- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What’s mainstream?

“‘Every leading Delaware Republican knows that Christine O'Donnell is way out of the mainstream,’ is how her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, happily analyzed the Senate primary victory of the Tea Party-supported, and anti-masturbation, candidate O'Donnell. Well, that’s the question: What’s the mainstream?

“It does seem that everybody, including Karl Rove, believes that the [Sarah] Palin-backed O’Donnell isn’t in it. But how far out of it is she? Rick Lazio, himself rather far from the theoretical mainstream of New York voters, but an uncontroversial and dogged fixture in the Republican Party, was defeated yesterday by Tea Party-backed Carl Paladino, a socially aberrant figure in too many ways to count. In other words, even if the mainstream is moving toward the Republicans (and thats far from certain in New York state), these new Republican candidates are moving much more swiftly away from it.

“That’s what the Democrats hope. That’s what the Republican establishment fears. …

“To wit: Everybody who is in the mainstream is as vulnerable as they’ve ever been; everybody who is out of it has a better chance than they’ve ever had.”

- Michael Wolff, writing on “Was Last Night Good for Sarah Palin?” on Newser.com Sept. 15

The bad and the ugly

“Where would movies and TV be without the barbarous burbs to regale us with their baroque frights of bad taste and human-waste disposal? If America has a libido for the ugly, as H. L. Mencken proclaimed, the burbs are where that libido flies its freak flag. Used to be, sensitive characters with aspirations for something finer in life than eight coats of shellac on their bouffants and living rooms that resemble the Italian Renaissance on acid couldn’t wait to flee the outskirts and seek fulfillment in Manhattan, preferably Lower Manhattan, where people speak nice, appreciate cultcha, and go easy on the leopard prints.

“In ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ John Travolta’s Tony Manero was a Vinnie Barbarino with poetry throbbing in his disco hips, his dignity and hair affronted nightly at the family dinner table in Bay Ridge, where every meal included a zesty course of yelling. The Brooklyn Bridge looms as Tony’s gateway to a better tomorrow and a classier category of girlfriend, one that doesn’t chew gum during intercourse. …

“The kitschification of the burbs - the evolving formula of suburban tacky equals Italian tacky equals Mafia - reached its excelsior peak with Martin Scorseses ‘GoodFellas,’ whose ‘made men’ maintained a domestic lifestyle suitable for Medici princes and princesses with Liberace aesthetics. …

“In ‘GoodFellas,’ the brutish, impulsive, coke-jag violence and the garishly overdone decor were the conjoined twins of the same cacophony - an incoherent, insatiable greed. The Little Italy of previous gangster epics didnt allow enough elbow room for the palatial dreams of such goodfellas, no driveways for their suburban chariots. ‘GoodFellas’ begat David Chases ‘The Sopranos,’ on HBO, and with ‘The Sopranos,’ the camera-eye swung west, past the Meadowlands (where Jimmy Hoffa is rumored buried), and New Jersey became the style capital of the great American fugly.”

- James Wolcott, writing on “Barbarians at the Shore,” in the October 2010 issue of Vanity Fair

On evangelicals

“Is evangelical culture weak? It certainly doesn’t seem so. The volume of books, music albums, and lively blogs indicates a thriving industry of decidedly Christian products. But should strong sub-cultural production and consumption be equated with a vibrant impact on the broader culture? James Davison Hunter doesn’t think so. He raised these and other questions in his latest book, ‘To Change the World’ …

“In his book …, Hunter paints a disparaging picture of evangelical efforts to transform American culture. The University of Virginia sociologist challenges the notion that transforming millions of ‘hearts and minds’ actually effects cultural change. He critiques the politicized efforts of the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and the neo-Anabaptists, and concludes that Christians need to engage culture through “faithful presence” in their different spheres and communities. … How should Christians live in the world?

“To answer this question, one thing we should consider is how consuming cultural artifacts establishes personal identity. This is especially true for young adults, including young evangelicals, and those who mother, mentor, and manage this generation should understand how they interact with cultural artifacts ….

“Consumption-as-identity has moved beyond establishing social status by flaunting wealth; in fact, one’s relative wealth may be less important than it once was. What matters now is the ability to cobble together a unique blend of thrift-store clothing, just-out-of-the-mainstream iPod tracks, and vintage posters. The blend of consumed artifacts - or bricolage - is what sets you apart. Curating a personal style isn’t wrong, but trying to be “original” for its own sake can easily foster both pride and insecurity.”

- Anna Littauer Carrington, writing on “Culture in an Age of Consumption,” on ChristianityToday.com Sept. 14

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