Sunday, March 3, 2013

Notes on the Political Evacuation of Pop

Popular culture (hereafter known as pop) has been evacuated of political challenge. Pop has become politically inert and lifeless. It doesn't challenge or frustrate or incite at all. Any statement pop makes is facile and childish, an inchoate expression of irritation or condemnation rather than any particular developed thought. It is entirely without genius to remark that pop has slowly then quickly moved into what Adorno and Horkheimer called the culture industry. The products of this industry infantilize its consumers. In the spirit of this infantilization, I've structured this piece as a series of easily digestible notes, rather than with the force of an organized essay.

The utter political evacuation of pop is — without a doubt — due to the utter success of capitalism. As this point in our lives, we have trouble imagining any realistic alternative to capitalism. It is easier to imagine an end of the world scenario than it is to imagine the dismantling of capitalism. The system's success story features a plethora of side effects, many of which have been observed by greater critics than myself: schizophrenia, consumerist addiction, the pornification of all things, the colonization of white feminism, etc etc etc.

Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism, writes, “the power of capitalist realism derives in part from the way that capitalism subsumes and consumes all of previous history: one effect of its 'system of equivalence' which can assign all cultural objects, whether they are religious iconography, pornography, or Das Kapital, a monetary value” (4).

He asks the reader to imagine walking around the British Museum seeing various objects from discrete time periods and geographic locales thrown together in one room, robbed of historical — and more importantly — of political context. The objects around us, the cultural artifacts, the products of a particular society in a particular time, have all been reduced to a number beside a dollar sign. This is due to the utter rapacity of capitalism, of course: the menacing and relentless colonization in search of new markets, new demographics, new customers. It's a system that voraciously consumes while simultaneously inciting to consume.

What better example of capitalism's rapacity than the cultural injunction to party? Numerous industries exist only by virtue of this particular cultural injunction that persists and confirms, despite the obvious negative effects it has on the consumer. The cultural injunction to party is simple: life is short, maximize your pleasure with this particular product.

However, what makes this demand so utterly genius and so utterly insidious is that it does away with the traditional guilt aspect of mindless consumption. Hitherto, consumption was predicated on the intersection between guilt and pleasure. This brand of chocolate's negative effects on your health is directly proportional to the pleasure you'll derive from it. “You've had a long day, you deserve it”, goes this instance of demand.

The cultural injunction to party is far simpler and more atavistic. Rather than rely on a complex cycle of emotional self-flagellation and self-forgiveness, this demand asks only that you enjoy — at all costs. It demands that you drink to excess because that's fun (see all your friends on Facebook who went to the club this weekend?). It demands that you visit exotic locales in order to drink there (swim up bar!). It demands that you devote your life to maximizing pleasure. The hashtag #yolo helpfully recapitulates this as does its lesser used sister, #fomo. In both cases, the idea is that this one experience is not to be repeated (until next weekend, as per Katy Perry and the cyclical nature of capitalism) and thus not to be missed. Whereas previous paradigms of consumption operated on guilt while consuming, the cultural injunction to party operates on guilt if not consuming. This demand is the ultimate mindless act of consumption as it asks the subject to consume himself. In other words, the cultural injunction to party is the absolute expression of capitalism's cannibalism.

Political statements are no longer “cool” as in the Civil Rights and student movements era of the 1960s. There is literally no 2010s analogue of Bob Dylan “going electric.” To identify one's self as openly or energetically political is often a self-ostracizing maneuver. It alienates your friends on Facebook (your grandma doesn't understand why you get so worked up about California's Prop 8), estranges you from your workmates (Marcia at the front desk has an Anne Geddes calendar; don't mention your rabid pro-choice stance), and jeopardizes your interpersonal relationship skills — nobody wants to be reminded all the time of how shitty things are right now. Why would they? There's a black Democrat in the White House, the economy is slowly recovering after the (ludicrously complicated) recession after 2008, and there has literally been no better time than now to be black or gay. Constant nagging about the current political situation (this same black Democrat has intensified the unmanned drone program) will only net you the tag “insufferable” or “too much of a downer.” The rhetoric is always the same: “now” is not the time to politicize the issue, or to turn this into a political “thing.” In order to avoid alienating all of your family and friends, you maintain a degree of politeness. In order to avoid confrontation, you prescribe to the “cult of nice.”

