These struggles may seem slight in retrospect, but you can hardly blame us media narcissists for believing that we were engaged in a crucial battle on behalf of oppressed people everywhere: every step we took sparked a new wave of apocalyptic panic from our conservative foes. If we were not revolutionaries, why, then, were our opponents saying that a revolution was under way, that we were in the midst of a “culture war”? ‘The transformation of American campuses is so sweeping that it is no exaggeration to call it a revolution,’ Dinesh D’souza, author of Illiberal Education informed his readers. ‘Its distinctive insignia can be witnessed on any major campus in America today, and in all aspects of university life.’
Despite their claims of living under Stalinist regimes where dissent was not tolerated, our professors and administrators put up an impressively vociferous counteroffensive: they fought tooth and nail for the right to offend us thin-skinned radicals; they lay down on the tracks in front of every new harassment policy, and generally acted as if they were fighting for the very future of Western civilization. An avalanche of look-alike magazine features bolstered the claim that ID politics constituted an international emergency: “Illiberal Education” (Atlantic Monthly), “Visigoths in Tweed” (Fortune), “The Silences” (Macitan’s), “The Academy’s New Ayatollahs” (Outlook), “Taking Offense” (Newsweek). In New York Magazine, writer John Taylor compared my generation of campus activists with cult members, Hitler Youth and Christian fundamentalists. So great was the threat we allegedly posed that George Bush even took time out to warn the world that political correctness “replaces old prejudices with new ones.”
The Marketing of ID
The backlash that identity politics inspired did a pretty good job of masking for us the fact that many of our demands for better representation were quickly accommodated by marketers, media makers and pop-culture producers alike — though perhaps not for the reasons we had hoped. If I had to name a precise moment for this shift in attitude, I would say August of 1992: the thick of the “brand crisis” that peaked with Marlboro Friday. That’s when we found out that our sworn enemies in the “mainstream” — to us a giant monolithic blob outside of our known university-affiliated enclaves — didn’t fear and loathe us but actually thought we were sort of interesting. Once we'd embarked on a search for new wells of cutting-edge imagery, our insistence on extreme sexual and racial identities made for great brand-content and niche-marketing strategies. If diversity was what we wanted, the brands seemed to be saying, then diversity was exactly what we would get. And with that, the marketers and media makers swooped down, air-brushes in hand, to touch up the colors and images in our culture.
The five years that followed were an orgy of red ribbons, Malcolm X baseball hats and Silence = Death T-Shirts. By 1993, the stories of academic Armageddon were replaced with new ones about the sexy wave of “Do-Me Feminism” in Esquire and “Lesbian Chic” in New York and Newsweek. The shift in attitude was not the result of a mass political conversion but of some hard economic calculations. According to Rocking the Ages, a book produced in 1997 by leading U.S. consumer researchers Yankelovich Partners, “Diversity” was the “defining idea” for Gen-Xers, as opposed to “Individuality” for boomers and “Duty” for their parents.Xers are starting out today with pluralistic attitudes that are the strongest we have ever measured. As we look towards the next twenty five years, it is clear that acceptance of alternative lifestyles will become even stronger and more widespread as Xers grow up and take over the reins of power, and become the dominant buying group in the consumer marketplace. ... Diversity is the key fact of life for Xers, the core of the perspective they bring to the marketplace. Diversity in all of its forms — cultural, political, sexual, racial, social — is a hallmark of this generation [italics theirs] ...
The Sputnik cool-hunting agency, meanwhile, explained that .youth today are one big sample of diversity” and encouraged its clients to dive into the psychedelic “United Streets of Diversity” and not be afraid to taste the local fare. Dee Dee Gordon, author of The L. Report, urged her clients to get into Girl Power” with a vengeance:, “Teenage girls want to see someone who kicks butt back”; and, sounding suspiciously like me and my university friends, brand man Tom Peters took to berating his corporate audiences for being “OWMs — Old White Males.”
- Klein, No Logo
The target that Zizney Corp appears designed to attack and destroy is the affiliation of a certain key sector of culture industry workers to altermondialism, the massive, global, internationalist opposition to capitalism and ruling class aggression that peaked before 9/11. This sector, after all, was able, and willing, to give a lot of good press, truthful reporting, and publicity to anti-capitalist struggles; it put a lot of tools into the hands of activists, including clear explanations and information about capitalist praxis. Among intellectuals allied to this movement, Naomi Klein is the chief enemy - never openly attacked, though subjected in the beginning to Zizzian insinuation - and most of Zizz' rants do to her hit tract No Logo exactly what Golovinski and his Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion did to Maurice Joly's Dialogue in Hell.
No Logo is very much a contemporary Dialogue in Hell, that is, an explanation of the capacities of capitalist ruling class to expropriate, and turn to their own ends, the energies and life not only of humanity as producers of commodities but of humanity as cultural and intellectual producers and dissident political agents. Joly showed how Napoleon III's government could transform the theories, images and institutions of classical liberal democracy to the ends of despotism; Klein shows the ruling class proprietors of transnational capital adopting and adapting the theories, images and networks of dissident democratic diversity in much the same way.
Why, in other words, were our ideas about political rebellion so deeply non-threatening to the smooth flow of business as usual?
The question, of course, is not Why, but Why on earth not? Just when they had embraced the “brands, not products” equation, the smart businesses quickly realized that short-term discomfort - whether it came from a requirement to hire more women or to more carefully vet the language in an ad campaign — was a small price to pay for the tremendous market share that diversity promised. So while it may be true that real gains have emerged from this process, it is also true that Dennis Rodman wears dresses and Disney World celebrates Gay Day less because of political progress than financial expediency. The market has seized upon multi-culturalism and gender-bending in the same ways that it has seized upon youth culture in general — not just as a market niche but as a source of new carnival-esque imagery. As Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson note, “White-bread culture will simply no longer do.” The $200 billion culture industry — now America’s biggest export — needs an ever-changing, uninterrupted supply of street styles, edgy music videos and rainbows of colors. And the radical critics of the media clamoring to be “represented” in the early nineties virtually handed over their colorful identities to the brandmasters to be shrink-wrapped.
