Sunday, November 22, 2009

Culture is Politics

"Culture is politics."

So exclaims Frank Rich in his essay today on the Sarah Palin phenomenon. Whatever your political lean, there can be no doubt that Palin's rise stems from her connection to cultural issues, such as abortion and religion, and her seemingly effortless ability to resonate with people who are fearful of change. It's an apocalyptic message, repeated in an equally populist way by Glenn Beck, that America, and life as we know it, is about to end if leftist and progressive ideas and agendas are allowed to thrive.

Suddenly, with the election of our nation's first African-American President, these fears have bubbled to the surface, with teabagging masses descending upon Washington DC like the torch-wielding mobs in "Frankenstein", trying to kill what they simply do not understand. It's totally irrational, but people who are afraid do not take time to seek out the facts, they only know what they feel, and voices like Palin and Beck, with their incessant demonization-du-jour, tap into that raw, visceral emotion.

Matt Taibbi, in a must-read column, hits the nail on the head.
At the end of this decade what we call “politics” has devolved into a kind of ongoing, brainless soap opera about dueling cultural resentments and the really cool thing about it, if you’re a TV news producer or a talk radio host, is that you can build the next day’s news cycle meme around pretty much anything at all, no matter how irrelevant — like who’s wearing a flag lapel pin and who isn’t, who spent $150K worth of campaign funds on clothes and who didn’t, who wore a t-shirt calling someone a cunt and who didn’t, and who put a picture of a former Vice Presidential candidate in jogging shorts on his magazine cover (and who didn’t).

It doesn’t matter what the argument is about. What’s important is that once the argument starts, the two sides will automatically coalesce around the various instant-cocoa talking points and scream at each other until they’re blue in the face, or until the next argument starts.
A month ago I wrote about AANR's director Erich Schuttauf and his public comments about two cultural issues - the man arrested in Virginia for being nude in his own home, and the parents in Arizona who were arrested for taking nude photos of their children. Schuttauf got caught up in the noise on these issues, the 24 hour news spin, and made them official AANR issues, when in fact they were of marginal passing interest, fodder for blogs and forums, and not worthy of official comment or statement from nudist organizations. As I predicted, both of these stories dropped off the radar just as quickly as they appeared.

The challenge for nudists and naturists today is to separate the real issues out of the incessant noise of cultural argument, and to formulate a plan for future acceptance of nude recreation in society.

The recent battle over San Onofre Beach illustrates how the cultural divide is threatening nude sunbathing. Without rehashing the entire case, suffice it to say that California Parks officials banned nudity at San Onofre more on cultural reasons than practical. As the Naturist Action Committee reported on 5/30/08: "It is their (Parks Department officials) firm belief that the only way to rid the park of the criminals in the parking lot, on the Marine Base and the occasional miscreant on our beach is to remove the most supportive and positive influence there, the honest naturists at Trail 6."

This is a clear case of public officials taking on a "cultural enemy" rather than deal with the real issue at hand, both as a matter of expediency and to create the illusion that they were on top of the issue. Allen Baylis outlines the irrationality behind the San Onofre decision in his "Fact or Fiction" essay.

As I've noted before, I supported the NAC's lawsuit at San Onofre, even though the chances for success were slim. It was important for nudists and naturists to band together and fight, even for a lost cause, in order to bring attention to the issue, and gather support. When AANR chose not to support the NAC and pursue a course of appeasement and negotiation, they effectively threw San Onofre Beach under the bus, and revealed nudists and naturists to be a divided and weakened force.

In this particular battle in the culture wars, the NAC decided to fight the real battle, while AANR decided to run with what Taibbi refers to as a "brainless soap opera", blaming the NAC, claiming "victory" through appeasement, and scoring political points at the expense of a real loss for nude recreation.

It's truly shameful, especially from an organization that calls itself "the credible voice of reason for nude recreation." Even the use of such a slogan is divisive, inferring that The Naturist Society or other organizations have no credibility. It's just like Fox News when it refers to itself as "fair and balanced."

On the other hand, TNS proclaims as part of its mission statement: "The Naturist Society believes the interests of naturists are advanced through education and community outreach. TNS recognizes it is part of a larger community and welcomes the challenge of spreading the naturist and nudist message."

Taibbi goes on to say:
Complaining about the assholes we interact with on a daily basis is the #1 eternal pastime of the human race. We all do it, and we get to do it every day, because the world is full of assholes...and when we get home from work, this is usually what our loved ones hear about for at least the first hour or so.

