The Great Circus By John Steppling

Dandelion Salad

Sent to me by Jason Miller from Thomas Paine’s Corner. Thanks, Jason.

By John Steppling

A few thoughts on the electoral theatre that is upon us.

First, the most obvious and glaring reality of US politics is that only the very, very rich participate. This single fact really should give one pause, should give everyone who actually works for a living pause. As one old Wobbly put it, there are two kinds of people in the world, those who work and those who don’t.

Now, John McCain, like Kerry, got most of his money via his second wife …. after dumping his first one. Cyndi is a beer heiress, and if McCain were to be elected, and I think he will be, he will the first US president to have signed a pre-nuptial agreement. Anyway, the McCains spend, for household employees, $273,000 (in 2007), according to John McCain’s tax returns. The butler and maid budget for a single year exceeds a decade’s income for most Americans.

McCain is the son of an admiral, and finished near bottom of his graduating class at Annapolis. I’m just stringing together a few details here. And now Obama has chosen among the creepiest and most vile men in American government as his running mate: Joe Biden. Both Biden and Obama are millionaires by the by, albeit minor league—so far. Anyway, Biden is a longtime foreign policy hawk. A big supporter of the Clintonian bombing of Belgrade, and the guy who tossed off the idea of creating three small statelets in Iraq — partioning the country along ethnic and religious lines. He was also guilty of plagiarism a while back, and if you want a better look at Joe, watch the fine documentary on Waco, and see his craven apology for ATF actions that resulted in the burning to death of children and women. The man is a ghoul. Also, check out Cockburn’s piece on Biden here:

What strikes one about this carnival is the degree to which this narrative has become entrenched — the political follies, the circus of conventions and empty speeches. Now, let’s also note the increasingly draconian policing of these conventions ( So we have a theatre of abstract rhetoric and managed perceptions, of jillionaires who pretend there is a real difference between what they say.

Now, if you asked me do I think Obama would be less harmful than McCain, I would answer yes. In the sense that liver biopsy is better than root canal. And I do grant that at the least, and this about all I will grant, his black face is the first genuine or authentic black face in US politics (well, maybe Marian Berry). Yes, I do. But again, why do people accept an elite class telling them what to do? Why is there a nostalgia for the Romanovs, or for a Kiplingesque colonial landscape? Why? One sees countless reflections of this in popular culture, certainly. The nostalgia for colonial empire is reflected in every Harry Potter spinoff one can find, and certainly in films like Sex & the City or even Dark Knight. The rich are deserving of our attention, and the rich are what *we* wish we could be. A list of top political figures, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Cheney, the Bushes, Kerry, Romney, Biden, Clinton, Gore, McCain; what do they share? They share extreme wealth.

In film today Bruce Wayne is exactly one of these men, except he gets tricked out in tights and mask at night to practice vigilantism, to take the law into his own hands…..well, sort of like Cheney and Bush, actually. I return again and again to the simplistic narrative at work. For a film like Dark Knight it’s almost (as Le Colonel Chabert put it on her blog) a high school drama with the rich jock and the outcast nerd (the Joker). One might additionally see The Joker as something of a collective unconsious projection of self loathing. This comic book level narration is carried on regards Russia/Georgia and even Iraq and Iran. It’s the total failure of class consciousness. It’s the result, now, of the absolute destruction of public education (not that US education, or even western education, was ever much more than a control mechanism) and of the satisfying of *needs* by advanced capital — or in part, the illusion thereof. The relations under monopoly capital are increasingly relations of the market, and not really work.

Here is Marcuse, circa 1972:

“The Western world has reached a new stage of development: now, the defense of the capitalist system requires the organization of counterrevolution at home and abroad. In its extreme manifestations, it practices the horrors of the Nazi regime. Wholesale massacres in Indonesia, the Congo, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Sudan are unleashed against everything which is called *communist* or which is in revolt against governments subservient to the imperialist countries. Cruel persecution prevails in the Latin American countries under fascist and military dictatorships. Torture has become a normal instrument of interrogation around the world. The agony of religious wars revives at the height of Western civilization and a constant flow of arms from the rich to the poor countries helps to perpetuate the oppression of national and social liberation.”

Remember, this was written over thirty years ago. Was also written the year Joe Biden began his career in US government.

So, in light of Joe Biden’s VP appearance, in light of crazy John McCain and whatever rich prick he chooses to run with, we have, essentially, more of the same. Even if an Obama actually wanted to change something, he couldn’t.

