What does Speed Racer have to do with political conservatism?

Man, Matt Schneider has been on a roll lately over at Catecinem. His latest takes a look at the Speed Racer movie, and how it can speak to the “culture wars” and political conservatism.

In theory, the races in Speed’s world are collegial affairs: good, clean, healthy tests of skill, ingenuity, strategy, and adaptability. In practice, they’re often rigged; sometimes luck goes bad; sometimes your headspace is too cluttered to do your best. Competition is not inherently elegant, positive, and beautiful; nor is it inherently messy, negative, and ugly. The film captures (perhaps inadvertently) how difficult it is to find a place to start from and a goal that makes the journey worthwhile; it also dramatizes the basic unfairness of how things so often work, and how hard it is to change the game. Speed is a traditionalist who believes in family (communal) values, clean fights, and equal opportunity… while still upholding the virtues of talent, individual ambition, and maintaining one’s edge. Despite the fact that he lives in the fast lane, Speed doesn’t evolve overnight; every bit of his quest presents its own challenge. His goal isn’t just to win for winning’s sake; he has emotional, political, personal goals as well. Where he ends up is not just in the winners’ circle; he has completed a spiritual journey; he’s progressed toward his ultimate goal. It takes time, but it’s time well spent, even with the headaches of nailbiting derbies.

Similarly, that is how I qualify what I mean by politically “conservative.” I don’t equate being “conservative” to being reactionary, traditionalist, or against progress in any way. Quite the opposite. I think genuine conservatives are heartily in favor of progress; what separates the conservatives from the hidebound dogmatists is that conservatives simply want to embrace change on their own terms, and with careful consideration. Rather than simply defining progress against the status quo, I think a true conservative tries to imagine the ramifications of any significant (or minor) change in terms of a truly positive impact on the future. This may entail changing the game altogether — who knows? The point is that I prefer change to be slow, incremental, and meaningful. I want to grapple with and understand it as best I can. And I do believe in continually moving forward. More than anything, I think that accepting competition as a baseline for reality means that one must always wrestle with competing ideas, desires, prejudices, and judgments within oneself. It means that I will probably never (or, at least, very infrequently) arrive at a conclusion that will always stand true and tall and unassailable. Even the most steadfast ideas I hold will be tested, assaulted, chipped away, and remolded. In the end, they may be more strongly reinforced; they may be unrecognizable; they may be eroded entirely. But they will never, ever be exactly the same. As absurd as it sounds, this is, in part, a conclusion to which I’ve been led by watching and thinking about Speed Racer.

And I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment:

If the writers of V for Vendetta can make a masterpiece that celebrates competition and family values, I’m pretty sure that liberals and conservatives can at least call an armistice in this interminable, so-called “culture war.” Our culture doesn’t belong to one or the other of us; it belongs to us all, whether we like it or not. If we’re going to compete, let’s at least try to enjoy ourselves. A convivial race, perhaps? Loser buys the pizza.

Related: My review of Speed Racer. The movie may not have had quite the effect on me, politically or otherwise, that it did on Schneider, but I still enjoyed it a lot.


Read more about Catecinem and Speed Racer.