Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Not In The Stars, But Ourselves

Random Barking:  Oprah

Annual programs, like the Golden Globes earlier this week, celebrate the entertainment industry. It's a way for the public to vicariously experience an event honoring the work of familiar actors and actresses.

I like movies, but avoid watching self-congratulatory presentations like the Globes (the last Oscars I watched were sometime in the late 1980's). They're ways of participating in the American film and television celebrity culture which dominates our public entertainment. I opt out.

Every summer, there was an annual celebration held in my home town, with a parade down our two main streets. Every year, the organizing committee found some entertainment star to make the parade's 'Grand Marshal'. My father had something to do with organizing these parades, and by my adolescence had spent some time observing a number of film and television notables.

(I won't list them, except to mention in the early Sixties, I was stunned to meet Grand Marshal "Aunt Jemima" -- a heavy-set black woman, smiling and pleasant as she shook my hand, playing the iconic namesake for a brand of high-fructose corn syrup.

(On television just days before, I'd seen news film footage of police, dogs and water hoses attacking civil rights marchers in Mississippi. Even as a kid, I knew in my bones that was ugly and wrong, and remember thinking as this actress shook my hand: how could she stand, smiling, head bound up in what used to be referred to in the majority culture as a 'pickaninny' kerchief, wearing a calico dress with a shawl over her shoulders, smiling, surrounded by a room full white people -- with things like that happening? Well... it was an acting job.)

The characters these actors portrayed on the big or small screen were acceptable -- it was their talent to make us believe the make-believe. But (with a few exceptions) as I watched them interact with other adults from their 'public personas', I began to believe the idea of "celebrity" was about artifice, pretense, in the real world -- and to me, not acceptable, because as a kid, I was constantly getting in trouble for play-acting, "not being yourself" -- but every child can recognize that as typical, and double-standard, adult behavior.

It took much longer to learn that, in the larger world, acting from a persona as an adult is not only expected, it's often supported behavior -- particularly in entertainment, or politics. These days, the difference between the two is so slight as to be trivial.

The difference between entertainment and politics is that art has power -- but only a politician can arrange to deport 200,000 Salvadorians, initiate Kill Drone Tuesday, authorize mass surveillance of all Americans' personal communications or the invasion of a middle eastern country based on manufactured evidence.

So as I read about the possibility being 'floated' for an Oprah Winfrey run for President in 2020, my immediate visceral reaction was negative: this was more celebrity-politics, reality teevee bullshit. Do we need another billionaire running for office? I thought; do we need another figurehead, utterly without experience in government, allegedly running the country? And, who will run them?

Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire, a competent business person; an entertainer; a black woman who has struggled through prejudice, misogyny and ignorance to succeed, in the way Americans are taught to accept and value 'success'. I understand all this, and (beyond my knee-jerk dislike of wealth and the wealthy) offer no criticism of her achievements.

The UK Guardian this morning referred to Winfrey as "one of the world's best neoliberal capitalist thinkers" -- but is that what we want? Is another neoliberal capitalist what the citizens of America need? I asked myself.

Online, there was a lot of verbiage about Hoping For Oprah, tossed into the air like confetti at a national convention. The pundits and even Our Leader were all a-twitter, literally -- and it isn't as if  we don't have bigger, real things, to worry about. One post by Ian Welch noted that
[None of  the possible Left candidates for U.S. President in 2020] have more star power and fundraising ability than someone like Oprah. ([who] does run a company, and does it competently.)...  Then we add in the billionaires, like Facebook CEO Zuckerberg. What other billionaire is now thinking “screw buying politicians, they can’t be trusted. I’ll just run myself?”...
2020 isn’t going to be a normal election. It is going to be far crazier than 20[16].
And heck, if I had a vote, I’d vote for Oprah (or Clooney) before most Democratic politicians, especially if they say “universal healthcare, fuck the bankers and no wars” like they mean it.
I suspect many Americans would too.
Remember, Trump won, in the end, because enough people were sick of regular politicians to take a flyer on him. A celebrity with more charisma and brains is entirely viable and will be considered seriously.
I foamed a bit more, reading this, until I was finally able to focus on what I thought was his main point: Given where Americans are, a candidate who appears competent and believes in at least baseline progressive policy ideas, is worth voting for. 

As The new year opens, the notion of a wealthy, (presumed) progressive celebrity, with no experience in government, becoming President of the United States matters less than the direction of Left politics in America. Our fortunes, our families and our lives are in danger. It is that serious. No joke.

If we do not have a political party whose stated aims are people first, not profit; real representation in government; real inclusion; real equality; healthcare; fuck the banksters; and no war -- if we don't have a political movement which says this, first, and a lot else besides -- then which celebrity Liberal figurehead runs for President won't matter. 

If having that kind of political party is possible, then we should ask that its standard-bearer support those aims, and not be owned by the same status quo groups which believe they own all of us. That candidate could be Oprah, or Clooney, or Gillibrand, Warren, or Sanders -- as long as they talk the talk, and mean it. Policy first, then Celebrity.

But we don't have this, now. The Democratic party is (presumably) the most well-organized and well-funded liberal / progressive political organization in America. But it's wounded, adrift, and the list of Democratic politicians not career collaborators in a corrupt system is very short. 

Whether the Democratic party is even relevant in 2018 is an open question; just being the only big Liberal game in town isn't a definition of relevancy. Being the party of more Centrist is not relevancy. Just to survive, we cannot stand in the Center -- that time is long past. The Democratic party needs to be shaken down to its foundations and rebuilt to meet real demands of our times and our people. 

If we can't rebuild the Democratic party, or develop a political organization which represents the future we want and need, then America is done. 

Electing another billionaire celebrity, without massive changes in our national priorities, is no more sustainable than the path being chosen by the current billionaire celebrity in office. The future is ours to lose, or to fight for. 


  1. Purrfectly <sry;-) put. The omen that O represents, I think, is that the party machine would use her skin tone & gender alone to check off on 'real equality' from your list, and there is no dearth of Democratic voter who still doesn't buy into that. An additional advantage the status quo D has in '20 is that, yet again, they can use the current White House as a massive contrast, thereby checking off everything else on your list as if by default of logic. That there are those who'd prefer to not just see a restoration of the Obama era is entirely lost on Dem strategists, and the voters that justify that strategy (Clinton voters, who made up the majority, after all) would continue to be roundly unkind to anyone suggesting more than a electoral win is necessary.

    1. Ja; du wettest. Image over substance is the path of least resistance, in all senses.