Monday, July 05, 2010
Madonna's Return To Patriarchy And White Supremacy
So I did get into a few spats over at The Tomb again. And in defence of Nina "ain't I a comminist" Power's One Dimensional Woman, Leninino accused me of witchhunting and basically of being unconcerned with serious matters, touching only incidentally on such things as oppression, imperialism and exploitation in the course of "sectarian" persecution of leftist heretics.
Of course I think this is very unjust though I suppose sometimes how things happen here in this virtual scene, where I am chabert, it could seem that way. (I assume this marathon battle is the main exhibit of my Torquemadism, my victim here Linda Melvern, which put me beyond the pale. Ironically I nominated the post under which I conducted the auto-da-fé for a web journalism award!)
But really of course no specific individual or book is itself significant - it is only as examples and components of a massive cultural reaction, getting more fascistic by the day, that Zizek's, Power's, Badiou's or Hatherley's work is of the least interest. They don't sing or dance after all.
The reaction in ideology, the return of white male supremacism to nominally "left" discouse, is made up of nothing but a lot of insignificant widely consumed texts like Avatar, The Wire, and the amazingly racist and sexist War, Inc., and an immense mass of less widely consumed stuff like One Dimensional Woman and First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, articles in the New Left Review by Hatherley and Zizek, as well as the numerous "left" pieces, by Cohen, Hari, BHL, and others, picked apart with tweezers and magnifying glass by Leninino himself in his first book. The Zizz/Badiou circle are becoming really an avant-garde of racist and sexist reaction on the self-styled left, and for this reason their work is particularly interesting to me. It's not that I don't think Madonna's return to patriarchy and white supremacy is more important, or that I don't see that Avatar and 300 are...(well, perhaps they are less influential really on those who consume them than something like a Wendy Brown tract)... than Nina Power's or Toni Negri's patriarchal and white supremacist writings. It is simply that everyone is commenting on Madonna, and Lady Gaga, and it seems worthwhile to me to show how the reaction they lead is being accomplished by, and requires, many many smaller efforts, an army of culture workers, spinning topoi and themes into many products with a certain necessary diversity to be consumed by the diverse tastes of a diverse humanity. Without their work naturalising the reactionary discourses, re-creating the intelligibility of sexist and racist codes that for at least one generation became genuinely incomprehensible, re-establishing their acceptability and ubiquity, and policing the borders of culture production, the leaders, the big guns of reaction, are rendered helpless and pointless. For Madonna to lead a reaction (and not instead simply de-legitimise herself), with other major ruling class mass media entrepreneurs, to create an atmosphere where at one end of the cultural spectrum a leftist celebrity intellectual is evoking "half-ape blacks" to a wildly cheering white crowd while at the other end the tabloid press and tabloid teevee is likening the President of the US and his wife to chimps and gorillas, with much in between amounting to a general cultural shift in mythology as well as standards of civility, and a general re-establishment of patriarchy and white supremacy, Madonna and others in her stratosphere need the support not only of hundreds of middling celebrity intellectuals and culture producers like Zizz and Lars von Trier but of hundreds of thousands of little ideological soldiers like Power, to do little jobs like subject bell hooks to racist sexist ridicule and to re-popularise the monstrous image of the selfish masturbating slut who sleeps with the enemy and The Enemy and is the damnation of mankind that always emerges in times of economic depression. Power makes fashionably flexible use of an image of the sinfully sexual young woman, and ignoring (as does Nancy Fraser as well) that the important divide in feminism is (unsurprisingly) the class divide, and refusing (unlike Fraser) to recognise any feminists apart from the bourgeois feminists she can't name as such, she manages in the flimsy guise of a radical and daring unmasking of "consumer feminism" and "upbeat American feminism" (her apologetic labels for bourgeois white feminism) and its "complicity with capitalism" (her confused conception of its capitalist class politics) to scapegoat women and feminists not only for sexism and misogyny but for capitalist exploitation and imperialism. In the same vein of deflection and neutralisation of radical feminist critique of capitalist patriarchal white supremacy, her book laments that Shulamith Firestone's work is "deplorably neglected" without feeling the need to mention or acknowledge that the reason Firestone's major book, unlike her contemporary Kate Millet's work, has fallen into disfavour in American feminist circles is that anti-racist feminists like hooks and Angela Davis succeeded in making her extreme white supremacy (the final expression of a repudiated tradition of feminist "utopian" eugenics (pdf) and "futurist" technocratic colonialism associated before Firestone with Margaret Sanger and Charlotte Perkins Gilman) unacceptable even in bourgeois feminist realms. White supremacist capitalist politics even within radfem feminism were once sucessfully driven back by radical anti-racist feminist socialists. But the tide has turned and it may not be long before, flying a radical Left standard or another kind, a new generation of white feminists restore to acceptability the fretting over the "dangerously prolific reproduction" of the barbarians whose fertility needs to be controlled by an enlightened elite of benevolent "engineers" to eradicate the social pathologies explained by such "arguments" as Firestone's "Freudian family" fable of "race relations" (which resembles many a Zizekian musing about Jews or Muslims) or Brownmiller's suggestions that the Scottsboro Boys and victims of lynching were undoubtedly guilty after all.
Leninino I think knows very well that persecuting individuals for heresy is always an accusation one can make of any critic of any text's disavowed reactionary ideology, because any persuasive case about cultural and discursive matters, about ideology, is obliged to read texts, to chose and be specific. Avoiding this is always motivated by some ulterior motive, careerist colleagiality or to disguise the fallaciousness of one's charges. If you accuse a text of doing the ideological work of reaction, you are obliged to show how it does so, and what is required in such demonstrations - both close analysis and totalising synthesising interpretation - invariably can be caricatured as obsessively tenacious or whatever. Any interpretation can be accused of misreading, and any defence of an interpretation against such an accusation will appear dogged.
There is finally no line whatsoever between reading and nitpicking when it comes to exposing a text's racism, misogyny and orientalism; so rare is the overt statement of white supremacy that when it appears - (as in Zizek fairly frequently) - those disposed to apologise for subtler forms simply insist it really must mean something else. So context too is essential. No text is really a discrete object, and texts are now more open than ever, rarely read or watched/listened to in their entirety in order, and the way the white male supremacist revival is happening today involves a canny use of our mass media, its incessant and fragmented flow, to distribute the elements so that few individual texts bear in themselves all the parts necessary to identify the whole.