Sunday, April 20, 2014

Andrew Breitbart as the Heroic Figure of Journalism; or Why We Need the Humanities

April 26, 2012Print This Post         


Illustration by DonkeyHotey

by A. Staley Groves

I admit a smile crossed my face when I read Breitbart was rushed to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and pronounced dead. Not because his children would lose a father, nor his wife a husband.  Rather that the iconoclastic boy-warrior was welcomed into eternity in no other place than St. Reagan’s hospital. How fitting. Yet where’s the irony? He would not be a guest, nor stranger. Breitbart would join the mystical hagiography of fallen martyrs he himself would consult for his ‘journalistic’ innovations.

We cannot call him a journalist, at least in the historical, quasi-scientific sense. Breitbart’s record lends more to a propagandist or cyberterrorist. In fact his final speech at CPAC 2012, the Conservative Political Action Committee, denotes a fascistic tone.[1] We may call him an entrepreneur as others have, yet closer examination gives us something more.[2]

Breitbart exhibited strange behavior, but he was more than reptilian. His behavior was not unlike theorizations of posthistorical consciousness. I offer that poetic ‘ethics’ may address the problem specifically given Breitbart’s emotional rejection of his Humanities education, but first we must investigate the man who straddled a paradox, and even called for armed resistance against the institutional left claiming support from high-ranking officials in the US Military.[3]

At the extreme end of this question is what type of order he was for. Breitbart demonstrated a shift between linear, historical consciousness and the image-thinkers of posthistory. Representing the latter his lack of ethics was not an innovation but a failure of the old press power to maintain narratives.[4] His proto-fascistic mentality is a problem that needs to be brought to light. Breitbart emerged in the last years of his life as something like the ‘heroic figure of journalism’ an informatic, posthistorical character described by Vilém Flusser:

The journalist…writers conditioned to the wastebasket, cannot be understood from the perspective of writing. These are people who are prepared, in extreme circumstances…to give their lives not for something particular to them (whether this be ideas, feelings, values, or even just their own names) but information. These journalist are the heroes of the coming information society, which has given up duration and for which time is no longer historically structured. A whole future mythology will condense around the heroic figure of the journalist, and we can already see how this mythology is to be programmed.[5]

You may sense a contradiction in that passage given Breitbart’s ideological allegiances of conservative and libertarian—clearly he is believable, clearly he exhibited the traits of an ideologue.[6] Specifically that Flusser’s heroic figure does not work for his ideas, feelings, values, and even his name. This is a perverse extreme of objectivity, yet what we are to understand is the placement of the subjective relation before or after content. I refer again to Flusser that the press and the historical, linear and humanistic values practiced by it would be traded for decentralized “decision making centers” that would become “automated” hence “grasped cybernetically.” Breitbart’s ‘innovative’ use of social media exemplifies the cybernetic transition, in his own words from CPAC:

Everybody asks me: ‘why do you retweet? Heyuuaghh! Why do you do that?’ I can’t tell you how many people I admire….in fact, there’s almost no one in the world who I respect more than Hugh Hewitt.[7] And he took me aside the other day, he took me aside and he said, “I don’t think you should be doing that, Andrew. I don’t think you should be doing that.” Well, Professor Hewitt, on this issue I disagree. Because they’ve held over our heads, with contempt, the false narrative of their innate tolerance. The least tolerant people you’ll ever meet in your entire lives. I know it, I live it every single day and I retweet it to remind them, that I know exactly who they are.[8]

In the Flusserian view the “emerging posthistorical consciousness” places newspapers as the last refuge of Enlightenment politics, that in the end become “reactionary.” This is why “the press should not be regarded as a power, but rather as a last attempt to keep the deposed powers alive.” Deposed powers must grasp and consistently keep pace with technological changes: automation and acceleration of the social commons, otherwise the horizontalization of media in general. The promise of grassroots journalism is, in view of Breitbart, a non-journalistic strategy of American restoration paradoxically hinged on an informatic presupposition the human mind cannot keep pace with. Breitbart is no reactionary, he is a full blown functionary who actively worked against the traditional concept of political freedom attributed to the newspaper and the historical consciousness it made its claim upon. Breitbart was a functionary who sought an ‘escape from freedom’, similarly writes Flusser:

With the newspaper, the last remaining bit of historical consciousness disappears—and with it historical freedom…. If we regard political freedom as the basis for freedom as such, then we will be horrified to see the newspaper replaced by a cybernetically governed production and distribution of information. If we see in political freedom an ideological veiling of the existential, then the demise of the newspaper presents us with alternatives…. Newspapers are…structurally fascistic. But within this fascistic structure, freedom of the press (and political freedom) found a voice. The disappearance of the newspaper is beyond question. The question is whether the fascistic structure of the newspaper will be transferred to the new media, possibly strengthened, or whether, with the disappearance of the newspaper, other, netlike circuits will appear. The questions concerns freedom.

