By John Steppling
I start with the above links. And they really need to be read.
Now, this isn’t about who to vote for so much as it’s about the deteriorating of the American psyche, and the colonizing of consciousness that goes with it.
The absurdity of a Melanie Phillips, and her naked racism should, I would think, be obvious to any sentient being. She cites loony Daniel Pipes, a perfect reflection of her ideology.
The FOX news piece is funny because the implications are that to read something that others find unacceptable is tantamount to a crime.
And so we come to the attacks on Obama as a Muslim. I’ve said before that this election has made race a pivotal idea again in the national ongoing narrative. But it’s not just that Obama is black; it’s that his name is sort of, uh, funny. And this has allowed the Muslim hatred to surface in a new form.
Gary Leupp, always worth reading, makes points about Bill Ayers. These are obvious in a sense, but not to Middle America. The hatred is palpable out there. And the lack of education is stunning……as George Monbiot recently cited. It’s a nation of deeply compromised thinkers. The average American has no curiosity, has no historical perspective, and seems addicted to the most reductive and jingoistic formulaic thought. The contradictions are so extreme that it’s hard to keep up with them. Muslim is now short hand for evil.
But this presidential race — by virtue of Obama’s race — has become about memory. The memory of Indonesian genocide and about the black power movement and about civil rights and about Viet Nam. And it’s, as Monbiot points out, about education. Intellect is seen as weakness. The prototypical American myth is about the man of action. A man of few words and an emotionally dead man. But never mind, as long as he can shoot and hunt and get things done. The point is not to ask what those things are, for that would be weakness. This is a myth created for a young country. The frontiersman, the gunfighter; Daniel Boone and Billy the Kid. And the marketing has intensified this myth over the last forty years. Couple this with the destruction of public education and the growing Pentecostal movement, and it’s a perfect storm of mass ignorance and resentment.
Now there is certainly a backlash against this marketed reality, but it strikes me as a pretty mediated backlash. The suspicion of intellect is deeply rooted in US consciousness. If one examines popular culture, Hollywood for example, one sees villains are often intellectuals. The hero or protagonist is usually a man of action, and hence a man to be trusted. Even in academic circles one gets a feeling of this mythology at work.
Corporate America sells lifestyles. Branding. It’s easier to reinforce the stupid then it is to sell intelligence. Beer commercials are always about how it’s just fine to be half in the bag and dumb. Homer Simpson. It’s the frat boy paradigm, which in the UK is lad culture. Marketing would be self defeating if it demanded you achieve something, demanded rigor in thought and asked for an informed political culture. So it doesn’t. It sells products by virtue of branding, and that means identification. It sells *reaction*.
This brings us back to the political theatre of the US presidential elections. The Christian Right is rallying around Palin and finding a justification for its deep seated resentments and fears. It is a form of McCarthyism. And McCain is a perfect poster boy in many ways for the militaristic hero trope — only his senility and general lack of attractiveness get in the way. There seem to be splits within splits now in the US. Obama is both black and someone who reads. An empire that is clutching at the final few straws of denial cannot tolerate, in addition to a perceived intellect, the fact that he is black. AND that he has that funny international history. For most Americans Indonesia couldn’t be found on a map. Sarah Palin couldn’t find it; I guarantee you. And I wonder if McCain could. Kenya? The same.
To remember civil rights now brings up white America’s sense of being put upon. The destruction of unions and the general loss of jobs and security must seem too much. The marketed promises haven’t been kept. Reagan was wrong, and all this claptrap about the fall of Communism, and a shining light on a hill, or whateverthefuckever that phrase was, has turned out to be the sub-prime crisis and a jillion dollar national debt and maybe a black president. That wasn’t the how the script was supposed to go.
Now this is all being rather simplistic I know. But then the national discourse has become simplistic. When people like Pipes and John Bolton, or Rush Limbaugh or David Brooks are creating the world view, then real analysis and historical awareness won’t happen. Bill Kristol now writes for the biggest paper in the US. BILL KRISTOL? Think about that. A man of such limited intellect and such a jingoistic racism that in a normal universe he would be safely kept out of sight by his family.
For the last fifty years US foreign policy has supported the worst dictators in the world. The US has fought a constant war against the forces of humanity and tolerance. If it wasn’t good for corporate business, then it was to be destroyed. The millions of dead in Viet Nam, in Indonesia, in Africa and the Middle East …. in Central America and South America are simply not mentioned. For an increasingly insular and defensive population the idea that the US installed a monster like Pinochet is impossible to accept. The Shah? Somoza? Rioss Mont? Duvalier? The marketed reality is a Manichean one. Good vs. Bad, and *we* are good. Period. And fuck off if you don’t agree.
Genuine class consciousness still seems a long way off. My ongoing beef with Trotskyist leftists is this fantasy world they promote. Hand out newspapers and explain why you won’t vote for Obama, and etc. The death of the American Empire is at hand, no question about it. It can’t be sustained. Here in Europe there is a general unease coupled to an acceptance that international finance will be changing and those vacations on far flung beaches may now be spent a few hundred kilometers away at a local park.
Change must start with a change in consciousness. The culture must change. The corporate media must be ignored and people must slowly, gradually, look to their community. World revolution isn’t going to happen. Obama is better, on all levels, than McCain. Sure, he’s a Democrat and Biden is scum, but he might be smart enough to stop the collective denial of Empire and because he once listened to guys like Khalidi, he might understand the madness a tiny bit better.
The system is still the system, and it’s predicated on exploitation, and that won’t change tomorrow. But on an environmental precipice stands mankind. McCain and Palin and Bush and Cheney and all the rest will never act at all in response, for they cannot. They are too psychically disfigured and have been too long cut off from reality. Obama might be able to react. A small bit anyway, and maybe later more. I don’t know. The attacks on him as a far left Muslim Marxist are absurd, but maybe such demonic fantasies suggest a truth. Maybe under that corporate DNC veneer is something hibernating, a horrible Marxist monster after all. We can only hope.
Senior Editor of Arts and Culture with Cyrano’s Journal Online, playwright, director, screenwriter and teacher, John Steppling was an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival and has had his plays produced in London, LA, New York, Paris, San Francisco, and Poland. Steppling lives in Lodz with Norwegian director Gunnhild Skrodal, and teaches at the Polish National Film School. He co-edits with Guy Zimmerman Cyrano’s celebrated VOXPOP blog on theater, cinema & politics.
This link suggests another aspect:
And Richard Seymour brings this:
Perhaps Obama has created something of an awakening in the working class. It may be small, as I said above, and heavily mediated by a number of factors, but it’s fascinating to see the possibilities. I would again raise the issue of race. If class consciousness is starting to appear, it’s starting to appear through the lens of race.