In the Trenches of the Culture Wars

Know the easiest way to make a party really awkward, especially if you don’t know anyone there very well? Politics! Yes, I know the old rule: never discuss religion, politics or the Chicago Cubs. But sometimes you just have to, even if it gets more awkward than running into your ex out on a date with your best friend. These days, people in the news seem to be talking a lot about culture wars, this idea that America is being torn apart by differing ideals, and that the arguments, particularly those between conservatives and liberals, are eventually going to explode. You’ve seen it on talk shows, news reports, friends’ Facebook statuses— just think about what it was like before the elections, around October/November last semester. The whole culture wars thing seems to be less about conflicting political ideas and more about how people are unwilling to acknowledge all sides of the issues. Also, let’s not forget how easy it is for people to share their opinions now with the advent of social media and the internet. Anyone with a keyboard can comment on sex scandals, the economy, gay marriage, the Patriot Act, or whatever is the hot topic of the day. But how much do you really know about these issues? Are people just jumping into battle without bringing their guns? Well, if you want to learn from a more reliable source than your cousin’s Twitter account, check out some of these reference books located on the first floor of the Rice Library.

A quick way to get information is to go straight to the source: primary documents! I know that doesn’t sound super exciting, but when studying culture wars, a reference guide like this one is a great place to start. The articles in Culture Wars in America: A Documentary and Reference Guide come from court cases, academic papers, magazines and newspapers. They cover a wide variety of American topics (gun control, gay rights, welfare, immigration), all of which are conveniently grouped together by subject. But reader beware; these articles are not of the fair and unbiased variety. Tons of them have very obvious political agendas, and a few of the authors can be rather…intense (ALL liberals want to destroy marriage and turn America into Satan’s Woodstock! ALL conservatives want to turn America into a theocracy where all language comes directly from Bible quotes! NO EXCEPTIONS!!). At the conclusion of every article, however, the editors examine each author’s portrayal of the issue at hand. I like this a lot, as it helps to keep everything in perspective. The culture wars seem to be about a lack of compromise, and several of these articles present good examples of extreme opinions on both sides of controversial issues. Plus, this text includes its own reference list! I love it when writers are nice like that.

Want some more basic information about what is going on here? Check out this encyclopedia about everything affecting the culture wars, including various political figures, social activities, news sources, and laws. Unlike the last book, the articles in Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices present only the facts without taking sides. And honestly, I think that’s important. These days, it’s hard to find information on politics where the writer does not showcase some sort of personal opinion. And chances are that opinion is going to affect you, especially if you didn’t know much about the issue in the first place. While it’s very hard to write about an issue without letting your opinion get in the way, this encyclopedia does an admirable job of trying. It’s a good place to turn for background info if you want to join the battlefields of the culture wars, or just write that English 201 paper.

It seems like you can’t go anywhere anymore without hearing people go on about one issue or another. A real issue arises when people voice their opinions without informing themselves first. I don’t care which side you’re on, or what you think about the morality of modern America, just be sure to support your argument with cold hard facts. If you come across an issue that fascinates you or that gets you riled up, inform yourself before you start the inevitable Facebook debate or host a national TV show. Check out these books to learn more about the great divide in our country and the ways that you can help try to bridge it with information and context. I mean, no one in the supposed culture wars, not even the most liberal Democrat or the most conservative Republican, thinks of themselves as the bad guy. So simply accusing them of being one is probably not going to help prove your point. Take a look at these books, and try some well-informed peace talk before resorting to all-out war.

I swear, it really shouldn’t be hard. I mean, look at this blog! I got through a whole political blog without comparing anyone at all to Hitler! And that’s something we should all be proud of.

 CP
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