Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"The Content of His Character"

"all I have heard from the US is a strange elation and this from people who normally don’t lean toward optimism. " – steppling at Lenin’s Tomb

That strange elation. Yes. An inexplicable euphoria. Sadrugestrane was right wasn’t she? It became evident on election night. I know those were all real tears, Keith Olberman’s and Jesse Jackson’s. And mine. And my friend’s with whom I stayed up late, on the phone watching MSNBC on the web. And saying of some missed old folks how sorry we were they’d not lived to see it – as over the past years we sometimes said when feeling sad one consolation was they had not lived to see so many things. My friend voted for McKinney that afternoon – NYState was safe enough. On election night we were so moved it was strange, really really nervous and then really really elated, strangely, like the feelings were being shot into you like a drug, my friend said she felt like her emotions were attached to strings being yanked... it was so eerie.

-what's this feeling?

-what is it, I know this feeling!

-lemme think shhh! Shhh!

- baseball

- uh-hunno. No. Shhh!

-like a familiar scent that just…

-Spielberg! It’s Spielberg euphoria!

- yes! exactly! ET! Schindler's List!

And then all those flags in the park in Chicago, so scary suddenly. I thought about sadrugestrane’s comments which I had just read a little before and started telling my friend. Those flags and the ebullient youth, American rebirth, and the old men veterans of the civil rights movement saying "I never thought I'd live to see the day...." , renewal, rebirth (rebranding) and everyone in tears, and then there’s Obama.

“If he says…if he says that I’m going to freak out.”

He said it, though. Immediately. The immediate assertion that if anyone is worried about the United States’ ruling class’ power, about its lawlessness and ruthlessness, about power concentration in the US, anyone worried about civil liberties and the vestiges of democracy, about crimes against humanity, the closing possibility of progressive politics, the loss of influence of the US citizenry over their so powerful state, the global hegemon, just put that thought aside....America is a beacon....America is the world leader because of its inherent virtue…America is unique….uniquely Good….the way he worked in I Have A Dream to mark then versus now (we have judged him by the content of his character)....the way he said "opportunity" instead of "equality"....that ultra frightening creepy sea of stars and stripes, t shirts and baseball caps, and close-ups.

The whole thing was suddenly obviously completely ersatz, completely managed, a completely commodified grass roots movement like MobLogic.Tv is CBS Interactive’s pseudo indymedia. That ice rink at Rockerfeller Plaza, the tension and the release, very much a spectacle, a pageant, the rebranding of the American empire, even the beginnings of the creation of an American master race, a new kind of race, Herrenvolk 3.0, the antiracist master race, the antifascist fascism. MSNBC takes you to his father's little hometown in Kenya, roots, "we are the world", we own the world. The US has always used blackness this way, culturally imperialistically, to disguise imperialist capitalist power in popular black culture etc.. Then of course my friend and I are thinking we're so cynical, and paranoid, but those American flags, and that dreadful speech, and all this self-congratulation by the citizens of a country in the course of escalating crimes against humanity, somehow brought to cheer the belligerence and the bullshit they are actually mobilised to oppose, to buy the cause as the cure, and it all so easily distracts from the massive concentration of power and capital going on, it's all so reassuring – see? Our election special shows it’s still possible to have a clean election, it’s still possible to have crowds in the street who aren't getting teargassed, young people opposing the current regime vocally not handcuffed and arrested as terrorists etc etc.. If you just accept the patronage and leadership of the elite, you can vent in the streets all you like.

