Monday, November 1, 2010

"I'll Take You There"

This particular tenant never thought he'd say this, but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear has him wondering whether Slavoj Zizek might actually be wrong about something. Bear with me for a moment....

In The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek tries to determine why, in a cynical age, people continue to act against their best interests simply because someone else tells them that his or her best interests are their best interests, even if they're not. One of the few options you have nowadays, according to Zizek, is what he calls kynicism, where you make fun of the hypocrisy and self-interest of official pronouncements although, Zizek makes clear, this actually has very little effect on those in power (however you want to construe that concept), who are as cynical as everyone else and just keep on doing what they're doing.

Now, kynicism is obviously the stock in trade of The Daily Show, and insofar as it seems entirely unlikely that politicians or cable news networks are going to change the fever pitch of their rhetoric in response to  Stewart's call, during his speech on Saturday, for a more measured public discourse, Zizek may be right: not much will change. Except....

Stewart's speech really seemed to be less about something that should happen than about something that already does: the fact that, despite serious differences in opinion, most people most of the time cooperate quite well ("You go, then I go"). It was a different view of America than one usually gets from cable news or political ads (where every politician's opponent seems to have been deliberately determined, from the moment of his or her birth on a Nazi eugenics farm, to harm the American public as much as possible), and the best part was that this America seems to have been enacted by the crowd itself, which, by all accounts, had a very nice vibe.

It looked good to me. It was an America with music (Ozzy! Mavis Staples!), and witty, original signs, and an allegorical puppet show in which Fear was killed by Sanity (and John Oliver), and ironic Hitler mustaches, not to mention people climbing trees without getting yelled at.

So, while Zizek might say that this was just a momentary triumph of the kynical and the ludic, I think he might be wrong. I think the whole point was that this moderate America is out there--you could sort of feel it stretching out from the rally across the continent, Benedict-Anderson-like, into an imagined community all reading The Onion at the same time. I bet you the people in DC even picked up the trash when they left.


  1. This was the best post ever! Thoughtful and funny, just like the Tenants themselves!

  2. I think getting together on the front porch to read The Onion to each other is having a really positive effect.

  3. Mavis Staples is freakin' awesome.