Conservatives: If you want for the good guys to win in the end, the art you’re looking for is comedy.

Carved Marble Relief depicting tragic and comic masks Roman 2nd century CE
By showing how an individual person applies the great wonder that is the human mind to the process of improving his circumstances over time, comedy makes the libertarian/individualistic/egoistic argument with every telling.mharrsch / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Breitbart.com is on a tear of late about the dearth of conservative art. The fear is that the absence of what they see as conservative themes in popular art forms, especially television and cinema, serves to advance the slow march of Marxist tyranny.

They’re right, as far as they go. The trouble is, they don’t go far enough — and they’re going the wrong way, anyway.

To begin with, the word ‘conservative’ is useless. John McCain is a ‘conservative’ who never met a government program he couldn’t grow into a malicious monster. Rand Paul or Ted Cruz might be more ideal to Breitbart readers, but they are still, most fundamentally, advocates of a leaner, meaner style of Marxism. The great ‘conservative’ electoral cry is “Less free stuff — now with extra sneering!” I can’t imagine why anyone would expect that to sell. In fiction, in a thriller, that kind of ‘message’ would be a false-flag conspiracy: The seemingly hapless, helpless, clueless enemies of evil are actually its secret allies.

It gets worse. Much of the art would-be anti-Marxists celebrate is itself fundamentally pro-tyranny. War movies and action flicks are all about vengeance and retribution — you know, the stuff that Classical Liberal institutions exist to eliminate. Still worse, superhero adventures document the lives of pathetic wraiths who are doomed to eternal slavery in penance for their superior martial or mental prowess.

Instead of conservative versus liberal, here are some better terms for discriminating among types of art: Pro-freedom versus pro-tyranny, individualist versus collectivist, egoistic versus anegoistic. Dividing things along those much clearer lines helps to separate what liberty-seeking people might hope to see in works of art, and distinguishes the kinds of artworks that are most likely to draw people away from the tyrannical/collectivist/anegoistic ideals that dominate popular art right now.

Here is an even better dividing line: Comedy versus tragedy. By comedy I don’t mean farce but simply narratives that move from worse to better, as compared with tragic stories, which move from better to worse. Every theme loved by the forces of tyranny is a tragedy, since the pro-government argument is anti-freedom, anti-individualist and anti-egoist. Free will is the enemy of the state, which is why tyrannical artists (and politicians, academics, pundits, etc.) invest so much (voluntary!) effort in denying the existence of free will.

‘Conservatives’ are always too much about what they’re against, instead of what they’re for, so they imagine that tragedies or satires (that is to say, tragedies with jokes) will advance their cause. They won’t. Tragedy serves only to reinforce the belief, in the mind of the individual art patron, that self-initiated action is his own behalf is either futile or futile-and-absurd. This is very much the state of mind of the ideal subject, serf or slave — and the complete opposite of the frame of mind appropriate to a free man.

By showing how an individual person applies the great wonder that is the human mind to the process of improving his circumstances over time, comedy makes the libertarian/individualistic/egoistic argument with every telling. ‘Conservative’ pundits, too often victims of the overwhelmingly-Marxist university system, can be quick to dismiss comedy as low art. But a true comedy — the hero triumphs in the end by virtue of having mastered newly-won virtues — no matter how low, advances the cause of freedom far more than the most excruciatingly exclusive tragedy. In the very best of comedies there are no villains at all and everyone is a better person by the end of the story.

Here’s an example of what I mean: If you want to sell marital commitment and fidelity as a virtue — and I sure do! — He’s Just Not That Into You promises to do a much better job than does Madame Bovary. If your goal is to impress a snooty lit-prof who has never worked a day in his entire wretched misanthropic life, go with Flaubert. But if you want to turn a confused collectivist into a steadfast individualist, chip in for the popcorn.

Here’s another story, one from my own corpus: A peek inside the head of a Headliner. Rags to riches: A down-on-his-luck gambler turns a grungy job driving a cab into a career as a headliner in a Las Vegas casino comedy club. The story, in prose just a few hundred words, is easy to envision as a three-act film or a five-season dramedy series — all woven from the simplest of yarns: “Pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.”

As I write this, the biggest pitiful box office receipts in Hollywood are being won by a film called The Butler — a fake biography of a fictionalized White House domestic servant, Forrest Gump in blackface. That’s just pathetic — and decades-spanning chronicles are not really stories at all, even in fiction. But what’s worse is that this is what Hollywood thinks is worth celebrating among black Americans, the guy who rose to the very top in a going-nowhere job, witness to everything, participant in nothing.

Here are some much better subjects for film-makers who hope to sell libertarian/individualistic/egoistic ideals to black (and white!) audiences: Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Thomas Sowell. A biography of arduous effort leading eventually to triumph is simply another form of the comedic plot — the ‘based-on-a-true-story’ kind. And the independent-verifiabilty of the real-life story-behind-the-story makes biographies doubly-persuasive.

Didactic art without artistry is just preachy, appealing to no one. But all narrative art is didactic in the sense that the story is its own argument about the nature of the universe. If you prize free will, if you thrive by individualism and capitalism, if you yearn for more and more liberty to act in your own behalf, the art you’re longing for, the art you should patronize — and the art you should underwrite — is comedy. If you want for the good guys to win in the end, that’s the story that will make it happen.

Connecting the dots to redeem human civilization – while there is still time…

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