The right loves to say "politics is downstream from culture," but on the right the opposite is true

Tim Pool's "music" and Ben Shapiro's "movies": No one would consume this stuff, if not to "own" the liberals

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published September 23, 2022 1:00PM (EDT)

Conservative political commentator, writer, and lawyer Ben Shapiro during a break of the filming of his show The Ben Shapiro Show on September 26, 2018 in Los Angles, CA (Jessica Pons/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Conservative political commentator, writer, and lawyer Ben Shapiro during a break of the filming of his show The Ben Shapiro Show on September 26, 2018 in Los Angles, CA (Jessica Pons/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

For those living in that blessed intersection of hyper-aware of the music charts but totally ignorant of the world of far-right politics, it was no doubt a mystery: A comically terrible rock song called "Only Ever Wanted" by a band called Timcast had hit #2 on the iTunes music chart. It's a song so bad that it provokes retroactive respect for the songcraft and musicianship of the mid-2000s cut-rate emo bands that it's ripping off. 

Unfortunately, the answer to the mystery is far more terrible than "a lot of people have bad taste." Timcast is the, uh, brainchild of Tim Pool, a YouTube personality who pretends to be a liberal to give cover to what is, in fact, a steady stream of fascistic propaganda. As the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented, while claiming to be a "disaffected liberal," Pool has "pushed his commentary in an extreme hard-right direction in recent years," amplifying figures like January 6 organizer Ali Alexander, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and Infowars founder Alex Jones. As Daily Beast documented, Pool has garnered more than a billion views for his videos hyping far-right conspiracy theories and white nationalist ideas. 

In other words, people aren't listening to this embarrassingly subpar emo "music" because they like it. They like white nationalism and think that, by listening to this song, they're helping support the cause. For most people, what they like in a pop song is if it has a good beat and you can dance to it. For the far right, however, the only question is "does this song trigger the liberals?"

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One of the shibboleths of the increasingly fascist American right is a quote commonly attributed to the decade-dead Andrew Breitbart: "Politics is downstream from culture." It's a notion that drives a lot of the relentless right-wing whining about "woke Hollywood." The belief, which isn't entirely irrational, is that the more people see same-sex couples, drag queens, Black hobbits, and female superheroes onscreen, the more tolerant they'll become of the idea that one can be a person while not being a straight white male. For the right, that can't be countenanced, which is why mobs of aggrieved bigots diligently review-bomb popular shows and movies with diverse casts, in hopes of scaring Hollywood into believing the mantra "go woke, go broke." (Sadly, the campaign appears to be working on Warner Brothers, threatening the future of many of the best shows on TV.)

But many on the right aren't content just with trying to bully Hollywood into making more conservative products. Conservatives like to argue that they need to make their own movies, music, TV shows, children's books, etc. as alternatives to compete with, and in their fantasies, best the popular "woke" content they complain about vociferously. The idea is to lure 'em in with their pop culture products and convert 'em to right-wing views. 

Anyone who grew up in evangelical culture is aware of this mindset, which has led to many childhoods suffering through "Christian rock" and religion-tinged cartoons for those forbidden to ingest the good stuff. But, as the production values on Pool's video show, there's more money for the right's culture war project than ever before. But if you unmute your computer while watching Pool's video, however, it becomes obvious that the actual appeal of said products remains wanting.

Far-right sites like Breitbart and the Daily Wire have been able to raise a decent chunk of money to produce movies. The Daily Wire, in particular, claims to make "entertainment-first content, challenging content, adult content" that just happens to be conservative. Folks were rightly skeptical from the start. As The Mary Sue pointed out, Shapiro is a "failed screenwriter" who couldn't cut it in real Hollywood. His novels are so bad that they are featured as fodder on comedy podcasts. The people they're recruiting for these projects are only hired because of their hard-right political views. Plus, the studio is already falling back hard on "documentaries" like "The Greatest Lie Ever Told: George Floyd and the Rise of BLM" and "What Is A Woman," an anti-trans diatribe hosted by Matt Walsh. Meanwhile, Breitbart's breakout, uh, "hit," is "My Son Hunter," a movie attacking President Joe Biden that is so weird and boring that Kelly Weill of Daily Beast said, "it wasn't really fun to make fun of."

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With these products, politics is very much upstream from culture. It's hard to imagine that any of this would get an audience at all, but for conservatives who have convinced themselves that consuming this crap somehow triggers the liberals. (No doubt some will see this article and desperately try to round up my opinion to "triggered.") No one is watching "Terror on the Prairie" starring former MMA fighter Gina Carano because it seemed like a fun romp. In fact, the marketers know that the only reason someone might watch the movie is to stick it to the liberals. The ad copy reads, "Disney canceled her. Now, the un-canceling begins." They're not marketing a movie. They're taking your money with false promises you are buying liberal tears. 

Of course, no one making conservative "art" wants to think of themselves as two-bit hacks profiting solely off the grievances of audiences who long for the days when Elton John pretended to be straight. Pool, for instance, tried to spin his iTunes success as a sign that there's a deep well of desire for his music. 

But even this petulant tweet belies the political-not-aesthetic impulses driving his audience. The Billboard Hot 100 is stacked with artists of color, a dress-wearing Harry Styles, and women who will never, ever have sex with a Timcast fan. He's peddling a fantasy that this is due to a "woke" conspiracy and that what people really want to hear is whiny white guys playing half-written emo songs. This tweet speaks directly to the racist, sexist grievances in his audience about the pop culture that Americans actually like. Even Pool's followers are probably asking how many times they have to play his song to make their point.

The irony of all this is that there's actually plenty of stuff out there doing pretty well that appeals to more conservative audiences: The new "Top Gun" movie, "Yellowstone," the endless stream of "bro country" on the radio. But what the people making this content share with "woke" Hollywood is this: They are more interested in making art than political propaganda. Their products tend not to satisfy the kinds of people who say dumb stuff like "politics is downstream from culture."

That's the problem for the Ben Shapiros and Tim Pools of the world. They are more interested in making a point than making art. But their point is dumb, and their art is even dumber. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Andrew Breitbart Ben Shapiro Commentary Gina Carano Politics Tim Pool