Not health care, not financial regulatory reform, not Iraq or Afghanistan, but — assholes.
AANR and the NAC have been engaging in the assholes debate for the last year and a half. AANR blames the NAC for endangering nudity on all California state beaches, and the NAC blames AANR for giving Parks officials the impression that San Onofre was expendable. Plenty of assholes to blame on this one.

The blame game has reached epic proportions in today's culture. Don't like health care reform? Blame Obama, blame Pelosi, blame Reid. Don't like the lack of health care reform? Blame Boehner, blame Bush, blame all the obstructionist Republicans.

Sarah Palin fits perfectly into this new meme, never taking responsibility for her own failures, but rather blaming all of the assholes in her life, like Katie Couric, Steve Schmidt, Newsweek, or any other person or entity which dares to stand in the way of her ordained mission to save America. She is the self-proclaimed "credible voice" of the people.

The problem with all of this brainless cultural chatter is that it accomplishes nothing. We leap from one argument to the next without ever solving real problems. Issues like health insurance reform, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the current economic crisis should not be fodder for petty political posturing, but rather battles that need to be fought together as the common interests of all the American people. Life and death issues should not be debated "Hardball" style day in and day out - there has to come a time when doing the right thing trumps doing the political thing.

Same with San Onofre. The time has come for the asshole arguments to cease. I don't give a damn who is the "credible" voice on the public beaches issue, I just want results.

There's a scene in the Pixar movie "Up" where a talking dog is engaged in conversation when he suddenly turns his head and exclaims "Squirrel!". This sudden animated canine distraction says more about our culture as Americans than it does about the dog. In the midst of world-shattering crises, we are all to willing to focus our attention on the inane, such as Balloon Boy, Jon and Kate, and the Thrilla from Wasilla who winks and says "You Betcha" as part of her political platform.

Mixing culture with politics not only further divides people, it over-simplifies issues into black and white, completely erasing the gray. Nuance and subtelty are the backbones of any meaningful debate, and the essence of problem solving, so when we reduce these complex matters into stick figure cartoons, we render ourselves ineffective and irrelevant. As Matt Taibbi says, we are in danger of waging a "virtually endless war over nonsense."

Nudists and naturists need to realize than in a culturally explosive atmosphere, the nude lifestyle loses. We have practically no political power, and even less when divided into opposing camps. We are also in the odd position where non-sexual social nudity is taboo for most of mainstream America, and too tame for the swinger and porn culture which is a thriving sub-sector taking over traditional nudist venues.

We are literally caught in the middle.

So what is the prescription for nudists in dealing with this society where culture and politics are one and the same?

The floor is open for intelligent debate.


Anonymous said...

I think you are right in that the only way we can effectivly deal with assaults on our way of life is to band together. Unfortunatly not everyone sees it the same way. The old saying united we stand divided we fall has more than a grain of truth behind it. How do we unite TNS and AANR, that is the real question. Can it even be done if one side seems disinterested? I know many who have written to AANR to complain about their way of handling the situation but the net result seems to be hey we did what we did so get over it. The implied message I get is we are the most important face of nudism and we do as we please. They may even hope to erode the TNS base by virtue of there being fewer places to go nude outside of nude resorts. In the end there may not be a way to get these two organizations to play nice together. So who do we support? Well my answer is both, if they can not unite then we will have to try to fill the void and be the bridge between them. Perhaps if enough of us do that then there will be fewer who see this as a us and them, all or nothing approach and try to work together.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully one day TNS and AANR will have leadership that WANT to work together. Until then, there will be plenty of finger pointing at each other.

That leaves the majority of us nudists / naturists to just skate by with whatever happens.



Richard said...

First let me say thanks for this blog and the time and effort you spend highlighting issues important to those looking for more places to enjoy being nude.

As for your question: "What is the prescription for nudists in dealing with this society where culture and politics are one and the same?" I think one answer is simple, but not a quick prescription: Create more nudists. That is, convince non-nudists to try it more. The Iron Curtain communists lost some idealogical spark once we managed to smuggle some blue jeans and Coca-Cola their way.

But your post inspired another thought: When you trot out the demonizing tags du jour for those that don't agree with the current administration, you further the idea that the current party in power is mostly a coalition of extreme special interest groups, which dilutes the strength of your arguments for that interest. While it is fully within your right to tie national politics to culture issues confronting nudists, I'm not sure the particular association you make holds up, especially when you imply those that disagree with the current administration are irrational, fearful, and possibly racist.

Winning hearts and minds is the only way that nudists will see more freedoms, and that starts with the discretion to not simplistically demean those who think differently on some issues, but are with you on nudism. That's what many with moronic anti-nudist tendencies do to us on the issues of nudism, and I don't see it working very well.

Nudiarist said...

