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How 'conservative' art can go from cringey to cathartic
Daily Wire

How 'conservative' art can go from cringey to cathartic

Catholic science-fiction writer Isaac Young has some ideas — and offers up his own work as a test case.

It’s a meme on the left that the right cannot create good art. When asked why, leftists will usually say that it’s a temperament. They might even go so far as to claim it’s genetic. Conservatives aren’t creative, and for some reason, that seems to be one of the few immutable characteristics leftists will happily espouse. You can change your sex, but apparently becoming more creative is too far of a stretch.

I won’t beat around the bush here. It’s a stupid meme. Are you really going to posit that all of history produced bad art prior to the 1960s (or whenever you want to draw that line)? Because rolling back the clock a century or two, you’ll find that artists were universally rightwing. They held views that are simply intolerable to the modern man.

When it comes to successfully incorporating conservative, Christian themes in my work, I don't pretend to have it all worked out. I’m dredging in the same mud as any other indie author, just trying to make sense of things in this strange digital landscape we find ourselves in.

Of course, leftists might say their favored historical figures were secretly gay or liberal or hiding from oppression or whatnot. It’s their way of easing their consciences and coping with the fact that history is decidedly rightwing.

But the meme sticks because it does in some sense ring true. Just take a look at conservative entertainment over the last two decades. Aside from a few shining examples, it’s been a sea of mediocrity and cringe.

Late to class

On paper, the Daily Wire's new animated series "Mr. Birchum" is a step up. It's the creation of Hollywood veteran Adam Carolla, an artist who achieved his success largely in spite of his conservatism, not because of it. Its writers and performers are seasoned professionals.

In a post on X promoting the series premiere, Daily Wire CEO Jeremy Boreing crowed that the Daily Wire was doing what the mainstream media didn't dare: airing the kind of comedy that puts laughs before political correctness.

"For decades no network would touch @adamcarolla’s animated sitcom 'Mr. Birchum' for fear of offending the wrong people. Fortunately, we love offending the wrong people, so on 5/12 @DailyWirePlus is bringing him back."

Whether or not that's true, "Mr. Birchum" is emblematic of a larger trend and is a good example of everything wrong with the approach mainstream conservatives have to media and art production.

While lack of funding may indeed be one of the things holding back conservative art, it's also hampered by a certain spiritual predilection: the deep-seated desire to become Hollywood 2.0.

Or as I posted on X:

Was I too harsh? Perhaps.

But this attitude that “we can do a Hollywood except we’re the cool guys” is cringe. It’s cringe because it’s an abuse of what art should be. You’re not trying to be entertaining for entertainment’s sake. You’re not trying to reach for the transcendent or some higher meaning.

You made a series-long meme where you’re the chad and the other guy is the soyjack.

These conservatives aren’t concerned with plots or characterization or emotion. They’re making essays on why the left is stupid and passing it off as something fresh and vital.

And perhaps this would be tolerable still if these essays weren’t filled with Boomer talking points or appeals to a liberalism that everyone knows is dead. The worldview is not commensurate with the situation on the ground. Shows like "Mr. Birchum" are not connecting with tradition or reality. They’re just doing what Hollywood did 15 to 20 years ago.

Farewell to Springfield

Trying to create a "Family Guy" or "Simpsons" but rightwing is a fool’s errand because the America that spawned those franchises is dead.

The subversive antics in Quahog or Springfield are far less cute now that so little remains to subvert. An intact, churchgoing family in a community where everybody knows each other? Now, that's funny! Do the failings of Peter Griffin or Homer Simpson even register in a world that is suffering a serious masculinity crisis? And what "middle class" household can support a family of five in the suburbs on one nuclear safety inspector's salary?


Conservative art, if it is to be art at all, has to face these realities with sincerity. And the first thing to do is to realize that rightwing art must be more than just a rebuke of the left. Leave your political grievances for Substack essays and journal articles. Hollywood gets away with stamping its boot on its enemies because there’s no alternative, and it has the funding to dress it up.

But we don’t have the time to waste on such nonsense. We’re already fighting an uphill battle for attention, and no one wants to hear your lecture about how you’re the smartest guy in the room. Even if you could put together a perfect formulation of your politics, you still shouldn’t do it because that’s not what art is for.

It’s about connecting with transcendent truths and those go beyond the political. This isn’t to say that politics shouldn’t be incorporated into art, only that they should never overwhelm your artistic sensibilities. Scoring points over your enemies is petty. Your gaze should always be fixed on what will make your art better, not your political agenda.

And this is not to say that people need to be writing Cormac McCarthy novels or filming movies so existentialist they’ll make Dostoevsky. The spiritual depth of a work is not in its complexity, as so many on the right fail to understand. John Carter and Conan the Barbarian are simple, but they are also deep in their spirit. They speak to the masculine hero in men, and that’s why they are remembered nearly a century later.

This is not an exhortation to make a thousand clones of "Breaking Bad," all uniquely miserable in their own way. This is an exhortation for all art that can speak to the human experience, no matter how childish or silly it may seem. I want another Dostoevsky, yes, but I also want the next Robert Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I want artists of all kinds. I want every genre, and I want artists to invent new ones. It is only then that we’ll have a culture again.