The cult of nice is a paradigmatic and hegemonic discourse of maintaining civility at the cost of nuanced or emotional discussion. It is a way of controlling and limiting communication to make sure everybody at the table is included and not offended. The cult of nice utterly commands the avoidance of confrontation. It starts with what conservatives called political correctness and then escalated from there. We must police our language as to make sure nobody is offended by our slips of the tongue or our ignorant choice in words. We internalized this policing of language and extended it outwards. “If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all” but writ large. This mantra is offered as a cure for friction in interpersonal relationships. Avoid confrontation and negotiation of social protocols will flow smoother.

The cult of nice is an intensification of white female performativity. We must maintain our demureness and passivity in the face of boorish masculine performativity so that we might be “the better man.” It should be absolutely no surprise that the cult of nice is a gendered performance that is completely intensified for those of the female gender. It's hyper-intensified for those women of colour who choose to ask any questions or make any demands. They are immediately silenced in the greater discourse because we mustn't offend those in power (white patriarchy, obviously).

The key to understanding the cult of nice is that avoiding confrontation is good for business. And what becomes good for business becomes good for interpersonal relationships. Anything that is remotely bad for business is colonized by capitalism in order to evacuate it of its potential ability to diminish profits.

For example, “beefs” used to be an integral element of hip hop culture. Feuds occurred famously between Biggie and Tupac, Nas and Jay-Z, Russell Simmons and everybody. Sometimes, these feuds ended in the deaths of those involved. (This opens up an intriguing and valuable discussion about the disposibility of the black body for white entertainment but that is outside the purview of this piece) These feuds are trending downwards now in mainstream hip hop — although this is due to a matrix of factors including the gentrification of hip hop — but this gentrification still works through the logic of “good for business.” Capitalism's colonization of hip hop and the rise of poptimism led to greater degrees of collaboration between hip hop artists and those outside of the culture. Beefing tends to limit collaborative movements as X's beef with Y might upset X's new single with Y's friend. Collaborations (synergy) are far more profitable than the record sales generated from the controversy from beefing. When hip hop stopped being the star of Congressional hearings, everybody was able to make a lot more money.

This cult of nice is partly to blame for the myth that we live in a post-racial society. Nobody talks about race (or the disposability of the black body) because it is uncomfortable (raises the spectre of slavery) and impolite. Hip hop stars work with white pop singers, black Democrats are in the white house, there's a Latina on the Supreme Court, why would we talk about race when we're clearly living in a post-racial society? Racism is over because racism isn't polite and thus violates the imperative from the cult of nice. Of course, this is absolutely specious and avoids the nuance of complex political discourse.

The cult of nice avoids inconvenient political interrogations. Thus, relativism becomes dominant. This is a product of the individuating pedagogy that emphasizes how “everybody's special.” Every child can accomplish anything they want as long as they set their mind to it, etc etc etc. This individuating pedagogy, as I have called it, puts a direct focus on the abilities of the individual rather than any cooperation within a group to direct or incite change. The individual is powerless against a complex and vast machine (of late capitalism/democracy) and to avoid the inevitable depression that comes with the realization of powerlessness, the pedagogy emphasizes what the individual can do within its own sphere of influence rather than without. It should be no surprise that the rise of individuating pedagogy occurred contemporaneously with the rise of neoliberalism. This economic policy believed in the elimination of “big government” and a greater focus on the responsibility of the individual. No longer should the state take care of people, but rather it is the responsibility of the individuals to take care of the people. Everybody's special and everybody has the ability to help each other out. Of course, if everybody's special, then so are their abilities, opinions, and beliefs. Since everybody's opinion is special, then none are privileged. Individuals have the ability (and in the American Dream, the opportunity) to do whatever they want as long as it doesn't affect the status quo. When this happens, the individual is punished by society through ostracizing. Individuals that choose to take on the cult of nice are, in effect, in violation of the cult of nice.

