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A good friend of mine told me he believed punk rock is the anthem of “the system’s waning grip on the American psyche, and the prevalence of more “person[a]”-centered advertising was evidence of the fall–simple, direct injunctions to consumer are no long adequate.
I completely disagreed. I was drunk, so I wrote this.
Enjoy this Facebook-picked literature.
Re: Failing Soclal Controls
I think the [hegemony and ideology are stronger than ever]. Sure, 1) gay people can get married in some places, 2) we can all smoke marijuana if we’re not minorities, and 3) Miley Cyrus can be naked.
Some may take the above to be the 3 horsemen of the traditional American hegemonic apocalypse.
The above can be interpreted as:
1) The injunction to marry is so strong, that even queer people–the supposed cripplers of heternormativity and agitators of the patriarchy–desire to have their relationships *recognized* and *approved* by the state. It’s not [just] that they want the right to love, be openly intimate, etc.. This is allowed. Asking for recognition by the state (the big Other) became some sort of de-radicalized demand that everyone could get on board with. “Let them get get married,” is far less threatening than, “marriage is a farce, at best, and repressive, at worst.” I’m not saying either of those are right/true. I’m just saying the latter has been pretty much disavowed in lieu of the former in the larger society.
*Clarifying Note*: I’m all for gay marriage, and marriage, and the desire to get married, etc.. I do not, however, think gay marriage is a sign of retreating power structure.
2) The normalization of a consumer good among other consumer goods. Awesome? Maybe. Fewer drug imprisonments. Now, some privileged people can smoke marijuana without fear of imprisonment, and the War on Drugs become a direct problem almost exclusively for those “poor, degenerate people, over there.” I know this because marijuana Legalization advocates start off talking about the corrupt prison system to lead into a conversation of the unjustness of marijuana prohibition. Once Arizona started card programs, I didn’t see their protests of the big issue they used to point out the power structure benefiting an unfair system. Why? Because it wasn’t really about power or social justice. So, it was about getting high, i.e. consumption? No! It was about getting the social structure to *recognize*, *approve*, and make legitimate an already widely accepted consumption behavior. Also, note: the people disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs aren’t protesting in mass. Why? Ask yourself: what’s more important to the African American voter block: Voting in Obama, or prison reform? How did you arrive at that conclusion?
*Clarifying Note*: I’m all for marijuana legalization, and high marriages, and the desire to get marijuana, etc.. I do not, however, think marijuana legalization is a sign of retreating power structure.
3) The media makes decisions about what we are, and are not, allowed to see–whether it’s Osama bin Laden’s corpse, dead bodies in warzones (you can’t show white, first world bodies, but Kenyan bodies are fair game). Large media institutions can totally omit world events and basically mute any “celebrity” they want, because their broadcasts are the primary reference point for what constitutes “world events”, and who is, or is not, a celebrity. “But Miley Cyrus is doing something radical. She’s rebelling! She’s undermining the system!”
*Clarifying Note*: I’m all for not censoring Miley Cyrus, and marriages to Miley Cyrus, and the desire to get Miley Cyrus marijuana, etc.. I do not, however, think Miley Cyrus smoking legalized marijuana with married homosexuals on TV is a sign of retreating power structure.
Who told you that? I bet the work for a brand or publication with a higher Klout.com score than you.
That system did not, and will not, lose to punk. It did the best thing it possibly could–it gave Henry Rollins a TV show.
And, I know, I’m putting words in your mouth by assuming those were examples you would use.
You may not use those examples, yourself, but there are a lot of people who would use the above as indicators of “changing times.”
In that case, my argument isn’t really a rebuttal to you, but a practice in throwing red herrings at strawmen (whom, by the way, I actually believe exist; see: Democrats).
My friend responded:
Do you think the strength of social controls are illustrated by the relative norms in pop culture? In other words, do you think media dialogue about Miley Cyrus, the legal status of weed, and accessibility of gay marriage are indicators or reflections of the breadth, depth, or geography of social control?
Absolutely. I very much do. There are big, complicated, basically (and most importantly) leaderless social mechanisms that produce what we recognize as norms in pop (a.k.a, dominant) culture.
Even if the dominant machine were purely superficial–just broadcasted noise to fill air time that no one, not even impressionable children in America took seriously. Foreigners wouldn’t know any different. The actual reality, however sad, is that the “really” superficial pop culture messages are, in fact, consumed as if they were of actual substance (I actually think there is a such thing a real cultural substance, so I lose some PoMo points, here).
Children and non-Americans, particularly those in 3rd and 2nd world nations.
Those children grow up to be real people who buy real things and perpetuate the system.
So, yes. I do believe pop culture is a reflection of the strength of social control, in the sense that people LITERALLY have to buy it for it to work…and they/we LITERALLY do.
So, where do people’s minds fit in? I mean, if leaderless social mechanisms produce what we recognize as norms, what role do people have in it? Empty vessels?
This is where I kinda have to venture into my pretty much unproveable beliefs about subjectivity…
I basically believe that, we are for the most part organic hardware with socially produced software. We run on whatever imput we happen upon. Some software sticks better than others depending on our early childhood manufacturing conditions…and that idea would set just fine with me if not the those rare moments in human experience (and maybe they’re not rare, maybe it’s a constant, I dunno) when a subject transcends its subjegation. That is to say, it fully experiences that margin of freedom, non-identity, and spontaneity of consciousness (if such a thing can be called “consciousness–maybe “sentience” is a better term) pre-subjectivization in language and power.
In my experience, these moments are often traumatic, bizarre, unexpect events.
I can remember most palpably experiencing this feeling in the ring during my amateur kickboxing career.
Christian scripture speaks also of something like what I’m describing.
Jesus proclaimed that if his disciples were to follow him, the must hate their mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, etc.. The idea, I think (or rather, Zizek says) is that true spiritual freedom involves a violent divorce from the social institutions which subject you, give you identity, a place in the system, and so on, I claim.
Again, you know? I mean, my God.
Fundamental antagonisms, my God.