Radio Without Money Episode 8: Everybody Hates Donald and Why Roy Moore Will Win (Oops! and Hooray!)

everybody hates trump

In a break from the radio silence from Writers Without Money, we return with our first content in over a month, and that’s the first new episode of Radio Without Money, the official WritersWithoutMoney.com podcast, in nearly nine months, fittingly recorded eight weeks ago (ugh). And, if we’re lucky, perhaps even the missing seventh episode will turn up one of these days! In a meeting more rare than a believable Donald Trump lie, Ross Snider, Daniel Levine, and Aloysius VI assemble once again, as Voltron or the Avengers might, to discuss Trump, the Russia investigation, incompetence and the DNC, the Franken resignation, NIMBYism, privacy, rifle madness, Nazis, the Forever War, public impact on policy, and the then-forthcoming Roy Moore/Doug Jones election.

Podcast recorded Sunday, December 10th through Monday, December 11th, 2017.


<-Check out the last episode!

Mass Shootings As Republican Anti-Politics

The several hundred mass shootings that have happened since Columbine have produced some literature from the shooters detailing their political ideologies or lack thereof. Given that a common complaint from the right leading up to their current moment of hysterical mass psychosis was “why does everything have to be political?” despite their clearly saying so for political reasons about everything from Colin Kaepernik to an imagined war on Christmas leaves me wondering whether these acts can and should be taken as acts of political terrorism and warning signs of our current situation in retrospect.

Columbine as Political Terrorism, Anti-Politics as Politics

The Oklahoma City Bombing, ostensibly a white supremacist response to FBI overreach in the handling of the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas, was framed by the Columbine shooters in the numerous written and taped materials later confiscated by the FBI as the opening shot of a “political revolution” of…well…there wasn’t an ideology, simply resentment and bloodlust. No one at the time looked at Columbine as a political act because it was politically incoherent. Yet over time, future shooters ranging from the V-Tech shooter to Vester Flanagan would cite the Columbine shooters as “inspirations” while carrying out similarly cold-blooded and politically incoherent shootings. These spiked in frequency in the years leading up to the current crisis to where there was nearly one per day, and met their official counterpart in a rash of racially motivated killings of unarmed black people, many of them disabled or children.

We are now stuck with a president who lacks any ideology beyond the glorification of resentment and violent displays of power. We are now stuck with a Congress and Senate that state their supposed remorse for the children killed in Newtown, the thousands of others in Las Vegas and elsewhere, then refuse to do anything to stop or even slow down their occurrence. They are essentially tossing Puerto Rico out the airlock as I type this. Our Republican representatives are sadistic voyeurs, mesmerized by the spectacle of their own deepest violent fantasies being offered as tributes from a distributed gestapo the way people burn goats as offerings to the devil.

If I might be allowed to play a game of id, ego, super-ego:

-The Congress and Senate Republicans are the super-ego who pose as the moral authority but are in fact just getting off on both the authoritarian thrill of screaming at the spectacle and the cozy, insular benefits it disproportionately accrues to them.

-The base is the id. The Republican base, perhaps best exemplified by Sandy Hook trutherism and Pizzagate, has grown increasingly schizophrenic and detached from reality. They aren’t guided by conscious concerns or their surroundings; they reimagine their surroundings in order to justify wanton indulgence of base impulses. It’s not a coincidence the people claiming they need guns “for their safety” are the ones assaulting people with them, that they believe they’re the chosen agents of Jesus Christ when they worship wealth.

-The ego is…irrelevant at this point? John McCain?

While much of the rise of the right could be seen as simply a perfect storm merger of the collective interests of white supremacists, Christian fascists, internet trolls, individual billionaires and large corporations, what ultimately brought them together were sustained outbursts of mass psychosis defined by mob violence and outright denial of reality-Gamergate, the police shootings of blacks*, the genocide by neglect going on in Puerto Rico, the denial that any children were shot in Sandy Hook.

The NRA, the 2nd largest right wing organization in the US behind the Republican Party, has a financial incentive to want mass shootings, because every time one happens, gun and gun accessory sales spike. Yet I think their hearty embrace of Trump and the violence of the current moment isn’t exclusively financial, though they have every financial interest in guerilla civil war breaking out and have even basically threatened it in recent advertising. This is after all an organization that exists as much as a culture of violent paranoid fantasy as a gun rights advocacy organization. They have been incredibly racist for most of their existence. They use “thugs” and “home intruders” as dog whistles to mean “black people” in tons of their literature. Their most famous spokesperson got the job because he was famous for screaming “Those damn dirty apes!” for fucks sake.

