American right-wing political agitator and and news pundit Glenn Beck earns an estimated $90 million a year running a media empire aimed at using pop culture to shift cultural values (and political outcomes). Beck has three movies in development, an online TV network with 300,000 paid subscribers, an online news portal with over 25 million monthly visitors and even a line of jeans.
Tracy Van Slyke, a fellow at The Opportunity Agenda and director of the CEL Culture Lab, was struck by the influence of Beck and fellow conservative culture warriors. She spent the past year analysing the intersections between popular media and social change. Van Slyke’s work is presented in Spoiler Alert, How Progressives Will break Through with Pop Culture.
Van Slyke argues that a disconnect between pop culture and progressive political strategies is limiting campaign reach and success. She presents her findings through the lens of the Cultural Change Triad Model, which describes major points where the progressive movement must invest to achieve transformative social change. She shared some of the findings from her report with MobLab.
Put People at the Center (Not Messaging)
Van Slyke acknowledges that many tools progressives use to engage people (social media and online organizing, for example) allow activists to reach both individuals and large groups. Conversations have largely gone in only one direction, though: here’s the message, action, or story you should read, sign, share, or like.
Van Slyke urges organizers to go beyond thinking about the messages they want to relay and connect with the lives, identities, and interests of the people they want to reach. “We’re really good at creating videos that go viral, and dropping them into YouTube and then rolling away,” says Van Slyke. “We’re not very good at thinking about the kind of story lines and cultural experiences that really attract people.”