What’s Old Is New

Reading Ross Douhat’s excellent post on the new Trek movie, I had a revelation. Many of the stories we are familiar with — the Arthur legend, ancient mythology, the Iliad, etc., are version of stories that were being continually reinvented. The Arthur legend, for example, passed through many many versions to and beyond the one crystallized by Mallory. The Iliad shows signs of having been revised many time before it was written down.

We’re seeing that process applied to modern pop culture. Many of the stalwarts of comic books and movies are reinventing themselves to shed the labyrinthine continuity with which they are shackled. James Bond, Batman, Superman, X-Men and now Trek retain the forms but dance differently, rediscovering the story in a new way.

I’m not saying that 3000 years from now, people will still be watching Batman Begins as a classic of 20th century film. But it’s amazing to see the pattern repeat and to know that it has been going on, not just for the last few years, but ever since human beings began telling stories to pass the time.

The Brand

I was thinking today about how brand loyalty is established in politics. Most voters are not independent, their pretensions not withstanding They typically break for the same party year after year. Voting is much easier when you can identify a party that you will always vote for or that you will never vote for.

However, while this brand loyalty is fixed at any one moment in time, there are historical events than can cause millions of voters to either establish or break their loyalty. Given the general closeness of elections, this can shift the balance of power dramatically.

For example:

  • Growing up in the South, most people I knew voted Democrat without exception. The reason was that, in the wake of Reconstruction, their parents and grandparents and great-great-granduncles once removed had sworn that they would *never* vote Republican, no matter what.
  • Most of my grandparents’ generation would vote Democrat. This was especially true (and still is true) for Jews. The reason was FDR. Although I think his achievements were somewhat illusory, millions worshipped him and would always vote Democrat, no matter how far leftward the party drifted.
  • As a kid, my teachers voted Democrat without fail. While general liberalism and loyalty to the union played a part, Vietnam and Watergate were the watershed events that pushed them out of the Republican camp for good. They would never vote Republican because of Nixon. In a similar vein, millions of blacks will not vote Republican because of the way the GOP embraced the segregationists and race-baiting.
  • Six years after Nixon, millions more shifted to the GOP. The combination of Jimmy Carter’s horrid reign and Reagan’s great presidency made many swear that they would always vote Republican. I was a part of the Reagan Revolution. I have voted for two Democrats in my life (Ben Jones and Sam Nunn) and, until recently, was a reliable Republican vote.

    For me, it wasn’t just Carter and Reagan and their policies. It was the excitement of the 1980’s — the feeling that you were part of something great that was happening to America.

  • That’s why I worry about this election. I worry that we have seen another 1980 — both an Always Moment and a Never Moment.

    Young voters broke massively toward Obama and the excitement of being part of something so historic is going to cause millions of them to always vote Democrat, no matter what. They will feel about Obama the same way I feel about Reagan. They will always remember the excitement and thrill of 2008 and connect that with the Donkey Party.

    At the same time, millions moved into the Never Republican category. Between the Iraq War, the economy, torture and the culture war, the Republicans have driven young voters away in droves. The only demographic McCain won was seniors. That’s not something to build on because, in twenty years, the Republican “base” will be literally dead.

    I suppose we can hope that Obama has a Carteresuqe reign that turns the brand loyalty over in six short years. But I think that’s unlikely. Obama isn’t as idealistic as Carter, the country isn’t as leftist. Moreover, the GOP does not have “the next Reagan” — hence the bizarre enthusiasm that many conservatives have shown for Sarah Palin despite her lack of … anything other than good looks and a sharp tongue.

    I also suppose that the enthusiasm could fade quicker than expected. Eight years ago, after all, it was the Republicans who supposedly had all the excitement and brand loyalty. They had the droves of young Christians who were going to create a permanent majority.

    The stunning collapse of Bush’s support is, however, unlikely to repeat itself. Obama would be hard-pressed to alienate the American voter as thoroughly and effectively as Bush has.

    No, I think we’re in for a long dark teatime of the soul.

    The Cable Model

    I was thinking today about the problems newspapers are having making money. Their subscriptions and advertisements are plunging and they can’t figure out a way to make the internet pay. The NYT is a perfect example — their web operation is stunning, but it’s not making money.

    The solution? How about charging the ISP’s? That’s roughly how cable companies work. I pay Time Warner X dollars for access to channels. They turn around and pay each channel Y_i dollars for content. It’s turned out to work pretty well. So the New York Times and other sites should start charging ISPs for access. They are, after all, the reason I pay Time Warner such an outrageous amount of money for internet access in the first place.

    Tuesday Night Linkorama

  • Raise your hand if you are surprised that the Dems are abandoning PAYGO. Obama’s first test will be showing fiscal restraint.
  • PJ gets depressed about how conservatives blew it. I’m so fed up with the GOP these days.
  • Criticizing Obama for lying is like criticizing him for breathing. He’s a politician; it comes with the territory. What did you expect? Change?
  • A great article from Sowell about the difference between seeming to be intellectual and actually being intellectual. I blog with a sharp skilled writer who never went to college. I work in an environment filled with “intellectuals” with fancy degrees, little common sense and, often, an inability to navigate the English language. I couldn’t agree more with Sowell. Almost everything important I learned in life; almost all my knowledge of economics, history, sociology, politics and science — came after I got my fancy degrees.
  • Hitch takes some of the starch out of the Obameuphoria. You know, we woke up on Wednesday with the same problems we went to bed with on Tuesday.