Something so incredibly creepy ersatz spectacle imageverse descended over the Historical Moment as we watched it (on the web, talking on the phone). Even though of course it is really real, people's feelings are real, the support is real but all absorbed by what is unreal, by image, by not even convincing image. It's good enough, this flimsy image, because there is no competition. (Yes yes, but Bullshit does matter! Bullshit is all that matters! It's all there is after all!) And it happens before your eyes, the substance evaporating into image. The opposition to the occupations is real but taken under the direction of the beneficiary and protagonist of those occupations; the desire for the redistribution of wealth is real but simply harnessed and transformed into support for the plutocrats, just the way real desires for real goods and real satisfactions are channelled into purchases of iPhones and sneakers. The whole movement is real, real discontent and real desires but seized, given form, organised by a massively costly, centrally planned marketing operation by the oligarchy around a main character cast by Wall Street to be the protagonist and hero of all this, not chosen by people or rising through a movement, chosen by Wall Street and given the resources to organise dispersed grievances around him into an ersatz movement given value by real movement content, enclosing real public fury and willingness to be active that lacks any left organisation to organise it, enclosing that and arranging it around this appointed leader, laying claim then to all the appearance of legitimacy that expropriated reality of political activism, clustered around him and the democratic party wall street machine, grants. And so he deftly ornaments it in these phrases of MLKJr and these images and gestures to the past, spectral spectacle of a real movement, but this is the commodified “movement”. It’s made out of real popular politics just the way commodities are made out of real labour and talents and efforts and lives; there’s a use value there but it's transformed into the property of the plutocratic oligarchy who will use it, have used it, for their own ends. Amazing enclosure and exploitation. Real popular politics are enclosed to be turned to the profit of empire.

But for several weeks before the election "Steal Back Your Vote" was among the top Google searches. One is tempted to believe the plutocrats have done us all a favour without knowing it, sort of the way Marx saw capitalism creating conditions for socialism. "Steal back your politics."


  1. Anonymous4:09 PM

    uch, you've about made me feel like throwing up. i mean i think you're basically right about the commodification and the new hollywood quality of the stage-managing. just ick.

    "Bullshit does matter" -- i guess this is the question of my post -- to what extent can we say it does in this case? it would clearly not have been possible without the bullshit. i find it hard to imagine that barring some terrible event he's made responsible for (itself no doubt lathered in bullshit) it will be possible for people energized by obama to reject him or his slogans in the way it sounds like you'd prefer happen. i mean that pragmatism will dictate a certain amount of fidelity to the obama-event, so to speak, for some time to come. what could replace it?

  2. Anonymous7:37 PM

    Returning first to a more rudimentary level of response, I could not help but be impressed by the Election Day prep-talk provided by Associated press reporter Ted Anthony (who according to the AP website provides "bold and innovative online and print content" that is "provocative, witty, relevant, engaging and edgy"). As he observed, "Rarely has a campaign gone on for so long and offered to many plot twists."

    In fact, the plot was so engaging, that viewership at the cable news networks was up 100% and more. As an analyst at the serious big city rag nearest me noted, "The cable news networks couldn't have written a juicier script." The script wasn't just built on twists either. CNN president John Klein raved, "You had some very vivid characters taking part."

    So tuning int to the specifics of the plotting and the character revelations, I love it when realize that, "The whole movement is real, real discontent and real desires but seized, given form, organised by a massively costly, centrally planned marketing operation." I mean, that's the biggest plot twist of all. Biggest plot twist so far, that is, because this series is going to have legs.

    And characters! Wait til you see the flashback sequences with the backstory on Emanuel's dad! I saw the rushes. Over the top action!! Too bad it'll have to be an Emmy instead of an Oscar.

    Chuckie K

  3. thanks guys

    sorry to be nauseous, traxus:

    "it would clearly not have been possible without the bullshit. "

    the bullshit would not have been possible without the bullshit? true. true.

    the backing off, i think, of the bush agenda is not due to the bullshit - the bullshit is part of it, the product, the manoeuvre, but it is entwined with a real adjustment and i think there will be real compromise. this is brought about by international rivals, by the crisis of profit, and by ordinary american political action, with public opinion obviously behind it. i think Obama can't diffuse anything except the antiwar movement. On that this is a feint and the antiwar movement will have to fight against that extra hard, against the pleas for patience, against what is obviously going to be clintonian escalations. On everything else I don't think his being president will really manage to enclose and control the politics. It's just what's clearly the attempt here, and the rebranding of the US internationally is very convenient now that in fact they are depending a lot on the goodwill of major competitors to allow them their transformation of US finance.

    "I mean, that's the biggest plot twist of all. Biggest plot twist so far, that is, because this series is going to have legs.

    And characters! Wait til you see the flashback sequences with the backstory on Emanuel's dad!"

    yeah, still plenty of game left here, lots of options, nothing is predestined! these are war games experts, they keep all the moves on the table all the time.