The no choice of two paths

We are riding this gap today, and with Breitbart the fascistic warning is exemplified. How? Toward the end of his CPAC speech Breitbart circles back to the “party unity” theme and declares:

I don’t care who our candidate is, I haven’t since the beginning of this. I haven’t! Ask not what the candidate can do for you, ask what you can do for the candidate?

 

[APPLAUSE]

 

And that’s what the Tea Party is!

We are there to confront them on behalf of our candidate!

I will march behind whoever our candidate is, because if we don’t, we lose!

 

[APPLAUSE, STANDING OVATION]

 

There are two paths! There are two paths!

 

[APPLAUSE, LOUDER, STANDING]

 

One is America, and the other one is Occupy! One is America, the other one is Occupy![9]

The “two paths” are historical consciousness, the old power of the media and the government, versus the new order, the cybernetic, posthistorical thinker that follows their ‘leader’ without questioning their merits or qualifications. One has only one choice, never mind that one might defer from taking either of these paths, or express cooperation between them. This type of ‘reason’ is a constellation of information the user follows and collects from ‘without’ the body, without taking in and abstracting content in the sense of ratiocinative thinking, reflection, and introspection. The user abides by a self-evident truth of information—or they simply invoke ADHD. This type of subject is analogous to the new convert who, without the deep cultural memory of the new theological frame they adopt, bring to it all the intensity of human existential crises.


Andrew Breitbart at a Tea Party rally

Conspiracy is delivered full stop as an exemple of the nonlinearity of conspiratorial paranoia. Here, Breitbart insists that the anti-war movement in America is simply a communist insurgency. In short, radicals selecting historical nodes in a nonlinear image. Breitbart articulates an attack against what Flusser’s reactionaries of historical consciousness: repressed text striking back against the new cybernetic functionary of the informatic world and its image (not to forget the novel infant literacy regarding technical images). This reactionary status is owned by the faltering technocratic left, the new reactionaries in an informatic age that all too often see themselves as the vanguard of new technologies.[10] In Breitbart’s words (again note the nonlinear constellation of his image-thinking:

And this is my thesis: that the anti-war movement was never about anti-war. It was a Saul Alinsky, community organism, organizing tool, to get Barack Obama and the Left elected [sic]. It went away immediately. And the mainstream media created a narrative called ’the story of the year’.[11] Time Magazine, that they want, tell you the true story of what happened [sic]. This is exactly the anti-war movement. How do I know this?  If I tell that to ABC, CBS, and NBC, they’d say ‘that’s a conspiracy theory’—that it’s just a bunch of ‘organic people’. There’s no ‘organization going on’, even though we have the emails to prove it. Or the undercover videos of Natasha Leonard from The New York Times organizing with the radicals. ‘Ohhhh! that didn’t mean anything’! It did mean a lot actually. Bernadine Dohrn told me, while at our lovely dinner, when I was snarkily pointing out to her, ‘What ever happened to the anti-war movement?’, [laughter] she let loose an affirmation of everything I know to be true. She said, “Well, that’s not true… it’s more or less what Occupy is.” That’s exactly what it is. The mainstream media refuses to tell you, that these are the same shock troops, that have been shocking us, pointing their finger in us, [sic] trying to instigate riots with the police, these people are the definition of un-American![12]

Amusingly the shocker is a slip in reference to the finger “pointing in us” but in the end speaks abstractly about the intensity of media displacement of the body as the source of gathering and developing knowledge. However one might analyze that, the idea of satiated alienation is in tandem with another interesting theme: Breitbart as a cyberterrorist. I am sure you are familiar with the term “internet radicalization.” [13] Indeed, one does not need the internet to become a converted zealot, however this is plausible given that Breitbart, in an recent interview promoting his ‘book’ claims back in 1994, it was by the internet that he was “reborn.”[14] In other words, Breitbart was radicalized by the internet.

