The news for Americans, especially Independents, lacks meaning, direction, ideology– and they miss it, just like economically, they’ve been left behind. Now the news is artificial drama, just local crime stories blown up nationally, a natural disaster, the occasional Youtube video– where’s the Change, where are the upheavals, where are the riot police? We don’t have political riots here, we have high end sit ins near the Broadway Starbucks, and occasionally 20 motorcycles will attack a minivan. “Is ‘motorcycle’ code?” That’s where we are right now, this is what the media has trained you for, detecting racism or hypocrisy or some other character flaw in the speaker as a proxy for the complexities of the issues so you don’t have to think. It is under these conditions that you expect John Boehner to “compromise” on something you don’t at all understand, and scream for his beheading if he doesn’t, all to the thrill of the media. “See! TLP is a right wing zealot!” See, you’re stupid. And boy oh boy do I have the news network for you.
Garcia’s evidence prompts serious questions about the way we write history – and not all of the kind that you might expect. It is not that we are required to doubt Picasso’s core beliefs, his hatred of fascism, or the sincerity of a picture like Guernica. Indeed, it is precisely the urge to do any of the above that these revelations most urgently address. That our idea of a figure should be so brittle underscores the very desire that first shaped the ‘political myth of Picasso’: that of subjecting thought – and political beings, in all their complexity – to party lines.
What is it about the writer in the First World that wants the Third World writer to be nakedly political, a blunt instrument bludgeoning his world’s ills? What is it about the critic that seems to wish upon the Third World the martyred activist who dies for a cause (O’Connell: “In his own country, six coups d’etat and three dictatorships” — one hears exclamation points of disappointment)? Where does this goddamned fantasy come from — that fantasy of the oppressed Third World artist who must risk his life to speak out, who’s not allowed to stay in bed and just read Kidnapped? I have to say, look at it this way: It only benefits dictatorships when all the Ken Saro-Wiwas die — and the loss of all the Ken Saro-Wiwas diminishes us all. Why is it not okay that an old man in Argentina lives for his art — and yet it is okay for a writer in The New Yorker whose country is targeting civilians abroad in precision assassinations to merely sit and write reviews about dead Argentines whose political feelings are insufficiently pronounced? Where is the great American artist leading his fellow citizens in barricades against the NSA? And why are these New Yorker critics not calling them out for their “refusal to engage with politics”?
On February 11, 2011, children the world over gathered about their television sets to watch a new episode of the smash hit cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. On this particular program, one of the ponies manifests the ability to predict the future and Twilight Sparkle, the show’s resident rational positivist, sets out to debunk the phenomenon. What follows is that she is physically and intellectually humiliated at every possible turn of the process, resulting in a climatic breakdown in which she finally rejects her own role as a rational observer and declares that, “I now realize there are wonderful things in this world you just can’t explain, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less true. It just means you have to choose to believe in them.”
DeBakcsy is concerned about what he sees as a recurring theme in cartoons. You know me; I’m too sanguine to worry about the political ramifications of wrongthink in popcorn entertainment. Reason and the scientific method are made of sterner stuff than that, and overly literal-minded propagandists often fail to reckon with the creative detours their supposedly-unambiguous message can take in the minds of the audience.
Is there any reason for a revolutionary to watch a fantasy movie like The Hobbit? Activists and radicals, perhaps more than anyone, must live in the real world.
Uninterested in escaping from the struggles of life, a radical mind sees real social situations brimming with injustice to be fought and wants to do something about it. Perhaps this is why there are not too many fantasy writers among the literary heroes of the radical left. We tend to favour poignant and sensual descriptions of real world conditions.
This season’s debut of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, or the performance of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, that tragic social commentary of the experience of itinerant work during the great depression at Sydney Opera house this year, are the food of great progressive political sentiment.
By contrast, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit along with other blockbuster fantasy movies like Harry Potter, X-Men, and the Twilight saga are read by the kind of people who are more concerned with the coming zombie apocalypse, or masked Super-Villains, than they are by the plight of the urban poor. They inspire people to fight evil wizards, or deranged mutant supremacists, not bosses in a union.
Fuckin’ hoi polloi, amirite? You turn your back on them for one goddamned second, and they’re off indulging in their various opiates or building golden calves. I swear, it’s like they don’t want to learn what’s best for them. All is not lost in this case, thankfully, as our vanguardist hero has discerned how even Tolkien’s conservative parable can be subverted in service to the revolution. The things we do for you ungrateful lumpenproles…
To borrow and repurpose a line from Gayatri Spivak, it’s ideologues incapable of seeing art as anything more than propaganda for their cause who are “the least interesting and the most dangerous.”
