Leftists Have Become the Toothless Rednecks in ‘Deliverance’

I love the arts. As a kid my parents took me to plays and poetry recitals. My late brother was an award-winning actor. One of my favorite places in the world is the Phillips Collection, America’s first modern art museum, which is in my hometown of Washington, D.C..

In the 60s and 70s, the enemies of art—the philistines—were the redneck populists. The 1970 novel Deliverance, which became an award-winning 1972 film, is one of the most pungent defenses of elitism ever committed to paper. A group of four urban elites go on a rafting trip that brings them into disastrous contact with the dark, illiterate forces of outback America. Looking for adventure, they find filth, inbreeding, and sexual assault. It’s rural America as a toothless horror show.

Now, however, it is the elites who have become the mouth breathers. Two fossil-fuel protesters recently threw soup over Vincent van Gogh‘s famous 1888 painting “Sunflowers” at London’s National Gallery on Friday. The women from the campaign group Just Stop Oil threw tomato soup over the painting, which has an estimated value of $84.2 million. While people like Wynton Marsalis and classical conductor Marin Alsop uphold America’s best artistic traditions and are practically ignored, rich, valorized elites like Cardi B grind around on stage and sing crude songs about their private parts to wild accolades. They have become the vile banjo players in Deliverance.

For decades liberals in Washington and the entertainment industry have mocked and derided Middle America, condemning guns without knowing any gun owners, condemning anyone who has questions about transgenderism as a bigot, and filling movies with left-wing agitprop to shame the people of flyover country.

Whereas for much of the 20th century it was considered praiseworthy for people from all places and classes to try and improve themselves through exposure to great novels, sharp fashion, and classical music, as well as learning to speak grammatically and with accuracy and precision, some time in the last few decades aspiration to higher things became suspect on the Left. For decades the man who represented style and learning was conservative founding father William F. Buckley, arguably the most erudite and educated journalist of his generation. Buckley was a populist who rode a moped and championed the people while quoting Shakespeare or humming Beethoven.

For most of the 20th century there were three classes of culture—highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow. First described by Russell Lynes in 1949, the categories broke down tastes in everything from music, to dress, to drinks, and even to civil organizations. Highbrows liked museum art, wine, and literary magazines. Middlebrows enjoyed musical movies, more casual clothing, and book club selections. Lowbrows wore old army clothes, read comic books, and listened to the jukebox. There was movement between the brows—a person who liked pulp fiction could also read The Iliad—and fans of Hollywood westerns (lowbrow) might be coerced into attending the theater (upper-middlebrow) or even the ballet (highbrow). Conversely, a red wine connoisseur could occasionally enjoy a cold beer at the local tavern.

The 1960s saw a widespread rebellion against bourgeoise aspiration, valorizing casual dress, comic books, and pop music over Beethoven and Thomas Mann. The movement all began to flow in one direction, from high and middlebrow to pop. In the 1970s and 1980s one of the recurring plots on sitcoms was the snob getting their comeuppance at the hands of the blue collar protagonist; the show Cheers built an entire relationship—the romance between bartender Sam and snob Diane—around this trope. Punk rock assaulted establishment rock and roll, populated as it was by people who knew how to play their instruments. Today comic books are critically broken down by grown men and nobody wears a bow tie.

Yet I have noticed that the trajectory is moving from lowbrow to highbrow, and often the people doing the moving are working class people and regular Americans. In the last several years I have had part-time jobs washing dishes, in a grocery store, and working in a home improvement store. In every place I have found curiosity among the workers for jazz and classical music, great books, and wearing nice clothes. Among the elites, there is resentment towards America’s classic arts and an inertia concerning pop culture. This goes for Conservative, Inc. as well. I have seen more great art in the jazz clubs of Washington, D.C. than in the pages of National Review.

I guarantee  the woman from Africa who washed dishes with me last year is appalled at the defacement of the Van Gough painting. She would consider it sacrilege.

In an insightful 2014 piece in the New York Times, novelist Thomas Mallon lamented the end of the aspirational sectors of culture—highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow—in favor of a kind of ubiquitous, bland, liberal populism: 

In the end, we’re all better off with a republic of letters, not a democracy. No amount of mindless ‘liking’ or one-star customer-comment scorn can replace the lengthier, more considered critical judgments we used to have time to write and read. With everyone clamoring for recognition in the same ether—with everyone now, in effect, his own publisher—our judgments are ever less nuanced, ever more nasty or stupidly appreciative. Speed is imperative, and rumination is out. The brow that’s really in danger of disappearing is the furrowed one.


Get the news corporate media won't tell you.

Get caught up on today's must read stores!

By submitting your information, you agree to receive exclusive AG+ content, including special promotions, and agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms. By providing your phone number and checking the box to opt in, you are consenting to receive recurring SMS/MMS messages, including automated texts, to that number from my short code. Msg & data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help, STOP to end. SMS opt-in will not be sold, rented, or shared.