Today’s post has been inspired by Jana’s (s’anaJ) latest comment and some commercials I just saw made me feel like this should be explored further.
First: the School of Rock example. That’s very funny. Whenever I teach the section on Adorno’s “Culture Industry” and Debord’s _Society of the Spectacle_ I use the same example: School of Rock. I have also heard that other people have used this before. How hegemonic has Jack Black become in our collective processes of imagining contained revolution? Also, isn’t each and every Adam Sandler movie about class conflict and about sympathizing with the lower classes and common people, always construing the upper class as evil? Isn’t opposition to class division one of the central narratives of US ideology? Then why the complete inability to represent this narrative culturally outside of relatively unsophisticated, punch-in-the-crotch-humor comedies?
As a side note: I also like using the website badassbargains.com in my courses whose motto is “stickin’ it to the man one deal at a time.” If that is not a perfect example of revolutionary chic serving the purpose of surplus production, I don’t know what is.
Also, I would like to draw people’s attention to this great website that tells you how you can personally really stick it to the man (including “stick it to the man” buddy icons for your AOL Instant Messenger, of course). My favorite thing about this is that the right side of the page is illegible, as it is partially covered by a large amazon.com ad (one of the larges financial donors to the Republican National Convention, by the way). So, visit: http://stickingittotheman.com/howto/manspeak.html
Now: the first commercial I just saw (actually a rather old one) is for a US cell phone company that features an old white man clearly marked as a CEO of some company who is all giddy about how cheap his new phone service is. The reason this fills him with joy, he proclaims, is that he can consequently stick it to the man. Upon his assistant answering, “but your ARE the man” he simply answers: “yeah, whatever.”
Also, there is a series of commercials by a bank called Washington Mutual that shows the fat cat owners and stock holders of the bank (all fat, old and white–the stereotype of the capitalist) in agony about the bank’s new policy of sticking it to the man and being nice to the simple man by removing some kind of checking fee and offering free ATM withdrawals. Yes, it is in fact a Marxist-revolutionary bank the way it is shown in the commercials and I assume what they say there is true.
So, yes, I agree with anaJ that it is quite hard seperating actual politics from a form of opposition to capitalism as a cultural standard.
The one thing that still makes me hope for some difference here arises out of the comparison between the ways in which anti-capitalism and anti-racism are integrated into the neoliberal ideological system. Both are political positions articulated in opposition to well-known social injustices and systems of marginalizing and materially exploiting people. Yet, anti-racism has managed to become a social standard (all of us clearly agree that being an anti-racist is fundamental and being a racist, discriminating based upon race, is clearly very wrong–which, of course, is a good thing), while anti-capitalism still has a very different status (anti-capitalism is still stigmatized negatively, its ideology is largely not accepted and being a capitalist, discriminating based upon class and perpetuating the segregation of society based upon that principle, is still not considered to be a bad thing).
While I surely do not want to slip back into the dated and frankly not very productive debates surrounding race and class that try to determine which one trumps the other one, how race can be/is being reduced to class, etc. the comparison between the functional integration of the two ideological positions definitely tells us one thing: that there must be at least a systemic disjoint somewhere between the anti-capitalism advertised as revolutionary chic by the culture industry and the anti-capitalism that is still violently rejected as a general social norm. Is this the disjoint where progressive politics can be located? Is it this disjoint that theoretically needs to be explored, as it presents an ideological contradiction of consumer capitalism and the ways in which it articulates itself ontologically?