America’s ‘Punk-Ass’ Politics
|November 1, 2012|
by Adam Staley Groves
The Washington Post ran the recent headline “Polls show widening racial gap in presidential contest.” They were not alone, CBS News dug up Emmett Till: “Will white men sink Obama?” Suggesting the emphasis on women “swing voters” has been a miscalculation for the Obama campaign. CNN also had something to say: “Could Obama’s struggles with white voters cost him the election?” The CNN piece featured a peculiar comment by contributor John Avalon “we don’t want to see our politics divided by race going into the future,” evoking the big and diverse America theme. Reading further we find white male support for the last half century has largely favored Republicans. So what’s new? Nothing’s new. The Confederacy reappears and it is countered as empirically false.
Ironically or not it seems lost on those in the news business that information tends to standardize what is ‘diverse’ among us: the ability to question. Political media standardizes thinking capacity by the material it is composed of: speculative information based on polling data, based on nothing. Polling data and all the commentary it inspires entangles us in the mystery of Obama. Leaving ‘expert’ commentators to deny the empirical ground game facts for supposed Evangelical passions. This swoon-swinging business means what? For Obama it means we keep cutting him in half like a cell and expect him to grow into our own fantasy man. I think vintage polls of yesteryear are somewhat stable, if only historical images informing contemporary ones covering the holes in our daily life. Nonetheless if Obama signifies the times, he is, by some accounts a giant hole. One big O and a trillion plus 000000000’s.
For others, more aptly thought, Obama signals the end of racial fronting and the beginning of listening. Fortunately not lost on some in the press as shown by Jonathan Capehart who notes that if Obama confronted race the current state of anti-black attitudes would proliferate even further. Race is an accident waiting to happen. It’s nice to see the press aware of its power. Instead of “waiting” for the first black president, he argues we have yet to pay attention to the first black president. Listening is hardly heard. And while we are never allowed to forget the “greatest” generation it’s their grandkids who now occupy the adult world like a bunch of drunks. The Republican game for the last four years sets a horrible precedent. If the opposition loses obstruct without remorse. The best of what punk offered us was a basis to think beyond this morass.
White Minorities’ New Homeland is Not Idaho; It’s the Interwebs
Mitt seems to fit, along with Paul Ryan, some horny need for a classic 1950’s ass-beating. Who are we fooling with this flirtation? The infatuation must be sadistic? This white-worry has brought up some childhood tunes. A few recorded thirty-years ago, from likes of the punk band Black Flag, whose “White Minority” was a diss on race paranoia. The lyrics mocked an inevitable reckoning: that white America would lose its dominance. Around the same time Minor Threat recorded “Guilty of Being White” articulating the perspective of a white minority in the context of a majority black D.C. school system. It is worthy to mention the afro punk Bad Brains, whose “black dots” and peculiar lyrics, later more clear articulations of black nationalism, demonstrated the same frustration of origin and identity. What they all had in common was that they were young men who were pissed-off, indifferent, stoned, hardcore, abstinent, strange; young men who started from the nothingness of existence and the problem of authentic life. Their identities were excavations of a political past lost to us in any truthful way. At its best, what is missing is the individuality punk championed within music and art.
Norman Mailer was right, I think. We elected not ‘a’ or ‘the’ “white negro” we elected a black-white-negro-conformist-messiah-liberal-dictator-facist-ex-smoker. The lessons via punk rock serves me well today, and it was this: Race is not something to hold over or on one another. Race obscures the other by definition, by making a general image. For all the trolling our thinking is lazier by the moment. The problem for punks was belonging to nothing and facing that fact. We share in nothingness. Caring for the other is a sound business. And in the introspective thinking about who or what we are, the question of origin and race is frustratingly the misguided truth of the American national psyche.