Since the primary goal of capitalism is to increase profits, anything that does so is prioritized over methods with lesser gains. The cult of nice diffuses over pop in order to avoid any conflict or contradiction. In other words, the cult of nice is the grease that oils the gears of late capitalism. Anything that is antagonistic to this relationship is ostracized or demonized, such as intellectualism or academia. This is primarily due to the fact that intellectualization engenders the observation of consumerism's utter emptiness. Political statements inevitably emphasize by relation how consumption is devoid of meaning. The relative importance or immediacy of political thought starkly highlights the mindlessness of consumption and by proxy, the cultural injunction to party. Which is to say that it is within capitalism's best interest to avoid any self-awareness or confrontation from the consumer. Late capitalism then prioritizes the cult of nice to evacuate pop of political statement in order to above all else maximize profits.

The cultural injunction to party then replaces political discourse as its demands are without confrontation, without impoliteness, without offense. How can one be offended by partying? It's simply the pursuit of happiness writ large.

At this point, I am going to offer examples of the evacuation of politics from pop.

I will start with indie darling band Vampire Weekend. This band faced a bit of controversy from online bloggers etc because of its distinct appropriation of 1980s Madagascar pop music. Songwriter Ezra Koenig was heavily influenced by African pop, but feared he would be grouped with other white artists (eg Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel) who belong to a trend of fetishizing African music and reproducing it for white consumption. For Koenig, his enjoyment of African music was pure and not racialized and since he comes from privileged background (he went to Columbia University etc) he is fully embedded in the cult of nice and thus can't be racist for his cultural appropriation. For artists such as Koenig, they can't be racist because a) they have black friends, b) they were raised in a post-racial society, and c) racism is bad for business. Therefore, Vampire Weekend's cultural appropriation is evacuated of political statement and then lowered to pure stylistic affectation. It's the gestures of racialized pop without the “burden” of being racialized.

Another example of popular culture evacuated of political discourse is the trend of celebrities “speaking out” against certain things. George Clooney becoming involved in the Darfur situation, Bob Geldof organizing “Live Aid,” celebrities adopting African/Asian babies, etc etc etc. Celebrity political statements come in two forms: the ludicrous (Ted Nugent) or the banal (“rape is bad, you guys”). In the latter form, the celebrity says something painfully obvious and is celebrated for their commitment to “telling it like it is.” Other than extreme examples like the aforementioned Nuge, celebrities generally get involved in the most centrist political movements, ones that people on either side of the political spectrum can support without the effort of agitation. Who doesn't want to see the end of genocide? Who doesn't want to see the end of violent rape? Celebrities back the most basic issues in far off places to avoid offending their fans of mixed political ideologies. To get involved in something specific within their own country (beyond nebulously supporting President Obama) would run the severe risk of irritating and alienating a large portion of their fanbase. To do so would contravene the capitalist imperative of maximizing profits.

A third example of the evacuation of political thought from pop is the Oscar-winning movie Crash. At this point, it's almost a cliché to complain about this movie's win of Best Picture over the irrefutably superior Brokeback Mountain but this does the Oscars a greater service its deserves by paying any attention to its inner workings. Rather, let's focus on the insipid white liberal guilt nonsense that this movie traffics in. The film is predicated on a mildly clever metaphor that different groups and different individuals are figuratively crashing into each other because they lack the necessary nuance and background to communicate effectively. Crash takes this (only moderately) clever metaphor and stretches it to two plus hours. In order to belabor its point, the movie mobilizes a series of painfully reductive stereotypes such as the Muslim shopkeeper, the black carjacker, the rich white guy driving an SUV, the Latino gangmember and so on and so forth. Crash even has the gall to pretend that it's aware of its own reductive characters by providing Ludacris's carjacker character the platform to comment on the stereotype. This is simply a gesture towards self-awareness and not a complete movement of course. Like this, the rest of the movie is an exercise in white Hollywood liberal guilt, ie the idea that individual white people demonstrate racist behavior and are therefore bad people. The film concludes with the limpid moral that if individuals stop being racist to each other than racism will be eradicated. It's a hysterical expression of the cult of nice and the product of an individuating pedagogy. Crash ignorantly avoids the idea that racism is institutionalized and that greater systemic change is needed rather than simply individuals just trying to be nice to each other. It's a movie that purports to be a political statement but, in true cult of nice fashion, lacks all nuance or complexity. Instead of examining the idea that race is socially constructed and that society needs to be changed (or replaced) in order to change this paradigm, the movie traffics in cheap sentimentality and theatrics.

A fourth and final example (of many) is the film Paul, starring Simon Pegg and Seth Rogen as the voice of the titular alien. I've written before on the male slacker fantasy movie such as Ted, and other Apatow movies. In Paul, the arrested development fantasy of white males is intensified through the fantasy element of the literal alien. The straight white male feels alienated from a society that demands labour, careers, and families so Paul takes this alienation literally. The eponymous alien is just like a white male slacker bro: he likes weed, video games, the Internet, and just hanging out. When the two human friends, both of them stuck in an arrested development of sci-fi fandom, meet the alien, they are surprised to find that even aliens are just like them, that is to say, just like straight white male. If you ever wanted an absolute proof of the self-centered nature of white patriarchy, then look no further to the fantasies of that patriarchy. Only the white straight male would have the narcissism necessary to fantasize that even aliens are essentially white straight male bros that just want to hang out. Of course, the film does not purport to be political in the sense of Crash or Live Aid, but surely this rather successful depiction of partying all the time says something about the current state of white masculinity. I'm hesitant to engage in the thinking that there is a crisis in masculinity because, let's face it, the crisis involves a large population of men willing only to work at video games and seducing women, so I have no sympathy for these lecherous white slacker bros. However, Paul might be instructive as an example of mainstream science fiction that utterly fails to do anything productive within the genre. Sci-fi is often regarded as the more politically, socially aware of the white male genres (with fantasy being the nostalgia mode, as per Fredric Jameson). African American science fiction is a large and extremely productive subgenre of science fiction that is manifested even today as with Janelle Monae. Numerous critics such as Alexander Weheliye and Robin James have pointed to the importance of Afrofuturism in popular culture. This genre of music articulates a sense of alienation within American society, and an expression of the legacy of slavery, as black Americans were abducted from their homeland, forced into crowded ships, thrown into an entirely unrecognizable society, and forced to be workers. Afrofuturism posits that black Americans are both aliens on another world and robots, constructed only to serve. Whereas movies like Paul express nothing other than the fantasy to avoid emotional and economic maturity. This film is science fiction completely liquidated of any political awareness and expression. Paul doesn't attempt to fantasize about the possibility of abandoning late capitalism in the sense that white male slacker bros are disengaged from the labour machine. Instead, it simply imagines ways around traditional profit making by alternative forms of capitalism (sci fi conventions are smaller but profitable markets). It's an evacuation of political expression that's absolutely par for the course.

But what of anomalies such as Green Day's American Idiot and the work of Matt Stone and Trey Parker? What about Michael Moore and other personalities that made their money criticizing the Bush Administration in the years after 9/11? What do we make of artists such as Mos Def, Common, and Kanye West who all openly criticized George W. Bush for not caring about black people (it was true then and it is true now)? For a time after 9/11, there appeared a great eruption of nationalistic fervor, an increase in patriotism, but with the invasion of Iraq and what Jason Burke calls The 9/11 Wars, there came a schism in artistic expression. Either objects were patriotic or objects were critical of the system. How to reconcile the apparent contradiction of apolitical cultural objects with specifically directed political statements?

