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podcast: mark davis on the rhetoric of the culture wars

So I got to interview Dr Mark Davis about the rhetoric of the culture wars, which was awesome (thank you, Mark!), except for the part where I was a chucklehead and forgot to introduce him as ‘Doctor’. On the record. For posterity.

You have a listen. I’m gonna find a hole in the ground to hide in.



MELANIA TRUMP: The President and I have witnessed firsthand the compassion and commitment of Americans.

REX TILLERSON: It was not a technical discussion, it was a political discussion.

SARAH SANDERS: You wanna get into a debate with a four-star Marine general? I think that that’s, uh, something highly inappropriate.

JUDE ELLISON [in studio]: I am fascinated by the way other people talk. Welcome to ‘In Other Words’. I’m your host Jude Ellison, and this week’s topic is the rhetoric of the culture wars. Dr Mark Davis, deputy Head of Melbourne University’s School of Culture and Communication and author of ‘At War With Ourselves’, has generously agreed to join us this week.

JE: Okay, I’m here with Mark Davis. Mark, are you aware that you’re being recorded?

MARK DAVIS: I am aware that I’m being recorded, I can see that cute little cassette tape.

JE [in studio]: Mark places the start of the culture wars in 1987, at the publication of Allan Bloom’s book ‘The Closing of the American Mind’. Its rhetoric, however, solidified a few years later.

MD: Pat Buchanan gave his famous speech to the Republican Convention in 1992, and—I think it was ’92, ’91 or ’92—in which he talked about the, the, there are two tribes in American culture: the righteous upstanding defenders of liberty and morality, and… and those people over there—

JE: Hello!

MD: —who are the, ah, the agents of destruction.

JE [in studio]: As you might expect, the rhetoric that establishes this false binary is… less than nuanced.

MD: The discourse is a, a straightforward ‘“We” versus “They”’ discourse in which We do good things and They do bad things. And everything We do is good, and everything They do is bad. And, and the We is righteous upstanding mainstream public America—the, the ordinary people, the Aussie battler, the, you know, the patriotic Americans, you know, all those code words for the ‘We’. And the ‘They’ is that language that we’ve become so familiar with, which is to do with, um, self-entitled cultural elites, people who rort the system, cheats, ah—asylum seekers, criminals, welfare cheats, um, the cultural Left, the cultural Marxists, you know, all those terms, they’re all of the terms that are the ‘They’ terms. And the tragedy of the twenty-first century is that now just about every issue is framed in that way.

JE [in studio]: I’m not sure how we can break that frame, but, hey—according to Pat Buchanan and the rhetoric he left behind, I’m an agent of destruction. I’m sure I can figure something out. Thanks for listening to ‘In Other Words’, and I’ll catch you another time.

Theme music is Password by Go Gadget, courtesy of Free Music Archive.

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