Crisis of culture in the U.S.

BY:Dom Shannon| March 2, 2024
Crisis of culture in the U.S.


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

“George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” These were the words of famed rapper Kanye West during the 2005 nationally televised telethon benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina. In this notorious quote, Kanye expressed a popular conception of the Bush administration for a whole generation of people. How is it then, that less than 15 years later the same Kanye West — son of a Black Panther who had previously made commentary on racism in the U.S. — would go on a national tour professing his love for Hitler? Even more recently, beloved star in the Black community, Nicki Minaj, cozied up to Ben Shapiro after rapper Megan Thee Stallion blasted her for misogynoir. Both of these instances illustrate the right’s newfound investment in popular culture in response to young people, people of color and the LGBTQ community’s increasing acceptance of socialism.

Outside of exploiting the fissures in Black popular culture, the right has become increasingly interested in permeating their ideas through internet culture. Popular streamers/podcasters like Sneako and Andrew Tate diffuse ideas of misogyny, queerphobia, and racism to a young and impressionable audience, ensuring they have “first dibs” on shaping their worldview as they enter into adolescence and young adulthood. These instances don’t solely remain within the realm of various -isms or phobias. Right wing media personality Tucker Carlson has been featured on the podcast Full Send promoting a new tobacco product Zyn, for reasons that can only be seen as a promotional money making scheme for the company and its owners.

The right’s new interest in popular culture could be understood as a response to the leftward shift in the U.S. socio-political landscape that occurred between 2016–2020. When the Black Lives Matter movement came to a head after the murder of George Floyd and COVID shut down the economy, capitalist antagonisms were incredibly sharp and noticeable. This was in part because of the horrendous Trump presidency, but also in part because a new socialist movement was set into motion by the Bernie Sanders campaign of 2016. This latest utopian socialist moment brought many people into new political life: previously apolitical or demobilized, as well as young people who were experiencing political life for the very first time. This spawned the movements’ very own streamers and podcasters, such as the Red Scare Podcast, the Chapo Trap House Podcast and streamers like Hasan Piker. They sought to speak to, and for, this newly mobilized political base of young workers and students. But as the movement’s energy dwindled, their viewership and popularity declined. At the same time, some of these podcasters and streamers became advocates of “post-left” nihilistic politics, which was due to a concerted effort, perhaps even the first “attack,” by rightwing billionaire Peter Thiel who funds their projects with an endless stream of money. Simultaneously, but not coincidentally, right wing billionaire Elon Musk bought the social media platform Twitter, now known as X. This move was less so aimed at creating a new revenue stream but more so aimed at creating and controlling popular narratives on the internet.

The left has yet to respond to or recover from the right’s new method of disseminating their ideas. The current crisis in capitalism has pushed seemingly unimportant cultural commentary to the wayside for a myriad of reasons, including racist and patriarchal chauvinism, which can’t be discounted.

Where exactly does this leave us? The right wing has become the main agitators of a “culture war” they claim to want no part in, and many socialists have taken them at their word. We’ve seemingly given up on or have no interest in what is not overtly political, economic or legislative. While non-socialist progressives make commentary on culture/cultural events and even give solutions — which may not make adequate considerations to class implications — socialists remain silent, making us look fringe, out of touch and even non-existent. This is especially damning when you take into account the rate in which access to news is being put behind a paywall. Working people are being increasingly priced out of being informed on the world around them and increasingly rely on the media we do consume, which cannot be assumed to be factual.

There are hundreds, if not millions, of people currently in “political limbo.” Some of them are the utopian socialists who were invigorated during the 2016–2020 time period. Many of these people have yet to find a political home or adopt a coherent political agenda and may fall victim to “post-left” nihilistic politics propagated by the aforementioned streamers and podcasters. However, there are many, maybe even more, people who have never or scarcely been mobilized for overt political action, but have political opinions nonetheless. To some socialists, their politics may seem crude or rudimentary, because they are not derived explicitly from political analysis, rather from cultural events that nevertheless do have political implications. Indeed, those who care greatly about and pay attention to popular/celebrity culture are far from vapid or unintelligent. Instead, is it us who’ve failed to recognize their value?

Gramsci’s theory of capitalist cultural hegemony, particularly in the era of a rising fascist movement, is vindicated by the events of today. As the fascist right takes an “all-in” approach to reify its social and cultural dominance, socialists remain glued to “pure” politics. If it is our aim to become a mass party, then we cannot afford to concede the realm of cultural commentary to the far right. Nor should we concede to non-socialist progressives who often fail to center the working class in their approach. A concerted effort on the party’s behalf must be made to confront the current crisis of culture happening in the United States, with a body dedicated to understanding popular culture and the underlying politics. I believe this will breathe political life into those in “limbo” who have yet to be reached or heard.


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