The Null Device
Kinky Friedman, arguably the world's most famous Jewish cowboy detective novelist and author of songs like Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns Into Bed and They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus No More, has announced that he will follow in the footsteps of Jesse Ventura and run for Governor of Texas.
Friedman is the latest representative of an American trend known to detractors as anti-politics and to the more charitable (including me) as narrative politics. The former argue that voters are demonstrating their contempt for democracy by choosing jokes; the latter that, for an electorate increasingly shaped by the grammar of movies and television, the most attractive candidate will be the one whose bid most closely resembles a Hollywood pitch. This makes non-politicians attractive because their very improbability becomes their compelling storyline.
Of course, the powers that be are cluing into this trend and running politically naïve but photogenic celebrity candidates whose platforms consist of vague motherhood statements about being against bad things and for good things, knowing that the real decisions the voters don't want to worry their pretty heads over will be delegated to faceless administrators and, some would say, unelected representatives of vested interests who will benefit from them; thus the causal chain between the popular election of politicians and the appointment of decision-makers is broken. (According to investigative journalist Greg Palast, one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's first actions as Governor of California was to basically let the managers of Enron off the hook for screwing Californians with rigged electricity prices.) Americans, however, seem to be eating it up; enough so that now there's a campaign to amend the Constitution to allow foreign-born Schwarzenegger to run for President in 2008.
Of course, which is not to say that the Kinkster is necessarily the pawn of powerful interests. Given his lack of a serious platform (or, for that matter, of his spouting of comfortingly "sincere" homilies), he's probably more like the American Screaming Lord Sutch than anything else.
Age journalist Warwick McFadyen has written a glossary of Australian culture:
BILL OF RIGHTS: unnecessary for the citizenry who, because they enjoy unrivalled sunshine, surf and sport, are deemed already to have the good life.
LEFT-WING: that side of the playing field on which the bones of utopians lie scattered. Rapidly becoming archaic in meaning, although it is still used as a term of disgust in certain quarters, without having to be qualified.
PROMISE: once a measure of integrity, a promise is now divided politically into core and non-core, presumably to mask the contempt for the people expressed in bare-faced lies.
RECONCILIATION: the shining star in the night sky that everyone can see but few realise has already died, even though its light still travels to us.
WORLD STAGE: the podium on which we might perform one day, when we're a little bigger.
No, it's not some Japanese sexual fetish, but rather the latest teenage fad from England, combining the two national preoccupations of physical violence and mobile phones. Happy Slapping involves gangs of young malchicks on buses and trains slapping strangers in the face and recording their reactions on their phones.
Spare a thought for David Atkinson, the University of Idaho scientist who spent 18 years of his life designing an experiment for the Huygens space probe, only to watch it all go pear-shaped in the depths of space because some rocket scientist forgot to turn his experiment on. Oops!
I don't know about you, but were I the genius who made the mistake, I'd be looking for somewhere very safe to hide right now.
Not One Damn Dime Day, a proposed boycott of all consumer spending, was perhaps one of the most poorly thought out and piss-weak ideas for an alleged political protest ever; and Mark Dery tears it a new one, in style:
First, the whole business reeks of bobo sanctimony and cultural elitism. Any member of the Adbusters-reading, Supersize Me-watching leisure class who honestly believes she can Stick It to the Man by keeping her dimes firmly in her hand-knitted Guatemalan rucksack, right beside her manically underlined copy of Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, is unlikely to be seen rolling a 55-gallon drum of Miracle Whip out of Wal-Mart or rejoicing in fried offal at the local McDonald's. The NOMDD demographic consists largely, if not entirely, of inconspicuous consumers. It is axiomatic, at this late date, that the higher a certain sort of overeducated, deeply principled American climbs on the socioeconomic ladder, the more likely he is to camouflage his status and laminate his common-man credentials with the appearance (at least) of a virtuous proletarianism. This, after all, is America, where none of the children are above average. Our deep-dyed populism demands that all poll respondents, whether homeless or richer than God or Gates, insist they are "middle class."
Not One Damn Dime Day, and its cousins like Buy Nothing Day, are, according to Dery, symptomatic of a deeper malaise in the American left: a popular association of progressive ideals with asceticism, self-denial and a guilty, puritanical joylessness.
Ensuring that you're synonymous, in the public mind, with hair shirt-wearing self-denial and granitic humorlessness (think Kerry, Gore, Dukakis...) is not likely to win the hearts and minds of Middle Americans, most of whom shrink from things like the NOMDD Day because they sound like the political equivalent of the gray, gluten-free, sugar-free, fun-free snack foods drearily gummed by vegans and other humorectomy sufferers. A mass boycott that mandates total self-denial and, by default, sentences the participant to house arrest in order to avoid spending a plugged nickel, let alone a thin dime, is a mass boycott doomed to failure.
Too long have the censorious, humor-impaired wings of the left--the Dworkinite penis-is-a-weapon paleoconservative wing of feminism; the beige, Organization Man policy wonks; the excruciatingly earnest shoot-your-TV neo-Luddites--been the left's public face. We need an Xtreme Makeover. More profoundly, we need to stop embracing the politics of denial and withdrawal. Show me a sharp-tongued left-wing critique, built on notions of social justice and economic democracy that resonate with the common man yet, at the same time, embraces the Coneyesque cheap thrills and vulgarian pleasures of junk culture, and I'll show you a battleplan for handing the right's self-appointed morals czars their heads.
(I'm wondering: could this be a legacy of America's Puritan heritage? Could the fact that the American colonies were founded by zealous, gratification-denying idealists have formed not only the religious streak in the American right but the crusading tendencies and anti-materialism of American progressive movements throughout history?)