The information age is one of a certain standardization and two types of similarity. One similarity is that we are all facing the fate of internet radicalization, the other similarity is that we are divided within informational standardization. We face instrumental radicalization. And while these were songs from my strife-ridden teenage years they taught me lessons and I took comfort in a movement presented to me by cassette tapes and records, shared by friends. They remain volatile reactionary postures against the stupidity of fear mongering and the instrumentality of race and corporatization of life. For punk the message was messy but had its moments of clarity. However these songs are just a few points of revelatory moments clashing against the suppositions of common sense. Hardcore and punk rock are today undeniably the proper names for cultural products of radical expression, they are part of this common sense. And the zones or communities that produced them are framed by technologies of exponential supremacy. I am unsure if these spaces exist today as I once knew them, and I fear that the possibility of community through music as I once knew it is a lost fantasy. The lesson of radical and reactionary, mainly teenage and early twenty-something expression is not limited to an age group or epoch. This leads us to today where a similar radicalization occurs everywhere without the ethics of communities of art. We are going mad, the world is always ending, the end is always here, Jesus has returned on multiple billboards, even Climate Change showed up on the East Coast casting its early vote.
Our curiosities lead us to an endless adolescence. Questioning once surrounded the statements of common sense as common sense. Today we follow statements and info streams that have already excavated our immaterial thinking, that is, the alienation of our own being exploits the racist secrets of our lives, the things families had once mediated in private to good or bad ends. Information has penetrated and extracted the origination of thinking and mediation of the home. Racism today is hinged upon the pressure to not be racist on the premise of race itself, and the problem of its proximity to origination and identity is an individual’s task.
Insanity Begins at Home
We have only endless amounts of information and images—polls are such things that enter into our homes. Polls are of a nothingness. Polls show us a few thousand thoughts at once, in an image. We are unipolar informatic functionaries; polarized, split over and over again, created in the image of political media. Even our racist “right of passage” is sucked-up and made profitable. This incessancy demands the modern political punk bring justice to his nothingness (as if this was ever possible, we nonetheless think it so). And if it is the white man who knows he’s screwed, and the white man who thinks he’s screwed, the difference is hard to discern. Maybe its the beginning of an empathy? ‘What if Obama’s a white president?’ What if it mattered? A lack of definition drives the instability of the state. Politics shows the symptoms of technological pathology, the loss of a government in trade for a new one. Obama’s black, that’s why whites won’t vote for him? Yet it never fails us to not consider his white mother, or for that matter his absent father, more than a father who was a black African from a British colony. Parents, family, matter more than race, yet the privation and the dignity of the home, where peace is said to begin, is penetrated by devices of subjectification, rather desubjectification, by way of deferring the capacity to question, to be together for the allure of the screen.
From the point of view of the alienated teenager problems consist of self-evident truths. Who respects institutions that are monolithic, hypocritical, racist, and malignant? Mike Muir of the early Suicidal Tendencies situated quite well:
How do you know what my best interest is!
When I went to your schools!
I went to your churches!
I went to your institutional learning facilities!
So how can ya say I’m crazy?!
Who wants to live in a world of corporate banality? Yet what happens when the anti-corporate message so blatantly distributed by the likes of SST Records finds its logic in the hands of Tea Party ‘racists’? Did we think this would ever happen? If we believe the polls legions stand against what they see as a communist, socialist government led by a ‘black president’. Romney is the ultimate shape-shifter. Who is willing to elect a corporate say-anything who favors the wealthy? Romney who has made such shallow platitudes to the ‘middle’ when he was caught on tape bashing the 47%? It is almost too difficult to conceive of. What is this ‘momentum’ that the press insist upon?
Punks rebelled against the common sense of the day: against the socialization of corporate obedience, its institutions, and the carriers of this common sense who did not question normativity. Punks were driven by a trauma and willingness to confront and perhaps change local society, or destroy it. But maybe this is the social justice narrative, the first Sunnyside daycare of political corruption of the art? This started at home, or started anywhere. So as we grew up in the late 80’s and into the 90’s we had no idea that by the time we reached our twenties W. Bush would be the president, and the internet was already more than on our minds.
