The Imaginative Conservative contains an embarrassment of riches in many ways. One of them is the offerings each year, from persons more sophisticated and morally rooted than I, of suggestions for appropriate Christmas gifts. But what of those of us who have friends who are not yet true, fully formed imaginative conservatives? Certainly, a gift of Tolkien, a fine cigar, or a fine scotch, will be appreciated even by many who have not “joined the fold,” as it were. But what else might make a gift suitable for reaching out to friends and family who may have an inkling (sorry) of the nature and importance of the permanent things, but remain, for now, too attached to “the real world” and its vices to be open to, for example, a gift with clear religious meaning? People who have the potential (and the good sense) to be open to becoming imaginative conservatives, but who are not yet ready to fully enter into a life of moral imagination?
Without disparaging in the least any more overtly conservative gifts and messages, I would like to offer some suggestion of gifts for those we might consider Imaginative Conservatives in Training.
Today’s entertainment medium of choice is, of course, the movie, and so I first offer some DVD suggestions that should appeal to those who think themselves too sophisticated, macho, cynical, or what-have-you for openly moral entertainment, but still may enjoy something that expresses and enriches the moral imagination, if only in its critical manifestation. First would be Blast from the Past, a truly hilarious film starring Brendan Fraser as a young man raised in a fallout shelter who must confront modern Los Angeles as he determines whether the world has recovered from the explosion his parents believed (wrongly?) had made it uninhabitable. This movie is not for kids, but the triumph of (manly) innocence over vulgarity is as entertaining as it is culturally enriching. Second would be Idiocracy, a film from Mike Judge, whose execrable Beavis and Butt-Head helped de-moralize America. Here he presents a vulgar but extremely pointed and funny send-up of the tendencies of our egalitarian, self-indulgent culture. Two average people are transported 500 years into a future shaped by the failure of yuppies to procreate and the success of stupid, lazy, self-indulgent people in that endeavor. The result is a world surviving off the remnants of the society its people destroyed by, for example, irrigating crops with Gatorade (because it has “what a body needs”). Could large, Catholic families prevent such a catastrophe? Judge does not ask, but it is an interesting question. Finally, there is Van Helsing. It is about a monster hunter who works for the Vatican, assisted by a friar as he hunts down Dracula. And it neither mocks nor excoriates Catholics or their religion. Enough said?
Gifts should, of course, be about enjoyment rather than education, per se. But some forms of enjoyment take a bit of education to truly appreciate. An area where this concern is particularly relevant is the conservative impetus to “buy local.” Not meaning to sound too “crunchy,” it is important for conservatives to seek to conserve local life in our era of homogenization and globalization. And perhaps the best and certainly one of the most enjoyable ways to do that is to support your local microbrewery. Much of the equipment and many of the ingredients may be purchased in the stream of international commerce (though some microbreweries are conscientious about this as well), but the craftsmanship generally is local, and the results often spectacular. So, a gift of a local brew can bring a pleasure that demonstrates just how good buying local can feel, and taste. Living in the Midwest, I also have the opportunity to patronize Amish farms and furniture makers (our Amish friends not only make large pieces, but also small things one can afford to give as gifts). And these days most towns have stores that sell gift baskets packed with local treats.
Finally, I am well aware of the views of many traditionalist conservatives regarding modern music of all kinds, but I want to put in a plug for jazz. Not just any jazz, of course. There really is something to the argument that bebop and various forms of free-form jazz contributed to the decline of public sensibilities. But there are many kinds of jazz, and most of it is distinctly melodic. The best of it should put one in mind of the long tradition of semi-popular music aimed at pleasing audiences with a combination of familiar tunes and virtuosic performances. In particular, Gene Harris was the best piano play I ever heard, bar none. His music was ceaselessly melodic, his variations on themes from blues, popular, and even folk music unerringly beautiful as well as swinging, and the results pleasing and challenging at the same time. Any CD of his music, from his earliest days with The Three Sounds through his last concert in London, would make a fine gift for anyone, but especially one who thinks jazz either too “modern” or too “old fashioned.” In particular his “Plus One,” on which his trio is joined by the incomparable Stanley Turrentine on saxophone, shows just how much fun beauty can be—and how beautiful musical fun can be. If this disc does not make a convert out of even the most jaded listener, that person just is not listening.
I would hope most any imaginative conservative would enjoy any of these gifts (not all of them are for the little ones, of course, we have our own Common Core of gifts for them). But I especially hope one or more of these might please recipients who are just beginning their journey Home.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.