Friday, October 21, 2011
How to win revolutions and influence people
[pic: Mohammed el Bibi brandishes Qaddafi's golden gun, courtesy of mirror.co.uk.]
So our mediasphere exploded with revolution porn yesterday, as the West celebrated the death of one of its odder symbiotes. (You knew Qaddafi was doomed weeks ago when you learned his homes were being fire-bombed by Scandinavian F-16s; the image of having him dragged from a culvert by a kid in a Yankees cap and a mullet, stealing his golden gun, surely was scripted by some master of psyops.) All of our heads of state and talking heads lined up to celebrate his death as a moral victory of the Libyan people, subtextually reveling in the way the narratives are finally starting to play out in accordance with the American master mold, ever since the death of Osama. For our exhausted republic, sustained by our national myths of popular rebellion against unelected monarchs, actual revolutions on other continents are a very convenient way to provide the People with a way to vicariously experience the thing they wish they could do, but don't actually know how to—being so effectively brainwashed with the idea that the current society is the product of revolution. We the People! Or is it Up with People!?
I see the Occupy Austin folks around town, holding up signs saying "Join the Revolution." One of their staging areas is across the street from my home in far East Austin, a neon plant where you can hear them arguing in the wee hours about their messages of the day. It's authentically refreshing to see indigenous protest movements calling out our latest plutocratic disequilibrium, but when I see signs like "Bring Back the American Dream," I have to wonder whether any of these infantilized suburban white boys with look-at-me dreadlocks would be able to chase down a dictator under artillery fire, drag his body out of a drainage ditch, and put a bullet through his head.
[Pic: Get Motivated! billboard, Airport Boulevard, Austin]
At the same time as the Occupy-ers have gotten their signs into our minds, a different set of signs has been springing up all over town, on gigantic billboards along every major thoroughfare—advertisements for the upcoming Get Motivated! seminar featuring an ultimate lineup of Bill Cosby, Colin Powell, Rudy Giuliani, Mary Lou Retton, General Stanley McChrystal and a coterie of platitude-spinning entrepreneurs and salesmen. Only $1.95 per person!
Granted, I have a semiotic soft spot for the any seminar organizer with the lunatic genius to bring together America's peppiest little balance beam cheerleader and the Col. Kilgore of the GWOT (the man with his own custom nunchakus, whose command comprised "...a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs...a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts... [who] jokingly refer to themselves as Team America"). I imagine Mary Lou Retton enlisted by the "retired" General McChrystal as the leader of a next generation Gymkata squad, taking out the world's most flamboyant dictators with a combination of floor show acrobatics, pep squad aphorisms, and napalm. (And featuring Bill Cosby as Alexander Scott, their wacky post-Oscar Goldman handler.)
[Pic: the personal nunchakus of General Stanley McChrystal]
What I really wish is for a way to combine these disparate movements. Get Occupied!? All the more so when I read that the Get Motivated! seminars are a giant scam to sell people a smorgasbord of get rick quick schemes. I share the Occupy-ers' desire for radical change in our advertising-based mental environment, but I think an American political movement that attacks the idea of *success* is doomed to failure. Americans only object to wealth when, as with the 1% riding on top of the Great Recession, it becomes perceived as a ruling class that the average person no longer has the opportunity to join. But self-improvement and meritocratic achievement are the real American religions, and opting out of Alpha seems a juvenile political strategy. Think how powerful it would be if someone could appropriate the self-help business values and aspirations that run through American culture from Benjamin Franklin through Warren Buffett in service of an opposition to mega-Capital, Empire, and the class of plutocrats and technocrats they create?
I imagine a slightly shifted reality where radicalized versions of Stan McCrystal, Mary Lou Retton and Joel Osteen evangelize global change through self-help seminars and ubiquitous infomercials—revolution as a get rich quick scheme. The chaos of our apocalyptic globe repackaged as a leveling opportunity for political arbitrage, the geopolitical equivalent of a work-from-home program teaching you how to make big money off your neighbors' home foreclosures. Put a little MKULTRA in the Starbucks, and see what happens.
Either that, or wait to see how long before #Occupy gets successfully co-opted by Madison Avenue.