Archive for the 'pop culture' Category

What do politics and monkey shit fights have in common?

harper-bush-monkey.pngIt’s been my experience that Marxists are a peculiar bunch.  Peculiar not in a bad way necessarily, but just peculiar nonetheless.  Most of the orthodox Marxists I’ve met want people to get engaged in politics; want people to get interested in politics and social movements; but we just don’t want people to be interested in what I suppose can be termed the ‘pop culture’ elements of politics at all.

You know what I mean by this.  It’s the part of politics that would be more on the monkey-shit-fight end of the spectrum of intellectual stimulation as opposed to an-evening-reading-Proust end of the spectrum.

It’s Polls as opposed to policy.

It’s Cults of Personality as opposed to principle.

It’s Idiotic right-wing conspiracy theories as opposed to ideas.

For the most part, I couldn’t agree more with my fellow comrades, and, as those of you who read this blog regularly know, I do enjoy (and, in fact, thrive off of) the more cerebral elements in politics.

But that said, the fact of the matter is that sometimes, regardless of how cerebral we may think ourselves, a political “monkey shit fight” is just plain fun to watch!  Sometimes you don’t want a steak, sometimes you just want a bag of potato chips.  And for those of us who run in left-wing circles, it’s been my experience that we tend take flak for this as being somehow less progressive or less committed to revolutionary change.

For years now I’ve been trying to reconcile these two things — intellectual, progressive, socialist political discussion, and pop-culture politics like polls and image politics — in my mind.  But it wasn’t until the other day, during one of my now frequent stints bashing Ron Paul die hards who believe their own spam that I came to a realization.

I realized that, just as I don’t necessarily need to root for one group of monkeys in a monkey shit fight in order to be entertained and captivated by the spectacle, so too can I be captivated by things like polls without really caring which one of the capitalist parties is winning and which one is losing.

So what do politics and monkey shit fights have in common?  Well, with the way politics is structured in North America where there is no real genuine choice — they’re both similar insofar as the results will largely be the same regardless of which group wins at either competition.

But it doesn’t make us any less progressive to nevertheless enjoy the fight.

Reality Check: What you’re not supposed to think about

“655,000 Iraqi civilians have died. Who are the terrorists?”
-Rosie O’Donnell from The View comparing U.S. activities with Islamic terrorism

Since Rosie O’Donnell has recently “got quit” from her job on The View (or rather, had her pre-existing plans for departure greatly accelerated) because of uttering this sentence, it is worth taking a second to explore the veracity of Rosie’s statement.

If we take the total confirmed attacks by Al Queda against the West (broadly understood) we have 5 acts of terrorism in total.  The 1993 WTC Bombing which killed 6. The 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole which killed 17. The September 11th attacks which killed 2974. The 2004 Madrid bombings which killed 191. And, lastly, the 2005 bombings in London, England which killed 52.

So, Al Qaeda has claimed a total of 3240 fatalities in the West.

Now America’s activities abroad are far too numerous to either delineate or to quantify, so, for simplicity’s sake, let’s limit it only to US involvement in the country of Iraq since the enactment of UN resolution 667 in 1990 up to the present.

The Gulf War and the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq throughout the 90s up until 2003 killed a total of approximately 1,000,000 (source).  And, from 2003 up until the present, according to the best and most thorough statistical project undertaken the U.S.  has killed approximately 651,000 in the Iraq War.

reality-check-us-versus-al-qaeda.pngSo, the U.S. has claimed a total of 1,651,000 (approximately — interesting how we don’t bother to count their fatalities isn’t it?).

Keep in mind this figure pertains only to the fatalities since 1990 and that this pertains only to fatalities the U.S. caused in the country of Iraq.  We could have just as easily included U.S. involvement in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Iran, Lebanon, Somalia, South Africa, Cuba, Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil, and a host of other countries which undoubtedly would have made the data more interesting, but I think this makes the point.

Let us put this into perspective another way.  If a U.S. politician stood up and said that he’d kill 100 Iraqis for every one U.S. soldier killed, he would be considered a moderate since the U.S. has killed on average over 500 Iraqis for every one Westerner killed by Al Qaeda.

