Ever since Pajamas TV began airing Klavan on the Culture, conservatives have been coming up to me and saying, “Ah, culture! What’s that?” Allow me to explain.

Culture in America is an enchanted place where the conservative facts of life are magically transformed into liberal fantasies. In movies, TV shows, novels, even comedy routines, our intellectuals, entertainers, and other fools are busily reshaping reality into works of art through their piercing insights into what will get them good reviews and awards, and through their rich and varied experience of the café in the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles.

To illustrate, I’ll give you some examples. See if you can spot the difference between reality and American culture. In reality, President John F. Kennedy was a fierce Cold Warrior who twice tripled America’s military presence in the Vietnam War to try to stop the spread of Communism and risked nuclear disaster by standing up to the Soviet Union in Cuba. He was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, an America-hating leftist who had once defected to the USSR.

Now, the culture: in Oliver Stone’s film JFK—nominated for Best Picture Oscar in 1991—Kennedy is a peaceful lefty contemplating a withdrawal from Vietnam. He’s assassinated by a vast right-wing cabal that includes every single person in America except for Oliver Stone. Reality, culture. Can you spot the difference?

Here’s another: in reality, Terri Schiavo was a severely brain-damaged woman who was judicially starved to death in 2005 at the request of her husband, while evangelical Christian right-to-life groups unsuccessfully petitioned to keep her alive. In the culture, a 2005 episode of Law and Order entitled “Age of Innocence” depicted a severely brain-damaged woman whose husband tried to euthanize her—until he was murdered at the instigation of an evangelical Christian right-to-lifer. In reality, evangelical Christians try to keep people alive. In the culture, they murder people. That’s a subtle one, I know—but can you spot the difference?

Let’s try again. Isn’t this fun? In reality, anthropological studies have shown that primitive societies are even more violent than civilized ones. Primitive life is pretty miserable in general, with no protection against drought or famine, no medicine—so that even the simplest diseases can be deadly—and no equality for women, who have zero defense against pregnancy or oppression.

Now let’s look at the culture. In films such as Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and now Avatar—which are really all the same film—a civilized man enters primitive society and finds its values far superior to his own. The collectivist natives are peaceful, the women are treated with respect, and ancient forms of medicine work as well as modern ones.

Spot the difference? Right! In reality, it’s civilization, democracy, capitalism, and technology that give us greater health, equality, and happiness. So when you go to see Avatar and enjoy its special effects and 3-D imagery, just think to yourself, wow, we’d never have anything as cool as that if we lived like the Indians. I mean, they never even invented the wheel!

Hey, and speaking of Avatar, it not only celebrates being at one with the sacred Earth, but portrays U.S. soldiers as evil sadists out to destroy native peoples. Can you spot the difference between Avatar and, say, Haiti, where our old pal the sacred Earth slaughtered innocent people by the thousands and the U.S. military turned out in a massive rescue effort?

But in our culture, the U.S. military is always evil, housewives are always desperate, corporations are always corrupt, and poverty is always the fault of wealthy people’s greed. Can you spot the difference between those assumptions and reality?

If you can’t, you’re probably a liberal. And a knucklehead.


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next