THE HILL WE FIGHT ON.
The phrase “culture war” mystifies me. My dictionary stops at one definition per word and the first definition for “culture” describes the arts. Passions sometimes runs high for books, music, film and painting, but no need to fight about it, right? So I looked at a friend’s dictionary; in his book, culture also means the group identity of a people. Somehow, the second definition has overtaken the first. As a result, “American culture” no longer means the achievements of American artists. Instead, “American culture” refers to the core values Americans supposedly hold.
News flash. We are 337 million Americans in a country based on freedom of thought and action. If our core value is individualism, defining other beliefs we must hold in common seems a fool’s errand. Yet, the culture war rages on, the combatants determined to stamp their personal value systems with American flags.
Here is the mystifying part. The culture war seems to not be about culture (primary definition) at all. We fight incessantly about abortion, immigration, LGBTQ rights, and religious liberty. Aside from occasional attempts to pull controversial books from high school libraries, the arts no longer stir our passions. Over the last 30 years the U.S. population grew by about 35% while the cost of most things just about doubled. Yet, book sales, music sales, and movie theater attendance all stayed level or declined. Politics is all that matters and we are much poorer for it.
A NIGHT WITH LYLE.
My list of “best nights of 2020” is a short one, but our evening with Lyle Lovett at Waco’s Hippodrome easily makes the top five. Before we added mask wearing to the list of culture war topics, we had a great pizza and an ale at Southern Roots Brewing Company with old friends. Those old friends introduced us to new friends. From Southern Roots we walked to the concert and let Lyle entertain for a few hours.
If you want to learn about Texas, you can do worse than listening to Lyle sing. His concerts raise the bar based on the tales he spins in between the songs. What you learn seems, like Lyle, deeply rooted. He doesn’t hit you over the head, but you wear his marks all the same.
Alfred Hitchcock said that art’s primary function is to create emotion and its secondary function is to sustain it. Lyle’s concert worked like that. There is no way to leave a Lyle Lovett concert unhappy; contentment is the dominant feeling going home. Lyle’s songs describes struggles and sorrows, yet you feel like it will work out. That feeling stays with you; every time we dial Lyle up in the car, the blood pressure settles a bit.
After the concert, I had no idea what my new friends’ views were on abortion, immigration, etc. I just knew that they appreciated Lyle Lovett. And it is tough to fight a culture war with someone who likes Lyle Lovett.
WORTHWHILE ENDEAVORS GONE MISSING.
SO how did I spend my time in 2020: culture or culture wars? As a check, I looked at the New York Times 2020 lists for notable books; best movies and top albums. From those lists of approximately 200 worthy works of art, I experienced a grand total of : zero. I can, however, cite chapter and verse on mail-in ballot procedures and explain in detail the Supreme Court’s most recent abortion and LGBTQ rulings. When I do it, my blood pressure rises. I am an unwilling culture warrior.
A DIFFERENT HILL.
So what to resolve about culture v. culture wars? Simple resource reallocation. In 2021, Steve is going to read 20 entire books; visit five art museums he has never been to and enjoy at least 10 concerts or other live performances. We are frequent movie-goers when that is available; by the time the 2021 Oscars go out, we will have seen most, if not all, of the nominees.
Subtraction works too. No more cable news channels in the evening. I am winning this culture war by not playing. Lyle told me how to do it: