Sunday, September 05, 2004

purposeless protests?

N+1 has done it again. Although I deem this worthy enough to quote some excerpts, you, dear reader (all reluctant three of you), should certainly read the entire thing. It is painless, and important, if that is possible.

[The protesters have mobilized around a zero. They are anti-Bush and anti-war. To call it a platform or an agenda would be doing it a kindness. Their wish is no longer utopian but nostalgic, a return to the status quo ante 2000...

"This is what democracy looks like!" The marches have taken on the trappings of religious ritual, and have as much immediate meaning as a good Latin benediction or prayer at Conservative synagogues; but those old slogans came from movements toward confrontational and initially unpopular ends, and not a contentless declaration of voting preference. Women's suffrage, civil rights for American blacks, increased funding for AIDS research, all were won through the use of street protests to shame an indifferent government into enacting reforms. In a democracy, even a vast number of citizens whose only aim is the removal of a government they view as hostile to their interests cannot possibly succeed through shaming, and ought not to...

But a pep rally against our pep-rallying president is still a pep rally. The catalog of events offered by the Village Voice is tricked out like the listings for another fringe festival. Plays, films, and art exhibits are all part of the themed anti-RNC listings, alongside the strippers of Axis of Eve, the retro 50s style of Code Pink, and the radical cheerleaders who will strip and form an "Abu-Ghraib style naked pyramid." I don't mean to poke fun, but this is protest as narcissism. The audience (and who is the audience?) is supposed to be wowed into some kind of political conversion or revelation through the stunning avant-garde techniques and displays of sheer personality by the hip and invigorated. Even I can be hip and invigorated, but not as a citizen, please. American democracy was designed to be boring, slow, and tiresome, because it's supposed to hold off the seductions and demagogy to which majoritarian structures are always susceptible.

When you find democracy entertaining, you know you're a little off the right track. It suggests you've become a spectator of yourself as a participant, similar to watching yourself have sex.


The new breed of demonstrators understand themselves as event planners for an audience of journalists who will then pass on the message to their readers and viewers. Primarily, they are performers. To this extent, at least, they can be evaluated aesthetically. Indeed some of them even wish to be appreciated aesthetically. They are fervent believers in the transformational power of the image. Whoever orchestrated the parade of a thousand flag-draped coffins believes that Americans need to see mock funerals in order to understand the cost of war. They succeeded in getting a front-page photograph in the Times , but it's unclear how many souls they enlightened and how many they alienated; some read the protest as merely another desecration of the American flag. The image was straightforward, but, once repeated and reconfigured in print or television, its message became ambiguous.

Visibility matters, but so does sophistication. Most of these groups are burdened by a sense of political theater as kitsch--as laden as Bush's Mission Accomplished farce. (Right wing kitsch will always beat left wing kitsch, since right wing kitsch elevates reality to some mythic dream while left wing kitsch offers only the consolations of victimhood and rage.) The stand-out exception among convention protesters has been Billionaires For Bush. The Billionaires are less Brecht than Oscar Wilde. They work backwards, beginning with their pseudo-advocacy. Their chants are pure wit, neatly reversing expectations: "Four more wars," "Reappoint Bush." They dress the part of camp moguls from the roaring twenties, down to the monocles, top hats, and ball gowns. Their style and their speech come from the elegant Hollywood of David Niven and Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Katherine Hepburn. They are drag queen capitalists.

And, astonishingly, like a man who only finds his ideal of femininity once he stumbles into bed with a transvestite, the media have fallen for the Billionaires.]

These and all of the other articles copyrighted by N+1, are, as usual, well worth reading


anti said...

If you have just three readers then heaven help the rest of us.
Excellent read.

Robert said...

fantastic...thanks for sharing that