Violence as anti-politics is hardly a new phenomena, but has been accelerated through the return to tribal politics facilitated by the internet hive-mind and the slight decline in the financial fortunes of the privileged non-oligarch class.

Two years ago I wrote about the exceptionally banal manifesto that accompanied Elliott Rodger’s drive-by shooting in Santa Barbara, CA:

Rodger’s “manifesto” tells us a bit more. The MRAs, like Roof’s Stormfront folks, are the product of white men revolting over the fact they might not be as privileged as they once were. But Rodger more clearly outlines the surreal banality of the spiritually dead culture of privilege he was an extension of.

Rodger spends portions of his manifesto nostalgically lamenting how everything was fair and right with the world when he was a young man playing Pokemon, and how happy he was there was brand synergy between the cans of Mountain Dew he was drinking and the World of Warcraft MMOs he was playing. I’m not making this shit up, it’s all there. Rodger may have been the most boring person who ever lived.

By being more boring, Rodger takes on a weird interest. His privilege, and he had tons, is not enough. He fears the universe is manifestly unjust; that maybe women can’t actually be bought. In more optimistic moments he clings to the hope that maybe they can be bought but he just can’t afford them yet.

The surreal climax to his autobiography/manifesto describes his staking whether he’s going to kill himself and go on a shooting spree or not on whether he wins the Powerball lottery. He spends his time driving 8 hours across state lines because the Powerball tickets weren’t available in California. He can’t buy other lottery tickets because he doesn’t consider anything less than a couple hundred million dollars capable of making his life anything other than a story of someone tragically wronged by fate.

Part of how he’s wronged is by being a white man who can’t get literally everything he wants right this second. This being wronged doubles over on itself because his mother committed the cardinal sin of not being “white” so he can’t feel as fully wronged about his not getting everything he wants as he could if he were unambiguously “white”. Rodger spreads white supremacist diatribes all over his manifesto despite his being mixed race because white supremacy is an aspirational ideology.

Remember when Charles Koch, a man whose net worth equals a couple dozen Powerball jackpots and whose whiteness probably attracts moths, said when he was caught stealing oil from an Indian reservation: “I want what’s coming to me, and that’s all of it”?

Maybe Rodger was right about himself. He wasn’t crazy. He was just a loser.

Of course the opening shots of a revolution of anti-politics would be incoherent. That was the point. The longer we keep pretending the right is acting on rationales of anything besides the naked display of power through spectacles of opulence and terror, the more shit we’re gonna have to deal with later.

*It seems worth noting that Trump thinks the Central Park five did it but OJ Simpson is innocent. Perhaps by killing and sexually abusing Nicole Brown as violent tributes to the patriarchy, Simpson became honorarily “white” in Trump’s eyes. Trump clearly sees some of himself in Simpson and therefore could never believe Simpson was guilty.

Free Speech Extremism and the New Neo-Nazis

prison-370112_640

The foundations of liberal (small R) republican (small d) democracy depend on a variety of presumptions. Some of these were never actually in place, but we were hopeful they’d eventually come together. Some of these were in place but have unraveled.

And some of these are suspiciously similar to the presumptions undergirding the largely theological beliefs of how markets work.

It’s presumed in both that you have a completely rational public that makes perfectly logical decisions, or at the very least that the outliers are ironed out by a rational majority. Both take for granted a very flattering enlightenment derived notion of the individual and the mind then set it loose presuming it will do the right thing. Faith in man’s goodness replaces faith in God’s but along suspiciously similar lines.

It’s a fear that man is impeccably rational and self-interested that creates the “need” for an enormous and still metastasizing advertising and propaganda industry. Maybe without advertising the free market and republican democracy would work perfectly. However, we live in a world with advertising so that’s a pointless hypothetical.

Contemporary man is more the aesthetic child of Ernest Becker and Deleuze than the enlightenment or Jung. How can we look at the election results and think otherwise? Hillary Clinton wanted to be our super ego; to represent our high minded ideals and to crowd out the possibility America could be defined by its cruel racist id. She was professionalism, being an adult, the part of the collective consciousness that says we’re cultivated and civilized creatures despite slips. She ran on the promise she could repress the collective id; the part of the popular consciousness that wanted to childishly lash out because it was angry; that wanted gratification regardless of logic, consent or ideals; that wanted to brag about its transgressions because it only understood morality in terms of the rush of feeling like it got away with something. And if anything her losing the election was paradoxically a result of her being too convincing in this role.

