Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Casting "The Prez"

The producers settled of course as expected with the WGA because of the Oscars which holds the whole political system together. You really can’t lose the Oscars during Presidential Primaries because it’s all one seamless spectacle, and the Academy Awards are the core event, which legitimates the whole American electoral system. The indispensable event of American “democracy” is the Oscar broadcast. If it were somehow not to happen people would know that the God Blessèd USofA was no more, that the crisis had come and swept it away.

We can confirm this by listening to and reading the best and brightest – this guy, Lawrence Lessig, is imagined to be not only a grown up, an actual adult, but an expert of some kind, savvy and slightly dissident, a bright guy and a sincere one – advising us on how to cast the role of Prez for the next hundred episodes in the four year series pre-order of Leader of The Free World. Lawrence Lessig easily explains that Barack Obama would be better television. So. That’s that. But he doesn’t even seem to comprehend that this is what he is saying. That he is speaking of a spectacle as if it were all there is. It sounds just like he is spitballing for a season of The West Wing – the policies yeah yeah, who cares, they’re fine, they’re the norm, there’s no choice anyway, there is no alternative. But this doesn’t matter for our nationwide casting session because the policies are not part of the drama anyway – they’re not featured in the Free World storyline. You don’t cast a lead role like The Prez in a hit show like New Free World Order according to some trivia like policies. What matters is the Prez should be compelling and likeable. And a good actor. He should embody. He should symbolise. He should convince. He should have a certain charisma and image. Of course this is all really advice to the writers who thank god are back at their computers, but their job will be so much easier if the casting directors do theirs like pros and match the face and figure to the backstory and character. Martin Sheen was Our Best President Ever, and it's a hard act to follow, but Obama is clearly the producers' and director's joint first choice for the next season…so Cast Obama As The Prez. If he loses, vote him in as the next James Bond.

That the final line here is just an out and out lie (Obama has repeatedly voted to fund the war, every chance he's had as Senator) should not tarnish this paragraph's marvellous unconditional surrender to victorious Reality Television. Read it and admire:

So I want you to shut your eyes and imagine what it will seem like to a young man in Iraq or in Iran, who wakes up on January 21st, 2009, and sees the picture of this man as the president of the United States. A man who opposed the war at the beginning, a man who worked his way up from almost nothing, a man who came from a mother and a father of mixed cultures and mixed societies, who came from a broken home to overcome all of that to become the leader in his class, at the Harvard Law Review, and an extraordinary success as a politician. How can they see us when they see us as having chosen this man as our president?

There can be no clearer way that we could say, that we could say that the United States could say, that we have changed, than by electing this man. There is no way we could more clearly move on toward peace than this. He represents the very best of who we are, the best of character, of integrity and ideals. And someone who opposed the war from the start.

Just picture it - the faces of those young men, all over the world, from Borneo to Nome, their eyes agleam, cut to the madrassah in Northern Pakistan, to the café in Gaza, to the slums outside Mexico City, see the wonder and happiness, face - face- face - hear the soundtrack swell...Filipinos, slowly beginning to applaud...worshippers in Mecca, looking up, as one, to read the news in skywriting overhead, slowly releasing smiles....O...B...half an A... and in Sierra Leone someone lifts a scarred limb and cries Obama! There won't be a dry eye in the house!


  1. beautiful man. dabbing a tear now. can a brother get a minute?