The answer is, of course, that these explicitly political statements from Parker/Stone, Green Day, et al were facile childish criticisms of Bush the personality, rather than Bush the political entity. Movies such as Team America and albums such as American Idiot were more concerned with poking fun at Bush's poor rhetoric skills, his perceived stupidity, his insane amounts of privilege (he's a good ol' boy except his father was head of the CIA and the President). This criticisms were not careful dialogue with the war in the Middle East and how American imperialism, American exceptionalism, and capitalism contributed to the war. Post-9/11 culture imagines torture, prison, and war in simplistic ways, reducing them to either necessary elements or completely unethical. Both the right and the left are guilty of reductive reasoning in the years following 9/11. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is probably the only work in the entire period that tries to grapple with an entire society that might be corrupt, rather than essentializing the administration for rhetorical purposes. This film presents us with the matrix of capitalism, corporatism, nepotism, and cronyism that sustained the circumstances necessary for war and war profiteering.

Only marginal figures such as Noam Chomsky and other leftist thinkers were willing to engage with the structures of American imperialism without thinking of them as fait accompli. However, Chomsky et al were rarely given a platform in the mainstream newly 24 hours news cycle of CNN and FOX NEWS. This would totally make sense as mainstream journalism is engaged in a interdependent relationship with the state, as per Chomsky's book Manufacturing Consent, which in some ways, prefigures the cult of nice. Marginal figures that criticize and challenge the state are meant to be ridiculed by the news system because of a capitalist dependency between journalism and their primary source, the state. News outlets avoid upsetting the state by publishing according to paradigms set by the state.

What of my personal favourites, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy? These are a series of films that explores Batman, as vigilant, through a realist lens. Previously a campy character in the collective imagination, linked to an allegorical “metropolis,” here he figures as an efficient navigator of complex, modern, and identifiable urban spaces, in combat with specific antagonists but also against a world system that generates a series of ever more dangerous opponents. Each film of the trilogy presents a re-imagined villain from Batman’s history, but altered to reflect a post 9/11 state. The first film positions the villain, Ra’s Al Ghul, as righteous freedom fighter; the second film offers the Joker as an inscrutable vehicle of chaos and destruction to the social order; the final entry in the series features the villain, the inscrutable Bane, as a folk hero, a twisted dark mirror of Batman himself. Each villain is committed to the upheaval of the traditional social order, the status quo that Batman vows to maintain through the use of his vast corporate coffers, and each antagonist reflects, resists and confirms the political situation of the period. In this way, Nolan’s conception of Batman is offered as an ideological vigilante, sworn to uphold a specific political and economic status quo. And thus, the films are uninterested in nuanced or complex explorations of the Bush administration, surveillance, and the power of the state. The Dark Knight contends that any corruption in the city of Gotham derives from personal human weakness rather than the structures' corrosive elements. Only the third Batman film makes any gesture towards the idea that structures can fail, but veils it in muddled class warfare and contradictory plotting. The films are ultimately centrist in their politics. Batman is the corporate fantasy, upholding a particular status quo, but equal time is given to depictions of anarchy and dark reflections of vigilantism.

Of course, you might object at this point in the piece and say that not all cultural objects must be political statements. And I would agree with you. Not everything has to be an explicit political incitement to replace or change a system or structures. There is a place for art for art's sake and escapism. Discourses of escapism are especially important and needed in a society that increases the demand of labour while paying less for the supply. People work harder than ever thanks to late capitalism and they deserve to relax. They deserve to shut off their brains and watch reality television.

