goals.” You think Waylon Jennings or Ian Curtis or Dr. Dre sat around thinking about how politics is downstream from culture? John Lennon said he started making music to get girls. Eminem said music was his only shot at not being poor. Did the lefties who “funded” them do it because they wanted to “advance working-class voices?” F**k no! They did it to sell records so they could get hotter girls and snort better cocaine, just like the musicians themselves.

You think Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy were thinking about how their writing would affect the performance of political candidates? Was Tom Wolfe, who Michael Anton says should serve as a model for our guys, thinking about moving the needle? No, he was busy surviving via decades of hack work daily journalism that honed his talent into a diamond spear. Same with all our favorite creators of “right-wing” alpha TV. David Chase (Sopranos), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), and Terence Winter (Breaking Bad) all slogged for decades as paid hacks before getting their shows. Just another lick.

This should be our perspective, not waiting around for someone to give us free money because we say the right combination of words. It’s right there on Bukowski’s grave. He forced himself to become dependent on his art to literally eat, let alone drink. His gravestone reads “DON’T TRY.” Don’t think about why you’re making art. Just do it.

We’ve Got Right Wing Art at Home

Prior examples of right-wing art made little or no political impact at all. The entire country watched and loved Tony Soprano every Sunday night. Everyone still got gay married, everyone still illegalized racism, and everyone still chopped their d*cks off. If the rule got you here, of what use was the rule?

“Right-wing art” already exists in every possible formulation. Michael Crichton, coming off the astronomical success of Jurassic Park, turned his attention to skewering the longhouse. In Disclosure (1994), he excoriates the managerial diversity takeover of the nascent tech industry in Cupertino and Seattle. The book was quickly adapted into a major Hollywood film starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. In the same era, we had the heyday Clint Eastwood as an auteur, his RW masterpiece Unforgiven won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1992. Throughout the rest of the nineties we had The Slim Shady LP (1999), the consummate masterpiece The Marshall Mathers LP (2000), Michael Bay’s RW masterpiece Armageddon (1998), The Truman Show (1998), Fight Club (1999) and American Psycho (2000).

Here’s a passage from Disclosure: 

It’s hurting everybody. Look: when I started in DigiCom, there was only one question. Are you good? If you were good, you got hired. If you could cut it, you stayed. No more. Now, ability is only one of the priorities. There’s also the question of whether you’re the right sex and skin color to fill out the company’s HR profiles. And if you turn out to be incompetent, we can’t fire you. Pretty soon, we start to get junk like this Twinkle drive. Because no one’s accountable anymore. No one is responsible. You can’t build products on a theory. Because the product you’re making is real. And if it stinks, it stinks. And no one will buy it.

But people did buy it. And 30 years later they’re still buying it and not stopping. After reading Disclosure, did they run to the ballot box to vote for their local right-wing congressman? Did they change parties in droves to support George Bush? No. Did Fight Club spark a revival of masculinity? No.

And yet we persist in the fantasy that this time, if we create a super famous Michael Crichton-level writer and he writes a takedown of the Civil Rights Act—then it will count! This time it will make it downstream! For a time, the most famous musician and the most famous writer in the world were both appallingly and nakedly neoreactionary. And you think a based sitcom or racist poetry book is going to “move the needle?”

Downstream from Money

All this betrays a pipe dream. “If we build it, they will come.” If we take over culture…surely the rest of society will fall like dominoes. Nevermind that culture is most certainly downstream from politics in many instances, and that both are far downstream from money.

Here, a secretly-based friend who works on a mainstream famous TV show describes why nothing good gets made:

A few years ago, I was working with a guy to try to create film tax credits in Kansas. Republicans there had no interest in even having this kind of power. It’s a very political system in CA, GA, and L.A. They limit the amount of permits issued each year so they can be selective…. Soooo much is being made now. I try to stay up to date. Both movies and TV. The difference between now and the past is that the lobbying groups (GLAAD and NAACP’s film wings) have almost completely captured what is permitted to be produced. You literally cannot get any serious financing nor distribution nor any serious marketing without adhering to things like black/female/“queer”/disabled character with X amount of screen time and lines. Even cheap sh*t. Want to produce a $5m romcom in Georgia? Gonna need to have buttsex and blacks and girlbosses.

But remember…politics is downstream from culture! A rule that can never be broken. Forget that the government is literally paying for art to be woke.

I love Squid Game. It’s an obviously Marxist allegory that not only blames capitalists, but blames white Western capitalists for exploiting those poor Koreans. Completely disagree, but I love it because it’s very well made and very well written. After I watch it, I am somehow not overcome by the urge to vote for AOC. How is this possible! I thought politics was downstream from culture! We must be cranking out right-wing sitcoms and right-wing Disney movies. Only then can we win!

No. Right-wing culture influencers who complain about a lack of right-wing art are people who complain professionally as art, and who want to be paid for it. I should know, I am one.

