Feature 06.27.2024 4 minutes

The Conservative Critic As Artist

Movies and popcorn. Man holding pop corn box at cinema. Action, thriller or scifi entertainment on screen. Red seats in dark theater. Salty snack in bucket. Spectator pov.

Online influencers are essential to recovering art on the Right.

To the surprise of absolutely no one outside of Hollywood, Disney’s new show The Acolyte is set to be a critical and financial failure. Somehow, smug overpowered girl-bosses descended from a race of lesbian communist space witches who fight homophobic Jedi police officers didn’t resonate with audiences.

Sadly, The Acolyte is just the latest of an interminable string of failures for Disney. According to Forbes, Disney has yet to turn a profit on its purchase of Lucasfilm. With each iteration of its famous franchises, the company incurs ever more losses and disillusions ever more fans. This reality was captured in “South Park: Joining the Panderverse,” which mocked Disney executives whose only idea for their shows and movies is to “put a chick in it and make her lame and gay.

Evidently, no one at Disney or any other major studio took the hint, so they continue to churn out mediocre derivatives of once beloved franchises. What used to be blockbusters have now become “flopbusters,” leading many to wonder how much money producers will lose before changing their ways—that is, being less lame and gay—or even whether Hollywood can be saved at all.

On these questions, I have argued that Hollywood is far more than the sum of its franchises, so there is good reason to think it will recover some of its old luster. But a more interesting question is if the pendulum of today’s pop culture will swing back toward something resembling conservatism.

Speaking as a regular TV and movie critic at The Federalist and RealClearBooks&Culture, I think it will. But what this looks like might be different from what older generations have in mind.

I bring up my experience as a critic because this is where I see the real development happening in pop culture. While the geniuses at Disney have been virtue signaling their way into the poorhouse, a complex and thriving ecosystem of online critics has emerged to document the decline. These influencers put together elaborate and carefully edited reviews and analyses of new movies and TV series. While many of these channels originally started as nerds geeking out in their garages, they have since become slick productions with quality writing, charismatic personalities, and overall great entertainment value.

As a result, many of these movie critics command huge followings. For reference, Critical Drinker has two million subscribers, while his fellow critics Nerdrotic and Mauler have over one million and nearly half a million respectively. I’m not ashamed to admit being a subscriber to all three. These critics have considered the cultural products being churned out in great depth and have figured out what works in storytelling.

Ironically, the preferences of consumers is reaching a point where the critics of mainstream entertainment are overtaking mainstream entertainment itself. As abominations like She-Hulk, The Acolyte, or The Marvels come and go, in their wake are dozens of new channels featuring thoughtful critics. For this reason, it’s becoming increasingly common for audiences to skip the movie or show and instead tune into the commentary on it. There’s no way I’ll waste untold hours subjecting myself to so much terrible content, but I count it as time well spent to hear the Critical Drinker talk about it.

More interestingly, these critics are overwhelmingly conservative in their sensibilities. No, they’re not quoting Edmund Burke (although one influencer calls himself “The Little Platoon”) or expounding on the virtues of free markets and limited government. But they are applying conservative moral and aesthetic standards in their critiques of today’s cultural output. Long before anyone else, they rightly denounced the wokeness creeping into the culture, not because of the messaging or ideology but because it’s boring, ugly, and uncreative.

Rather, what most of these critics advocate is returning to traditional values, intelligent writing, and productions that demonstrate artistic excellence. This allows entertainment and art to be relatable, relevant, thought-provoking, and compelling. True, mainstream filmmakers can blow their millions, relying on green screens, pushing girl power narratives, and challenging the few norms left in our world. But audiences can see through this now, largely because these influencers finally pulled the curtain back on the scam.

It’s no coincidence that media companies have started targeting these influencers, blaming them and their followers for the ongoing crisis at the box office. And in all fairness, they have a point. If these voices didn’t exist, many unsuspecting people might watch the abysmal Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and convince themselves it is okay. After all, this was largely how the entertainment industry worked before the rise of social media, giving life to countless forgettable movies and shows that had no reason to exist.

But that gravy train has come to a stop, and audiences are thankfully wisening up.

If artists and their patrons want to stay in business these days, they need to consider adopting a more conservative outlook. As a first step, I’d recommend hiring some of these online critics as consultants. If those guys are too expensive, they can hire me. I’d be more than happy to help.

If art is to take a greater place in the conservative movement, then conservatives need to pay more attention to the critic. As Oscar Wilde explains in the two-part essay “The Critic As Artist,” it is the critic, not the artist, who is essential in promoting the production of good art and entertainment: “It is the Criticism…that creates the intellectual atmosphere of the age…[and] makes culture possible.” Wilde himself embodied this, with his reviews and reflections having a far greater impact on society than nearly all the various paintings, poems, plays, novels, and art movements that were the subject of his critiques.

So, for those looking for people with taste, bona fide tastemakers, and conservative artists “to find their balls,” they should cheer on the success of perceptive online critics, take their opinions seriously, and start giving people what they’ve been wanting all along.

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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