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South Park Conservatives

This column from The Weekly Standard was written by David Skinner.

I called up Brian Anderson yesterday to ask him a few questions about his forthcoming book, "South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias."

Anderson is a senior editor at City Journal. He's typical of an increasingly influential type of journalist, the full-time, on-staff, journal journalist who, paid by a think tank like the Manhattan Institute or the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has the time and space to work on policy articles for months at a time before having to pull the trigger on a finished piece. The result is a densely fortified style of reporting and argumentation that puts to shame mainstream journalism's call-and-quote product. Anderson's City Journal colleague, Heather MacDonald, is another fine example of the breed, as are, from the younger set, the writers over at the New Atlantis, a journal of technology edited by Weekly Standard contributor Eric Cohen.

But it's not for any disquisition on urban policy or essay of political philosophy (a subject in which he has a Ph.D.) that Anderson has lately achieved a modest but growing measure of public known-ness. It is for a very nice bit of trend reporting, his Autumn 2003 article We're Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore, which introduced a great number of online readers to the phrase South Park Conservative.

A coinage of Andrew Sullivan's, the South Park Conservative is, like the hit Comedy Central show from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, opposed to political correctness and more likely to ridicule than observe the guidelines of the new sensitivity concerning race, ethnicity, minorities, women, the handicapped, obesity, homosexuality, ugliness, religion, childhood, and much, much, much else. The show, according to Anderson's thesis, is typical of how the culture is shifting to a more critical attitude toward liberal media and its firmly held pieties. (City Journal has just pre-published the final chapter of the book in its latest issue.)

My first, not really serious, question is whether Anderson in his book tries to write Andrew Sullivan out of the movement. (After seeing the especially tame Weekly Standard cover this week of a gay Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Sullivan had a reaction that can only be described as, well, politically correct.) "Andrew has become increasingly liberal," Anderson allows, but no, he isn't trying to kick him out. He does say that Sullivan, in his usage, "incorporates the notion of social liberalism," while Anderson himself is not only more conservative, but he believes that, at its core, South Park the show is, also, culturally conservative.

The idea for Anderson's article, he says, originated in the offices of City Journal, where editor Myron Magnet and members of the staff were trying to get a read on the meaning of the rise of Fox News, the blog-supported resignation of ultra-liberal New York Times editor Howell Raines, the incredible traffic at Drudge and other websites not particularly friendly to the left-wing hierarchy of the mainstream media. Even before Rathergate, a lot was going on that suggested a major shift away from the "monolithic liberalism of the mainstream media." (And, yes, there was a time before Rathergate: I remember well that sweet predawn era of complete faith in the words of that great, noble, manly, truth-telling newsreader.)

Is South Park conservatism exclusively a young phenomenon? Well, Anderson says, "a lot of the older conservatives just don't get it." But some do. Bill Bennett, says Anderson, called after reading the article. Bennett's kids were South Park fans and had been encouraging him to give it a try. And so he did, finding the show clearly anti-liberal. (No word yet on Bennett's opinion of Team America: World Police.) But, yes, South Park conservatism is especially big among young conservatives, says Anderson, who are more comfortable with the new "more flippant tone" and the new technologies.

Anderson talked with "several dozen" conservative students for his book. "They weren't young George Wills, they weren't young Bill Buckleys." They wore jeans and listened to iPods nonstop, but were intensely pro-life. But less conservative than their older counterparts on gay marriage, where they didn't object to the idea of civil unions for gays. As for the war on terror, they were very pro-Bush.

Is there a downside to the rise of South Park conservatism? I ask. "It can be," as its critics claim Anderson notes, "kind of nihilistic, profane, and vulgar." And, of course, "it will offend a lot of people." But, he says, "the biggest danger is that the activism and the attitude might replace an engagement with ideas."

Anderson continues: "You don't want to see it as a whole ethos of life. . . . If there weren't any respect for higher culture, it wouldn't be conservatism."

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard and runs the blog Galley Slaves.

By David Skinner

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