Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"PR Politics" Overload

The New York Times is overflowing this morning with what I've pejoratively labeled "Public Relations Politics". Strictly speaking "PR Politics" isn't really political at all; it is anti-political. As I wrote during the 2010 midterms:
If we go on what's said in the big newspapers (e.g. NYTimes, WaPo, etc.) and TV stations, I think we get a definition of politics something like the following. Politics is nothing but a game of rhetorical strategies and public relations. This game is only to be played by one or other of two well-defined and recognized teams: the Democrats and the Republicans. Thus, when we analyze "what's happening politically" in this society, we look at various institutionalized "matches" between the two teams, who compete by hurling different rhetoric back and forth at one another, employing more or less effective strategies along the way. Of course, it is acknowledged that money also plays a role, so perhaps we could add that another element of the game being played is that one team has to try to out-fund-raise the other (by, presumably, constructing a more cleverly packaged P.R. game plan, etc.). [Sidenote: this is where the ideology of "apathetic voters" emerges from... perfectly rational people feel excluded and alienated by this stupid PR game, and they are subsequently derided as "apathetic" cynics who don't see the point of "making freedom count".]
According to this sham PR game, when we care about politics, what we do is pretend that we're inside the campaign headquarters of some particular candidate and strategize about what to do. We don't ask what kinds of changes we want to see in our society. We don't ask whether or not any of the candidates will bring about these changes. Instead we pretend we're inside the candidates war room and quibble over rhetorical tactics. We always remain at the meta-level, never actually touching politics itself. According to this way of thinking about politics, all "political analysis" must confine itself to conniving about whether, say, Santorum has a good "narrative" (or hairdo) that could be used to outmaneuver Obama's different "branding". The ubiquity of marketing language is appalling.

The effect of this ideology is to stave off any criticism of the economic and political system itself. Rather than asking whether our interests are well-served by existing political and economic institutions, instead we're encouraged to cheer for (and strategize alongside) one of the "legitimate" contenders for the super-bowl-like presidential game. Real politics never enters the picture. We are simply not afforded the opportunity to express discontent with the system itself within this framework.

The exciting thing about Occupy is that it casts all of this nonsense aside. If people thought that the two-party duopoly served their interests and expressed their will, they wouldn't have taken to the streets in the first place. My hope is that the movement will remain fiercely independent of the two-party straitjacket so that it's power and political energy doesn't get strangled by the anti-political PR game-show this November.

Say what you like about Badiou, but he was certainly right on the money when he said that: "If we posit a definition of politics as ‘collective action, organized by certain principles, that aims to unfold the consequences of a new possibility which is currently repressed by the dominant order’, then we would have to conclude that our current electoral mechanism is an essentially apolitical procedure."


Anonymous said...

"Overcoming the conflation of Democrat-Republican partisanship with real politics requires clarifying what’s implicit in the movement: it’s class warfare, us versus them. The forces pushing austerity know what kind of fight they’re waging; it behooves our side to understand the same."

t said...

I agree completely with that observation. New issue of Jacobin looks good.

t said...

"If he succeeds, it will be a triumph of political rebranding"