Far-Out From Hippies
Norman Mailer was right. The postwar experience in America and its massive political disturbances created the ground from where contemporary racism may be thought in regards to the current presidential election. Punk music developed a culture that become a tradition. It stemmed from the late 70’s and 80’s and we replayed its nihilistic modes of thought unresolved from a postwar experience politicians call ‘the greatest generation’. So tired of hearing about it. What about the failures of their kids, the boomers who, bloated and demented, occupy power, consuming the flesh of the earth in their own private castles? The derisory world depicted in music was a mess of drug use, apocalypse, unity, anti-racism, and nihilism. The punk’s world today is full of bloated zombies and they may well be one of them, faces stuffed full with money, living eternal consumer bliss. Both worlds were predicated on the millions of lives that were destroyed, entire cities that were melted, ‘races’, cultures and ethnicities to face extermination and replaced by endless selections of toothpaste, jobs at call centers, outsourcing of these jobs to call centers elsewhere, mass production, et cetera. How could we know that it was punk rock’s reactionary romanticism and paleofacist flirtation by the likes of Darby Crash that today forms a ground for the nostalgic vision quest that motivates Tea Party and far right deliverance? Further how would we know that human thought in our ecumenical delusion is what faces extermination today? It makes sense that Reagan emerges as a saint, and that Obama invoked his holiness, but for punks Reagan was the center of all things shite about America. Today he would be a moderate. Where’s JFA?
Instrumental Amateurs and the Mania of Sound
Punk rock seems the only way, in my mind, to understand how to ethically challenge informatic radicalization. The punk experience is the basis for the near future of politics. Ian MacKaye is perhaps the most clear advocate of sound individuality. Two things stand out between cybernetic functionaries and the world of punks. First, the instrumental novice. Punk rock was predicated upon the ultimate novice, the idiot, the instrumental amateur, one who picked up an electric machine and played with it, turning it up as loud as possible and smashing their bodies along the way with all the other freaks or attaining a level of community against the desolate world. This is based on the mass production and distribution of musical materials that changed its event. The unique feature here, much like the beginning of photography, was the exhibitionist tendencies it encouraged and more importantly the difference between sound and image: The image of the punk and the repression of its voice. Today the most banal expression of this, at least from a pre-2000 perspective was MySpace, among other things, standardizing fan-bases.
The second point, which is ultimately related, is the content that emerged about and within the instruments of political media. Not only the instruments, the clothing and tablature. America’s best political discourse is one never studied. Its most unintelligible expressions are a truth of sorts, it’s why politics confounds us. Politics is, after all, driven by technological precision, these polls and metrics that micro-target every last emergent thought, defining every gesture and thought. A total repression of sound for the distribution of a community by its images by computers and devices as these are the political materials of the day, the lay punk’s machines distributing images they stream along with in rebellion. Politics therefore needs sound thinking. And it seems that, for at least four years, many thought Obama would eventually change everything. If we elected a white negro, then all is good. But we live the faux hipsters’ media delusion. The novelty of executive power and the fleeting vector of race is a silly drunkenness. We forget that a state, some type of entity, is obscured by the images of a techno-economic machinery, that which we nod our heads in agreement or bang our heads all the same. Citizens United was one of these things, the financial crisis another, both of which the current president faced and managed against a virulent tide of hatred and resentment, by white republicans and a few freak shows like Herman Cain and Allen West.
Politics is determined by the devices of dissemination by raw amateurs, and here I speak of headless movements and the paleofacist tendencies surrounding them, the broken archives of history and the emotional revelation of its computerized cult, a true astroturfing triumph.
The argument about the current presidential race is obscured by race. The proper race is one between ground games and momentum, this swinging, swooning, extinction of thinking. It may well be a confrontation of a new type of radicalism by political amateurs who swoon to the machine and its rhythms. David Axelrod insists on the data naming the contrary. And while I coveted for a long time the progressive idea of informing the common human, contra the wise ‘conservative’ cynicism of Walter Lippmann, we can see that momentum has its basis in irrational emotion based on shifty snapshots of reality. Emotion is not enough, it must be cared for and reasoned by art, not by information. It is this unethical release of emotion, a poetic dereliction, that charges ceaseless streams of information, an information that retains this kinetic insertion, spiriting away any chance of posing a sound question that is the care for origination. And the instruments of these punks, like now dead Andrew Breitbart, that eternal adolescent, are played with everyday. The data they leave behind builds upon the pathological minds they engender.
