“[N]o issue is intrinsically a gut issue; it is produced as such only by reducing the complexity of the debates, the various interpretations and contradictions that surround it, to a matter of affective investment. The conservative strategy depends upon a logic in which the fact of the ‘gut commitment’ becomes more important that the content of the commitment itself. It is a strategy which seeks political power by tactically dissociating itself from politics. In the end, political realities seem to matter less than political commitments. […]
“The new conservative alliance does not need to deploy specific commitments or beliefs, but it had to foreground the need to believe in belief, to make a commitment to commitment. This strategy bears a striking resemblance to so-called sleeze TV which has become so popular, especially in talk and ‘real-life’ shows [reality TV?]. Despite their often conservative appearance, a careful look suggests that they have no consistent political position: rather, they seem to consistently take the position, on whatever topic, which enabled and even called forth maximum passion. The new conservatism makes politics into a marketing problem, but it is passion or sentimentality itself that is marketed.” (p. 270-271)
– Larry Grossberg, We Gotta Get Out of This Place
Grossberg’s book is out of date, but his lament on the state of politics in the US circa early-1990s is certainly a useful way to think about the performances of various celebrities and ‘personalities’ in the current era of popular culture.
I was reminded of this the other night when I caught South Park on the boob tube. It was an episode where the boys demolish an infamous ‘personality’:
Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset
All the fourth grade girls idolize a rich, famous and spoiled socialite. They even have her brand new toy set that comes complete with video camera, night vision filter, play money and losable cell phone. In an effort to impress their idol, the girls pursue the boys to make their own videos
It was a great episode! The grand finale was a “whore off” and will forever be one of my fondest memories. The vacuous ‘stupid spoiled whore’ subject position is perfectly complemented by another performance: the “perfect gentleman” deploying the pimp aesthetic. If you think back to the VMA‘s the position of maximum passion was occupied by P. Diddy and his problematic “Vote or Die!” campaign. As well as reminding me of the classic Skate or DIE! video game, Citizen Coombs’ performance at the Miami-hosted VMAs forced him to somehow politicise his normal pimp persona.
The “Vote or Die!” campaign did work apparently, but getting people to vote is not enough. I know that young people (under-30) allegedly are more likely to vote for the Democrat party, but I wonder if Citizen Coombs really understands how much he played into the hands of Bush-Cheney’s conservative politics of sentiment. The disparate relation to the politics of sentiment between Kerry and Bush was really made apparent during the final debate over the question of abortion (question 7). Kerry was caught trying to explain a complex issue to some fuckin retarded right-wing ninja gimp and super-hero Bush came along with the smack-down I-tell-you-what-you-want-to-hear comments.
Diddy really needs to get political sophistication back into his approach and not merely rely on a politics of sentiment while deploying a “commitment to commitment” for maximum effect. (It sickens me that I am arguing that a media personality needs to get a more sophisticated politics, fuck…) Hillary Clinton does make a weak attempt to complexify the issues later in this interview from MTV (ital. added):
P. Diddy: We are here with the legendary Hillary Clinton, from my home state of New York. Thank you for talking to us.
Hillary Clinton: I am delighted and I am delighted by what you’re doing.
Diddy: Thank you. We’re not going to get into sophisticated politics, we’re gonna get into a problem that we have in young America, and that is young Americans being disenfranchised. Only 36 percent of us have voted. You are one of the few politicians that young people relate to. And we want to get a message on why you think it’s important for young people to vote this year. And please talk to the people who are disenfranchised and don’t believe in the power of their vote.