    Emanuel's dad, yeah.What's horrible is Emanuel is in a way worse - I think those devoted zionist Irgun terrorists are easier to empathise with than these neolib neocons. The psychology of the Irgun is at least comprehensible; its a human psychology however repulsive: Emanuel the younger is just ruthlessly insatiably greedy and cruel. Capital's own psychology, the psychology of pure insatiable desire for power to extract surplus labour limitlessly. Someone in a position like that, wealthy, powerful, secure, citizen of the's even scarier than the blackshirts.

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  5. I read a good short book today, Domenico Losurdo's little book _The original Sin of the 20th Century_

    its a response to the revisionist histories of the past decades (and this includes derrida) which seek to portray nazism and fascism as reactions to communism - the bolshevik rev being the original sin - rarther than as obviously in a much longer tradition of genocidal european imperialism and white supremacism as even liberals had understood it to be until recently.

    contradictions, conflict - they really exist. one can't call this Obama event good or bad, it's really mixed, it really will depend on what we all make out of it and do. the washing clean again of Merika, yet another fresh start, yet another new dawn, american innocence lost again only to be again miraculously restored, the ever renewing exceptional wonderfulness, the ever renewed right to global domination...this is really bad news. But not if it doesn't convince, and I'm not sure it does. We see now there is no hope of convincing people really. Instead the new ideological tactic is to get people to behave a certain way without being convinced - ironically if you like, or just because there's no choice. We don't have to think the simpsons are really important so long as we act as if they are. It's not like fascism old style. It's stronger in a way, but also weaker in another. At lenin's yusef remarked that the obamamaniacs were more like moonies than like people who had learned organising skills for grassroots politics. But they're not really like moonies, they've learned new marketing skills. not really political organising skills, but professional marketing. but in this the belief, the doctrine, the conviction and devotion, this is all optional - what new marketing in our spectacle society manages to do is get people to behave, not to believe. maybe to feel impulses but not so strong that one would lay down one's life for these products. These tactics let us think freely, encourage that, invite us to feel as if we are always choosing very freely, individualising and personalising. It's not vulnerable then to rationality, to disillusionment - even the ost passionate obamamite is not really illusioned. That's a strength - this invulerability of the new ideological management to intellectual and ideological responses. But also a weakness. Because obviously people really want solidarity and basically communism. That's what they are producing, that is what is enclosed and being sold back to them branded Obama.

  6. Anonymous8:05 AM

    i mean the bullshit is what mobilized the otherwise sparsely expressed "solidarity and basically communism." the possibility that something more real could come out of this would not have happened without the 'this,' the spectacle, or the bullshit.

    this desire is not just being 'sold back' in precisely the same way as a televised ad -- as marketing it's the new participatory marketing where things with use value are produced -- relationships, 'skills,' etc. the desire is realized, in ersatz form but not in a way that excludes future uses of it as a catalyst for something else. in a way that going to the mall or sitting on a couch do not allow.

    you notice too that the anarchist principles of activist organizing, as outlined by david graeber but reflecting actual practice, also focus on behavior rather than attempting to convince ideologically. "If you are willing to act like an anarchist now, your long- term vision is pretty much your own business." this is a solution to the problem of sectarianism on one level, but the implications are an abandonment of what used to be a major focus of politics: winning hearts and minds, critiquing bad faith, etc. to say people 'really want' communism may be true but it may also be a moot point.

  7. "the possibility that something more real could come out of this would not have happened without the 'this,' the spectacle, or the bullshit."

    i think people had the opportunity to realise they are in the majority - that's could be inportant,which is what i meant to say with the analogy to marx on capitalism.capitalism and the division of labour, it socialises labour, so that all you needto do with capitalism is expropriate the means of production and you've got socialism. its already there. so the obama campaign devoted enormous social resources to accomplishing something, and if what was created could be expropriated that would be good. and people are already trying to do that - the conference at your university right -

    "you notice too that the anarchist principles of activist organizing, as outlined by david graeber but reflecting actual practice, also focus on behavior rather than attempting to convince ideologically."

    yes, this is in fact where new marketing learned these skills: i didn't mean to say they were not useful, i think they are obviously - one of the problems we confront is though that organising for protest and action on punctual events is very effective but this does leave the ringmasters of that kind of event (election, G-7 meetings) with final control and the way this works means that the brutality of the state's repressive forces is maximally effective.

    it certainly says something that the democratic party judged that had to do this, and that they did it this way. the establishment does not think it can control the US by terror and repression. their judgement is that they have to have consent of the majority.That's good to know - since we don't know everything they know, we have to read the signs. And this judgement they make is based on how people react to things, to the bailout, but also to the vote rigging, to Katrina, to the war...the protests and the activism that liberals and zizekians have been tempted to say don't matter onbviously matter. This resistance is there and it counts and is taken account of. that's important I think too.

    my point in the post was not to say it's all fake and we live in spectacle and its hopeless but the opposite. i just mean look - they can't do anything on their own really. they are dependent in every way.

