Friday, February 29, 2008

The Desire Called Utopia and Other Political Fictions

A recurring theme here on my section of NFOTF has been the demise of the idea of utopia in the political rhetoric of the West.

I don't watch much TV, but my son has hooked me this year on the cathode ray crack of Lost (which itself has some interesting crypto-utopian threads -- who knew you could have a prime time hit series based on an updated Airport movie ensemble cast exploring the remnants of a 1970s social experiment gone astray (see the Dharma Initiative)). So, last night, watching it on actual broadcast TV rather than downloading it as usual, recovering from an intense week, I was curious to experience the newest Obama commercial.

I live in Austin, Texas. Our surprisingly important primary is imminent. The peppy 30-second spot brilliantly mirrors the commodified "live music capital" self-image of our town, with local images and a soundtrack that subtly positions Barack Obama as the official politician of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. (It seems to be working: there are viral Obama semiotes all over town, from restroom graffiti to rainbow-colored Warholian Obama faces posted by white collar workers in the windows of downtown skyscrapers -- the face of every race and no race.)

The ad is full of wonderful platitudes that have all the rhetorical vigor of newspaper horoscope entries: you can fill them with your own wishes and aspirations.

The best one, though, is the Utopian manifesto tagline (which I have also been hearing in his radio ads):

"The world as it is is not the world as it has to be."

The guy needs to hire some science fiction writers. Doesn't he know dystopia sells better than utopia?

Just ask John "hundred year war" McCain (via William Gibson):

Perhaps the general election campaign will be the perfect battle between Obama's communitarian Utopia and McCain's warrior dystopia. Stay tuned...

P.S. For the historically minded, check out the wonderful archive of vintage presidential campaign spots at The Museum of the Moving Image.

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