A while back, Dilbert creator Scott Adams shared his ‘two movies’ theory — the idea that Donald Trump made people so deranged that we fractured into two separate realities, or ‘two movies’, where we now see the world completely differently, with zero common ground, even while witnessing the exact same events.
It wasn’t a completely new observation, but a succinct way of defining the escalating culture war. A war that has only continued to escalate, to the point where it is now not just two movies, but two movie theatres, in two different cities, on two totally different planets.
The latest escalation, I believe, is Jordan Peterson’s decision to sign up as a content creator with Ben Shapiro’s conservative media network the Daily Wire, along with the launch of the Wire’s new service, Daily Wire+ (some say an ironic nod to CNN+, which was discontinued after just 30 days). It is a new venture that will offer everything from documentaries, to fictional feature films, to children’s shows.
This change is part of a phenomenon that will send us ever deeper into the realm of customising our media consumption habits, a trend whose only logical end is a scenario where anything that clashes with our preferred world view is erased entirely from our experience.
The Peterson move is significant because one would think he on his own is a bigger ‘brand’ than the Daily Wire. For example, he has 2.8 million Twitter followers to their one million. Although he is now suspended from Twitter for the sin of ”deadnaming” Elliot Page, i.e., referring to the actor who used to be an actress called Ellen Page as “her”.
Peterson says he “would rather die” than remove the offending Tweet, and thus will presumably be banned permanently, or until Elon Musk arrives at Twitter HQ with his flamethrower and his crazy ideas about ‘making profit’.
This incident is actually pertinent to the larger point, as Peterson appears to have become increasingly bold and ‘based’ on Twitter lately, perhaps due to his anger about Covid measures, following his initial failure to spot the creeping authoritarianism (a topic he has ironically dedicated much of his working life to examining).
In this light, his move to the Daily Wire is less surprising.
Yet if a figure of such broad mainstream appeal as Peterson, whose advice famously includes cleaning your room and trying your best, has moved to the subscription-only, conservative ghetto of the Daily Wire (admittedly quite a large and very well-appointed ghetto, with perfectly mowed laws and absolutely no litter on the streets) then something is changing.
As well as their recent viral documentary What Is a Woman?, the Daily Wire is now showing feature films starring people like Gina Carano, who was cancelled from Disney’s The Mandalorian for having some opinions, and even independent film legend and Richard Nixon enthusiast Vincent Gallo.
Perhaps more significantly, the Daily Wire has announced it will be investing $100 million in yet another branch called DW Kids, to provide children with programmes that do not try to “turn your kids against you”, as the Daily Wire believes Disney is now committed to doing. And, although this channel was planned before Disney’s recent leaked staff meetings, anyone who saw the latter may think the Daily Wire has a point.
In these leaked Zoom calls, Disney’s corporate president Karey Burke revealed that she had “one transgender child and one pansexual child” (what are the odds?), while an executive producer said she identified as a “bi-romantic asexual” and referred to her (their?) “not at all secret gay agenda” and goal of “adding queerness” to shows wherever possible. (Which may explain why the recent Pixar film Lightyear contained a lesbian kiss, resulting in it being banned in 14 countries.)
One thing for adults, but highly questionable for a company famous for its children’s content, and the kind of thing that would push any ageing Clint Eastwood character, or Daily Wire fan, over the edge.
As the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro puts it: “We feel slapped in the face, we feel that companies like Disney wish to hijack our children… and turn our children against us on behalf of their own values.”
We will increasingly be faced with a choice between what we previously considered mainstream cultural output, now hijacked by woke ideology, and slightly harder to find, possibly lower budget, conservative or at least broadly countercultural content.
There will be no in-between until someone wins.
And at present it’s not clear who that will be. Netflix’s share price has plummeted, and the streaming company is being forced to incorporate adverts, albeit for now only on a cheaper ‘ad tier’ version of the service.
Many cite Netflix’s misfortunes as part of the ‘Go Woke, Go Broke’ phenomenon, and there are hints that the company is getting the message. Following staff outrage over comedian Dave Chappelle daring to tell jokes about trans people, Netflix sent around a memo to employees stating that: “Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.” (Rumour has it than when Netflix recently had to make some lay-offs, the ringleaders of the anti-Chappelle protest were the first to get their cards.)
New media, such as podcasts, also present a threat to the former mainstream — Joe Rogan still has the biggest podcast in the world, and recently survived the attempt to cancel him for his determination to provide a broad range of informed opinions on the Covid pandemic.
The likes of Disney clearly have the edge in terms of movie budgets, but may struggle when it comes to telling compelling stories that people actually want to watch. (Lightyear has performed poorly at the box office.) Blatantly shoehorning ideology into fiction rarely works, especially if it’s a really crap ideology that the vast majority of people can’t stand.
I also tend to think that classic hero stories are inherently conservative. For a start they are all about the individual, and involve such concepts as the necessity of suffering for gaining wisdom and experience, in order to eventually overcome adversity and achieve manhood (or sometimes womanhood, but never bi-romantic asexualhood).
We previously thought of these stories as politically neutral for the most part, before wokeness arrived to tell us they were actually hateful patriarchal tales of privileged (yet fragile) ‘white saviours’.
Star Wars is perhaps the best example. The original films were perfectly realised hero’s journey stories, grounded in Jungian archetypes and loved by almost everyone (except women). Recent Disney films, by contrast, are woke monstrosities, with glaring political messaging (old white men bad, women good, purple-haired women even better, etc.) replacing the inconveniences of compelling characters and satisfying story arcs.
I suspect the Daily Wire, in its fictional content, will be shrewd enough to not simply force its own political messaging down the viewer’s throat, but rather return to that state of apparent ‘neutrality’ that we all enjoyed in the pre-culture war halcyon days of, say, 2013.
And it will have the advantage of the fundamentally conservative nature of so many classic genres and plot-lines. It is no surprise that its new film, Terror on the Prairie, is a western. What is more conservative or more satisfying than a western?
In fact I have just checked my theory, and the blurb for this movie states that “modern audiences will connect with the universal themes of strength, courage, and resilience in the face of evil”. Just like I said, focussing on the universal. Though perhaps laying it on a bit thick with “a movie about fighting for survival and against all odds because the American Dream is too valuable to give up on”.
We get it guys, you love America and you’re not giving up!
But it will be a struggle. In the two movies now playing before us, the woke pseudo mainstream has the money, the political power, the big tech backing, the support from virtually any institution you can name, and the rabidly destructive, un-American instincts of Satan… sorry, been reading too many Daily Wire blurbs.
The new media, sometimes conservative, sometimes centrist, sometimes just aesthetically motivated, has the best ideas and a pure heart. It shows promise, but has a hard road ahead.
I will be backing the rebels and hoping for an epic victory.