Changing Politics By Changing The Culture: Conservatives Challenging The Media Message

Image by Love2dreamfish

Image by Love2dreamfish

The late Andrew Breitbart once said, "Culture is upstream of politics.” Put another way, author Timothy Goeglein noted, “politics is downstream from culture and not the other way around.” Basically, the point is that ideas, attitudes and messages that saturate the culture eventually find their way into our political system. It follows that if you want to affect political change, you must first change the culture. For example, many point to popular gay television couples such as Kurt and Blain on Glee, and Mitch and Cam on Modern Family for giving gay couples a real voice and presence in the culture. These characters aren’t cartoonish or stereotypical; they have real lives, real problems, real emotions, and put a face to the millions of same-sex couples fighting for the right to marry. This is a timely example of how culture has ultimately influenced politics.

While much of the media messaging over the years has skewed decidedly to the left, conservatives have begun working to get their message out as well. Most recently this was seen at the CPAC gathering in St. Louis last month, where former Senator Rick Santorum held a movie screening and later spoke to a packed house on the topic of conservatives impacting the culture.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Over the summer, Santorum was named CEO of EchoLight Studios, a faith-based movie company creating and marketing ‘inspirational faith and family movies to put light in the darkness’.   Discussing the mission of EchoLight, Santorum noted, “Artists go out and make things to impact and influence their audience. That's what our films aspire to do as well.” The former Senator and Presidential candidate gave liberals credit for going out and fighting for their cause, noting that while there are as many conservatives out there as there are liberals, the liberals historically have gone out and fought harder to get their message heard. The problem, as he sees it, is that conservatives have long taken the position of criticizing the culture without doing anything about it, basically cursing the darkness without offering any light of their own. He believes that companies like EchoLight and others, including Glenn Beck’s fledgling media empire The Blaze, which develops material for TV/radio/books/magazines/blogs, are the best way for conservatives to get their stories out.

That’s the key idea–reaching people through stories. While conservatives have attempted to spread their message via television and film, Santorum noted that the best of intentions don’t always bring about results. Anyone who has seen faith-based films can tell you that it’s often easy to identify them right away, for a few reasons: stilted, ‘preachy’ dialogue, bad production value, cheesy soundtrack, and less-than-authentic acting from much of the cast.   As Santorum observes, “Christian movies historically haven't done well because they haven't been particularly well made. We are working to change that by partnering with Liberty University in Virginia to teach filmmaking skills to those who want to make faith and family focused movies” but lack the skill or experience to do so effectively.

Image by psd

Image by psd

This problem with telling the story effectively was a recurring theme in Santorum’s presentation, as he told the audience: “My message to you is, as conservatives we have to be better at telling stories…the best communicator, the best story-teller–that’s who wins… Aristotle said, 'Give me the storytellers, I will control the country in a generation’”.   He took particular note of the Republican reputation for spouting statistics when they should be showing compassion. As Santorum put it, "Watch CSPAN and tape the bottom of the screen. You can tell who are the Democrats and who are the Republicans” without seeing their designation listed because “Republicans tell stories with charts and numbers while Democrats tell them with emotional mental pictures”. One has to look no further than Bill “I feel your pain” Clinton to see that he has a point. Conservatives tend to focus on the facts and their perception of right and wrong versus trying to connect with viewers and voters on an emotional level.

Ultimately, Santorum summed up his decision to helm EchoLight Studios by saying that if Hollywood is going to continue to get into politics then politicians need to get into Hollywood. Noting the success of The Bible miniseries on cable television, and looking at the immense popularity of the Duck Dynasty series, he feels strongly that the “conservative movement does not need to change to win. We need to understand and relate with people” more effectively. His upcoming release, The Christmas Candle, has the potential to reach a wide audience and do very well in theaters come November. Based on a book by best-selling author and preacher Max Lucado, the movie has the visual appeal of Downton Abbey and the star power of Samantha Barks (Les Miserables), Hans Matheson (Clash of the Titans, Sherlock Holmes), Sylvester McCoy (The Hobbit Trilogy, Dr. Who), John Hannah (The Mummy, Spartacus) and marks   the cinematic debut of vocalist Susan Boyle. Boasting some of the production team from the Harry Potter series, the 25-minute preview we saw looked and felt like a ‘real’ movie, elevated above many of the faith-based movies released in recent years.

Image by EchoLight Studios

Image by EchoLight Studios

With recent trips to Iowa on his schedule, some wondered whether Santorum was going to continue with his political mission or whether he would let that go to focus on his media company. His answer? “I’m not stepping away from politics. I’m stepping into the fray.” Many of his fellow conservatives would be wise to do the same. We grouse and grumble about the sexually-saturated prime time lineups on many of our television channels. We lament that infidelity and promiscuity are rampant in the media today, and while we may want that type of programming to go away, we do very little to create new options ourselves, or to support those who are out there trying to develop new projects with a more positive message. It’s time to stop complaining about what’s out there now and instead work to get more of the conservative message out in front of a national audience.