The recent controversy over voting in Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) sheds light on a fundamental conflict facing contemporary culture. As the power of science increases, certain segments of the population cling to religion and popular myths in order to defend against reason and expertise. Not only are we seeing people calling climate science a global hoax and evolution an anti-Christian myth, but all areas of expertise and education are being attacked. Moreover, shows like DWTS work by pitting the voting audience against the experts, and in the case of Bristol Palin's victory over Brandy, we see how people can vote against experts and expertise in order to endorse the cult of the amateur.
This movement of "The People" over the experts has a long history, but its recent incarnation brings together several political and economic forces. On one level, we have the unholy holy alliance between conservative Christians, pro-military nationalists, and anti-tax, anti-government billionaires. This faith-based conservative coalition unites potentially conflicting groups together around a shared dislike for Elite Big Government East Coast Liberals. Of course, the great trick of this political move is to define elitism by education and not by wealth. In other words, instead of "The People" fighting against the wealthiest 2% who own most of the wealth in the country, the Tea Partiers and other populists are fighting a culture war against professors, scientists, and the mainstream media. Ironically, the anti-media movement is led by a growing army of conservative media talkers, bloggers, and tweeters.
This vast right-wing coalition has made a strong push to return to a simpler time: a time before science, reason, and the Enlightenment. By calling into question all experts and expertise, the power is handed over to the god-fearing public who take their marching orders from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. Yet, this culture war is just a front for the continual redistribution of money to the top. From this perspective, we see that the attack against climate science is really a veiled effort of energy companies to protect their profits, while the push to shrink the government is not only made to help cut the taxes of the wealthiest but also to reduce the ability of the government to regulate the most profitable corporations.
The real meaning then of Bristol winning over Brandy is that the Right has managed to win a battle over expertise and our understanding of "the people." Since in the Age of Wikipedia, anyone can be an authority, the power of education, expertise, and knowledge can always be undermined by the ability of amateurs to take over the media system. Yes, people now feel more in charge because they can vote directly for their favorite contestant, but meanwhile, the average person is literally seeing their wealth transferred to a small minority of people who use their cash to buy off politicians and feed a growing right-wing populism. We must learn to connect the dots in order to see how a fake culture war is hiding the true class war being waged against everyone who makes less than $250,000 a year. It is time for the 98% to take a stand against the 2%.