The populace internalizes the accepted comic book narrative; the rich are rich because they are virtuous, and the poor are poor because they are stupid. Oh, some of the poor might one day *make it*, one out of a million, and this narrative will also be held up and included in the managed reality of today’s western world. The master discourse says we all have a chance to become Sam Walton, we could all become President, if we only had an Admiral for a father or married an heiress, or were telegenic enough and compliant enough to do the bidding of the military industrial complex.

Monopoly capitalism defuses change via the narrative it continues, ever more hysterically, to thrust upon the public. I often ask myself why anyone actually fights in Iraq? Do people actually believe they are spreading democracy? Whateverthefuckever that is. Or do they think they are protecting the United States from an evil Islamic scourge, a future caliphate? Is that possible? I suppose it is, since people also believe every other narrative at work in this giant spectacle of counterrevolution that is modern American culture. Gaither Stewart’s fine piece here at TGJ on Stalin is a worthy attempt to counter these received *truths*. If Ronald Reagan can be enshrined as a great man — a hack actor, a reactionary and prematurely senile sock puppet, can actually find traction as a *great man* then anything is possible. Churchill was an elitist colonial racist pig — but how many people have bothered to read some of Winnie’s speeches to Parliament from his early years. He advocated the gassing of natives, as a perfectly reasonable policy. Saddam is a monster because he *gassed* the Kurds (assuming he did) but Churchill is considered one of the great leaders of the 20th century. The western appeasement of Hitler is totally forgotten, and the new re-write of history has Stalin and those horrid Soviets as the evil Empire. Mao is a monster who didn’t bathe enough, and Castro is dictator, much like Chavez. Dropping nuclear bombs on civilian cities in Japan actually *saved* lives, so the narrative goes. Anything can be marketed, apparently. Saakashvilli as courageous democrat, the Mau Mau as crazed barbarians treated with firmness but fairness by the British, and Israel as an outpost of tolerance and progress and democracy in a sea of Muslim backwardness. Just color in the accepted storyline.

Today the individual in advanced capital is totally fragmented yet integrated (if we look at the broader perspective). He serves the system during both work (if he has it) and during leisure. Putting aside the growing and severly punished underclass, the modern individual is provided with (as Marcuse put it) “steered satisfaction of material needs*. The administered reality, the master discourse, serves to create a populace that produces and reproduces the values of the ruling class, of the system of domination. So, today we have the political party conventions, the illusion of real choice, and a further continuance of near complete servitude. The problem is that growing underclass. Advanced capital is finding it harder and harder to know what to do with them. In Kigali, or Lagos, in Jakarta or Mexico City, in Calcutta or Sao Paulo, the vast barrios and ghettos grow and grow again. In the US itself major cities find a spike in homelessness, and in the rural wasteland where agribusiness has destroyed all community farming and culture, there is an equivalent surplus populace with little to do but cook meth and strike out in random violence … hence a prison population that exceeds any in the world. But then, prison construction (and privatizing) is a rare growth industry.

It is time to stop accepting the *accepted* narrative. Political conventions are pure dog-and-pony shows. Protesters will be shuttled into holding tanks and cages, and corporate media will spin these orgies of meaningless abstraction as providing evidence of US democratic ideals and our shining exceptionalism.

Look at what is before you:

John McCain is insane. Literally and by any standard one could find. Barry Obama has revealed his lack of genuine or meaningful integrity by choosing bag man Joe Biden. Look at the speakers lined up for these circuses: Mark Warner, Rudy Guiliani, Al Gore and Dick Cheney. Look at these men. Check their bank accounts, and how they made that money. Look back at the Bush family, look all the way back to Prescott Bush.

Colonialism never ended. Fascism is alive. NATO is an organ of Imperialism, and the defense budget is over two billion a day. So when we get up in the morning to go to a job we don’t like, and to get paid a wage that barely, if it all, can support our family, and when ghouls like Cheney or Biden or Bush or Gordon Brown, or Sarko, or Angie Merkle are held up as anything other than what they are, empty cardboard cut outs created to mouth the platitudes of the prevailing class interests, try to look for the places where real change might take place. The police are there to protect property, not to protect you. Same with the military, which is there to further the economic hegemony of the imperial class. Trust none of it.

Senior Editor John Steppling currently resides in Lodz, Poland, where he teaches at the Polish Film Institute. The main archive of his articles may be found at VOXPOP, Cyrano’s blog area devoted to theater, cinema and politics, which he co-edited with Guy Zimmerman.


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6 thoughts on “The Great Circus By John Steppling

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  4. A very accurate synopsis. I find that the older I get the less I can have any faith in the US political system. This is from someone who was raised in a conservative Republican household, and then became a very “liberal” Democrat. It’s the two party system that is the problem. Only candidates independent of any political party should be allowed to run (granted that’s anti-democratic, but then the US has never been a democracy).

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