The problematic aspect of this line of thinking is that escapism has become the dominant form of culture instead of the subordinate. Cultural critics will be quick to point the finger at the medium of television for the dissolution of political expression in pop, but I'm not willing to let television take the fall entirely. Mindless culture predicated on instant gratification is simply a symptom of a system that prioritizes, above all else, short term profit. The precarity of an economic system finds its twin in the short attention span of the culture. The logic of late capitalism constantly reminds you that the thing you want is the thing after the thing you've already wanted. You desire an object, but as soon as you get your grubby hands on it, you're distracted by another object that you desire more, and so on and so forth. This precarity extends to pop, so we are always faced with endless waves of production, cycles of reality TV that repeat ad nauseum, ideas circulated, remixed, returned, memes exhausted by sheer circulation. It's what Fredric Jameson points to as pastiche in the postmodern, the cultural logic of late capitalism. Objects torn from their context and mindlessly mashed together with other torn objects without any thought or meaning. The pastiche is just a tasteless goulash made of other dishes. When capitalism assigns a monetary value to everything, reduces them to exchangeable things, then it should be easily predicted that the system would mix and match without self-awareness.

What makes this so deeply problematic is that this mindless mash, this malignant gruel has become hegemonic. When political expression is divorced from cultural expression (the fervor of anti-intellectualism), the culture absolutely suffers for this.

Think of high school English class, when you are asked to analyze a text. The teacher asks you to try and understand why the author made the curtains blue. Does it signify sadness? Does it refer to the ocean (of feeling)? Your teenage reaction is to dismiss this analysis as useless. Maybe the curtains were just blue because they were blue, you lackadaisically reply (as fervor or excitement is uncool when you're a teen).

Now what if that mode of thinking became the norm? What if every movie was “just a movie” and every book was “just a book”? What if you actually believed that cultural objects were most of the time benign and inert? What if an entire society internalized the idea that things were simply things and then produced a generation of things that were simply things? This, I would contend, is what has happened.

Of course, this is ridiculous. As Jameson reminds us, the political perspective of a work is not “some supplementary method, not as an optional auxiliary to other interpretive methods… but rather as the absolute horizon of all reading and all interpretation” (The Political Unconscious). Jameson posits that cultural artifacts are never divorced from their political contexts. Cultural objects are never produced in a vacuum, despite the intentions of those who make it. Popular and esoteric culture, whether low or high art, always, without exception, reproduce, reflect, and confirm the ideologies that contributed to the development of the artist and the work. Even if the discourse surrounding the object is purposefully evacuated of political expression, the object was produced in a society full of contradictory, frustrating, and problematic ideologies. It is the job of the cultural critic, whether academic or not, Marxist or feminist, conservative or liberal, to historicize, always historicize! In fact, the very work I've done within this piece is proof positive of the possibility of contextualizing a cultural object. Not just the possibility, but the utter necessity of doing so.

Cultural objects that circulate without any interrogation tends to reproduce the problematic ideologies at their heart. Objects that without irony or self-awareness depict problematic ideologies tend to confirm them. The majority of the audience accepts the depiction as fait accompli, something I find completely unacceptable.

This is especially important when discussing race or gender within the cultural milieu. A theme running through these notes is race, something that intensely interests me in a critical sense. I am a product of the cult of nice, the individuating pedagogy, and my mother is proud to say that she raised me not to see colour. Of course, it is the privileged terrain of the white privilege to deny white privilege. Being colour-blind, as white people would call it, is not productive in the slightest. This type of willful ignorance of differences between socially constructed race extends to ignore the structures of racial inequality and systemic racism at the heart of most states. It is extremely necessary and imperative that race become something we can talk about. Some critics, such as Requires Hate, want to talk about race in a purposefully confrontational manner in order to disrupt the cult of nice. She wants to overturn the culturally determined paradigm of quiet, accepting, meek, submissive Woman of Colour. Her methodology includes vicious language, relentless interrogation, and pithy dismissal of white men's tears. Part of her project is to highlight the egregious depictions of race and gender in genre fiction in order to incite discussion, to bring problematic things to light. Silence doesn't positively affect the circulation and reproduction of racist or misogynistic structures.

