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How Conservatives Became An Impenetrable, Nerdy Fandom
The Fox News Cinematic Universe
Conservatives used to be extremely good at the dirty, underhanded game of politics. For decades they ran circles around the left, able to deftly deliver soundbite-sized attacks that a complicit mainstream media would amplify at the drop of a hat. But nowadays they have more in common with sci-fi/fantasy nerds who go on and on about their obsessions using jargon and shorthand that nobody outside of the hardcore fandom can understand.
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Trust me, I know this world well. I’ve collected comic books for over 40 years and it doesn’t take much to get me ranting about the Death and Return of Superman, the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Secret Wars, and even the original Star Wars trilogy. But even as we’ve seen the world of the comic book nerd go from punchline to box office juggernaut, conservatives more and more are emulating the Human Centipede in the way they have become insular and confusing.
The peak of conservative scandalmonger culture was probably the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. One of the things that so confounded Democrats during that scandal was that it was so easy to understand. The president had an inappropriate sexual affair with an intern, and he tried to cover it up. There were a million affiliated storylines and spinoffs, but the core story was very simple to understand and the Republican Party took full advantage of that simplicity.
Contrast that to what exactly it is Hunter Biden is supposed to have been involved in. He used drugs and took nude photos and put them on a laptop which apparently is connected to sketchy business dealings with Ukraine and China but also is part of a conspiracy by social media companies like Twitter to suppress the story even though it occurred while Trump was president, but also connects to an email about “the Big Guy” that was sent when Biden was vice president and on and on. In the world of Republican politics and conservative media, each supposed revelation relating to the story is treated like the Washington Post reporting on Watergate, but unless you’re hooked on the story, it is nearly impossible to explain what is going on.
You’ve even see the frustration about this boil over in the friendly confines of Fox News, with hosts complaining to House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer that he needs to give them something instead of hemming and hawing about peeling back the onion.
What made this happen? How did the right go wrong at this game that they built so well in the Clinton years?
I think a lot of it rests on the death of Roger Ailes. Ailes is what I would describe as an evil genius. Someone who had an innate skill that he applied to the worst possible thing in the world, because he was a scumbag. Ailes created Fox News for Rupert Murdoch from his original plan as a Richard Nixon aide to put the Republican Party on television. The idea with Fox News was to create the condition so that no Republican president caught in a Nixon-style scandal would ever feel the need to resign again. Instead of bowing to shame and the mainstream media, the right could create an alternate reality where they were always the heroes and victims of a vast conspiracy.
But what Ailes understood was that his alternate Fox News universe had to appeal to normal people. People who were not knee-deep in politics, who could be roped into political intrigue by being told that Democrats were destroying whatever it is they liked, and that Republicans were building it up. That’s why Ailes developed things like the crass, misogynistic “leg cam,” designed to attract the attention of channel surfers passing by the channel. He would reel them in with attractive female anchors and reporters, then sell them right-wing politics.
Selling conspiracies was always a part of this strategy, and Ailes was a delusional, paranoid person himself. In the Obama era, the network went into birther conspiracies, and socialism conspiracies, and Sharia law conspiracies. This was when the network gave racist conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck the biggest platform he ever had.
But then the network started feeding on this madness, ignoring the original idea of roping in new people, and instead feeding the people already obsessed with this madness like pigs at a trough. Fox gave a platform to Donald Trump as a political commentator when he was pushing the birth certificate conspiracy, and as he rose to become the leader of the party, Ailes died and Fox has become stuck in a loop ever since.
Republican politicians have seen how successful Trump was at capturing the hearts and minds of the Fox viewer, and have made pandering to the network’s conspiracy culture as fundamental to conservative politics as tax cuts were in the past.
They end up all talking to each other endlessly about nonsense, resulting in leaders like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who sees “woke mob” boogeymen under ever bed and around every corner. This nonsensical rhetoric works with core conservative voters but to everyone else who isn’t obsessively reading fan blogs and reading every piece of affiliated literature, it sounds more like weird nerd stuff. It’s a turnoff.
Democrats like President Joe Biden have benefitted from this dynamic, because instead of being pushed towards more progressive positions a lot of the time, a mainstream Democrat can make the sign of the cross, shake their heads ruefully, and point to conservative madness. Biden and popular Democratic ideas sound much more palatable when the alternative is Trump or DeSantis ranting about deep state vaccines from Chinese businessmen that dump votes for the globalists, or whatever variation of conspiracy theory is selling at the moment.
There are some Republican leaders, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who clearly understand that a lot of this fandom-speak is toxic, and that voters will reject it. You could see it all through the 2022 campaign cycle as Trump enlisted fellow election deniers to run for office, and so many of them ended up losing. Yet instead of abandoning the failed strategy, kooky figures like election-denying loser Kari Lake have all but taken up permanent residence at Mar-a-Lago and in the hearts of the conservative voter base.
If anything, to many of these voters Fox News is not hardcore crazy enough. Meanwhile, in reality, the network has had to pay out millions in settlements because it went too far in creating the alternate election theft reality in 2020.
There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. In the right-wing cinematic universe, Disney is now a front for pedophilia, and drag shows and Bud Light are part of a plot to recruit children to be transgender, among other bigoted conspiracies. Everything is tied together in a grand scheme, and the secret information is somehow all on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Meanwhile, voters will likely reject most of the candidates offering up this inanity, but the right explains this away by arguing that Democrats are rigging the elections. All of them, apparently. If only the Democrats were that competent at being evil!
The future of conservative politics is a bunch of weird nerds offering up fan theories about why the world is rejecting them. Here’s hoping that this keeps their dangerous ideas far, far away from the levers of power.
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