Yes, Throw the Celebrity Clowns Away

Regular readers will know that one of the most unfair and purist things I do on this blog is to quote people like John Oliver and Jon Stewart accurately when they say transparently power-serving things. It might be because I have a bad habit of waking up on the wrong side of the bed, or it may be because:

  • Their progressive reputations are entirely the result of savvy marketing, and these people are actually centrist or right-wing liberals, or worse (and this isn’t a matter of opinion, it’s a fact evidenced by the power-serving and reactionary things that they say).
  • Everything they tell their viewers about the world comes from their moderate-conservative politics, and their tepid, incrementalist “solutions” aren’t little stepping-stones on the path to progress, but are distractions that lead people towards elite-approved dead-ends (and it could only ever be this way because, as basic media literacy would dictate, they are the employees of corporations for whom more profits are the sole and paramount goal).
  • Whatever one wants to say about their calls for superficial domestic reforms, when it comes to American foreign policy they hew closely to the US State Department line (and again, it could only ever be this way, since both they and the State Department serve the same owners).
  • That by virtue of their progressive reputations, liberals are more likely to believe the reactionary trash that these celebrities will inevitably say than they would if it came from a different salesperson (for example, progressives are more inclined to believe a vile “be pro-black and pro-cop” equivocation coming from Daily Show host Trevor Noah than they are a substantively identical message coming from his fellow TV host, Tea Party-Republican and Trump-supporter Mike Rowe).

Maybe it’s because I’m attached to the idea that radical actually means something, so when a high-status liberal designates another doctrinaire liberal as a “radical” voice, I feel a vested interest in making sure that “radical” doesn’t get redefined to mean “popular.” Either way, I document these things not only because I enjoy trashing these people (although I do), but because they are utter frauds who need to be torn down.

This is a hard enough job because even a couple months ago, the most extreme critique that someone could level at these celebrities before being dismissed as a deranged Stalinist was this:

One could accuse comedy TV of indulging in tedious gatekeeper liberalism—if one wanted to be barraged with accusations of unfairness, projection, misinterpretation, and ultra-leftism from the nitwit fans of these insipid mediocrities.

What one could usually do, and could easily get paid and published for doing, was celebrate these figures for not only being funny, but for being progressive and even vital to democracy. Up until last month, you could only criticize these highly political celebrity commentators in vague and attenuated terms, while there was literally no glowing superlative that was too ridiculous for them to receive. Case in point: this NBC News piece calling Trevor Noah’s material “politically radical” and invoking Malcolm X (!) for The Daily Show’s use of a bestselling Kanye West single during an episode. A May 2015 Atlantic piece declaring comedians as “the new public intellectuals” captures the tenor:

[T]here are two broad things happening right now—comedy with moral messaging, and comedy with mass attention—and their combined effect is this: Comedians have taken on the role of public intellectuals. They’re exploring and wrestling with important ideas. They’re sharing their conclusions with the rest of us. They’re providing fodder for discussion, not just of the minutiae of everyday experience, but of the biggest questions of the day… these are bits intended not just to help us escape from the realities of the world, but also, and more so, to help us understand them. Comedians are fashioning themselves not just as joke-tellers, but as truth-tellers—as intellectual and moral guides through the cultural debates of the moment.

What all the celebrities mentioned in the Atlantic piece have in common is that for the last 18 months, they acted as spokespeople for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Some even provided Clinton bit-parts on their shows to help her remove some of the stigma that she had justly accumulated during decades of laying waste to large swathes of the global South.

But something interesting happened after Clinton became a failed presidential candidate for the second time. In the deluge of imbecilic and childish cultural texts designed to flatter liberals (including letters from popular fictional characters exhorting their fans to stay the course), a small space has opened up for pointing out that these celebrated celebrity clowns are actually a hindrance to combating a reactionary tide. Continue reading

Chomsky vs. Parenti, part 5: Lesser Evilism

This is meant as a look at some of the areas where Noam Chomsky and Michael Parenti differ most visibly in their analysis and biases. Given their similarities, comparing the two provides a rare opportunity at substitution analysis: to quote Chomsky himself, “you can’t do experiments in history, but here history was kind enough to set one up for us.” In short, the differences in Chomsky versus Parenti’s positions makes for a useful case study in what ideas genuinely make one a candidate for marginalization, versus what ideas are actually quite acceptable despite their transgressive veneers. Click here for an all-in-one post.

Chomsky is never more visible than during the presidential elections season, and there’s one reason why: “As the electoral spectacle kicks into full gear and forces itself into every sector of American political discourse, Noam Chomsky, one of the world’s most celebrated dissident intellectuals, continues his longstanding tradition of reminding us that the looming apocalypse must be delayed by any means necessary,” writes Kevin Dooley, “which really means voting for the certain Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.”

Just as he is never more visible than during this quadrennial spectacle, he is never more prescriptive. Here is a sample of what Chomsky says and how he says it:

  • January 2016: In an interview with Al Jazeera’s UpFront, Chomsky says “he would ‘absolutely’ vote for Hillary Clinton over any Republican candidate” and “there are ‘enormous differences’ between the policies of the Democrats and the Republicans.”
  • March 2016: Chomsky says Hillary Clinton is “kind of hawkish” and “much more militant than the centrist democrats,” but “If Republicans are elected, there could be major changes that will be awful. I have never seen such lunatics in the political system. For instance, Ted Cruz’s response to terrorism is to carpet-bomb everyone.”
  • May 2016: Chomsky calls Donald Trump’s ideas “almost a death knell for the species,” telling his readers “If I were in a swing state, a state that matters, and the choice were Clinton or Trump, I would vote against Trump. And by arithmetic that means hold your nose and vote for Clinton.”