Delicious Tacos, one of a handful of artists, along with BAP and Sam Hyde, who best embody the exotic mystique I argue for here, tweeted: “Rich guys don’t give right wing artists money. They give The Claremont Institute money to write essays about how rich guys should give right wing artists money.”

We must stop talking about how art will save us and how politics is downstream from art. The answer is the release of fear. The answer is to learn how to control our prefrontal cortexes to act less rationally. We must operate from the id.

Perhaps the best at this is Sam Hyde, the truly neoreactionary and highly canceled comedian who records videos of himself berating journalists for sounding too gay. In a recent clip, he said it very simply: “White people need to find their balls.” This goes for the entire right wing.

Enemy of the Good

What are we waiting for? There is no piece missing. There is nothing missing now that any other successful subculture had…besides balls.

One way to do that would be to patronize emerging artists: specifically, storytellers. It is hardly an original insight to say that stories move the world to an infinitely greater extent than policy papers. Yet the Right spends infinitely more on the latter than on the former. The Left, which understands power and how to use it far better than we do, does not make this mistake.

This is the advice we get from Michael Anton, who says that we should follow the career of crypto-conservative novelist Tom Wolfe. I agree with his argument that we should focus on gonzo perspectives—those garnered from real-life experience rather than philosophical pondering. But Anton assumes that the left-wing consciously patronizes left-wing artists because “they understand power.” This is true of the greasiest, rustiest parts of the left-wing pork factory—but those are the parts that nauseate people. We shouldn’t want this. We shouldn’t want what they have. What they have is rotten, quite obviously.

And what are we to imagine here? A right-wing cave full of “storytelling” stalagmites being paid by billionaires for being right-wing? This is certainly not what Tom Wolfe had. He was a singular right-leaning stalagmite inside a left-wing media complex, and he was certainly never paid for being right-wing, nor did he talk about it.

And did any of this increase the “power” of the Right?

No left-wing billionaire funds left-wing art. The deep state of Hollywood, and every other mainstream art institution, creates lefty narratives first and foremost because they think (albeit wrongly) that they make good stories, and also because they’re super progressive themselves. But the vast majority of them, and all of the ones who do it well, aren’t doing it “to move the needle.” Great art has always mostly been made by degenerates, and that will never change. Artists are circus people. Chaos is in their blood.

My point is we should focus on the art itself. Become great at art that’s worth money. Don’t become great at asking for money for it. As Tom Ford says, “The key to marketing is to make something people want. When they want it they buy it, and when they buy it you have sales. The product has to speak. The product is what markets things.” Make great art, and the billionaires will come, as will the influence and impact. Don’t make mediocre art, slap a right-wing label on it, and sit with your hand out. A busker funded by a billionaire is still a busker.

The Right dreams of a pure relationship—billionaire funds busker and busker continues his pure love of making music for the simple love of entertaining people on the subway. It’s so pure! Look how pure it is! Look how pure the Twitter anons are! They would never deign to do it for money! No, what the busker and the anon share is potential. Trying to attach a billionaire to them is like strapping a mouse to a rocket ship. They’re not ready. All you’ll be left with is a bunch of mice dangling around in space thinking “what the hell are we doing here?” What we need is not to fund art like you fund a think tank. What we need is to sell art like you would a rap album.

The Water Is Fine

The conditions are already perfect for this now. Look at Sound of Freedom (2023), the best example of a real cultural shift in the film arena. Yet both sides hate talking about Sound of Freedom, because it’s really damn good and really damn marketable. The lefty cultural factory is pissed they can’t make it, and the Right is pissed because it’s not pure enough, it’s too “Christian” and therefore too marketable. That’s cheating! Your right-wing art must either be so high-IQ and racist as to be indigestible to anyone, or so degenerate as to not really be right-wing. That’s how you know it’s pure! That’s how you know billionaires should be funding it! Because it can’t make money any other way!

You won’t have to try. God has done it for us. You write for an audience of one. Stop thinking. Stop trying to make your writing more esoteric than it is. Speak plainly. Stop worrying about your abs—unless they help you sell books, in which case worry about them a lot. WRITE FOR MONEY! REAL MONEY NOW!

We have to learn to control our prefrontal cortexes to stop plotting and planning and purity. Yes, our founding fathers lived during a brief period where the prefrontal cortex reigned. Sadly, that’s over. Nothing will happen until we find our balls. This strain of rationality that has been our greatest success is now the same thing that’s killing us, and it’s killing us way early. Like the star clarinetist who gets throat cancer, like the long-distance runner who collapses at 55—we simply have to find another way to be, at least for a while. Or else America will die. And we, its sons, will be to blame.

Great art is mostly a magic trick. You save cats, rip off riffs, play up your sadness, and write clickbait headlines. But nothing could be less honest than making art for political impact. The most honest way to make it is to do it for money. Just another lick. Why is the regime more terrified of Sound of Freedom than 100,000 right-wing think pieces? Because it made money. You want to destroy our enemies? Make irresistible art. And make money off of it.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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