Speaking of those who hate the constraints of style:
At this moment, I, the writer, and you, the reader, are partaking at a banquet of language that we did not create—a system superimposed on our consciousness. The raw material of our minds is rendered by the symbolic aspect of language, and there is no escaping it; unless one takes psychedelics, descends into madness, attains a hightened non-symbolic spiritual state, or disrupts the historical, psychological superstructure of language.
Breton and the other Surrealists realized that language, its traditional structure (syntax, morphology, semantics and phonology, to varying degrees) and expectations, needed to be destroyed and rebuilt. While the group’s efforts in automatic writing never produced writing as famous as T.S. Elliot “The Wasteland,” for instance, automatism accomplished something far more important: it struck a blow to the politics of language.
By politics of language, it should be taken to mean the inherited system of thought and communication. We are defined by the words we use, yet we had no part in the construction of the system. This word means such and such. This is how one writes a sentence, a paragraph, an essay, a poem, a novel, a letter, etc. What we think is heavily influenced by the signs and signifiers we use in the form of words (to say nothing of visual cues), and when we attempt to express a thought verbally or through the written word, we must again revert to an imposed system to do so.
In his quest for absolute certainty, Descartes noticed that our senses can frequently mislead us. Had he followed that line of thinking a bit further, he might have realized that it’s only through further application of those very same senses that we discover our initial mistake and correct it. The real problem was that there’s no such thing as absolute anything — certainty, freedom, perfection, whatever. No tool, however useful, can help achieve an impossible, incoherent goal.
I kind of feel the same way in this context. Anarchic gibberish is not the antipode of lies and propaganda.
Just as so many 1980s pop culture products reflected the spirit of the Reagan Revolution’s conservative backlash, we are now seeing two blockbuster, genre-shaping products not-so-subtly reflect the Tea Party’s rhetorical backlash to the powerful Occupy Wall Street zeitgeist. In the same way Republican leaders have caricatured the “99 percent” idea as a menacing “attack upon freedom” or a “mob,” “Call of Duty” is essentially equating the “99 percent” idea with terrorism, chaos and violence.
Likewise, in “Dark Knight Rises,” though there has been some effort to use the villain’s name to portray him as a stand-in for Mitt Romney, the Los Angeles Times is right to flag the true “Occupy Wall Street vibe” of the bad guys. And though it’s possible that the film will ultimately provide a more nuanced portrayal of such populist outrage than “Call of Duty” seems intent on presenting, the problem remains the same: when villainous motives and psychopathy is televisually ascribed to mass popular outrage against the economic status quo, it suggests to the audience that only crazy people would sympathize with such outrage.
Knowing the teenage audience is right now forming the next generation’s vision of good and bad, it’s a message that the 1 percent must love.
Roy Edroso has a recurring theme where he talks about “The Children of Zhdanov“, though he tends to restrict his focus to stellar examples on the right wing. Lest you think, however, that only reactionaries insist on reducing art and pop culture to parables of propaganda, idiots like Sirota (and others) are doing their equal part to make sure that no aspect of the personal is separate from the political.
Again, in case you need reminding, I am a confirmed misanthrope. I do not have a generally high opinion of my fellow hairless apes. But, you know, I came of age during the glory days of the P.M.R.C., and I can tell you that my fellow metalhead teens and I alternated between raucous laughter and indignant disbelief as we listened to the Tipper Gores of America recite lyrics as if they were appliance user guides, while insisting that we were blank slates, too stupid to think even slightly critically about the messages and images we were receiving through our music, and thus in need of incessant preaching and supervision. Yet needless to say, the overwhelming majority of us did not commit suicide, become violent felons or hardcore drug addicts, dabble in devil worship, or court our girlfriends and wives with all the subtle romance of Mötley Crüe lyrics. Somehow, even without insufferable busybodies there to instruct our thinking every step of the way, we made our way to adulthood, no more damaged or antisocial than anyone else. Somehow, I think today’s teenagers will be just as capable of eventually forming political opinions independent of whichever movie they last saw.
