Special Issue: Ceasefire or New Battle? The Politics of Culture Wars in Obama’s Time (CRAS Volume 42, Number 3 2012)

Special Issue: Ceasefire or New Battle? The Politics of Culture Wars in Obama’s Time (CRAS Volume 42, Number 3 2012)

ISSN: 0007-7720
E-ISSN: 1710-114X
This Journal is online at: CRAS Online and Project MUSE
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Special Issue - Ceasefire or New Battle? The Politics of Culture Wars in Obama’s Time Canadian Review of American Studies 42.3, December 2012

Guest Editor - Frédérick Gagnon

With the 2012 U.S. Presidential race in its closing stages, this very timely special issue aims to generate a deeper understanding of the U.S. culture wars. The issue contributes to the ongoing debates on whether or not there are culture wars currently underway in the U.S. and, if there are, who is waging these wars and what are the strategies and motivations behind them. The issue addresses four key research questions - Is a culture war really underway in America?; Is this ‘war’ only between activists and politicians?; Who are the main actors in these wars and how do they try to reach their goals?; and Have we been witnessing a ceasefire in (or transformation of) America’s culture wars since Obama’s election in 2008?

This issue contains:
Introduction: Ceasefire or New Battle? The Politics of Culture Wars in Obama's Time
Frédérick Gagnon

Crusade or Charade? The Religious Right and the Culture Wars
Graham G. Dodds

This article challenges conventional views about the Religious Right and the culture wars in the United States, as it contends that the general topic has often been distorted in important respects. Specifically, it advances several somewhat counter-intuitive claims. It contends that the Religious Right is neither a long-standing nor a monolithic entity; that it is currently relatively dormant; that cultural criticisms associated with religious conservatives are often not driven not by grass-roots populism but are cynically promulgated by mainstream Republican elites for electoral gain; and finally, that even when these efforts succeed electorally, conservative elected officials seldom enact policies that cultural or religious conservatives want. In short, much that has appeared in recent years to be a cultural crusade may, in fact, be a mere charade.

After the Culture War? Shifts and Continuities in American Conservatism
John Dombrink

Following the 2008 American election, some analysts concluded that the election had signalled an end to the polarization and culture wars that had typified American politics. To some, demographic changes would cause this demise. To others, the moderating of religious groups was crucial. As social conservatives came to grips with the 2008 electoral defeats, some argued for emphasis on culture-war issues to revive their role. Sin No More (John Dombrink and Daniel Hillyard, 2007) had argued that, despite conservative rhetoric, the tide was turning on the core legal and moral issues of the American culture war, moving them toward normalization. It challenged the representation of America as a “centre-right” country. This article analyzes enduring and shifting elements of the American culture war: the broadening of the role of religion, the reduced salience of wedge issues, and the paradox that some forms of polarization are increasing as others are receding.

Immigration and National Identity in Obama's America: The Expansion of Culture-War Politics
Rhys H. Williams

The culture-war issues salient in US politics in the 1990s and early 2000s were typified by debates over the legality and morality of abortion and same-sex marriage. Immigration, in contrast, has been an intermittent issue, not as polarized as many others. That changed with the candidacy and then election of Barack Obama to the presidency. While anti-abortion and “pro-family” activism has continued, there is a new public focus on a vision of “America” that depends upon a conflation of race, religion, and national identity. This has helped transform immigration into a highly charged, highly polarized culture-war-style issue and has facilitated the lasting resonance of the construction of Obama as Muslim, as born in Kenya, as not a citizen, and as both a socialist and a fascist simultaneously. Drawing on popular media discourse and material from Tea Party and immigration reform web sites, I explore the construction of American national identity in terms of its ethno-cultural articulations.

Understanding Culture Wars through Satirical/Political Infotainment TV: Jon Stewart and The Daily Show's Critique as Mediated Re-enactement of the Culture War
David Grondin

Recent US culture wars have been waged through televised entertainment news (infotainment TV). The imprint left by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show on mainstream news outlets has been analyzed in political communication studies and media studies. However, no one has so far made a case for Jon Stewart as a protagonist in these culture wars, especially because Stewart himself wants to stay clear of and set himself apart from them. This paper looks at the performativity of these culture wars in infotainment TV as the medium and locus where the culture wars are waged. While I recognize the crucial role played by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show in critiquing news-media coverage of American politics, I nevertheless contend that Stewart can also be seen as a culture warrior, albeit an unwilling one, and that, by giving him a voice, the medium of infotainment TV is turning him into such a warrior. My argument is predicated on the belief that satirical/political infotainment TV is an important locus of the culture wars and must be studied carefully because it plays a political role in mediating their re-enactment. Using this news-media satirical form as epistemological grounding, I first focus on how these culture wars play out in satirical/political infotainment TV and show that infotainment TV, because it is mediated as such, both critiques and re-enacts the culture wars and affects the American journalistic mediascape. I then examine satirical infotainment TV as political practice.

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