The need for greater diversity — the rallying cry of my university years — is now not only accepted by the culture industries, it is the mantra of global capital. And identity politics, as they were practiced in the nineties, weren’t a threat, they were a gold mine. “This revolution,” writes cultural critic Richard Goldstein in The Village Voice, “turned out to be the savior of late capitalism.” And just in time, too.
(This process has obviously improved and accelerated, guiding the latest expansion of capital, and the account needs updating to take in social media where "virtually hand[ing] over... colorful identities to the brandmasters to be shrink-wrapped" has become even more direct.)
There is almost nothing in Zizz's purportedly dazzling, original "critique of liberalism" that is not stolen whole from Klein's bestseller, (where it appears much more modestly as reportage), absurdly gotten up in HegeloLacanian jargon for an appearance of pseudo-complexity and supernatural woowoo, and vitiated by infusion of reactionary, fascistic, misogynist, racist assumptions and nuances, in order to work propaganda in two directions, as did Golovinsky: one, to propagate the reactionary, racist, misogynist, fascistic ideas enunciated and insinuated to the sector of the audience receptive to that, as Golovinksi's Protocols disseminated anti-Semitic mythology by attaching it to fragments of a serious and persuasive critique, and two, to taint the analyses in Klein's (and other) work by association with these nuances for those who are not receptive, as Golovinksi discredits Joly's critique by linking it forever with anti-Semitism. Zizney Corp is the lead ideologue to the white male left in academia and culture industry furthering the project whose features include smearing Klein's analysis of ruling class strategy as "populist" "conspiracy theory" that is "intrinsically fascist" on the one hand and proposing on the other that her analysis (misread as a critique of something other than its actual object, university students' critique of mass and academic culture in the 90s in North America) identifies identity politics' and multiculturalism's "complicity with capitalism" (complicity is the sinister twin of compatibility or the state of having been expropriated) which justifies white supremacist revanchism (the "Leftist Plea for Leninist Intolerance" followed by another "Leftit plea for Eurocentrism"), demands recognition of the "universalism" of Yerupeen imperialsim, and associates white supremacy with all progressive, "egalitarian", revolutionary, and emancipatory politics. (In a typical propaganda piece, ZizneyCorp alleges in the New Humanist those petty bourgeois, ultra-right racist dominionists Chris Hedges calls Christofascists in the US are really the active agents of "the natural passions of radical politics," being "class resentment, anger, passion, collectivity.")
With Klein's Shock Doctrine - the title and theme of which has proved to be the most genuinely useful neologism of recent memory - Zizney labours even more openly at expropriating the analysis for reactionary ends. In First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, Klein is evoked to set up Zizek's predictable assertions that the great US bailout of finance was an instance of "communism", that the lead clique of the US ruling class are "utopian" Marxists in disguise, that the "idea" of socialism/communism is irredeemable, that there is truth to "trickle down" economic theory, that the Left's "inability to offer a viable global alternative was again made visible to everyone," (this was "the Left" "made visible to everyone" by Zizz himself at his Communism conference, that is, Zizney Corp itself), and that "it is as if recent events were staged with a calculated risk in order to demonstrate that, even at a time of shattering crisis, there is no viable alternative to capitalism." ZizneyCorp's contribution to this staging - the astroturf substitute for the grassroots critique of neoliberalism and position in opposition to it whose chief public advocate is Klein - is not negligible, though how much it contributed to the deflection of public fury can never be calculated apart from the whole any more than how much one special effects team contributes to the success of a film can be calculated in isolation. But ZizneyCorp evoked the authority of Kant alongside Klein to fashion a hip accessory for the passivity to which the Zizney consumer is always predisposed, and a flimsy but serviceable enough formula (these are disposable ideologettes anyway, they don't have to be built to withstand wear or stress) for shaming ridicule of resistance, importantly reminding the loyal Zizney consumer that what was at stake here was his own masculinity: "When we are transfixed by events such as the bail-out plan, we should bear in mind that since this is actually a form of blackmail, we must resist the populist temptation to act out our anger [like the "ranting" Naomi Klein and her calls for shock resistant opposition] and thus wound ourselves. Instead of such impotent acting out, we should control our fury and transform it into an icy determination to think - to think things through in a really radical way, and to ask what kind of a society it is that renders such blackmail possible."
The consolation of the great white mind's, the German Spirit's, omnipotence, is offered as ever to soothe the wounds of emasculation dealt by the ruling class to its courtier clerks; "Immanuel Kant countered the conservative motto 'Don't think, obey!' not with the injunction 'Don't obey, think!' but rather 'Obey, but think!'" It will be enough for ZizneyCorp's audience, clinging to comfort though downwardly mobile, boiling with resentment easily redirected at the uppity others, to think of some way to interpret the bailout for its own feeling of satisfying mastery, just as it can find ways to interpret the women's liberation movement or black nationalism in ways that flatter itself; this transformation by (heroic!) re-thinking, re-interpretation, re-reading is offered as the most advanced mode of revolution, the state of the art white male European petty bourgeois mode, the very "mirror and metaphor" politics of abstraction Klein came to recognise and renounce, offered by ZizneyCorp as so dignified and so much better than the vulgar material praxis of the degraded others, it succeeds as the anti-capitalism of these fools.