The White House Correspondents Association Dinner started 93 years ago as just another get-together for people working in the same field. But beginning with Calvin Coolidge, public officials started getting invitations. Then, a few years ago, Washington journalists began inviting celebrities, and the coolness factor really shot up.
This year, as the Washington, D.C., social pages breathlessly reported, rock star Sheryl Crow was there, as were such TV and movie stars as Teri Hatcher, Mary Tyler Moore, and John Cusack. But the biggest hit was Sanjaya Malakar, the outclassed singer who had been voted off of American Idol.
According to the D.C. social pages, journalists and government leaders mobbed the 17-year-old Sanjaya, trying to get his autograph. Female reporters stood in line to run their fingers through his hair. One can imagine the distinguished journalists elbowing their way through Cabinet officials and Supreme Court justices to get a cell-phone photo with Sanjaya.
Thus was celebrated a grand coalition of the entertainment industry, the news media, and the political elite. The cultural influence of each group is roughly in that order, with politicians having to defer to the media, and the media gladly deferring to the entertainment industry.
Our cultural leaders now constitute a social class, even a ruling class. And what great principles guide and motivate our new aristocracy? The coolness factor.
According to sociologists known as "New Class" theorists, the old social and political classes were determined by tangible property. Business owners generally voted Republican. Blue-collar workers generally voted Democratic.
Now, American prosperity is such that nearly everyone owns property. Today, our economy depends more on information, and those who create and traffic in information-journalists, academics, lawyers, investors, and creative artists-constitute the "New Class."
The Old Classes more or less joined together behind Ronald Reagan and tend to be politically and culturally conservative. But the New Class is politically and culturally liberal. While there are certainly conservatives in that social class, they often feel pressure to conform.
Whoever controls the information and creates the art that shapes how Americans think and feel controls the country. Christians need, first, to refuse to be controlled; second, to stop confusing the political war with the culture war; and, third, to put out information and culture-shaping art of their own.