Robert Peters: “It’s the Culture, Stupid!”
Over at the blog for Libertopia 2011, Robert Anthony Peters, an actor and libertarian activist, has an excellent piece up on the importance of art and movies to the freedom movement entitled, “It’s the Cuture, Stupid!”
It’s a great piece, with some rather trenchant observations, so I will wait here until you have gone over and read it.
Here at AFL we have argued, rather strenuously, that art, literature, and pop culture are far more effective vehicles for the pro-freedom message than policy papers, economic treatises, op-eds, or (shudder) political candidates.
Did you know that a 1988 Liberty Magazine survey found that the most influential people, by a wide plurality, for convincing others to become libertarians were Ayn Rand (voted 1st) and Robert Heinlein (voted 14th)? Both were fiction writers. Their novels were more effective at making converts to libertarianism than probably all of the Cato Institute’s work put together (not to put down the great work Cato does, and they’re in the business of backing up libertarian positions, not making converts).
While libertarians and free market activists fund think tanks and write editorials that attempt to coldly reason with the public, James Cameron and Oliver Stone make emotionally powerful movies to convince people that capitalism is a win/lose proposition and that businessmen are greedy and evil.
Guess which approach wins more converts?
People aren’t coldly rational, and stories, with their emotional appeal, pack a much more persuasive punch than, for instance, a Reason Magazine article on state abuses of authority.
Which brings us to Robert Peters’ piece.
Peters is an actor, in addition to being a libertarian, and this gives him a unique view on the current movement. While he argues that it is not enough to push out policy paper after policy paper, and that funding should be shifted towards the arts and away from the think tanks and political candidates, he identifies two, by no means small, obstacles to accomplishing this.
First, it is a long term strategy. This is not the type of thing that will begin to bear fruit for years, if not for a whole generation, even if begun this very instant. This is no small undertaking. A cultural movement needs artists, those artists need money, and both of those are in fairly short supply in the liberty movement. Anyone intent on jumpstarting a liberty-focused cultural renaissance must first find artists that have talent as well as free market ideals, and must then embark on the arduous process of finding outlets and distribution channels for their art.
Second, this is not something whose effects will be easy to measure. When a political candidate runs for office, polls and votes are the measure of his success. When a policy paper is submitted to the legislature, the creation and passage of bills (or opposition to them) are the measure of its success. But when an artist sets out to convince the public of a certain set of beliefs, there is no easy or agreed upon standard for measuring his success and thus of measuring a concrete return on investment and thus of enticing investors in the first place.
For something like this to succeed both problems, problems primarily of convincing others in the movement to shift limited resources to the cultural front, must be surmounted. Here are my humble suggestions:
- Just because this is a long-term strategy does not mean short-term wins can’t be emphasized to convince investors. The recently released Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 movie, though having its fair share of faults, nevertheless caused sales of the novel it was based on to shoot up to #1 on Amazon for a while, and had the hashtag #atlasshrugged trending on Twitter (which is hardly a bastion of free-market thinking).
- Measuring the effect a novel or a movie has on the popular consciousness is not easy, but some proxy measurements can be used. How many people did it reach (measured in downloads, ticket sales etc.)? How many of those people, when polled before and after the movie, had the same beliefs on government intervention?
These are difficult challenges, but by no means insurmountable, and I think eventual success of the liberty movement hinges on finding solutions for them.
The victory of libertarianism will not be achieved at the polls or in the courts, but where every battle for popular opinion is fought, in the movie theaters and record labels.