Why Both Liberal And Conservative Propagandists Make Terrible Art

A wise, unfiltered, but talented rapper once said, "I ask 'cause I'm not sure, do anybody make real s*** anymore?" and a more pertinent question has nary been asked.

By Jaimee Marshall10 min read
Pexels/cottonbro studio

We are inundated with endless selections of music, film, and television available to stream these days; there are hits and misses, but propaganda masquerading as art sticks out like a sore thumb. It is lifeless, disingenuous, and out of touch. Its preoccupation with its own elitism taints any opportunity for insight.

I can think of no greater epitomizations of this faux pas than in Ben Shapiro's robotic attempt to rap alongside the black sheep of rap music, Tom MacDonald, or in aspiring feminist icon, but in effect feminist outcast, Olivia Wilde's Don't Worry Darling. One is a song by two bullish figures in political discourse whose critiques of modern society fall victim to its too-on-the-nose content, lacking the wordsmith capabilities of other successful white rappers like Eminem but reeking of the desperation to be just as controversial. The other is an actress turned amateur director whose behind-the-scenes screw-ups in commanding her film set overshadowed the actual story she attempted to tell. What they share in common is a delusional and simplistic view of the world, so preoccupied with their own moral superiority that they wind up making their opponents look sophisticated. If their art were a meme, they would be the Virgin bad storyteller, their enemies the Chad boogeymen who live in their heads rent-free.

Ben Shapiro Enters the Rap Game

Musical connoisseur of our generation, Ben Shapiro, has officially entered the rap scene with a feature on culture war rapper Tom MacDonald's new song “Facts,” where the Canadian and classically trained anti-rap conservative spit bars about the lost American dream and clutch pearls over…owning guns? 

It's an interesting move, considering Shapiro's position as an uptight, socially conservative political commentator with a propensity for placing "facts over your feelings" and a famed abhorrence for gaudy, degenerate rap music. In between The Daily Wire's devotion to hating all things Taylor Swift – wholesome love songs that embody temperamentally conservative ideals – Shapiro found time to ally himself with a new American conservative ally, Tom MacDonald. MacDonald is, first of all, Canadian, and some believe his insistence on LARPing as American through his music video, lyrics, and online discourse is stolen valor, at the least. Granted, he has dual citizenship, but the invasion of the Canadians into American conservative politics is something worth examining. He bears face tattoos and unconventional piercings, dubs his fan base the "Hang Over Gang," and has a song, “American Dreamz,” lamenting the lack of action on gun violence in America (which is one of his more lyrically sophisticated songs), so it's an odd collaboration choice for Shapiro.

“Facts” took the internet by storm, partly because of its cringe lyrics and insistence on its subversiveness getting ahead of itself. As Peter Griffin might say, it insists upon itself. The irony, of course, is Shapiro's longstanding history as a vocal critic of rap music, claiming the genre "isn't music, and if you think it is, you're stupid." He made headlines again when he got riled up reacting to Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion's music video for “WAP,” in which his repeated reluctant utterance of the words "wet ass p-word" wound him into a series of memes. But let's say Shapiro is keenly aware of the poetic irony that is featuring him as a rapper in a right-wing culture war song with a man who looks like his mere presence would inspire Shaprio to cross the street so they don't have to interact. 

The lyrics of “Facts” are a jumbled mess that oscillates between buzzwords and disjointed themes. Shapiro's lyrics are delivered with all the hype and charisma of a calculator. As much as I will grant "my money like Lizzo, my pockets are fat" is a solid bar, he immediately offsets it with a dud like "homie, I'm epic, don't be a WAP, dawg it's a yarmulke, homie, no cap." WAPs are good things, Ben. What's most bothersome about this song is its title, “Facts” – yet it is a barren wasteland of any facts. To tell you the truth, it's a factless song. I can forgive terrible lyrics and a cringe persona, but at least make the theme coherent.

MacDonald so desperately wants a title he hasn't earned – to be the most controversial rapper of a generation. If his shtick seems familiar, that's because he fancies himself something of a culture war veteran, like Eminem, only with worse bars and more questionable hair. "Where the American flags at? / Remember when people would hang those? / They've been taken down / they all been replaced with BLM flags or a rainbow." I don't know what part of America you're living in, Tom (maybe because you're from Canada), but of all the claims you could ever make about America, one that is fundamentally untrue is that you can't hang American flags anymore. This claim warrants no further debate. 