Trump’s victory came as suddenly and unexpectedly as a Freudian slip because it was a Freudian slip. The return of the repressed. The various lies we all told ourselves about how he could never win, lies that seem ridiculous in retrospect, lies like “there isn’t a large enough white electorate, the demographics will do him in”, were all attempts to reassure ourselves of the immortality and resilience of our way of life; that despite history consisting of little else in the long run we alone were immune to radical upheaval. Scandals didn’t stop him because his voters wanted to transgress against society-his “grab them by the pussy” remark probably helped solidify his appeal and his brand more than it lost any votes. His base continues to support his reckless and ridiculous actions since taking office because their assurances he’d somehow magically grow up-that there was in fact some magical transformative power of the office, of our institutions, was a lie told in order to make sure he could be allowed to transgress in full. The nihilism of his “lulz” flank, the Gang of 4chan, gets closer to the truth for its lack of substance and ideology. We seek to find a cogent ideology we can call “Trumpism” as a final pathetic reassurance that the enlightenment rules still work, that history is a battle between stable coherent ideologies and ideas and that we can wage war with the noxious ones and be done with it.

Has anyone who’s had an argument with a radicalized conservative in the last 8 years, possibly even since 9-11, had any luck selling rationality as a replacement good? Facts? Has calling the right hypocrites really changed their minds? The empirical truth is not and was never what these people wanted. They wanted blood. They wanted revenge. They wanted to be able to regress without consequences. To be able to act out in tantrums like a guest on Jerry Springer but also have a billion dollars and fuck supermodels. And if they couldn’t do that directly to at least be able to imagine they could do so by proxy. And they found their man.

Blahblahblah. We’ve all read a million election post-mortems. What am I getting at?

I’m getting at this: while weaknesses in enlightenment ideology have gotten us to this point, and a pedantic, impotent and frankly boring adherence to enlightenment principles in their most abstract form aren’t going to get us out of it. Constantly pointing out that Fox News is lying about shit hasn’t really accomplished much to convince the other side. The arguments in favor of free speech fundamentalism have the same fundamental flaws as the other “in a free market of blank the universal good will always prevail” logics. They only work if everyone else believes in them in good faith. That the overall response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings would be an uptick in international racist far right politics was pretty predictable. That “free speech” posturing would be used as a trojan horse to sell racist jingoism through vehicles like the Seth Rogen film The Interview was similarly predictable because the only people who’ve whined about free speech issues since the Naked Lunch trial have been the extremist right, whose only interest in free speech is was and has always been the freedom to stifle all other speech that isn’t their own.

The concept of free speech is best defended as a legalistic one, not a moral/ethical one, specifically because speech is a Foucaultian interplay of different power centers. Freedom of speech is a good legal standard for a society because it somewhat levels the playing field in this interplay. However, the idea that perfect “freedom” comes through a completely hands off approach ignores both the greater importance of other freedoms (freedom from being harmed, reasonable expectations of privacy, etc) and the larger void of power problem that arises in any right-libertarian free-for-all fantasy-eventually, especially in a capitalist system, a small number of parties consolidate power and leverage this consolidation to curtail the freedom of all other actors in the system.

Speech is particularly important because in a media saturated society, speech is quite literally what constitutes and defines reality for the individual. Because speech in (post?) late capitalism is commodified and needs to reify its own commodification, it has to train individuals from a young age that their self-definition must come from their relationship to the act of consumption and the ways that the proximity of given objects imply a specific relationship to the act of consumption. Reality is a territory and must be treated as such tactically. This is the basic premise of advertising and public relations, and their open embrace of this worldview is a large part of why they’ve managed to make themselves the defining social engines of postmodern society.

The Milo/4chan crowd are free speech extremists. 4chan first became politically active against Scientology not because Scientology is awful but because 4chan users were pissed off that Scientology was trying to block internet access to a viral video of Tom Cruise jumping on a couch. Free speech extremism is an outgrowth of the shift in individual political self-identification from worker/owner/lumpen to consumer. The consumer identity is however schizophrenically split by its very nature . The consumer feels both the entitlement of the boss and the humiliation of the lumpen. The consumer identity is a balm that absorbs this tension. The high youth unemployment has led to numerous “consumer revolts” which are the only sort of uprising that would seem natural to a large crowd that never developed an identity as a proletariat, much less a coherent theory of resistance. They feel frustrated and that frustration has to be expressed in terms of grievances against pointless blockbuster movies and video games that no longer cater directly and specifically to them.

Both the free speech extremism of the right-wing trolls and the free speech fundamentalism of the liberal “don’t punch the Nazi” crowd evade the larger and more complicated problem of figuring out the new rules of engagement. Despite our laws and folk understandings revolving around such a binary, we all know that speech isn’t a discrete category from action, never was, and is even less so now.