In Brave, Merida isn’t interested in the young men trying to win her hand, or in marriage. Which is not to say that she is gay. There’s nothing in the film to suggest that she is; and Markovitz doesn’t assume that because she enjoys outdoorsy activities, she must be gay. But because her character is not defined by her sexuality — unlike, say, Ariel, Jasmine, or Cinderella — she could be a lesbian. The point is: Kids will notice that her happily ever after isn’t dependent on a wedding. And that feels like a step in the right direction.
Okay. Think back with me now to all the fairy tales and Saturday morning cartoons you absorbed as kids, many of them grotesque and reactionary if taken literally. How many of them informed your adult worldview in any meaningful way? What an impoverished mindset it requires to look at a fucking CGI animation and see it as political propaganda for blank slates. However much we have to stretch the definition of art for our purposes here, what a paucity of imagination and integrity it indicates for someone to judge popular art by how faithfully it trumpets the cause du jour.
The point is not that people should or shouldn’t relate characters and themes from books and movies to their own experiences; they always have and will, and skillful creations will resonate with audiences long after current political obsessions have faded. The point is that people who are concerned first and foremost with making Brave into a referendum on feminism, redheadedness or gay rights are myopic prigs, and that it takes incredibly insecure people to demand that their sociopolitical values be validated and affirmed by even popcorn entertainment.
Alain de Botton has addressed love, happiness and religion. Now he wants to investigate pornography in the belief it can be turned into a moral and noble industry.
The philosopher wants to bring together leading figures within the porn movement and the arts to identify a “new pornography” which is more socially acceptable and is “fit for thoughtful, good human beings”.
…He said society is “awash with porn” which “represents a threat” both to the people who create it and to those who consume it, but he is convinced that it need not be that way and that people can be sexual and virtuous simultaneously.
…“Ideally, porn would excite our lusts in contexts which also presented other, elevated sides of human nature – in which people were being witty, forinstance, or showing kindness, or working hard or being clever – so that our sexual excitement could bleed into, and enhance our respect for these other elements of a good life,” he said.
He really just doesn’t seem to comprehend that not everybody is crying out for a shepherd, a tutor, a father figure. I worry about people with such a propagandist bent, especially when they’re convinced that they’re doing it for virtue.
Twitter and Facebook have been widely credited with enabling citizens to upend dictatorial regimes.But while oppressive governments were initially caught off guard by the new media tools, those still in power appear finally to be catching on. In some cases they are happily embracing social networking to play Big Brother in a way never before possible.Many governments struggling with dissent appear to be using a double-barreled strategy to fight back against the so-called Facebook revolutions: classic repression and by promoting their own views using the very same platforms.
I haven’t paid much attention to the uprisings in Africa and the Middle East so far, and when I have tried to read about it, I find it difficult to keep my eyes focused on the page instead of rolling around in their sockets, given how many people only want to talk about social media’s supposed role in all this. When I kept seeing the story pop up about the Egyptian guy who named his newborn child “Facebook”, I pretty much threw my hands up in defeat and went back to more interesting things.
Social networking mattered in Egypt, but the root causes of the uprising were scarcity, official corruption and social conflict, none of which fit the cyber-utopian narrative or flatter America’s technological vanity.…The unfortunate propensity to log on to the web and pronounce it a global revolution in the offing is what Morozov dubs “the Google Doctrine”—the overconfident conviction, inherited from the West’s cold war propaganda, that the simple transmission of information beyond the reach of state-sanctioned channels has the power to topple authoritarian regimes. But just as the Eastern bloc’s downfall had far more to do with the internal stresses besieging the dying Soviet order, so does the Google Doctrine paper over a vast nexus of real-world causation in global affairs.…It has never been the case that authoritarians are allergic to information technologies. Quite the contrary: as pioneers in the production of mass propaganda, they love mass media, and maintain an intense interest in later-generation digital technologies such as GPS and Twitter location that permit them to plot the real-time whereabouts of online dissidents. Yet one never encounters these uses of digital technologies in Shirky-style broadsides on cyber-liberation; in them, digital technology by definition unleashes and pools human creativity and generosity, because that’s what we Western progenitors of these technologies like to imagine them doing.…”While many in the West concede that the Internet has not solved and may have only aggravated many negative aspects of political culture,” as is the case with James O’Keefe’s gotcha YouTube videos, “they are the first to proclaim that when it comes to authoritarian states, the Internet enables their citizens to see through the propaganda. Why so many of their own fellow citizens—living in a free country with no controls on freedom of expression—still believe extremely simplistic and misleading narratives when all the facts are just a Google search away is a question that Western observers should be asking more often.”