The song is littered with claims of being controversial, constantly calling the supposed liberal listener "triggered," "offended," "you mad, you mad, you mad," "I was put here to upset you," and worst of all, "facts don't care about how you feel." It comes off as a nerdy diatribe about some high school bully. It reeks of a lack of self-awareness, which is only further amplified by its music video featuring Ben Shapiro looking painfully uncomfortable in a hoodie straight off MacDonald's merch store, which reads FACTS DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS. This evokes such secondhand embarrassment in its desperation of internet edgelord-ism that I've come full circle back into empathy. I have certainly gone through this rather unfortunate phase, just not as a 35 or 40-year-old man. 

The lyrics are a cesspool of navel-gazing and desperation to "trigger the libs" without saying anything sapient, clever, or coherent.

The lyrics are a cesspool of navel-gazing and desperation to "trigger the libs" without saying anything sapient, clever, or coherent. One second, MacDonald is rapping, "Pro-choice, pronouns, pro-love, you're progressives / But you ain't pro-gun, no one to protect it," and two seconds later, the chorus is pretentiously singing, "We ain't pushing guns, ain't promoting stripper poles." So, you should support gun rights but not own a gun? This is the sort of awful, inconsistent lyricism that has liberals validly asking if what they mean is, "Well, we're white gun owners," and that's a deserved criticism that results from incoherent messaging that doesn't even know what it's saying. The entire song indulges in its apparent offensiveness while spitting milquetoast bars about respecting the police and not being ashamed of being white. The chorus flows like this, "This ain't rap, this ain't money, cars, and clothes. / We ain't sellin' drugs, we ain't gonna overdose. / We ain't pushing guns, ain't promoting stripper poles. / We won't turn your sons into thugs or your daughters into hoes," despite MacDonald portraying himself very similarly to the other artists in the rap game he's criticizing for promoting degeneracy. 

Take “Rolling Stone,” a song he released five years ago, about his struggles with substance abuse issues, partying, philandering, and existential worries about overdosing. The song opens like this: "Fill the ashtray up with blunts all weekend / I fill my bathtub up with ice and tequila / Fill the whole crib up with cigarettes and b****es /  Had a threesome with some strippers / Woke up with some stitches / I know your boy is on some rock star s***/  oh, oh I know I'm headed for some Cobain s***, oh," as well as "sleeping while some pretty girl is tryna give you head.” Yeah, he's not like those other degenerate rappers, he's one of the good ones! He's one of us! And hey, I know MacDonald is sober now, but his insistence on leveraging himself as some sort of superior rap artist who is above this sort of material is hypocritical at best and dishonest at worst. This is who is upheld as a hero of the right artistically, while Taylor Swift is made a boogeyman by the very same people (save for a few who have rightfully embraced Swiftian Normality). 

The Freak Right, coined by X user Edmund Smirk (who also coined Swiftian Normality), does not actually espouse any conservative values but instead operates as a countersignal movement to anything and everything that is liberal in principle and perception, even when those things are not temperamentally liberal at all (like Taylor Swift’s music). Instead of championing a young, hopeless romantic superstar incredibly popular with suburban women, who is like the archetypal popular girl in high school and is dating the archetypal Chad football player, jetting around the world to come to support him winning the Super Bowl and singing love songs, what we get is a mishmash of all of the worst artistic political throwup you could muster. Meanwhile, what's directed at Taylor Swift is misplaced envy, rage, and copium. It's like conservatives don't know who they should be making friends and enemies out of anymore. There's an allergy to normality that's taken place since 2016, leading to the emboldening of faux-conservatives and making enemies out of perfectly harmless, normal girls for living their lives.

Don't Worry Darling, This Is Just a Strawman Against Jordan Peterson

Similarly, Olivia Wilde's ambitious undertaking of Don't Worry Darling, a film about a young 1950s housewife who begins to feel unsettled about her life as she observes peculiar actions among the neighboring wives, all while her husband commutes daily to a classified workplace, disappoints, despite its intriguing premise. The production was plagued by drama, rife with rumors of multiple falling-outs between actors, between actor and director, an alleged affair that broke up a nine-year relationship, and resulted in a breakup between lead actor Harry Styles and director Olivia Wilde. Where this all began was in Wilde's promotion of the film, which she upheld as a feminist story that indulged in female sexuality and was going to "make sex scenes great again." She teased the film by taking pride in the film "passing the clit test" and saying, "only women orgasm in this film." These misguided attempts at feminist commentary took on a more sinister tone when audiences went to see the film, and the plot drastically changed the context of the scenes that Wilde proudly boasted about, as they were revealed to be nonconsensual sex scenes because they took place in a simulation under coercive means.

