“If it was an emotion, it was a totally emotionless one. It was hatred, implacable hatred. It was cold, not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold. It was impersonal, not like a randomly flung fist in a crowd is impersonal, but like a computer-issued parking summons is impersonal. And it was deadly, again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across an expressway is deadly.” -Douglas Adams
Over on Tarzie’s blog there’s been an interesting discussion around a post he has up about what he’s deemed “The Celebrity Left”. The discussion has meandered over a lot of interesting ground, but it got me to thinking about my own view of this Celebrity Left, and what it is that bothers me so much about them. I still don’t in any way think they are truly radicals, for all the reasons I’ve stated in a variety of places. They serve power, and they railroad anyone that dares to accuse them of that.
But it’s really not ultimately the ‘real’ radical crap that bothers me, and it was my mistake for getting drawn into it; the abstraction is truly what’s bothering me. Capitalism, imperialism, authoritarianism are all abstractions to these folks. They are the backgrounds upon which they tell their stories. Empire is a tapestry for them, a backdrop to a play where they are the stars and everyone around them reminds them of that.
Call it radical what they do if you really want to. If you think that in their celebrity, they can be both an integral part of the system (everyone in power needs a dissident; we used to call them court jesters) and a true critic of it, fine. But I’m reminded of the Douglas Adams quote up top because it feels like empty radicalism. The emphasis on centering the person telling the story rather than the people that it’s happening to; the constant refrain of the ‘personal risk’ taken by the reporter; the willingness to run from principle to score rhetorical touchdowns… it all just feels so dull and lifeless (at best). It’s just entertainment (if you enjoy it) and depressing (if you don’t). If it’s a challenge to power, I’m hard pressed to believe it’s more than a furrowed brow of some billionaire somewhere, a footnoted calculation in a PR strategy.
The first question anyone who calls themselves a radical should ask, in my opinion, is why are they a radical? Why do they oppose colonialism and empire and death and destruction and and and? Is it because you feel like you probably should? Is it cynically, out of convenience or usefulness? That’s what feels like an abstraction. It’s the echo of a time when they, probably, actually DID care. It feels like a cherished, privileged, memory.
It’s why I watched the reaction from the residents of Ferguson and felt hope. It stands in stark contrast to the Celebrity Left, the cynical unprincipled unfeeling machine that they are, because at a ground level those residents *get it*. Empire is an actual boot in the face to them, not an abstraction.