Skin in the game

It's easy enough for me to proclaim this from the sidelines. While I have my reservations about "Mr. Birchum," I acknowledge the effort and passion it takes to create any work of art, as well as the fortitude it takes to subject that art to public criticism and the risk of failure.

It's in that spirit that I offer up my own methods and strategies for scrutiny.

When it comes to successfully incorporating conservative, Christian themes in my work, I don't pretend to have it all worked out. I’m dredging in the same mud as any other indie author, just trying to make sense of things in this strange digital landscape we find ourselves in.

And if I am cringe, well, I’ll own up to that.

I’ll use "Gigaheroes" as it’s the more contemporary of my two fiction serials. The setting for the story is a world where the woke won — reducing all the West to the third-world ruin. There was a brief nuclear war, but by that point, the incompetency crisis and general corruption meant most bombs malfunctioned. What remains of America is a post-apocalyptic failed state that is utterly broken in spirit. And there’s also Superheroes.

The thrust of the story is not conservatives making a final last stand, nor about anyone trying to resurrect America as a constitutional republic. It’s about very desperate people living in a shambling corpse of a world that just won’t seem to end. There are explicit jabs at the welfare state, but I try to limit such commentary to no more than a few sentences at a time. I try to keep the political in the background as much as possible.

Isaac Young

Five hundred credits for a cheeseburger. I stared at the flickering LED menu until my eyes felt like they were bleeding. They said moving to a digital currency was going to fix the inflation issue. They said a universal income was going to help get people back on their feet. At least we don’t have high immigration anymore. No one wants to live in the Democratic Union.

"Gigaheroes," Chapter 3: Adam Mason

Whenever I need to use language to describe leftist policy, I change it up with new terms to avoid taking the reader out of the experience and back to 2024. For example, racial and sex quotas are referred to only as “high and low” priority. I find modern jargon such as “woke” to not be very helpful. It brings to mind too much of the crude discourse of the internet and the personalities therein.

Characters complain, but I try to have them focus on more concrete problems. My protagonist, Adam Mason, is unsatisfied with his life, but he doesn't express this with a laundry list of a policy recommendations or even a thesis on how the world got to where it did. He’s a starving hobo, and he sells his phone for a cheeseburger.

Isaac Young

As I walked down the dark streets of City 57, I saw they were still running my face on the giant billboards. The news calling me a Far-Right Extremist gave me a chuckle. They were probably already typing up my manifesto. In truth, I wasn’t an extremist anything. I was a survivor who did what he did to make a living. The only thing that made me extreme was that I didn’t want to be quarantined in Gen Pop. Sure, my parents were nostalgists for the old America. But America was dead, taken out behind the barn and put down like an old mutt, and nothing was going to bring it back.

"Gigaheroes," Chapter 5: Seattle Vance

Here I wanted to include a plot point about the lying nature of mass media and how it cycles through topics so fast that people can’t remember what happened last week.

I think it’s important to always keep in mind that you never want to give off the impression that you yourself, the author, is the one making the complaints. To that end, I made Seattle Vance largely apolitical. He’s not on my side, or anyone’s side really. He’s more interested in completing his job than anything else. It just so happens that he is a criminal.

You can always tell a story is compromised when characters act or say things you know wouldn’t be true to the setting. Ideally, the reader/viewer should never feel the hand of the author. Anything that takes them out of the work should be trimmed down or removed outright.

Isaac Young

For a long time, I knew I wanted to die. Most days, I didn’t know what really kept me from throwing myself into the East River. Maybe it was the little things, like occasionally having a cheeseburger, that kept me from going insane. But no, that wasn’t quite it. I knew I was waiting for something, holding out hope, I guess. I think I was waiting for when things finally got better. I don’t know, maybe I would catch a lucky break or something. But I was also waiting for when the world was going to get better. It had to at some point. Everything can’t get worse and worse forever. Can it?

Even when I was crawling through the mud, I wanted to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When all the suffering and heartbreak and bitterness finally came to an end, maybe then I would get to see what it was all for. Sure, we lost everything, but it still had to be for something, right? We lost our lives, but someday the world was going to fix itself, right?

"Gigaheroes," Chapter 11: Adam Mason

Aim high

I think that the heart of every story is the exploration of a spiritual question. You’re trying to get at a moment, a piece of reality captured by ink on a page or a picture on a screen. And it’s in pursuit of that catharsis that I write my fiction.

I’ll let my audience decide whether or not I succeed, but that’s what I aim for. It’s those questions of finding meaning and virtue that underlie my goals as an author. Every scene I write I try to either capture that, or build the necessary framework in order to capture that.

Having an audience totally enraptured, their full attention on every little detail, I think that’s what artists should strive for. And anything that gets in the way of that purpose ought to be removed. Whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is beautiful, that is the objective. And I think sacrificing that for politics is a terrible, awful mistake.

This essay originally appeared on Isaac Young's Substack, "Trantor Publishing."

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Isaac Young

Isaac Young

Isaac Young is a science fiction and fantasy author and the author of "The Matrioshka Divide."
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