In Defense of Liberal Pop-Culture (and Leslie Knope)

(One of my friends posted this article. I love my friends. I love that they have a variety of opinions. Seriously. No shade intended.)

The overarching theme of this article is that Democrats ruined their own case by engaging in lots of condescending, clicky-baity, hashtag messaging. I don’t think this in inherently false. Unfortunately, Democrats have often found a warm and reassuring place in the false security of moral righteousness. On this issue, I think the author and I very much agree. But the contributing factors, and what we do about them, is where my issues come from*.

*(I’m also going to leave the ending statements about Obama being a social climber alone, as it is going to make an excellent stand alone post.)

First I think that his net of who caused this problem is a little too wide. I am convinced that only people who don’t understand liberal politics continue to cite Lena Dunham. Plenty of critiques of her exist, a lot of us tune her out. The internet can offer all sorts of explanations for her problematic nature. (I’m not going to even bother to comment on what the article says about her. Maybe someday I’ll dedicate a whole post to her.) Also, let’s not pretend that Seth Meyers is a bastion of politics and public intellectualism. He’s a comedian and has never claimed to be anything more. I have trouble believing that anyone takes these people seriously.

In the absence of Jon Stewart, we’ve found Trevor Noah and John Oliver. My disappointment in Trevor Noah has been too great to chronicle. While seemingly a lovely person, his commentary is nowhere near the level of his predecessor. I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out what could make his show better. If you figure it out, let me know. John Oliver offers much more structured commentary, potentially because of the format of his show. In the past he has done things like raise awareness for smoking in small countries and the tax breaks for churches. He is part comedian and part actual news, to the extent that a comedian can be both. His show is obviously meant for liberals, but I have seen some reflection on his part that maybe something with more bipartisan appeal might be better. However, in a country that is increasingly polarized and partisan, I don’t know how to achieve this balance.

The letter from Leslie Knope is most likely lost on the author of this article because he is man (#sorrynotsorry). While I didn’t think it was particularly well-written, Knope feels so important at this time to a specific group of women. Women like me. Leslie is not a role model for all women. She has some serious white-lady feminist issues and some people find her annoying. As much as I try to better myself every day, I sometimes suffer from similar problems. But in Leslie Knope, I see a woman like me succeeding. And at the moment when I saw Hillary Clinton (a tough, smart, strong, hard-working woman) defeated by Donald mother-effing Trump, it felt good to go back to Leslie, a woman who had been knocked down and got back up. Is Leslie the solution to the Democratic party’s problems? No. I also have trouble believing that she is what is wrong with the Democratic party. Least of all because she is a TV character. For the love of waffles, just let us have Leslie Knope as a balm for soothing our patriarchy shaped burns.

What the author is railing against is the symptom of the problem, as opposed to the problem itself. The fact that I watch John Oliver or retweet a Samantha Bee gif does not necessarily mean that I live in a cloud of self-congratulation. A cloud of self-congratulation can only persist if you strictly consume those kinds of media. An ill-balanced information diet is not caused by one genre or another. Rather it is caused by unequal consumption. Maybe watch John Oliver and catch up on your Ezra Klein. Read Glenn Beck before watching Samantha Bee. Find a podcast that has people with multiple views on at the same time. (I’m happy to recommend my favorites.) Treating pop-culture media as a pariah is not the answer to a more educated and empathetic public. A diet of crap feels good for a while, but it will also rot your teeth (and insides). Eat your vegetables and then you can enjoy your cupcake guilt-free.

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