  2. He's actually proposing, without concealment, the CIA strategy of pr:

    Some clichés were harder to dispel. When one Amerika-Haus lecturer offered a view of the `present-day position of the Negro in America', he was met with questions `some of which were not inspired by good will'. The lecturer `dealt vigorously with the questioners, who may or may not have been communists'. Fortunately for the organizers, the talk was followed `by songs performed by a colored quintet. The Negroes continued to sing long after official closing time and ... the spirit of the occasion seemed so congenial that it was decided to invite this Negro group for a repeat performance.' The problem of race relations in America was much exploited by Soviet propaganda, and left many Europeans uneasy about America's ability to practise the democracy she now claimed to be offering the world. It was therefore reasoned that the exporting of African-Americans to perform in Europe would dispel such damaging perceptions. An American military government report of March 1947 revealed plans `to have top-rank American negro vocalists give concerts in Germany ... Marian Anderson or Dorothy Maynor appearances before German audiences would be of great importance.' The promotion of black artists was to become an urgent priority for American cultural Cold Warriors.

    the US can remain a viciously racist state; its policies can reverse all the gains of the civil rights movement; the fed gov can occupy New Orleans and commit massacres and ethnic cleansing; but if we cast Barak Obama to Star as The President, to be the actor, the face and body who carries out the inevitable policies to which there is no alternative, that'll solve the US' public relations difficulties, new image, new face on the wheaties box, we'll prove how "we have changed", we'll bring such uplift to young men in Iraq, they'll be inspired, and we'll be inspired by our own fine selves too! We can wash away the sins of the empire in one grand rebranding gesture; put this black man on the package, and our innocence so lately lost (again) is miraculous restored (again).

  3. oh the quote is here


  4. Anonymous4:53 PM

    To be fair to Obama, he doesn't really have a choice: if he would say anything, just anything of substance, a mere slip is enough, he would be an angry negro, not ready, immature, a divider, etc. Still, it's impossible to listen to him: "change", "hope", "change", "hope", "hope", "hope", "change". "Yes we can!" "United!" Yes, it's interesting how he is always described as inspiring etc., makes you realize what the meaning of that word is. It means we must imagine he inspires other people - the Pavlov dogs ("...imagine what it will seem like to a young man in Iraq or in Iran..."). I tried to watch that "Yes We Can" video a few times, but I never finished it, maybe I thought I was the audience, instead of watching it through the eyes of the poor people who dream of hope and change...

    (The parody on the other hand, is quite good:

  5. Chuckie K8:43 PM

    "a man who came from a mother and a father of mixed cultures and mixed societies ... to overcome all of that"

    Imagine, to overcome and achieve even though you are not racially pure, to overcome your racial impurity.

    Even at its most integrityest and idealest, it just can't quite shake that one off, can it?

  6. "To be fair to Obama, he doesn't really have a choice: if he would say anything, just anything of substance, a mere slip is enough, he would be an angry negro, not ready, immature, a divider, etc."

    Exactly. This is part of the same problem. But it is playing with this - him personally, he is acting in constraints, he can only be where he is with the backing of wall street of course, it's "not his fault" so why should he be punished or judged? as if he were an academy award contestant, not his fault the script stank! why take out the crappiness of cocaculture on him! There is not even a drop of reality left in the prez of america pageant ceremonies. So the catastrophe of the constitutional dismantling and the intensification of exe'cutive power is all off screen and irrelevant and this years' oscar is all about the "first"...so many people I know say "yes yes but the spectacle matters, and it's a symbolic victory and at least he's not a member of the clinton bush crime family", but who can deny what will happen is all the disastrous economic and fiscal policies will really unravel and reach their height of catastrophe under the First Black President. Under the First Black President, the US press, the nytimes, will swiftly acknowledge in headlines that AMERICANS ARE POOR LIKE THIRD WORLD POPULATIONS. Two months after inauguration, you will see major papers saying The US STARTING TO LOOK LESS LIKE SWEDEN AND MORE LIKE BRAZIL. Or maybe the pretext for the final power grab will be his assassination, which would allow journalists to get just enough film of crowds of angry and distressed citizens (think venezuela, that one clip of a guy with a cut on his head getting into a limo played over and over in weeks leading up to the coup, or new orleans where it was accomplished without any film at all) to concoct a ninety second report of digicivil war with.

