05/27/2005 04:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We're fighting over identity

Adam McKay wants some conservative responses to his plea for reasonable political discourse and I hope he gets them. In the meantime, here's my take on why the rhetoric gets so heated. The "culture wars" really are about culture—and that means they are about self-definition. On the left this was called "identity politics." Think of all the ways in which "Pride" figured into identity politics. On the right the label is "values." Pride (" be an American" etc.) is once again thematic. Now the flip side of pride is humiliation, the consequence of being violated. Secular lefties don't realize how, for example, a fundamentalist can feel violated and humiliated by arousing sexual images in popular culture—precisely because they do arouse. Religious (or very traditional) righties don't understand how profoundly humiliating life can still be for various groups of people in this society—get over it, they think, that was yesterday, stop whining. With the rise of ubiquitous media this identity assertion dynamic gets played out representationally. That's why the line between news and entertainment blurred. The media landscape fused into one vast arena for contesting identities. Performers in that arena, from bloggers to pop music stars to politicians, are just that—performers. And they have learned to give the fans what they want. Self-affirmation. Vindication. And the fans are also performers, in all those new media venues, so they try to take it up a notch too.

Hence, the heated rhetoric. It's show business. You know how they used to say that everybody wants to be in show business? Now everybody is.