The Withering of the Conservative Soul

IdiotBoxby Brad Nelson
The sub-headline of this article could well be “Leave it to Beaver vs. Pornographic Violence” or even “Postmodern Jonah.” It’s regarding Jonah Goldberg’s essay that views the cable series Breaking Bad as some kind of great conservative series.

I’ve watched the first two seasons of the show and finally had to turn it off because — well — to gain entertainment value from it was soul-sucking. It’s full of death, violence, and just horrible stuff. One might find virtue in it from what not to do. But otherwise the show is just pornographic violence and nihilism-as-entertainment.

And certainly learning from the example of the bad cannot be said to be what this show is about. Jonah quoted the creator of the series as saying “Walt has behaved at times in what could be regarded as an evil fashion, but I don’t think he’s an evil man…” Game, set, and match. The star of the show (Walt) is about as evil of a man as you can perceive in our society, fictional though he may be.

We all have our guilty pleasures, but that show is just way too guilty in my opinion. Mea culpa. I watched it, but at some point I realized that it was poisoning me. Our culture right now is full of such poisons. And I don’t mean to sound like a fundamentalist crank (which I’m not) or fuddy fuddy. But neither praising the show as conservative nor gaining enjoyment from it doesn’t change the nature of the toxin.

Certainly many of Jonah’s points in his article are valid in the sense that these cable series have found a way to do things that movies can’t — as well as the point that early television was indeed early television and was in many ways still in an unsophisticated form.

But we were probably better off in the Golden Age of Television rather than the Gutter Age. It’s is disheartening to see Jonah equate the violence, sleeze, and soul-sucking nihilism of this type of show as “improvement.”

Jonah, turn off the TV and read a good book. My I suggest Les Miserables?

One delightfully conservative point that Jonah did make was this:

As Chesterton tells us, pure reason doesn’t get humanity very far. The merely rational man will not make commitments to causes greater than his own self-interest. We need binding dogmas to constrain us even when our intellects or appetites try to seduce us to a different path. When, through the arrogance of our intellect and the promptings of our egos, we decide that we can make the rules up as we go, we invariably relearn why we need those rules.

This is the best part of Jonah’s essay. But, for the most part, Breaking Bad is the worst of our culture and should be noted as such if one truly wishes to abide by Chesterton. • (1596 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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18 Responses to The Withering of the Conservative Soul

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Never having seen Breaking Bad, I certainly can’t comment on that. But I did read Goldberg’s article, and noticed that he considered the season-long plot line a major improvement. So what happens when you miss an episode? (Think of inconvenient power failures. We lost power for about 12 hours a few months back. And a lot of people were far worse off.)
    There’s a superb example of the danger of rationalism without some sort of moral control at the end of the Star Trek episode “Amok Time”, and in particular T-Pring’s explanation for her decision to select Kirk as her champion. It was, as Spock said, perfectly logical — and also (though he didn’t say so), perfectly monstrous.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Well, if you haven’t seen it, I will say that the progression of the first season is very riveting television.

      But there are better ways to spend your time other than watching praise for the bad by watching “Breaking Bad.” I’m not against violence or sex, per se. I did think that HBO’s “Rome” series was superb. But it was not something I would show to anyone younger than 18.

      Oh, that little hussy, T-Pring. Watch a b-word. Good point about rationalism. I think Chesterton would concur. That’s a great episode of the original series. Spock did indeed choose his friends well, although I always found it interesting that he would bring McCoy with him. McCoy typically did little but insult him, and often in front of the rest of the bridge crew. We’ll assume there was a deeper bond there and not just the need for the producers to get all three stars down on the planet.

  2. Pokey Possum says:

    Remember the song “Sixteen Tons” that said, “Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store”? Selling ones soul was a desperate act of the faithless done for a ‘noble’ purpose, such as feeding ones family. Many have sold their souls for fleeting power, fame and fortune.
    Now, the faithless and too many of the faithful are allowing their souls to simply be taken by the soul-sucker in the name of Entertainment.
    I would go so far as to say most media is soul-sucking, especially what we used to call “news”. There is nothing new under the sun, so why subject yourself to a constant diet of the atrocities of mankind? Get up, go out and do something different!
    Brad, your neighbor is doing just that when she sweeps the leaves in the street. You are doing that when you help her make phone calls. Maybe a friend or neighbor of ours needs their grass cut – do it! Those who make meals for the homeless, or speak out against injustice are building people up, rather than soul-sucking. There are some among us endowed with intelligence and fortitude who can accomplish great things to benefit their fellow man, as Wilberforce did. Each of these things has a positive affect on individuals, and if there is enough participation, collectively they can affect a society for the better.
    Be challenged. If you are attached to the soul-sucker, turn it off and see what good you can find in the time that you have!

