Published April 19, 2023
Dylan Mulvaney has peppered our news feeds for the past several weeks, first showing us how trans women love KitchenAid mixers, then hitting Bud Light cans, and now modeling sports bras for Nike.
Although pushing cultural agendas is nothing new for the left, the Mulvaney craze has conservatives paying closer attention. For decades, the left’s tack has been to throw out the audacious, the edgy, with enough force that we all accept it. However, this time it’s finally a bridge too far. Because of it, country music star Travis Tritt is canceling Anheuser-Busch products from his tour, and regular rank-and-file Americans are pouring the brew down their sinks. Embracing transgenderism hasn’t gone down nearly as easily as leftists had hoped.
What the left does—and is certainly doing with making drag the new media darling—is operate on a not-so-new front that conservatives have yet to fully recognize.
Conservatives like reason. For generations, we’ve looked at the limbs leftists have climbed out upon and thought, “No reasonable person could possibly think that” and expected their ideas to dissolve as quickly as they did in our minds. And then, before we knew it, this out-on-a-limb, ridiculous idea was mainstream.
The problem is that we’re no longer dealing with reasonable people. Reason and logic have eroded. The battle we face is being played out in the realm of emotion and visuals—where things can be seen, touched, consumed, and felt. Conservatives operate in the realm of history, philosophy, and logic. We talk about ideas; they talk about stuff.
Mulvaney and his supporters have a much broader understanding of culture and influence. When conservatives talk about culture, they frequently think of high culture: black tie operas, wine and cheese receptions after listening to their favorite academic, an esteemed-journal article on architecture, or a new museum exhibit. We talk history; they talk beer. But there’s nothing inherently leftist about culture; products are generally neutral. Conservative ideas can easily connect with the material, musical, delicious, and visual. We have to start seeing culture with fresh eyes.
Bud Light offers perhaps the perfect foil for understanding the concept of how products can be neutral—the beer had long been a blue-collar favorite until Anheuser-Busch brought in Alissa Heinerscheid, who started tipping the brand to a new market.
“Our No. 1 job on Bud Light,” Heinerscheid said, “is to grow meaning and relevance with new drinkers—that is how we transform and really preserve this brand for the next 40 years.”
Heinerscheid’s decision to put Mulvaney on the can signals that Bud Light is no longer for the blue-collar, but for the edgy, the queer, and the “woke.”
There’s an ocean of cultural media that offers a much broader and higher impact. For example, do we have a conservative women’s magazine? Nope. Most conservative women just accept this as how things are, flipping quickly through the objectionable pages we know will be found in most magazines.
What about Hollywood films with conservative messaging? Occasionally.
Fashion and beauty lines? Nope.
Pop music? Nope.
Big Five book publishing? Nope.
There are some very small, but valiant efforts out there on these fronts but nothing that can compete with large national brands.
The Daily Wire’s Jeremy Boreing’s SheHer and HeHim chocolate bars are a great example of responding to woke big chocolate after Hershey featured a trans woman to represent real women. Align Magazine has started a noble effort to feature and promote small businesses that embody conservative ideals, with the great tagline, “Don’t buy from people who hate you.” Small businesses are real alternatives to woke corporate overlords.
It’s time for us to start taking culture seriously instead of passing it off as mere fluff. What we’ve long considered unimportant and not intellectually serious is what’s forming the souls of those who have nothing else to form them. Those who lack any sort of logical or rational education reach for what’s convenient and ubiquitous, for whatever feels and looks good. Conservatives’ message is at root stronger than leftists’, working with human nature, not against it. But it doesn’t sell itself. The culture war is winnable but not without culture.
Carrie Gress, Ph.D., is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center where she co-directs EPPC’s Theology of Home Project. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America, as is the co-editor at the online women’s magazine Theology of Home.