As the 2008 presidential race gets cranked up in earnest, releasing more toxic gas into the atmosphere than 1,000 coal-fired electricity plants, it's worth keeping in mind that the most interesting and creative aspects of American life have little to do with partisan politics.
For an example, look no further than the Cartoon Network show The Venture Brothers, which is precisely the sort of quality fare the Federal Communications Commission is seeking to shut down (see "The FCC's Not Our Mommy or Daddy," page 24). Now in its third season of production, The Venture Brothers is a knowing and kind pastiche of old 1960s kid-adventure cartoons such as Jonny Quest, 1970s didactic do-gooder series such as Super Friends, and a heavy dose of absurdist fantasy (rock star David Bowie heads up a super-villain union called the Guild of Calamitous Intent).
The result is a hilarious program that perfectly parodies the pop conventions that Americans have been raised on for the last 40 years while expressing ambivalence about a future that, however bright and wonderful, still somehow seems to disappoint. As The Venture Brothers' 30-something co-creator Jackson Publick puts it in an interview with Associate Editor David Weigel (see "The Horrible Truth About Super-Science," page 54), "I'm voicing my displeasure at having been born in a time when some of [the] magic…is gone, and some of those promises that were made in all of our pop culture were never met. My laptop is the coolest thing that's come out of that. I'm still waiting on my jet pack."
The show's central figure, Dr. Venture, is a boy genius who failed to deliver on his promise and instead lives a comically diminished and delusional existence. This is milked both for laughs and, in a weirdly wonderful way, for a sort of pathos. "The beauty of failure is the beauty of human beings," muses Publick, who is far more interesting to talk with than any of the folks running for the White House.
Our cover story, "The Aquarians and the Evangelicals" (page 26), looks at another way '60s and '70s culture continues to shape us. In exploring "how left-wing hippies and right-wing fundamentalists created a libertarian America," Brink Lindsey shows that the two groups were "more alike than they knew." Both "sought firsthand spiritual experience," writes Lindsey, author of the vital new book The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture. "Both believed that such experience could set them free and change their lives." The synthesis that emerged from their clash, he argues, created a country that is "committed to a much wider scope for both economic and cultural competition than was allowed before the '60s erupted."
The hippie left and the religious right both had a big impact on politics. But it's worth remembering that they were first and foremost cultural phenomena. They were about individuals coming together in voluntary associations and offering alternative visions. And they were influential long before their representatives started running for office.