This is similar rhetoric to the previous election, at which time Chomsky said “the worst didn’t happen, and it might have…I mean, there are some differences; it’s not zero impact, you know.” This year, “almost a death knell for the species” is extraordinarily strong language coming from the professor, and many of Chomsky’s readers likely take his counsel to heart come voting day. Chomsky is indeed correct that global warming will likely kill the majority of aerobic life on Earth within several human generations, making it an effective cudgel. He proffers that global warming is an urgent reason to show up next November and vote for Hillary Clinton, but it’s anyone’s guess how a Clinton presidency will lead to a more stable climate. Chomsky says that Donald Trump is too close to climate change deniers, but the same is true for Clinton, a fracking enthusiast who Chomsky concedes is “more militant” than Obama and who is Wall Street’s preferred candidate. The US military rivals animal agriculture for the world’s most egregious polluter, and a servant of big business would never meaningfully threaten the continued operation of capitalism. So voters are left with tonal differences: Trump adjoins people who say climate change isn’t real, while Clinton will admit it’s real and perpetuate it. There is no practical difference between these two positions whatsoever—any capitalist may as well be a climate change denier. Like the many urgent reasons Chomsky offers, this is a small superficial change the brilliant professor is inflating into a life-or-death matter with verbal smoke-and-mirrors. Continue reading

Election 2016 Snapshot

Did you hear about what that awful Rethuglican turkey Marco Rubio said this week? In a speech laying out a future foreign policy vision for the Rubio administration, the senator claimed that

We must recognize that our nation is a global leader not just because it has superior arms, but because it has superior aims. America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom rather than its own territory.

According to the straight-shooters at Democratic party astroturf factory Crooks & Liars, this statement is “the big lie” undergirding his foreign policy approach, “which also will disqualify him from the White House for ignorance if not warmongering.”

Hear, hear! As far as historical whitewashes go, this kind of exceptionalist garbage is as ahistorical as it is evil. “And it’s a line that helps explain why this would-be president is campaigning with a truly extremist foreign policy ‘doctrine,'” according to reliable liberal click-miner Elias Isquith, “and it is utterly insane.” These two articles set the tone for a slew of pieces currently populating the Proggy corners of the internet, which differ only in varying amounts of sub-Colbert riffing leading up to the same capitulation of the US’s bloody settler-colonial, imperialist history.

If Rubio’s “utterly insane” words, animating a “truly extremist” set of quote-unquote ideas sound familiar, it’s probably because they’re almost identical to similar comments from the current occupant of the Oval Office. In the blessed Erewhon called the days before the current presidential election cycle, a.k.a. March 2014, Barack Obama defended the Iraq war by claiming that

it is true that the Iraq war was a subject of vigorous debate, not just around the world but in the United States, as well. I participated in that debate, and I opposed our military intervention there. But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.

Rubio probably would’ve played better to the Daily Kos crowd if he’d referenced “vigorous debate” like Obama did, since those code-words invoke hand-wringing, parliamentary procedure, and Aaron Sorkin-esque speechifying in a trifecta of self-regard that leaves liberal chumps at half-mast.

That’s how Obama’s comments went over last year, anyway. Obama “struggled” to adequately make his case. At worse, Obama “inflamed…accusations of hypocrisy,” which really isn’t as bad as being insane. Digby was “embarrassed for him,” the poor guy. Liberal responses didn’t disqualify Obama from the presidency, nor did they explicate how his whitewash was well in keeping with the imperialist political core which he’d articulated dating back to his days as an Illinois state senator. It’s high on excuse-making for powerful individuals and context-free outrage, low on analysis and anything resembling the journalism that liberals love to wail and keen about. Given that establishment wisdom is morally vile, at least when voiced by someone from Team Red, there should be much-needed bullshit-calling on the whole rotten enterprise.

Anyone who ends up reading this blog probably isn’t too keen on America’s endless election spectacle, either. I know I’m definitely not intending to write about the election again in any capacity; 2008 felt like living through a creepy year-and-a-half long Twilight Zone episode, 2012 was more discipline- than hope-oriented. I have little doubt this one will be more like the latter. Avoiding another presidential election was a sizable motivator for finally expatriating: I’d genuinely rather be strapped down, Clockwork Orange-style, and forced to watch every single Eurovision contest than hear the words Hillary Clinton again, unless that name is followed immediately by the words “…is a walking profanity.”

Because in between the starry-eyed marketing operations and vicious power-serving smear campaigns, elections are a nearly endless stream of moments in which propaganda blows up a micron of difference into the fantasy called democracy. Or worse, moments like this one–in which ruling-class unanimity is remade as something else. Here’s how the sacred experiment really works, as the differences are wholly manufactured and a bipartisan cast of ruthless moral cretins is turned into tableau of good vs. evil.

On the plus side, though, at least there are only 18 more months of this shit. Enjoy, everyone! It’s going to fucking suck.