America, the commercial republic.
Musings on fandom and politics.
We think about the American culture wars wrongly in two ways. The first treats culture war as a kind of dodge. Rather than substantive politics that could challenge the political economic order, we get drag queen story hour, land acknowledgments, etc. The second misconception sees culture as upstream from politics. Control the major cultural institutions and you capture the discursive context in which politics plays out. Both of these miss something crucial about how the culture war has shifted since the dawn of the internet and how that shift interacts with the structure of American political institutions.
The internet has never been the libertarian dreamscape its boosters promoted. Zeus-born from DARPA’s forehead, by the 1990s it became an archipelago of forums and message boards built around common interests. Businesses quickly discovered that target demographics self-corralled themselves there and incessantly confessed everything from their darkest secrets to their most mundane consumer preferences. The internet is about two things: commerce and preference signaling. Socially, it’s about fandom.
The cult of fandom holds for Berners, MAGA Chuds, Twilight enthusiasts, renewable and nuclear energy advocates and so on and so on. Fandom has particular dynamics that make traditional political coalition building difficult—it’s self-balkanizing, it’s dematerialized, and it’s more about individual and group identity formation through the production of fan content. These dynamics take precedence over intellectual content itself.