Now this isn’t intended to get into a debate over motivation or reasons for engaging in these horrible killings.  Everybody has reasons for the things they do and anybody can justify their actions (at least to themselves).  But, objectively, it is more than obvious that Rosie O’Donnell statement was actually conservative and an underestimation.

But, there are some things we (the people who are hated for our freedoms) are not supposed to think about and this, apparently, is one of them.

On the futility of governing pop-culture

Who ever said capitalists were intelligent?

McDonald’s and a cabal of capitalists have been pushing the Oxford English Dictionary for some time now to remove its official listing of the word “McJob” in their publication.  But, AFP wires are now reporting that that’s not enough for McDonalds et al.  They now are seeking to actually ‘flip’ the definition of McJob (an irony in and of itself) from it’s current definition of:

“an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector.”

And they want the new definition in the Oxford English Dictionary to read something along the lines of:

“a job that is stimulating, rewarding and offers genuine opportunities for career progression.”

Now, it is no secret that capital has for years saught to subsume pop-culture and trends under its aegis.  However, what McDonald’s et al are ignoring is the fact that to the extent that capital succeeds in this goal, it does so not by dictating and governing from above what ‘popular’ ought to look like, but by so-called “cool hunting” and the subsuming of what is already pre-existingly popular into a corporate programme.

When capital or any heirarchical structure attempts to artificially manufacture from scratch what ought to be ‘popular’, the results are often ridiculous (and painful) as demonstrated by this ad by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario:  

(WARNING:  For those of you who don’t live in Ontario or who have never seen this ad, I must caution you – watching this may cause seizures, dimensia, decreased IQ and/or temporary insanity.  Proceed at own risk!) 

The capitalists seeking to change the definition of ‘McJob’ therefore are ignorant of two things.  First, obviously, the Oxford English Dictionary does not, like the ‘Newspeak’ dictionary makers in Orwell’s 1984, actually make-up definitions and construct the English language.  It merely reflects the pre-existing usage of the English language.

And second: you may be able to co-opt culture jamming, as the raging success of MTV and “cool hunting” demonstrates, but you cannot govern popular culture from above as these executives are foolishly attempting to do with “McJob”.

As insipid and asinine as many of us may consider the bulk of pop-culture to be, it nevertheless is one of the very few phenomena (along side activism and dissent) in our culture which finds its genesis in genuinely grassroots movements.

And that is a dynamic power which no capitalist and no government can either suppress or govern.

An apology is owed…

This is an absolutely fantastic quote and a great quote for any progressive person who wants to throw something back at liberals when they turn their noses up at us.

“When capital and the ruling classes apologise for: Colonialism, the 14 hour day, class privilege, the 7 day working week, children in coalmines, the opium wars, the massacre of the Paris Commune, slavery, the Spanish-American War, the Boer War, starvation, apartheid, anti-union laws, the First World War, Flanders, trench warfare, mustard gas, aerial bombing, the Soviet Intervention, the Armenian Genocide, chemical weapons, fascism, the Great Depression, hunger marches, Nazism, the Spanish Civil War, militarism, Asbestosis, radiation death, the Massacre of Nanking, the Second World War, Belsen, Dresden, Hiroshima, Racism, The Mafia, nuclear weapons, the Korean War, DDT, McCarthyism, production lines, blacklists, Thalidomide, the rape of the Third World, poverty, the arms race, plastic surgery, the electric chair, environmental degradation, the Vietnam War, the military suppression of Greece, India, Malaya, Indonesia, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Turkey, the Gulf War, trade in human body parts, malnutrition, Exxon Valdez, deforestation, organized crime, the Heroin and Cocain trade, tuberculosis, the destruction of the Ozone Layer, cancer, exploitation of labour and the deaths of 50,000,000 Communists and trade unionists in this century alone, then — and only then — will I consider apologising for the errors of socialism.” (from: the Communist Party of Australia)

There’s a great pic to go with this quote that I’ve just added to the Paulitics Political Images resource (along with a bunch of other additions).