Olympia (1938)

(This review originally ran in the textbook Documentary Film: Contexts and Criticism, ed. Carl Rollyson.)

Leni Riefenstahl was in many ways the perfect filmmaker to represent the Nazi regime; her work signifies both the astonishing grandeur and formal perfection of their outward displays, and the heartless technocratic beliefs that lay underneath these sleek surfaces. This aesthetic is played out in all its hollowly technical forms throughout her 3 ½ hour chronicle of the 1936 Olympic Games, Olympia.

Olympia has many elements for which it can be commended; tellingly, all of these elements are purely in the technical realm. Her use of natural light is excellent; the action is never unclear and the surface is so sleek as to make the entire production unerringly smooth in spite of the necessary shakiness of the camera in most segments. She has a fairly set schematic of shots in each event, which varies little outside a couple bravura sequences(such as the ‘flying divers’ montage toward the film’s end.) The extremely abstract montage that begins the film shows Riefenstahl at her most engaged; even in Triumph of the Will, she seemed a filmmaker uniquely fascinated with turning reality into high abstraction; mythologizing it beyond the imperfect and mundane. Here she explicitly compares, by a carefully spliced transition, the glory of antiquity and the impressive physiques of the then current Olympic athletes. This opening; with its soft dream-like lighting, is the film’s peak; here Riefenstahl is allowed to fully explore her obsessions and thoughts without the need to represent reality in all its messiness(if such a heavily staged and orchestrated event as the Olympics can even be dubbed “reality”). Still, despite the impressive technique, her need to blatantly telegraph her meaning in each shot hampers any artistic ambiguity that might have enlivened this spectacle. Riefenstahl is a film artist capable of great displays which captivate audiences, but has little capacity for any sort of critical thought.

Especially troubling here is her portrayal of idealized forms; her focus here is entirely on the body, not the mind or the imaginative expressiveness that differentiates men. Outside some elongated focuses on her boyfriend, none of the athletes photographed seem like distinct people, but rather are just running or jumping meat. Riefenstahl is no Thomas Eakins. She sees no spirituality in motion; her rowers are shot from the back more often than not; no internal liveliness is conveyed. And for all the fuss made about her background as a dancer, she shows none of the sensitivity and smaller moments which define the artistic peaks of that form; her ideal is a purely physical one defined by a masculinely characterized dominance and stoic poker faces. Her women are androgynous with hard expressions, and more delicate and characteristically feminine movements, such as many of the gymnastics events, were purposely cut out of the film.

The ability to capture the unexpected and the extended period of editing that documentary film offer as an advantage over fiction film hold no interest to Riefenstahl. All of her editing is done solely with the intent of manipulating the audience in the most shallow and superficial ways. A cloyingly melodramatic score runs throughout and each event is edited as a rapid series of repetitive actions, which she usually removes from context so as to deliver an aimless surge of adrenaline to the viewer.

To further this end, she cuts to crowd reaction shots, which traverse the spectrum from bored distraction to fervent screams punctuated by violent gesticulation. Far from offering a self-reflexive commentary or meditation on the rather tribal nature of spectatorship in such a setting, she uses these shots to color her previous rushes of motion with a simple and palpable emotion for the audience to feel. Granted, it is a bit excessive to ask for a critical view on the simplifying nature of crowds from the woman who was Hitler’s filmmaker. Were she possessed of such a capability for reflection she might’ve done the ethical thing like Fritz Lang and left before the complete downfall of Weimar Germany.

Though she comes up with a number of gimmicks like digging trenches to create smooth tracking shots and uses some time-worn tricks like reverse angle shots to liven up the repetitions, they still start to wear down even the most sports crazed viewer; this is no doubt part of why she decided to break it into two parts. Even split over several viewing periods, this is far too much of a technical exercise to inspire any more devotion than an uncritical appreciation of aesthetics; a joy at soulless mastery and animal appreciation of idealized forms. If World War II should have shown the world anything, its the dangerous nature of such a combination. It preys on the weaknesses of men’s minds, and tellingly this film’s greatest aesthetic legacy is in advertising. The innovations seen here are now used to create subconscious desire in the masses for Gatorade or underwear. Not unsuccessfully, but one would hope for art to aspire to higher realms than this.

Riefenstahl’s fiercely claims that she was thinking in artistic terms; but this intent doesn’t exonerate shallow art. After all, wasn’t Hitler convinced he was an artist at the academy?