The Rally to Restore Visibility

Two days have passed since The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington D.C., and it would appear the various ideological encampments have circled the wagons in fairly predictable configurations.   As one might expect, media on the right have generally ignored the event entirely, recognizing that the rally’s greatest potential power resides in the very acknowledgment of its existence.  The fewer Fox viewers exposed to the sight of a huge crowd motivated by something other than tears, fears, and Jesus, the better.  Some folks over at Americans for Prosperity, however, did at least demonstrate having remained awake for a few hours in their college art survey course, engaging in a little old-fashioned d├ętournement by cutting together footage of the rally’s many ironic and/or satirical signs to a song celebrating the solipsistic pleasures of unchecked narcissism. 

“Smug-a-Poolza” they call it, presumably because the entire event chose to emphasize the need for “rational” debate over actual facts rather than a cascading paranoia over unexamined fears.  Dismissing the rally-goers as smug narcissists (inasmuch as they can spell and understand “meta” discourse) serves the right very well, undermining the event’s legitimacy by invoking the conservative brain’s typically symptomatic suspicion of any and all forms of intellectual endeavor that do not result in a new weapons system.

Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, meanwhile, the rally also attracted the wrath of many on the left (an excellent overview can be seen at zunguzungu).  Here the consensus seems to be that Stewart/Colbert were targeting their critique of irrational demonization at the most vocal elements of the progressive movement—a perhaps understandable paranoia given the Obama administration’s apparent eagerness to not only throw liberals under the bus, but to back up and roll over them a second and third time.  A secondary meme wonders if "irony" can ever be an effective tool for political organization.

True, Stewart often invokes the fantasy-speak of objectivity, balance, and neutrality, and every so often takes an obligatory shot at MSNBC so as to inoculate The Daily Show franchise from accusations of shameless propagandizing.  But when did progressives become so inept at distinguishing tactics from strategies?  Conservatives have done a great job training their minions to hear various “dog-whistles,” code language that allows certain iterations of racism, sexism, and homophobia to circulate that would otherwise remain “unspeakable” in mainstream society.  How difficult is it for otherwise intelligent lefties to understand that this rally’s main political message had nothing to do with anything said on stage, but was instead an effort to intervene through one of the few gestures that will actually still attract the attention of mainstream media; namely, a spectacle of massing bodies that can be attributed to the energy of heated social/ideological divisions (even if said spectacle is putatively organized as an effort to “defuse” such heated political rhetoric). 

Only the delusional could imagine that such an event—even if it did performatively poke some fun at the left—was anything other than a tactical response to the media’s seemingly unending monologue of right-wing shouting points.  The goal here was clear: demonstrate in the only terms the media will recognize that the so-called “enthusiasm gap” in the upcoming election is a self-fulfilling prophecy, largely the result of the media repeating over and over again just how fired up and angry the right is compared to their disappointed and disillusioned counterparts on the left.  If all had gone as planned, the rally properly amplified might have triggered a sudden wave of “momentum” that could mitigate or even completely repulse the influence of the angry birthers, bowhunters, and rascal jockeys who even now are camping out in front of their local polling places. 