  7. he is someone we can forgive for not talking about anything serious or taking any kind of even edwards-ish old democrat pro-labour positions because it's obvious that he can't, the spectacle will portray any discussion of bankruptcy laws or new orleans housing or anything at all even traditionally centre-left as "race poker" - so there's a reason he sounds like william f buckley and this is he personally has to if he wants to win the pageant and achieve the spectacular First.

    it's like that joke, really drunk guy in a bar says to the bartender, i'm not drunk! i'm totally in control of myself; if you slide that glass down the bar, i can fill it up with piss as its sliding, without losing a drop.

    bartender says bullshit;

    guy says - bet you fifty bucks I can.

    bartender says okay. Guy stands up on the barstool and undoes his fly. bartender says ready? he nods, and bartender sends the glass sliding dow the bar. the guy starts to take a piss, aiming for the glass, jumping from stool to stool, splashing everywhere. the class comes to the end of the bar with maybe a drop of piss in it.

    bartender says - you're drunk and you lose.

    guy gives him fifty bucks, laughing happily.

    you're so drunk you're happy to lose fifty bucks on a stupid bet! says the bartender, himself delighted and laughing.

    no I just bet that guy over there at the table two hundred dollars that I could piss all over the bar and make you happy about it.

  8. if the whole victory is spectacular - the spectacle of "Obama as the prez" is what people are openly asked to choose and be satisfied with - then it can be easily spectacularly turned into loss; if the whole thing is image, then to reverse or alter it is just a matter of image manipulation as well. if there is no political reality connected to and anchoring this image, the image is up for grabs, free floating, can be manipulated by propaganda and media however the most powerful choose. And of course this is not just around Obama - this is across the board; it applies to every candidate. Lessig like Obama - but the same kinds of spectacle-focussed arguments are made for Clinton, and the desperation in the media to create this Two Firsts! Pick One! thing by really bizarre levels of marginalisation of Edwards (who all polls showed was actually the most "electable" in a race against any republican candidate, and was also the most progressive candidate, which is not saying much in this company, but he was the clear progressive of the pack), is just totally exposed and unashamed. Hilary and Tears. Edwards and Hair. Not just "in passing" but actually advanced as the substance of this contest - how will America look with a president who cries? with a man who gets expensive haircare? These questions, America's brand image, are actually treated, not as the "show" with a laugh, the unfortunate but inescapable corruptions of politics by media, but as the genuine substance of national level electoral politics. Close your eyes and imagine....Lessig is like a visitor from planet baudrillard.

  9. Atrios had a funny post a while back with "shorter" candidates, something like this -

    Edwards: "The system is corrupt and I will fight it..."
    Clinton: "The system is corrupt but nobody can work so well within it as I can..."
    Obama: "The system is corrupt but I am so awesome that it will melt away..."

    Yeah, in case the system doesn't melt away after all, Obama's brand will have a problem. Instead of all their personal hopes and dreams people project on him now, they will start projecting some very very different things...

  10. "Yeah, in case the system doesn't melt away after all, Obama's brand will have a problem."

    yes, now that the federal government is actually insolvent, the currency at historic lows, the bubbles bursting, the real depression on the horizon, the ruling class untaxable, the working class wholly immiserated, wall street would like to appoint The First Black President. Hand this huge, bankrupt, thoroughly corrupted, polce state banana republic to The First Black President.

  11. I don't disagree - with the post or any of the comments. Still, there is this:


  12. Or: could it be more like, O. is the best we can do now in the *mainstream* - and/but other things have to be done outside that?

  13. thanks rent party...

    what i have to say about that is;

    i am a sentimental person, no one would call me hard; i get choked up easily; one of my first activist jobs was helping a lawyer, who hung up on his wall a picture from the New York Times front page, the postal strike, when the postal workers overthrew the union leadership. The picture showed the postal workers meeting at madison square garden - you may have seen it - near the stage, all these older postmen from queens and brooklyn, all white, all in the forties and fifties, physically lifting all the younger postal workers, mostly black and latino, onto the stage, picking them up and hoisting them onto the stage to take over the meeting.