As noted in Flusserian thought the dialectic persists between “picture thinkers” and “alphabetic thinkers.” Alphabetic thinkers are capable of decoding and encoding with the alphabet. Those who read books with letters and are capable of forming abstract, critical thoughts by internalizing knowledge and relating it through abstraction. In other words what we call insight, or what Flusser called “great persons” that disappear in the emerging informatic world. Otherwise the humanist skill of reasoning and communicating ideas in complex ways. The alphabetic thinker is confronted by posthuman or nonhuman ‘thinking’. This thinking is determined by the logic of technical images and digital codes, thus attack or suppress alphabetic thinking and coding. The informatic mind places its capacity of relation after the image, the former before alphabetic codes. Vilém Flusser describes it this way:

thinking that depended on the alphabet actively opposed magic and myth (pictoral thought), thinking that depends on digital codes is today actively engaged against process-oriented, “progressive” ideologies, replacing them with structural, systems-analytic, cybernetic ways of thinking. Digital thinking will triumph much more quickly…the twentieth century is marked by a reactionary revolt of images. Should we anticipate a reactionary revolt of repressed texts against computer programs in an unpredictable future?

Identity politics and functionary grievance—what the humanities must address

Identity politics, something Breitbart was wholly indignant about, is a cross-breeding of programmatic ideology and functionary self-enclosure, otherwise the self-evident truth of the cybernetic picture-thinker who abandons the alphabet as a method of subjectification. Yet the trade is the condition of knowledge and our relationship to lived experience, that is, a type of epistemological structure accompanies Breitbart’s perceived advantage, his jihad against progressives was in part shifting his alienation into what is assumed superior to the old progressive strategy of the identity politics of differences. The point is that Breitbart’s message could be, with great interpretative effort, correct about the affirmation of similarity, it is his methods and pathology that sabotages the possibility.[15] I think we should affirm that identity politics has already begun, if not completed, a transition into the functionarianism of picture-thinking. The ends of this perceived social good giving rise to a type of impotence.[16] And we could hardly see this as a benefit of the so-called disembodied subjectivity. In other words historical or linear thinking transitioned from general narrative structures into the horizontal plane of commoditized identities and their micro-narratives that are quickly mobilized for the media market (it would be these fragments that present the challenge). Breitbart’s insurgent messages always demanded media attention because they were, theoretically anyway, newly mobilized forms of commoditized conspiracy. This too will be exhausted in short order.

For the new media functionary the depth of internalizing content is traded for the pace of informatic pulse, the reason of information, the law, enframes the thinking of the digital convert. The newly forming media ‘world image’ pulls more resources from the margins and internet technologies allowed these novel identities to be born and recognized if only imbued with the historical want of justice and the belief in reconciliation—similarities not differences. Again, this alienation finds its trajectory in the informatic constellation of information without depth. Instead brevity determines the fracturing of introspection and these remains of thinking are cast about various centers of disbursed force, when recovered do we have a power of the ‘truth’. In this case the search for a real America forwarded by Breitbart. Here we would assume Breitbart’s indignation is the fact that justice finally becomes the call of the excluded white man that may reconcile his rage.

A bit of biography provides necessary context now that race and identity have crept up here. Breitbart excoriated the ‘silver pony tails’, the humanities professors he claims forced Marxism on him as he studied at Tulane University where he received a B.A. in American Studies. Here is what he had to say about his experience in his last public speech at CPAC:

And I have a thesis about who we’re fighting against, this is the hard left, this is…I thought, when I graduated from college in 1991; I thought that, that pony tail that I left, in my humanities class, that silver pony tail was just going to retire in the shady acres of academia and go on. I had no idea that these people were actually serious about the malarkey that they were teaching me. The poststructuralist, politically correct garbage.

The problem with this claim is that Breitbart never studied poststructuralism.[17] And if he did, he could not grasp the fact he thought and exhibited the traits of the posthistorical ‘picture-thinker’. Today the problems all ‘modern’ governments face is the seemingly indefatigable persistence of conspiratorial self-evident truths:

The videos are going to come out. The narrative is going to come out: that Barack Obama met a bunch of silver pony-tails back in the 1980s; like Bill and Bernadine Dohrn who—equally radical—said ‘one day, we’re going to have the presidency.’ And the rest of us slept while they plotted and they plotted and they plotted and they oversaw hundreds of millions of dollars in the Annenberg Challenge, and they had real money!, from real capitalists!, whooooo gave it on to their children, and their children’s children, and then they became communists. We’ve got to work on that…we gotta work on that, that’s a parenthesis. [sic]

 

[laughter]

 

Barack Obama is a radical, we should not be afraid to say that. Ok?”

