We’ve just begun a temporary cease fire in the War on Christmas (have no fear, Bill O’Reilly will start firing salvos of hot air again next October), which was a ridiculous contrivance: atheists aren’t fighting against Christmas, we’re just here. We’ve also lately seen that the Republican party is becoming increasingly creationist — they’re signing up for a War on Evolution. What’s really going on, as Charles Blow explains, is that the fanatical right has found the war metaphor a useful tool for rallying idiots.
But I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they’re fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one’s weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiers.
They need a War on Something to feel commitment, whether it’s a War on Terror or a War on White People or whatever. The important things are that 1) it has to be a war on an abstraction, so there isn’t actually any risk of sacrifice, 2) the promoters of this “war” hasten to reassure everyone that they are going to battle to pander to The People, and 3) The People are eager to reciprocate by affirming their support for the promoters. It’s a good game.
Now the latest: there is a War on Shakespeare, announced on the incredibly credible pages of the Wall Street Journal opinion section, where reason always goes to die.
Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton —the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the "Empire," UCLA junked these individual author requirements. It replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing.
It’ll be interesting to see if this one gets any traction. The People would rather not read Shakespeare — only out-of-touch liberal elitist academics who attend the MLA do that — but I suspect that won’t matter. They don’t have any real commitment to Christianity, either, but nothing will rile ’em up more than criticizing religion, so I can imagine them happily putting some old Elizabethan dude on a banner and waving it. It also has the virtue of being a totally imaginary war, just the way they like it.
For a good corrective, just read this article on what the UCLA English department actually did. They still teach Shakespeare — I imagine that there are many faculty who actually like Shakespeare.
Never mind that UCLA probably got rid of the three single-author course requirements because single-author courses are tough to teach, and can be murder to take (guess what? Not everybody likes Chaucer enough to spend 15 weeks on him, and that’s OK). Never mind that the UCLA English major still requires plenty of historical literature classes, including Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton. Never mind that students don’t actually have to take a gender or race studies course, as they’re two of several options for fulfilling the breadth requirement. Those are but irrelevant facts, but since said facts involve giving students a choice to take a course on Queer Literature since 1855 (Tennessee Williams? James Baldwin? Gertrude Stein? Oh no!), they surely herald the continuing descent into Gomorrah.
It might still play with the crowds, though. Gays and women and blacks replacing white English guy? As good an excuse for an apocalypse as any.