    That was the 70s. The lawyer I worked for used to look at that picture and tear up - so did I. How can you not?

    that Obama video is a FAKE. It is EXPLOITATION of people's feelings, memories, aspirations, solidarity. It is a very good fake. It works. And if one has to have fake, better fake of that, then the bush fake and the fox news fake.

    But still, it is a fake, ersatz, bogus, not image but mere image which is plastered over to disguise a reality that is the all out war on everything it is dressing itself in. It is the bombing of aghanistan to express principled objection to the oppression of afghan women: it is orwellian, it is Nike Swoosh as a symbol of feminism and antiracism, it is exactly what is in fashion in spectacle, racism marching under the banner of antiracism, subjection of women marching under the banner of feminism, fascism under the banner of antifascism, etc..

    Still its a very impressive fake and it is hard to resist even this, the appearance, just because it says something about your neighbours, the people around you, this is still what appeals to them, this is still what expresses our aspirations - we haven't changed and our beliefs and wishes haven't changed. It reassures us of this precisley by exploiting that, because it has no chjoice - this is what is there to exploit. This is what we feel and want.

    For that reason it is hard to just reject, to say, no I'm not going to accept the spectacle instead of the reality; I am not going to accept the mere image as a substitute for politics; I'm not going to accept V for Vendetta instead of the impeachment of the president and vice president. But I agree that it is in many ways a good sign that this video had to be made - that this is the pr campaign, the branding, the strategy that the professionals have assessed can win, that this is what appeals to people, and draws their assent, and that this is replacing a several year trend is shocking nazi upblowing macho style jingoistic hideousness.

  14. and the fact is, even the images are exploiting some nuances, positioning, flavouring, while his words - he sounds exactly like Nicholas Sarkozy. We are one people, we are one nation...why is Kareem there? He got so rich he evidently has forgotten what it was that inspired him not to be lou alcindor anymore. it is the seamless wedding of this exploitable history-memory-genuine popular thing with this hideous bullshit, the seamless melding, the vacuuming out of meaning from language, the mix n match of spectacle that is only possible in spectacle and if spectacle is completely surrendered to. Glammy young women, dreadful sacchrine tune, empty slogan, guy actually wearing a che-esque obama tshirt!

    (sorry, just watched the whole thing, just...sometimes i think i must be dreaming.)

  15. "from sea to shining sea" for pity's sake. our manifest destiny.

  16. which is not to say he is not the least objectionable actual contender now - that's obvious.

  17. http://www.runcynthiarun.org/

  18. What I think is so suspect about that whole "Yes, we can" video, about Obama's speeches, is that "to change" , "to hope", "can" are TRANSITIVE verbs! You hope for something, you change something, you can do something. But with Obama the object is always missing. Yes we can! We want change! The Audacity of Hope! To me that's what makes his presentation the quintessence of faux progressivism: the gestures of change, without the content. (Of course it's deliberate & it's smart marketing too: if you leave out the object of change, hope, etc. everybody can identify with it.)

  19. Lessig's relationship to reality is normal now. It reminded me of another law professor, this one reacting to the calculation that over a quarter of the footnotes in the 9/11 Commission Report refer to testimony obtained through torture:

    "One critic of U.S. use of harsh interrogation techniques says that while the Commission Final Report remains credible, it was a mistake to base so much of it on what was retrieved from the interrogation sessions. Karen Greenberg, director of the Center for Law and Security at New York University’s School of Law, put it this way: "You read it, the story still makes sense, forgetting the interrogations. What matters - who did it, who planned it - looks like the right story. But it should have relied on sources not tainted. It calls into question how we were willing to use these interrogations to construct the narrative.""