 

[APPLAUSE]

 

The nonlinearity of conspiratorial pathology is notable in his gestures and speech, Breitbart continues:

 

And Barack Obama was launched from Bill and Bernadine’s salon. I’ve been there!…it became a self-evident truth to me that there’s zero chance, that this incredible chef did not cook many-a-meal for Barack Obama. Don’t tell me, ABC, CBS, and NBC, I don’t have the uh…that I can’t posit that theory, because it is a self-evident truth! Just like it was a self-evident truth that he was with Jeremiah Wright, and just as it was a self-evident truth that when he was at Harvard he was advocating for the worst of the worst to join the faculty. Radicals! Radicals at “Beirut on the Charles.” [18]

 

[APPLAUSE LAUGHTER]

 

And that who’s in the White House. And that’s who’s outside right now [the Occupy movement] telling you, you don’t have a right to be here. And who would squelch your free speech just as easily as they do at Harvard, Vassar, Yale, Wesleyan—they’re a bunch of TOTALITARIAN FREAKS!!!

 

[APPLAUSE, STANDING OVATION]

 

And they pal around with our friends in the mainstream media. I always thought the people in media leaned to the left, I always thought that my neighbors, in the media, leaned to the left. But when they act like a Provost at a politically correct university and tell people to shut up…I don’t think that they’re—no longer can be they be called objective journalists, they’re playing for the other side, they’ve been part of demonizing good and decent people, they tried to defeat the Tea Party and when they failed, just like their desire to create a Rush Limbaugh and it failed at Air America.[19]

Poetry will not save the world, because it creates it, the Humanities on the other hand…

The modern academy suffers from functionarianism. Institutional education seems incapable of addressing the convenience of self-evident truths proliferating in our informatic society. The problem is enormous and perhaps one not worth resisting rather embracing. How? Humanities is hardly a threat, interdisciplinary thinking is hardly funded, part of this is due to the fact that it has little “economic value,” but the trade is the inane pathologies of alienated Breitbarts polypific blossoms.[20] There is a need for engagement and relation that cares for the immaterial fact of thinking and language, and that is best found in engaging alphabetic text and moving beyond identity differences (and not to disavow the emphasis on text as current speculative projects insist, for their intentions are sound, their rationale is another thing). Online education only matches the dispersion of depth for thin and affective inflections of brevity without critical depth, and person-to-person engagement coupled with the increase in adjunct faculty has all but dissolved long term commitments to institutions and students to care for the social form of the future. In other words, the task of the reactionary today is first to recognize they are reactionary. Second that they under attack, an attack that in fact has merits, it is only the methods of this assault from the likes of Breitbart that are paradoxically quite human and indeed flawed. If war is an act of civilization—it is a civilization based on the adaptive measures to technology and the turbulence of this immaterial migration—ideology is merely an empty category the press has traditionally “traded in” thus it is not the end point, rather the beginning of a conversation.

Yet we face a lingering uncertainty of methods, precisely how? The attack is the very immaterial dereliction of the ungrounded fact of thinking. It must be conceived in the now reactionary and traditional sense—in other words those who wish to stay human must respond as those who would be posthuman are directing their condition toward humanity. It is my conviction to take moral choice and place the human before them once again, rather than the technological placement of human minds as ‘either’ or ‘or’ for the imperatives of anemic late capitalism. If capitalism disappears into automation we would still have the human to employ with their innate imagination to confront and shape the future. People have to come together by acknowledging the common world, much like the potential promise of the Occupy movement, and institute a type of order that does not emphasize differences characteristic of justice and identity politics, as these too are messianic projects. In this sense Breitbart’s indignance is correct. It must be answered by a sober and orderly process of inclusion that affirms in the poetic sense, change, timing rather than speed, and the ungrounded truth of human engagement with one another. Similarities must be affirmed. And the poetic truth, its absence of meaning despite the philosopher’s despair to capture it, this poetic truth must come to replace the ‘after human’, “nonhuman turn” that thinks it overcomes its own biological condition. This narrative merges the two kingdoms and decentralizes metaphysical inquiry, but it does not understand its anthropocentric basis as an after-thought. We cannot follow technological change, it seems most of this will disappear from sight, removing us from any and all source codes, but we may learn more about how the imagination relates to it. What sort of catastrophe will it take for us to get there? My guess is an environmental one, that would be a very kinetic suggestion, or imperative that outweighs the bio-technical transition of bodily stimulus we have with the internet, already a weak but effective connection.