I'll be the first to say that Don't Worry Darling's plot was quite enthralling. Despite behind-the-scenes tensions and Harry Styles' lack of acting experience and rapid succession of accents in the shortest span of time, the production quality, direction, and Florence Pugh's acting all pulled it together, for the most part. The film's premise was inventive and sinister, which is the perfect subtext for a psychological thriller – and it was incredibly relevant due to dating and gender discourse revamping attitudes toward traditional lifestyles. We begin in an idyllic suburban town and are introduced to housewife Alice, who seems to be living quite an enviable life – she has a provider husband, lives in a pristine community with other housewives to keep her company, relishes in regular consumption of cocktails, cooks beautiful meals which her husband appreciates, and is doted on and regularly seduced by him when he comes home from a long day of work. "What's the catch?" viewers begin to ask. Alice’s husband and all of the other husbands work for a top-secret facility known as the Victory Project and operate under an intuitive "don't ask, don't tell" mindset.

Warner Bros. / Don't Worry Darling
Warner Bros. / Don't Worry Darling

Alice becomes increasingly curious about the nature of her husband's work and the objective behind the Victory Project when she discovers inexplicably strange things happening around her. The more questions she asks, the greater the danger because the plot twist is that she's trapped inside a simulation against her will by her husband, Jack. Jack had become enamored with Frank, a cult leader who conceived of the simulated community of Victory, where they all roleplay lives of 1950s suburbia, which the women believe to be real. It turns out that Victory is a community inside a simulation and that all of the wives are stuck inside it for 24 hours, seven days a week, at the hands of their husbands (if they even really are their husbands), and the children they have inside aren't even real. 

It's not truly the 1950s after all, and Alice's husband isn't a provider working on a super mysterious, important secret project; he's an unemployed weirdo who felt emasculated by his overworked surgeon wife who lacked the energy to cook a meal or have sex after returning from a long shift. The husbands return to the real world when they "go to work at the Victory Project." While it's not revealed exactly what they're doing all day, we do come to understand that it entails caring for their kidnapped, bedridden wives' physical health needs while they're plugged into the simulation. The men also go to work in the real world to provide for rent and the upkeep for the simulation. But wait – that means Alice's unemployed loser husband is employed now? Who knows? It's never explained, just like the majority of the plot points in this film.

How does one even come to be trapped in a simulation by their resentful husband? By being brainwashed by redpill podcasts, of course! That's essentially the answer, but more specifically, he's become brainwashed by a cult leader named Frank, whose "return to tradition" ideology has taken firm hold of his brain, leading him to imprison his wife in a simulation so they can enact traditional fantasies of him being the breadwinner and she the nurturing, doting wife. Again, this was apparently completely unnecessary, considering he apparently suddenly has a job in real life. 

A ton of strange things happen throughout this movie that are literally never explained at all, from Alice witnessing a plane crash that leads her to this weird building in the middle of nowhere to being claustrophobically crushed between closing walls of glass and trying to suffocate herself with plastic wrap. We get a bunch of strange, eerie imagery with zero attempts to explain them. Even in the context of the big reveal, we're still far from understanding them. There are countless plot holes in the logistics of the simulation premise, which are never dealt with; we just find out the truth, and then the movie ends. What even is the Victory Project, and what do they do? What are the circumstances of all of the other wives, their husbands, and "children”? How has this technology been able to exist without disrupting society? How has no one noticed these women are missing and not showing up to their jobs, especially as a surgeon? Is the government looking the other way? The film is fundamentally uninterested in these questions, which is a shame because they're much more interesting.

Warner Bros. / Don't Worry Darling
Warner Bros. / Don't Worry Darling

Chris Pine plays the "cult leader of the incels." Men like this certainly exist, usually in fringe circles on X acting out a lover's scorned revenge fantasy in the unfortunate mentions of women on social media by spamming them with empty egg carton memes. Who he is certainly not like, however, is Jordan Peterson, the basis behind Pine's character. Wilde explained to Interview Magazine that the inspiration for Frank was "this insane man, Jordan Peterson, who is this pseudo-intellectual hero to the incel community." Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, has devoted much of his time to helping mostly lost young men take on more responsibility and order in their lives to make them more attractive to women and serious upstanding citizens of the world. The bulk of Peterson's work centers on biblical symbolism, the importance of searching for meaning, the complementary nature of chaos and order (feminine and masculine), and writing approachable self-help books that have improved countless people's lives. 