    • Timothy Lane says:

      “Sixteen Tons” apparently was written by a labor activist, and was made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford, becoming his signature song (as I recall from my younger days). I have a CD of his greatest hits which naturally starts with the song. I also have a short take-off (“Sixteen Bills”) in the upcoming issue of FOSFAX.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Timothy, you and Pokey are the first annual winners of the Tennessee Ernie Ford Music Award which is given each year (now) to those who remember a time when America featured great singers who had no need to grab their crotch.

        I’m still kind of trying to come up with the prize. We might have to put this into the “it’s the thought that counts” category. Methinks perhaps the Kindle edition of “The Tyranny of Cliches” would be appropriate.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Well, my all-time favorite singer is Petula Clark, and I can’t imagine her doing anything that vulgar. Her songs could occasionally venture into the very mildly bawdy, but even that much was rare.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Very very well said, Pokey.

  3. CCWriter CCWriter says:

    I rather liked “Deadwood.” I don’t have HBO but I watched several seasons on DVD, only bailing out when they failed to fulfill the promise for a proper wrap-up.

    The language was filthy (almost in a Shakespearean way) and a lot of the behavior reprehensible. But I didn’t feel it was excused. What I felt the show was about was people trying to construct some order and respectability from a state that was not denied as lawlessness and chaos. They all had a hunger for it in some way and many of them managed to bootstrap up at least a level. That was fascinating to me.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, I did like “Deadwood.” But even so, I’m starting to put those shows behind me. I don’t know what kind of itch they scratch, but I’m pretty sure there are better things to itch.

      A lot of people were turned off by the language. I thought it was kind of funny. But the show was pretty sadistically violent. But if that was what life was somewhat like in Deadwood, then oh well. We can call it a historical drama, somewhat like “Rome” which I thought was the best cable series that I’ve ever seen. Again, lots of violence, but it wasn’t the kind of soul-sucking story and situations as “Breaking Bad.”

      The only reason I watched this is the first place is because I’m a big Ian McShane fan. I hope others have had a chance to watch and enjoy his “Lovejoy” series.


    Properly speaking, one shouldn’t comment on a series that one hasn’t seen, and I certainly won’t attempt a review of Breaking Bad here (I think I might have seen part of the first episode, before I lost most of my cable channels). But I’m extremely well-versed in the television medium from its Golden Age to about 1980, when I lost interest as slush like Hill Street Blues started being taken seriously. Jonah Goldberg’s review suggests two things to me: (1) Conservatives generally don’t seem well-equipped to review popular culture, probably because we don’t have all that much interest in it; and (2) Goldberg in particular does not have the disposition of an art critic – he’s a little on the soft side, and the critic must have a bit of ice in his heart lest sympathy prevent him from rendering impartial justice to the work of art under consideration.

    All the more reason why it was a good idea for you to bring the subject up, Brad. So Jonah really thinks that Breaking Bad is comparable to, or even superior to, Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight or Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men? If that’s what the intellectual class on our side believes, our culture is in worse trouble than we thought, and maybe we should spend more time on cultural issues – difficult to do as Obama and the Left tighten our bonds every day in the political realm.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Good thoughts, Nahalkides. Yes, one is sort of limited in what one can say about this subject if one hasn’t seen the series. But go read “Treasure Island” if you haven’t. Don’t pollute your precious mind with this.

      In case Jonah is reading this (which is highly doubtful), I love and cherish the man. I like that he has an imaginative mind and a good sense of humor.

      But he’s absolutely daft to call “Breaking Bad” the best series ever. And to intimate that it is at all a conservative series is just trying to justify his guilty pleasure. And we all have those guilty pleasures. But I realize that for my mind and soul, I’m better off watching “Casablanca” than these nihilistic series that simply are rooted in little other than the attractiveness and excitement of evil.

      Again, I should not be mistaken for a fundamentalist or fuddy-duddy. I don’t wish that these show be banned and I acknowledge some of the good acting and storytelling artistry of “Breaking Bad.” But it’s still the kind of series that one should view as crud that needs to be scraped off of one’s shoe.

      I don’t suppose that every form of entertainment must be cheery and offer redeeming values. But Jonah again is daft when he basically does a Leftist-like turning-up-of-his nose at the Leave it to Beaver age of television and thinks that this violent crap of the modern era (while, indeed, having better production values) is somehow “better.”

      I’m very disappointed in Jonah. I don’t think this is the first time he has self-consciously sucked up to popular culture instead of giving an honest appraisal of it.

      • Kung Fu Zu says:

        It is quite possible that Jonah has no only bad taste, but lacks a moral center when it comes to right and wrong. He sounds a little too much like a moral relativist to me.

        I must admit, I no longer read much of what he writes as, I believe his comments on culture are too often, simply vapid. It is like he gets paid by the word.