Paulitics Polling Resource: Quebec highly unstable

Even before Gilles Duceppe’s recent flip flop over departing the federal scene and making a run for the PQ and then chosing to stay put, the Paulitics polling resource demonstrates that Quebec was already the province with by far the most instability in terms of public opinion.  Thus, Quebec provincial politics are sure to remain very interesting in the near future.

At the national level, the Paulitics Polling Resource shows the NDP and the Liberals with momentum while the Conservatives are still in decline, albeit slower than before.

Also of interest is the fact that the most popular party in Canada at this time can only count on the support of 1/3 of Canadians.

The Paulitics Polling Resource has the parties tracking as follows:

2007-05-13-results.jpg

For the Paulitics Polling Resource and long-term federal trend lines, click here

For the Paulitics Provincial/Regional Polling Resource, click here

At the provincial level, we see high instability in Quebec even before Duceppe’s recent gaffe.  Based on the most recent polling, the Paulitics Provincial/Regional breakdown shows that voter migration is by far the greatest in Quebec with more than 1 in 5 Quebecois having changed their vote preference since the last election.

The following chart demonstrates party support instability in each of the provinces and regions tracked in the Polling Resource:

QC

22.3%

BC

13.8%

Atlantic

12.0%

Prairies

11.5%

ON

10.7%

Alberta

1.5%

As discussed here, the NDP are up impressive amounts in Quebec, and the Liberals and the Conservatives are experiencing highly irregular pollinging numbers.  So it seems as though Quebec is up for grabs for just about any party.

The question is, what effect, if any, Gilles Duceppe’s recent flip flop will have on this highly unstable situation.

Fun with google

I recently came across two interesting posts which both used google in what I considered to be an ingenious fashion to demonstrate interesting points about the superficiality of our society and the marginalization of women in dialogue.

First, Uncorrected proofs had a post last week on using google to discern the “he”/”she” ratio of a given website or blog.  The idea, borrowed from Philipp Lenssen (here), in my mind is elegant in the simple and straightforward way in which it not only demonstrates, but quantifies, the marginalization of women in our discourse.

There are two ways of calculating the “he”/”she” ratio of a website or blog, you can use Lenssen’s application above, or you can do it manually via a google advanced search yourself.

Paulitics: Paul’s Socialist Investigations, has a “he”/”she” ratio of 59%/41%

As an interesting exercise, I decided to compare websites on both ends of the spectrum to see whether there’s a difference.

Le Revue Gauche “he”/”she” ratio = 83%/17%

Dr. Roy’s Thoughts “he”/”she” ratio = 81%/19%

Accidental Deliberations “he”/”she” ratio = 81%/19%

Stageleft “he”/”she” ratio = 77%/23%

Calgary Grit “he”/”she” ratio = 72%/28%

Jason Cherniak “he”/”she” ratio = 73%/27%

www.Conservative.ca “he”/”she” ratio = 86%/14%

www.Liberal.ca “he”/”she” ratio = 79%/21%

www.NDP.ca “he”/”she” ratio = 78%/22%

www.GreenParty.ca “he”/”she” ratio = 64%/36% (most “she” references refer to Elizabeth May)

News Media:

Far Right:

CanWest Global (Canada.com) “he”/”she” ratio = 76%/24%

Right-Wing:

CTV.ca “he”/”she” ratio = 72%/28%

Globe and Mail “he”/”she” ratio = 77%/23%

Centre-Left:

Toronto Star “he”/”she” ratio = 67%/33%

Left-Wing:

Democracy Now! “he”/”she” ratio = 48%/52%

——————————————————

Second, Surplus Value had an interesting post wherein google was used to attempt to quantify the value our society places on abstract concepts and then to rank-order these abstract terms in terms of their supposed ‘worth’.  I’ve added to the list linked to above in order to come up with a larger ranking of what we apparently value in our society:

