Conservative anxieties about embracing and entering culture—by which we mostly mean Hollywood—seem to have subsided in recent years. Emboldened by film successes like The Passion of the Christ, conservatives seem to be waking up to the possibility of a Tinsletown that is more amenable to its ideology.

For Conor Freidersdorf, however, the talk radio disposition toward Hollywood and journalism— exemplified by Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood derives its energy from an unhealthy paranoia and a latent sense of victimization . Friedersdorf’s counsel to conservatives seeking careers in Hollywood or newsrooms is to consistently produce excellent work and maintain a reasonable level of respectability.

All well and good, so far. But where Friedersdorf contends that conservatives are being scared away from “the very cultural institutions that most need their presence,” he ignores the deeper questions about those institutions’ legitimacy. Consider the case of Walden Media; while unabashedly conservative in orientation (and defiantly owned by an evangelical ), it has come to success not within Hollywood proper, but largely as an independent alternative. The talk radio that Freidersdorf disdains is an alternative cultural medium that the left ignored—and later attempted to imitate. The conservative political strategy, for good or ill, has not been to ignore Hollywood, but to sidestep it.

Additionally, the conservative anxiety about Hollywood is—ironically—grounded in the acknowledgment of culture’s formative influence. Conservatives are not worried that people will be tempted to turn their back on the conservatism that had formerly defined them. That would be too conscious a rejection for most. Instead, the deeper temptation is that living and breathing liberal air exclusively—which is often what such professions demand—will slowly cause conservatives to confuse the distinctiveness of their own ideas or relegate them to the background in their pursuit of legitimization.  A conservative alone, the worry goes, in a liberal culture will not long a conservative remain. Better to establish independent channels of distribution and offer an alternative that wins on its merits, rather than its adherents.

Of course, none of this addresses the deepest problem of Friedersdorf’s piece: He has not escaped the trajectory which he is criticizing. At bottom, the conservative complaint against Hollywood and the news media is not that there are liberals there, but rather that in order to succeed, one must pass a political litmus test. True or false, this politicization of cultural institutions is precisely what Friedersdorf’s advice depends upon and ultimately reinforces.

Articles by Matthew Lee Anderson

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