        I also think he tries too hard to be cute or overly clever. This is not something which is admirable in a grown man. Every now and then it’s ok, but not on a regular basis.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          It is quite possible that Jonah has no only bad taste, but lacks a moral center when it comes to right and wrong. He sounds a little too much like a moral relativist to me.

          I think that’s undoubtedly true, Mr. Kung. I mean, technically, we all have some kind of moral center, even if it is a bad one or made out of Silly Putty.

          But there is some wisdom to the idea (often espoused by Dennis Prager) that “all wisdom begins with the fear of god.” I would probably amend that to make it a little more namby-pampy and say that “all wisdom begins with the realization that ‘social acceptability,’ popularity, fads, fashions, and expediency are very poor judges for what is true and good.”

          The way Prager (and the Bible) says it is much more succinct. But I think Jonah has been caught playing to the crowd one too many times for this to be a coincidence.

          I must admit, I no longer read much of what he writes as, I believe his comments on culture are too often, simply vapid. It is like he gets paid by the word.

          May we also, at times, have something to say. But, yes, the last couple of years he seemed somewhat motivated by the “word quota” thing. This is why there are no deadlines here, even if I had money to pay you guys. I want people to speak when they have something to say. If we don’t hear from Brother Voltaire in a month, that’s fine. I know he’ll be here when he has something to say.

          And, yes, I think Jonah often tries to be cute or clever. It’s the occupational hazard of anyone in this business, the pull to try to always be the smartest man in the room, to find an angle no one else has done before. And that often leads to simply missing the unvarnished and rather plain truth and going down cul-de-sacs of too-clever-by-half thought. And in this world, I find it fascinating and eminently readable when someone simply writes the unvarnished and plain truth. It’s so rare these days.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Speaking of Treasure Island (which I read as a child, along with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde, from a Stevenson collection we had), about a decade ago there was a TV movie version with Charlton Heston as Long John Silver. Very nice.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that version from 1990 before, Timothy.

          According to IMDB, it also stars Christian Bale, Oliver Reed, Christopher Lee, Pete Postlethwaite, and Julian Glover. That’s quite a nice cast. I’m going to have to try to dig that one up and give it a go. I can’t imagine that I haven’t seen it (especially with Heston in it), but I don’t recall having done so. A nice treat either way.


        I agree. Only because you brought it to my attention, I read Goldberg’s article after posting here this morning, and I’ve been depressed the whole day since, especially by all the favorable comments he got. I made a few small points over there, but a thorough refutation of Goldberg’s ideas, most of which he seems to have absorbed from the critical establishment, would require a considerable effort. If I’m going to do all that, it will be over here instead.

        I really think that even Conservatives have been affected by the rot of the cultural Left, much more so than we have politically. I suppose that’s inevitable, but it’s also lamentable that it should be so difficult to resist the appeal of a culture in obvious decline, but which is undeniably part of the times we live in.

        As for Goldberg, I’m afraid my opinion of him gets lower the more of him I read. Not only is he a bit soft, as I mentioned before, but I found his assessment of television’s Golden Age to be superficial and based on some factual errors. He’s simply not the man to lead the battle against the cultural Left, and I have to wonder if he’ll eventually go down the same path as David Frum.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Well said, Nahalkides.

          I think Jonah’s dismissal of Ted Cruz in his latest article just seems to reaffirm the idea that he is pushing to become a permanent member of some kind of elite.

          Perhaps we should acknowledge now three stages in the political life of man. When man is young, naive, and idealistic, he tends to be liberal. When he is older and has more experience in the world, he tends to be conservative. And when he decides he simply must be smarter than others, he tends towards David Frum (although I usually have the other David — Brooks — in mind when doing these analogies).

          And it is indeed lamentable that it is so difficult to resist the appeal of cultural rot. I’m certainly trying. This site is founded, in part, on celebrating and highlighting the good that is, or has been, American and Western Civilization.

          And I take it as axiomatic that “Leave it to Beaver” is a better TV series in every way that matters than “Married with Children.” If one doesn’t agree, then fine. But be prepared to lay down the mantle of “conservative” or even a person of good sense and taste if one insists that the latter is better.

          There was also an aspect of Jonah’s article which I think bought into the thoroughly Leftist idea that what is “real” is that which is gritty or that which shows the seedy underbelly of society. There is no room in this model of the commendable for “Little House on the Prairie.”

          • Timothy Lane says:

            In Capable of Honor, Allen Drury mentions a Gridiron Club dinner skit in which a group representing past candidates who were defeated partly by bad press are sing about how no matter how dishonestly you behave, it’s all right as long as you “stand tall in Georgetown”. He was talking about journalists (whom I call newsliars because they’re basically professional propagandists), but the principle also applies to many others (such as politicians). Those I call Beltway Bandits are heavily influenced by the desire to “stand tall in Georgetown”.

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