1.  1,500,000,000 – Business
2.  1,360,000,000 – “Man” OR “Men”
3.  1,260,000,000 – TV
4.  1,100,000,000 – Music
5.  1,060,000,000 – Company
6.  976,000,000 – Life
7.  951,000,000 – Love
8.  892,000,000 – Sports
9.  826,000,000 – Family
10.  785,000,000 – Technology
11.  768,000,000 – Education
12.  702,000,000 – “Woman” OR “Women”
13.  670,000,000 – Money
14.  644,000,000 – Friends
15.  636,000,000 – Food
16.  575,000,000 – Beauty
17.  508,000,000 – Fitness
18.  441,000,000 – Hope
19.  414,000,000 – Sex
20.  313,000,000 – Success
21.  272,000,000 – Rich
22.  258,000,000 – Hate
23.  249,000,000 – Religion
24.  241,000,000 – Failure
25.  234,000,000 – Career
26.  231,000,000 – Politics
27.  204,000,000 – Meaning
28.  197,000,000 – Goals
29.  174,000,000 – Fear
30.  94,600,000 – Integrity
31.  55,000,000 – Happiness
32.  51,900,000 – Equality
33.  27,600,000 – Compassion
34.  6,980,000 – Fulfilment

Movie Review: “Bobby”

william_h__macy6.jpgThe new-to-DVD Emilio Estevez picture “Bobby” is a fictional re-telling of approximately 25 characters surrounding the early June assassination of Democratic Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy.

From the get-go, I had high hopes for this picture.

Among the reasons for my high hopes were, firstly, the highly pertinent character of the Vietnam-era when compared with the current era.  Secondly, there was the depth of casting which was, at times, almost comical in terms of the sheer number of celebrities taking part in the ensemble cast.

William H. Macy.

Christian Slater.

Martin Sheen.

Helen Hunt.

Laurence Fishburne.

Anthony Hopkins.

Demi Moore.

Sharon Stone.

And just when you think you’ve seen the last celebrity appearance, you’re confronted with a long-haired Ashton Kutcher and then just as quickly with other stars such as Elijah Wood.

But the amazing cast and the impressive performances just couldn’t distract from one simple, yet important fact:

The movie idolizes Bobby Kennedy when, given the anti-war motif of of the film, it shouldn’t have.

Throughout the movie, interesting (and accurate) parallels are drawn between our time and 1968.

-Racial unrest and a Democratic Party primary with contenders arousing hopes of a new breakthrough in terms of racial equality.

-New balloting procedures involving ‘chads’ (that exact term, popularized after the 2000 Florida election controversy, is actually mentioned in the film).

-An unpopular war.

-A sitting, pro-war president.

One needn’t be a student of Thucydides to draw on the intended parallels.

But the problem is that, while the American Democratic Party has been in the process of Lionizing the Kennedy name for the past 40 years, there really is little merit for these laurels.  What is more, the logic of focussing what is in the final analysis, an anti-war movie, around RFK merely serves to obfuscate his position with regards to that war.

Estevez selectively choses clips from video archival footage of RFK answering questions on Vietnam to suggest that he was the anti-war candidate who valliantly campaigned against the war.  However the facts are far from this fiction.  The true anti-war candidate, the one who got into the race as a dark horse candidate and who actually was the stuff of Hollywood underdog stories was Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, not Bobby Kennedy.

He was the one who started the campaign against the pro-war LBJ and, shockingly, came within a hair of defeating the sitting president in the New Hampshire primary.

It was this surprising finish which served, in part, as a catalyst for LBJ’s decision not to run again for re-election and which brought Kennedy into the race for the Democratic nomination.

So, ultimately, all the orchestral pieces overlayed with snippets of RFK’s speeches; all the best acting; and all the best actors cannot erase the fact that the movie idolizes the wrong guy all the while glossing over the contribution of the true anti-war candidate who took a principled stand on the issue:  Eugene McCarthy.

New Paulitics resource: The Propaganda in Action Series

I’m back from the insanity that has been my life for the past few weeks.  So, for those of you who’ve been wondering whether anything’s happened to me (you’re not alone, my parents have been wondering the same thing), I’ve just been in an interminable universe of essay writting and research.

propaganda-in-action-big.pngAnyway, it’s become apparent that there’s a big demand for my Propaganda in Action series, so I’ve created a new widget in the sidebar resource section as a place to keep all of the installments in the ongoing Propaganda in Action series together in one place. 

I’ve really enjoyed all the feedback and suggestions on this series so far, so it’s a safe bet to assume that there will be more installments coming out in the future.

Click here for the new Paulitics resource: the Propaganda in Action Series


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