It was ten days after Election Day and most liberals were still in full blown crisis mode, wading their way through the fever dream of the post-Trump victory world. The week since the unthinkable had happened had been a whirlwind; the rallies, the recounts, the sense of chaos, loss, and most of all, deep uncertainty. What was certain, however, was the dreamy vision of a progressive American identity many had been so sure of the morning of November 8th had been snuffed out, quite literally overnight. The liberal vision of the election as a significant step towards a more perfect union, the glorious symbolism of the first woman president succeeding the first black president, the long awaited relish of defeating Trump himself, it was all gone. And in its wake was little more than brooding, self-affirmative groupthink about a flawed, bigoted America resistant to progress and pluralism. It was against this backdrop that Saturday Night Live, long a bastion of urban progressivism and fresh off months of mercilessly mocking of Trump and his team, aired “The Bubble.” The sketch detailed an eponymous planned community for liberals ― or “like-minded freethinkers ― and no one else” ― to seek refuge from the ravages of Trump’s America. To borrow from a successful SNL character, “The Bubble” has everything: wine bars, raw milk, and WiFi that only connects to liberal blogs. In short, the sketch is chock full of small digs at the modern stereotypes of American liberals. But it goes even deeper. At one point, one of the community’s fictional spokesmen, a white man in Warby Parker glasses, declares that its members “don’t see color, but celebrate it,” prompting an eye-roll from his black female cohort. At another, the starting rate for a one-bedroom apartment is mentioned to be $1.9 million. Even more significant than its playful parody of liberal idiosyncrasies is its nudging at white liberals on the more discomforting (and more politically relevant) issues of their racial insensitivity and economic privilege, suggesting they are not quite as egalitarian and open-minded as they believe.
Coming on the heels of an election whose shock outcome was attributed by many in the media to the supposed insularity of urban and progressive communities, the skit was widely circulated and well-received - across conservative media in particular. But lost in much of the post-November conversation about ideological provincialism, and conservatives’ celebration of liberals being pilloried for their own, is the stark difference in how the left and right views and attends to their own bubbles. The release this month of Jordan Peele’s cinematic tour de force, Get Out, underscores the gaping, and growing, gap between liberals and conservatives’ ability to critique, confront, and laugh at their own imperfections.
To call Get Out “racially charged” would be an understatement. From the get-go, the film, premised on a black man meeting the family and entering the world of his white girlfriend, is racially volted, with the very opening scene alluding to Trayvon Martin’s killing. It is a testament to Peele’s distinct talent as an artist that even as the the film descends into a frenzied, bizarre thriller it still manages to incorporate elements of satire, subtlety, and comic relief. Tracking closely with that descent is the tone and breadth of the film’s statement on race. While racial discrimination and insensitivity are present from early in the film, they initially come exclusively from expected sources ― Baby Boomer parents, white male police officers. The film is too laden with symbolism and meaning to fully address here, but there is one moment that particularly sticks out. While there are several big “reveals,” the most thrilling comes when it is revealed that Rose ― the white girlfriend who had theretofore been distinct from her family and friends’ racism ― is directly complicit in the racial subjugation plot of her family. The moment encapsulates the clear message underlying Get Out: that many, even most, of the ostensibly “woke,” craft-beer drinking liberals that populate SNL’s Bubble do in fact reside on the same spectrum of racial oppression as the red state rubes from which they created the community to seek refuge. In itself, the delivery of this message by Peele is a watershed moment in American culture. Never before has such a message been given as big a megaphone or received as strong an affirmation (the film enjoys a 99 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
Receiving less attention but even more significant than the film’s content itself is what it tells us about bubbles and insularity. Given the film’s entire message is a strong criticism of progressives, in particular white progressives, it is significant it has been received positively by liberal critics and audiences alike. Get Out is the biggest indication yet that, for all the “snowflake” flak they get, American liberals choose to both create and expose themselves to artistic content that critiques themselves ― on some of the most emotional and explosive social issues, no less. Indeed, once one gets past the meme of liberal insularity and sensitivity, it becomes clear that the entire narrative is dubious at best and utterly fallacious at worst.
Think for a second about the last television show or movie created by, directed at, and critical of conservatives. You’ll ponder in vain. They simply do not exist. Many on the right would indignantly protest that they are underrepresented in the studios and boardrooms of Hollywood and Manhattan, and this is at least partially true. But the past few years have seen a veritable explosion in conservative media. Mike Huckabee, for example, has produced nearly a dozen movies, including The Gift of Life, God’s Not Dead, and God’s Not Dead 2 (in case there was any ambiguity remaining). Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, even after earning the dubious distinction of being ranked the worst movie of all time by IMDB, banked $2.5 million in 2014. Glenn Beck’s media flagship The Blaze is worth nearly $100 million ― and saw fit to construct a full-scale replication of the Oval Office from which Beck broadcast during the 2016 GOP primary. Just last year, Miracles from Heaven, a story of a chronically ill little girl who supposedly ascended to heaven and returned, grossed $70 million at the box office ― off a budget of $13 million. In other words, the capital is there. The tools are there. The audience is there. Conservatives simply choose not to utilize any of them to produce any content that is even remotely critical of any aspect of their ideology. Even Lena Dunham, the most reviled example of liberal decadence to the American right, looks like a bona fide Joan Rivers-Christopher Hitchens love child when compared to conservative media; her HBO opus “Girls” is itself centered around living caricatures of white, liberal millennials.
The separation between conservative and liberals is only underscored when one considers the yawning gap between the mainstream acceptability of their ideologies. Per polls from the past year and a half: 57% of Americans acknowledge human activity to be a driver behind climate change, 7 in 10 Americans support Roe v. Wade, 55% support increased gun control, and a (mind boggling) 88% support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. In short, the entire modern conservative movement is organized around a series of political positions wholly out of step with middle America. Even if conservatives and liberals did live in equivalent “bubbles,” the latter would still be less isolated given they are overwhelmingly more in touch with the center of American society.
The bottom line: despite their frequent denigration of liberal “safe spaces,” and “sensitivity,” it is demonstrably true that conservatives live overwhelmingly more homogenous and insulated lives. The position du jour of many effete elites ― that conservatives and liberals alike exist in equally aloof “two Americas” ― flies in the face of all evidence and logic. In Trump’s America, the left is producing and processing media that examines everything from innocuous idiosyncrasies to real, systemic hypocrisies. Meanwhile, conservatives are incapable of challenging even the most fantastical of statements by Trump and his advisors. From his claim of five million illegal immigrants voting in the presidential election to his recent allegation President Obama executed an intricate, secret, criminal conspiracy to wiretap him during the election, the grotesque falsehoods and absurdities of President Trump ― and the lack of pushback from any prominent conservative voice or elected official ― is a living, breathing embodiment of the unparalleled bubble around which modern conservatism is organized.
As the pain and shock of the morning of November 9th showed, progressives do have blind spots. Acknowledging that does not necessitate capitulating to bigots or admitting one’s way of life is somehow inferior to a heartland conservative’s. What it does take is self-awareness, honest self-appraisal, and a firm insistence on the concept of objective reality ― not coincidentally, all characteristics modern conservatives are lacking. They are also the precise tools that, if utilized, will lead progressives, and America as a whole, to the future we envisioned the morning of November 8th. With projects like Get Out, there’s hope for that future.