    As if the same narrative could just as easily have been arrived at without relying on torture. As if the Commission, faced with an embarrassment of reliable and unimpeachable testimony to back up the official story, ignored all those "sources not tainted" and decided to pig out on the torture-derived testimony, just for the hell of it. As if this travesty only calls into question how the commission was willing to use such testimony, and not why they needed to.

    A liberal law professor, critic of the administration, thinks the report is ok even though much of the evidence was obtained illegally, because it "looks like the right story."
    This is where we are right now.

    Incidentally, that video was creepy... and I'm talking Jim Jones creepiness.

  20. change our wheaties box. we can have a makeover. that's what change is - a new look. (marylin monroe getting of a plane is asked by a journalist admiring her outfit "is this a new marylin?" and she said "oh no it's just a new dress.") we can elect a black president. period. that "in itself" is what we are striving for - a black president who, everybody knows and accepts, can't even talk like a mainstream centre lefist, has to pledge allegiance to the israeli extreme right, has to say "we're ninety percent of the way to racial equality" precisely because he is black and the media is maniacally racist. it is this same spectacular logic that saw thurgood marshall's supreme court seat filled with clarence thomas, his polar political opposite, and ruth bader ginsburg and stephen breyer, crazed neoliberals, treated by the media as old school progressive liberals just because they're jewish.

    so, you can't have actual old school progressive liberals on the court, but you can have their images, two jews and a black guy. Brand Progressive!

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. US propaganda has always been really good at this coopation, creating an America tyhrough which US imperialism and capital gets to take credit for the very counterculture and pop culture which arises against it and which is internationally an object of affection. The US can't be the enemy of people of colour worldwide - the US is Tupac Shakur!

    the video is working within this tradfition and logic of cooptation. but one can say it is not pressing bad buttons in the public, it is pressing the good buttons, it is exploiting those good buttons. which is better than pressing the bad buttons, whipping up fears, playing on deep racism and misogyny and xenophobia, diverting anger towards scapegoats, as the competition favours (and evidently it's stopped working, which is good). But this just shows how easily the spectacle neutralises and contains all the energeries which exist; antiwar feeling is very strong but the establishment, the democratic party, has managed to exploit that feeling and contain it, neutralise its possible effects. the Obama campaign has ended up being the locus of all these tactics of exploitation and containment, the spectacle work, the image work and abstraction work, which allows US imperialism and US capital to coopt the very opposition it engenders, and to take credit fo(r it, to dress itself in that oppositions moral and cultural qualities, as if it were the patron and underwriter of that opposition and not its relentless enemy.

  23. qlip - so funny, and the thing is that piece and lessig are in the "same space" - they could actually debate one another from these postures. Speaking the same language.

  24. anon, that parody is indeed funny, and painful

  25. "what message do you hope to send to fans and to the voting public?"


    this is, astonishingly, not a parody

  26. The war on history:

    Amid shouts of “Si Se Puede,” the “Yes We Can” Obama catchphrase translated into Spanish, Obama promised the local union that their struggle would be one that he’ll fight for in the White House and also one he’s been fighting for years.

  27. good god.

    but this is the logic of advertising. like when a song becomes a jingle and that it was ever a song is forgotten.

  28. a bit like "yerupeenisation".

  29. just amazing the confidence with which it endorses itself and celebrates the transformation it enacts, from the declaration of power of organised labour to the individual professional success of celebrities. We (each) can lose that weight! We (each) can make it in Hollywood! And these celebrities, visions of success, sing of themselves, serenade and inspires us with their success and wealth and healthy wholesome attitoods.

    when asked on that clip what he would actually like changed, will i can says "education" and then, the real thing, The Dollar! The thing which really does concern his celebrities. much of their assets are surely dollar denoinated! this is no joke! and bob dylan's son flippantly says "stop the war..." like snidely, ironically, ironic snidely, like oh this bozo forgot the number one issue, even though its the "hot issue", he forgot to mention it, so typical.

    si, se puede, pero....