It's curious that Wilde feels so confident in laying the blame of "incel culture" at the feet of Peterson, one of the few prominent contemporary male philosophers to heavily criticize while simultaneously sympathizing with their plight. Peterson may have grown more sympathetic to the unappealing 35-year-old virgin with zero social acuity, but he's never done so much as embolden their helplessness or self-pity, let alone heed a movement that encourages coercing women into nonconsensual simulated prisons. To genuinely believe that is even one iota of Peterson's ideology is to lie or have an incomprehensible lack of theory of mind, which may explain the film before us. Peterson is hardly the hero of incels when he tells them if "you're a young man and all the women are rejecting you, who's got the problem? It's not all the women."

Wilde wanted to create an audacious feminist think piece, but her misunderstanding of Jordan Peterson only undermines the film's credibility.

Wilde wanted to create an audacious feminist think piece with this film, but her decision to vilify Jordan Peterson, a figure she misunderstands, only further undermines the film's credibility. She wanted to take credit for firing Shia Labeouf for supposedly making Florence Pugh uncomfortable (and after being sued by FKA Twigs for sexual battery, assault, and infliction of emotional distress). Wilde then hires her new boyfriend, Harry Styles, whom she's rumored to have had an affair with during production of the film, leading to Jason Sudeikis serving her custody papers during a promotional event for the film. Labeouf then refuted Wilde's claims that she fired him from the set, posting texts and video evidence that show he quit, and Wilde begged him to come back to the set. In the video, Wilde pretentiously refers to Florence Pugh as "Miss Flo," seemingly dismissing her concerns and taking LaBeouf's side, which is not what she was trying to portray to the media. 

Wilde claimed that she fired him for having a process that wasn't conducive to the ethos she demanded of her productions. She boasted about creating a safe, trusting environment for someone like Pugh, who was going to be placed in very vulnerable situations, and wanted to make her feel safe and supported. Pugh's stylist also liked a tweet that called out Wilde's actions, using the hashtag #TimesUpOlivia while Pugh was noticeably silent and absent in the film's promotion. While Wilde continued to shower Pugh with praise, Pugh did not reciprocate. Pugh also took issue with Wilde's reduction of the film to its sex scenes. In an interview with Harper's Bazaar, she said, "When it's reduced to your sex scenes, or to watch the most famous man in the world go down on someone, it's not why we do it. It's not why I'm in this industry." It sounds like the only person making people uncomfortable on set and well into post-production and the release of the movie was Wilde.

This is what happens when you narcissistically claim ownership over female well-being, empowerment, and agency. Her film, while not terrible artistically, is incoherent and doesn't know what it's saying. How could it, if she's unaware of what the "evil cult leader" she based her antagonist on even believes? This lack of introspection and unapologetic ego trip was her downfall. Wilde managed to make a fool of herself by making an enemy out of almost everyone who worked on the film, revealing herself to be a fraud when it came to championing women's well-being. By being two-faced, throwing Florence Pugh under the bus, and groveling for the man she was making out to be the bad guy to the media to come back to the set, Wilde incidentally revealed just how comical it is for her to claim that Jordan Peterson is the bad guy in all of this. Peterson, who has done more to serve as an antidote to inceldom than Olivia Wilde ever has by being a voice of antagonism between the sexes, comes out on top in all of this.

Closing Thoughts

Should art be political in nature? Not to pull a Peterson, but my answer to that question is, "Well, that entirely depends on what you mean by 'art' and what you mean by 'political.'" The predominant school of thought is that all art is inextricably linked to the political because the personal is political – and that may very well be true. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with art being political and much of it is, even if in some minuscule way, but when it serves first and foremost as a propaganda piece for an ideology and places artistic expression secondary to the political message it's trying to impart, it produces really subpar art. Political propaganda makes for terrible art because it necessitates suspending the cognitive faculties employed in making excellent art: creativity, openness to experience, and a willingness to contend with complex, ambiguous ideas.

When we see Olivia Wilde making a film about an unhinged, toxic red pill manipulative husband who imprisons his wife in a trad simulation being inspired by Jordan Peterson of all people or Ben Shapiro rapping the worst, most mechanical bars you've ever heard on a rap song after spending years complaining about how it isn't music, these are self-owns that rebuff their own points. But art can persist even if its point falls flat. The problem with propaganda parading as art is that the vacuous ideological underpinnings are parading as art in itself. That's all there is: superficial posturing with little fundamental curiosity about people or ideas. These rigid agendas will always ring hollow so long as they are borne out of disingenuousness.

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