References:

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbycMtTUDfE I have transcribed the speech and will refer to sections of it to qualify the claim throughout this article.

[2] http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/02/local/la-me-andrew-breitbart-20120302

and

www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/andrew-breitbart-dead-huffington-post-drudge-report_n_1314639.html

and

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/jonah-goldberg-andrew-breibart-death_n_1313457.html it is interesting to see how the Huffington Post manages to pay tribute to the man, one thinks this is the perception of new media power, a hint of its arrogance despite its seemingly benign web presence.

[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41jcsTh60MM This theme has persisted since Obama took office, see: http://mediamatters.org/blog/200909290042

[4] http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2010/07/bill-oreilly-apologizes-to-shirley-sherrod-for-not-doing-my-homework.html

and

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmOwafnVGug&feature=related context on Shirley Sherrod fabrication.

[5] See: Does Writing Have a Future?, University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

[6] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FO9Eg0Gfr0 Eric Michael Dyson takes Breitbart to task on his intellectual rigor concerning race.

[7] Hugh Hewitt is a republican radio talk show host, academic, and author attributed with new methods for conservative ‘new media’.

[8] (1:30) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbycMtTUDfE

[9] (12:20) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbycMtTUDfE

[10] http://campaign2012.washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/beltway-confidential/liberals-celebrate-death-andrew-breitbart/403471

[11] Person of the Year from Time Magazine

[12] (10:45) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbycMtTUDfE

[13] Internet radicalization is used to describe home-grown terrorist who are believed to be radicalized by the content they receive from terrorist Web sites. In most cases to attack the US Government or civilian targets and eventually overthrow the regime. See “The Use of the Internet By Islamic Extremist”, Rand Corp., May 2006

[14] http://www.alternet.org/books/150901/gop_hitman_andrew_breitbart I am referring to AlterNet’s May 10, 2011; piece on Breitbart’s recently published book Righteous Indignation.

[15] http://www.alternet.org/books/150901/gop_hitman_andrew_breitbart

[16] I am thinking specifically about affect or immaterial labor, whereas cultural identity still matters, most of these frameworks have been identified and mobilized by market forces. See After the Future, Franco Bifo Berardi, AK Press, 2011.

[17] http://www.alternet.org/books/150901/gop_hitman_andrew_breitbart “…not everyone remembers Tulane as the Marxist nightmare that Breitbart describes. “The required courses in American Studies included two semesters each of American Literature and History,” says a former director of Tulane’s American Studies Department who taught and remembers Breitbart. “We used the Norton Anthology—very middle-of-the-road, canonical stuff.” Among the “cultural Marxists” the young Breitbart was supposed to study but didn’t were the Puritans, Franklin, Edwards, Emerson, Thoreau, Twain, Hawthorne, Melville, and Stowe. According to this professor, not even the more advanced interdisciplinary seminars at Tulane offered much critical theory.

So perhaps it isn’t surprising that Breitbart would not have graduated at all but for his pleading with a professor for mercy. “I need to graduate,” he remembers begging. “I have family and friends coming in from out of town tomorrow. We have reservations at Commander’s Palace.”

[18] http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2008/02/22_mack.html

[19] (6:00) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbycMtTUDfE

[20] For more on the crisis of the humanities in the academic system, see: The Claim of Language, by Christopher Fynsk, University of Minnesota Press, 2004

About the Author:

Adam Staley Groves received PhD and MA degrees from the European Graduate School, Wallis, Switzerland. Adam’s current postdoctoral research engages posthumanities, politics, and future ontology under the supervision of philosopher Christopher Fynsk at the University of Aberdeen, School of Language and Literature, Centre For Modern Thought. The author of Poetry Vocare, a full length volume of poetry with a forward by poetry scholar, Judith Balso, Adam is also contributing editor with the academic journal Continent. Adam has taught humanities and communication studies in the United States and Thailand.

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