All of which makes the so-called “mainstream” media’s response to the rally that much more interesting.  By the rules of signification laid down by the network and cable news divisions themselves, The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was clearly the big winner, amassing by most “objective” accounts the largest and most socially diverse crowd of any recent D.C. gathering.  And yet ultimately this very same media pulled the rug out from underneath the rally by suddenly changing the rules of significance, affording the Stewart/Colbert gathering much less attention, analysis, and thus influence than previous events sponsored by the Tea Party and Utah Jesus.  Why?  Perhaps it is because the network news divisions, liberal though they may be, recognize in Stewart (and the sensibility he represents) an encroachment on their authority and legitimacy that is much more threatening than remote peoples in the red states getting all that much more redder.  If you are a well-off, literate, educated, elite media worker living in D.C., New York, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, or other epicenters of blue politics, who really gives a shit about the material impact of this election on your way of life?  You might feel bad for people living in Nevada who will soon have to suffer under the moronic agenda of Sharon Angle, but if these people are smart, they will soon realize they need to move someplace where a Sharon Angle can’t happen (in this respect, the right has won a certain victory for their cherished Federalism—the increasing aggregation of the population around centers of shared ideology, right and left, demonstrates a move toward local self-governance made possible only when the “idiots” on the other side of the spectrum vanish from your neighborhood.  Toward this end, I would like to propose starting a fund to help the Fox news team escape the liberal hell of a multi-ethnic, gay-friendly, culturally diverse, bohemian, and generally progressive New York City so that they might relocate somewhere better suited to their worldview, say an Omaha or Orange County.  How much longer must Anne Coulter be tortured by living in an environment so thoroughly shaped by the secular humanist agenda?). 

As most would acknowledge, television news divisions gave up long ago on actually seeking out and reporting any news, especially in relation to political campaigns.  Instead, all resources are put into covering the horse-race, a hyperreal environment where every event is dissected according to how the media believe it will play on the media.  What will the selection of Sarah Palin mean to McCain’s campaign and how will it “play” with women voters?  Is supporting the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” a good move politically?  If you are a democrat and make too big a deal out of not wanting to be photographed with President Obama, do you then inadvertently draw even more attention to your loathsome democratic-ness?  These are the important issues now facing the news division.  Of course, this is the very same territory claimed by Stewart and Colbert, but through an ironic lens that demonstrates night after night the fundamental implosion of all media/politics into self-satirizing simulation.  But the major network and cable news divisions still insist that they be taken seriously, even if all they ever do anymore is squat on a mirror and admire the dilations of their own Gallup-driven assholes. 

By pointing this out (even implicitly by merely happening), The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was thus not accorded the same level of influence so easily granted to an enraged grandpa hyperventilating in a high school gymnasium, wholly unaware that his Medicare is in fact a government program.  The lesson is obvious: you can disagree with the politics of those who make the media, castigating them as elites, liberals, out-of-touch, etc. In fact, the media need that kind of right-wing opposition to bolster their professional self-esteem.   But don’t ever call out the media for having become feckless amplifiers of their own bullshit, for they will lose no time in “reframing” your critique as an even more irresponsible affront to democracy. 

Thus, during the Sunday morning pundit round-up, I heard no less than three different professional commentators make the exact same critique: “Democratic sources tell me that they wish these young people were spending this weekend working voter phone banks in their home districts rather than coming to D.C. for a giant party.”  Yes, that’s right, a media that has done so much to reduce the political process to a war of excrescent signification attacked the Rally for not demonstrating an earnest enough commitment to the old fashioned politics of doorbells and shoe-leather.  It is a particularly loony critique, one that does not reflect the concerns of Democratic operatives so much as the old media’s investment in maintaining the authority of old media.  What is more effective politically: energizing 200,000 young folk armed with cell phones, twitter accounts, and Facebook pages the weekend before the election, or sending a lone college student door-to-door to convince the reluctant and hostile in his conservative campus neighborhood to come out and vote?  

So who knows what will happen on Tuesday.  I sense the mainstream media have invested so deeply in the narrative of a Tea Party revolution that they would have stopped at nothing to make it come true, and so the media prophecy will in the end prove self-fulfilled precisely because of the anti-logic put into such relief by the weekend’s rally—the angriest wheel gets greased by access to representation, especially if that wheel accuses the media of Marxist agitation rather than cynical disengagement.  If you were a player in what remains of the mainstream news media, whose existence would you rather acknowledge and confront: an elderly cartoon that still bolsters and believes in your relevance; or the generation of media-saavy, tech-literate, irony-suffused youngsters who threaten to throw your previously unassailable expertise and authority onto the scrapheap of media history? 

Popular Posts