Maybe the media who love a ‘close race’ will shape-up, and maybe the radical right wing who have surged in prominence in American political life will find themselves nostalgic for Big Bird and the US Postal Service? Maybe we need to return to a left radicalism, a relentless commitment to a new socialism? Maybe the triumph of capitalism and the possibility, the inane reality of Mitt Romney as president will make that inevitable? I doubt it. Maybe American politics means nothing in the end, as Obama has only served to continue the paradigmatic conformity of W. Bush, in particular the turn from Just War to unilateral action in the name of fighting terrorism? Maybe Americans are going insane, growing fat and experiencing mental extinction, showing the rest of the world what immaterial pathologies based on the mental metabolism of their devices really looks like? Maybe the real intervention is taking place in the hands of technological converts who right now call themselves libertarians, and for others who find themselves with the emotional romanticism of their racial origin as some type of truth?
Technology leads us to disaster, in each and every significant development. American politics is worth something then, demonstrating a disaster that is waiting for those on the rift of its supposed Northern hegemony to go insane. Just ask Denmark, or Germany, or Greece, or wherever. Personally, it may be that no direction leads to America or comes from it, a polar shift, a unipolar world is all we have left. Whatever the outcome of this election, the pathological effects of participatory democracy have destroyed politics and introduced something far more mysterious. For now, I think a good job in the non-aligned world seems a sound choice. Yet I realize what a “shitty” America means for the rest of the world that depends on it, and I see more clearly how fooled we have been to think ourselves exceptional and capable of ruling the “free world.”
Gonna be a white minority
We don’t believe there’s a possibility
Well you just wait and see
We’re gonna be white minority
You’re an american
Anywhere I can?
Gonna be a white minority
There’s gonna be large cavity
Within my new territory
We’re all gonna die
For something I didn’t do
But I don’t know who
You blame me for slavery
A hundred years before I was born
Guilty of being white
I’m a convict
Of a racist crime
I’ve only served
19 years of my time
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS-jq1MzUzo&feature=related (3 mins; explains straight edge, 7 mins; defined as Mormons 9 mins; influenced by Jimi Hendrix, talks about movement 11 mins.)
 Here I am thinking again of Norman Mailer’s “White Negro” among other examples.
About the Author:
Adam Staley Groves is a postdoctoral fellow with Tembusu College, National University of Singapore where he currently teaches the Humanities of Climate Change and Biomedicine. Adam holds MA and PhD degrees from the European Graduate School, and is pursuing a second PhD with the Centre for Modern Thought at the University of Aberdeen. His research engages poetry and technology. Co-editor and contributor with the online journal continent., Adam’s investigation of politics seeks the dignity and nature of human imagination to confront our technological age.
Make any cento you want! But try to make it as good as you want it to be. You don’t really want Seidel’s freedom. His poems are licensed by privilege, prestige and money — lots of all three. His deliberate transgressions look like power — to poets, any use of power looks like freedom. But I just read all Seidel’s work, straight through, and I think he’s wearing golden handcuffs.
Pale Youths in Love
I remember when I was a pre-teen and they moved into a loft across the street from me in Tribeca, where I lived. And an older neighbor friend told me they were living in her building, on the top floor. I saw him at my corner deli, and on the street smoking, but never her. At night, I sometimes looked up at their windows and saw their lights on. He was not very impressive in person. Cute, but no big deal.
What is Work?
Without a written record, we cannot know with certainty how the earliest humans thought about work, but the importance of sharing food and other resources means that prehistoric work embodied at least an element of serving the needs of a community rather than just those of an individual and his or her immediate family.
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