I'll end with a final example of the negative implications of a political evacuation. The NFL and the American Cancer Society have partnered up to help bring awareness of women's health (read: breast cancer) by wearing and distributing pink clothing and gear, emblazoned with the trademarked pink ribbon that signifies breast cancer. Part of the proceeds of the sale of pink clothing goes to the foundation to help fight cancer.

At first glance, this seems totally positive, and I'm a monster for taking issue with this. Seeing ludicrously masculine men wear equipment festooned with pink seems, on the surface, a positive step in smashing gender barriers and the stigma of femininity while simultaneously advancing a very important cause. Yet, the more I examine this microcosm of breast cancer culture, the more I'm repulsed and depressed. At the risk of repeating arguments made in the incredible and provocative book, Pink Ribbons Inc by Samantha King (and made into a documentary distributed by the NFB of Canada), the NFL's partnership and corporate sponsorship is pure and simple crass corporatism and should be examined on a national level. Firstly, only 5% of sales of pink clothing goes to the American Cancer Society (which presumably allocates/partitions that 5% as per their charter) which seems a paltry amount considering the high price of the clothing and the low cost of manufacturing. Secondly, it seems rather asinine to “promote awareness” of the most visible of all women's health issues. Cancer is omnipresent in American society, from depictions in the media to neverending news stories on the new foods/activities/objects that will fight/cure/cause/stop cancer. Thirdly, this visibility of cancer survival and culture is routinely sustained by images of white middle aged women. Breast cancer receives the most amount of attention because this type of cancer affects the most visible of maternal/feminine bodyparts. Collectively, white middle aged women signify the mother figure in American culture and thus breast cancer is hurting society where it hurts the most. However, women of colour are also affected by breast cancer — probably more as women of colour do not, statistically speaking, have the same access to resources (America does not enjoy universal healthcare). In addition, heart disease presents a far greater danger to women's health than cancer. Women are 11 times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer, and yet it is breast cancer that appears to need the most amount of awareness (not quantifiable, by the way). Lastly, charity organizations are corporations above all else. Corporations are pathologically focused on survival and upholding an economic status quo that guarantees their existence. Thus, the logic of corporatism would suggest that any permanent change in the world, such as the end of cancer (an impossible feat) should be avoided at all costs. After all, if cancer is cured tomorrow, an entire industry, including millions of jobs, would be destroyed. Ultimately, the cancer industrial complex soldiers on, while individual lives are literally at stake.

When culture becomes evacuated of politics, the discourse is fundamentally reductive, and thus easily manipulated by larger systems at play, including the logic of late capitalism. Lost within the relentless gears and cogs of simplified popular culture, individuals have their voices drowned out by the menacing and problematic ideologies at work. The NFL's pink campaign of awareness is — without a doubt — a scam, designed only to increase the coffers of the stakeholders. And this product of late capitalism has become a matter of life and death.

When popular culture becomes devoid of political discussion, operating below the surface, in the background, and in many cases dispersed right across the surface are ideologies that can manipulate and coerce. Many people complain about the “dumbing down of society” and I'm uninterested in this rhetoric because it's frankly not true. I'm typing on a computer surrounded by objects that communicate with satellites that allow me to converse with people around the globe at the speed of light. Society is not becoming more lax in intelligence. Rather, the logic of late capitalism tries to infantilize and weaken us in order to self-sustain and reproduce. Its primary tool of manipulation is pop culture and its greatest strategy was to remove politics from the discourse.

I'm an ally of feminism, I advocate for LGBT rights (not just marriage), I'm an outspoken opponent of casual, social, and systemic racism, I'm Marxist, I'm atheist (but I'm embarrassed to be associated with the public face of atheism — what a bunch of assholes), and my friends and family find me insufferable because I never stop talking about politics. I'm sorry, but it's the only way to keep the dialogue open. Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

SirBaronEarwig said...

Matthew, this is an excellent write up. I find your comment about an entire generation of people internalizing the idea that culture is inert and immune from political interpretation to be very illuminating. Combating this is of great importance. Thank you for the post, I always enjoy reading your blog.