Richard, yes, winning hearts and minds is what nudists must do. How to accomplish that is the question. I raise the issue of the current cultural climate, not so much as to make a comparison to nudism or naturism, but to illustrate the social climate with which we are dealing.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most intelligent writings I have ever read on the subject. While horrible problems face this society and this world, celebrity worship, screaming matches instead of intelligent debate, and pigeonholing any view not in lockstep with the prevailing groupthink is destroying everything. It seems as if the captain of the Titanic has steered toward the iceberg and told passengers "We have stopped to take on a bit of ice for the bar". We need for freedom and fun and sense of joy. Look at the photos on this great website and look at all the smiles. Where else do you see so many? Too many people have decided they have the right and even the duty to tell everyone how to live and more frightening to me, how to think. God gave us a brain to think with and a heart for compassion. He also created these bodies. I cannot accept the concept that His creations are obscene and need hiding. Screaming, shouting, threatening, or passing idiotic laws and using needed resources to enforce them are not going to change the basic fact that a lifestyle that respects others while having a sense of fun and comraderie with others is wrong.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Frank Rich and his like are simply propagandists for the Obama administration. Despite the rhetoric, the Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same coin, both throwing rhetoric to their respective bases, while continuing to erode civil rights and individual liberties while building a nightmarish "1984" totalitarian state.

Unfortunately, you have bought the lie from Frank Rich and the mainstream media on the real meaning of the "Tea Party" movement. While certainly the GOP has attempted to co-opt the real grassroots intent, as a Tea Party supporter and nudist, I recognize that our government is out of control at all levels and the only way to get our individual rights and liberties back is to "de-fang the monster" and dramatically reduce taxes and spending.

I suggest that you become acquainted with the essays on Libertarian websites such as that offer real hope for positive change, not the delusions and lies coming from the mainstream media. Glen Beck is an entertainer, but you'll find really thoughtful issues and insight on I encourage you to consider it thoughtfully.

Only in a society that recognizes the Constitutional limited role of government and the preeminence of individual rights over a collectivist centralist government will we ever have a chance at getting many of our lost freedoms back.

It is sad to watch the rivalry between AANR and TNS. I've never been much for organizations, but I recently joined TNS because they more closely stand for what I do.

Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

Nudiarist said...

Anonymous, What I would like to know is where were all these teabaggers during the Bush administration which virtually bankrupted the country with tax cuts for the wealthy, a catastrophic unnecessary war, the biggest expansion of big government in history, and a Wall Street bailout of epic proportions. Not to mention a runaway health care cost crisis which absolutely threatens to bankrupt America. No, the teabaggers are not about real reform, they are about Fox News and their agenda to destroy a President, even if it takes lies, lies, and more lies.

Paul Rapoport said...

I won't wade much into American political debate, which I find as tiring and tiresome as any other. I will say, however, that Frank Rich is far more intelligent than his critic here pretends. He's not a shill for anyone.

It has always seemed to me that AANR and TNS could support one another by AANR ceasing to pretend that it understands beaches or the law and TNS giving up connections with clubs.

Although TNS and NAC have less clout in some ways, they work for naturism. AANR works mainly for itself, falsely claiming it represents all nudists, offering slogans in place of substance, continuing to want to carve out exemptions for itself and throw other nudists away (including San Onofre Beach).

Its official literature, well written and captivating, is usually narrow (and commercial) but plays to an audience that naturism can't afford to ignore.

Both organizations need renewal by way of infusion from younger people. That's been said to distraction. I have no suggestion how that is to happen.

The prominence of Ms. U Betcha is not new in America but is exacerbated by the immanent inanity of most media, exacerbated by much of the Internet's desultory triviality so distracting that it becomes the simulacrum reality.

Sarah Palin makes Chauncey Gardiner look like a genius.

Anonymous said...

No time to read something this long now, but 1 way to get young people to try nudism: popular culture. In communist Russia it was 1% communist & 99% not, but the communists were in control. In America it is 1% Hollywood & 99% not, but Hollywood has control of popular culture

Don said...

I hate it when people blame everyone else for their situation. The easy way out is to quit and run away. Palin illustrates this role very well.

Even at the most local level there are those who never have a proactive idea about changing things but instead are totally negative about what others propose. My answer to those folks is, "Where were you when the paper was blank?"

No group is perfect and no effort is going to solve the problem entirely and we must appreciate the efforts of ANNR, TNS, NAC and others who are on the forefront of the defense of the things we believe are right.

We still need a government for the people and by the people. Not just a segment of the people but all of the people. We also need a distinct separation of church and state. Your beliefs are yours and mine are mine and each can be valid.

What a rambling response to a serious problem!!