  8. "is what mobilized the otherwise sparsely expressed "solidarity and basically communism.""

    yes, but this happens a lot - its not i agree just like going to the mall but its a lot like rooting for a sports team or consuming culture commodities, movies, awards shows. it really is not very different at this stage. but now we can each of us see it, see the size of the consensus and its a little more defined about what it's really about.

    but to go to the next step;, the organisers, the nodes who mobilised people have to bring to those people's attention an agenda - assuming everyone who particiapted in the obama vote presumes that progressive politics through the state itself and the fed government is possible - and lay out the priorities. now people who voted know who their congressional reps are they have to get up to speed about what kind of laws they've made and what laws they need to make. and they have to let people know about existing activist groups, the pirgs as well.

  9. but could there be anything more disgusting, anything more offensive to the movement which elected him, than this economic team?:

    • David Bonior (Democratic member of the House of Representatives, 1977-2003)

    • Warren Buffett (chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway) — will participate via speakerphone

    • Roel Campos (former commissioner at the Securities and Exchange Commission)

    • William Daley (chairman of the Midwest, JPMorgan Chase; former secretary, U.S. Dept of Commerce, 1997-2000)

    • William Donaldson (former chairman of the SEC, 2003-2005)

    • Roger Ferguson (president and CEO, TIAA-CREF and former vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve)

    • Jennifer Granholm (governor, state of Michigan)

    • Anne Mulcahy (chairman and CEO, Xerox)

    • Richard Parsons (chairman of the board, Time Warner)

    • Penny Pritzker (CEO, Classic Residence by Hyatt)

    • Robert Reich (professor, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley; former secretary, U.S. Dept of Labor, 1993-1997)

    • Robert Rubin (chairman and director of the executive committee, Citigroup; former secretary, U.S. Department of Treasury, 1995-1999)

    • Eric Schmidt (chairman and CEO, Google)

    • Lawrence Summers (managing director, D.E. Shaw; former president of Harvard University; former secretary, U.S. Department of Treasury, 1999-2001)

    • Laura Tyson (professor, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley; former chairwoman, National Economic Council, 1995-1996; former chairwoman, President’s Council of Economic Advisors, 1993-1995)

    • Antonio Villaraigosa (mayor, city of Los Angeles)

    • Paul Volcker (former chairman, U.S. Federal Reserve 1979-1987

  10. Anonymous1:47 PM

    On the pessimistic side, there was some anecdotal commentary on the LBO list that runs on the lines of my gut response.

    About black professionals, voters, not organizers, looking down their noses at the very suggestion of now going to work for an/some agenda.

    The a(nti)political/commodity spectacle character of the campaign as a conscious aspect of its subjective appeal. A mobilized public that rejects 'mobilization' and 'publics.'

    Chuckie K

  11. "The a(nti)political/commodity spectacle character of the campaign as a conscious aspect of its subjective appeal. A mobilized public that rejects 'mobilization' and 'publics.'"

    at least the most influential part of this public is attracted to this "let's not be political"-ness. that press conference gave me the creeps must say; it's all so "none of your business!" in tone. and a bookend to ari fleischer saying "emergency time now, watch what you say" the post 911 self dramatisation of the admin as a junta which had just taken power after a coup; now this is the restoration of the legal order, the end of the state of emergency, but under that shadow and within the framework set. we are to greet respectfully, as winners, with honours, and deference, these champions of democracy, Lawrence Summers, Robert Rubin, Warren Buffet, the Decent Plutocracy who has been returned to their rightful eminence after the dark eight years of the fasho lowlife gangster thugs, and not pester them with questions. we're in good hands again and should just relax and go about our shopping business and let the chairs of xerox and google take care of things.