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Neo-Liberalism and the Defanging of Feminism

How I Sanitized the Feminist Outrage over the Montreal Massacre

Ottawa Citizen

December 6, 2014

by Shelley Page

 

 

Ecole polytectnique massacre victims

 

I arrived in Montreal four hours after the killing was done.

Yellow tape wrapped l’École Polytechnique like a macabre Christmas present; surviving students gripped each other in numb disbelief.

I was 24, sent by the Toronto Star to write about the slaughter of female engineering students, all around my age; fourteen of them.

Stranger Danger: The Infiltration of Dissident Communities by Freedom House’s Sarah Kendzior

Anti Social Media

 

Stranger Danger - Not A Game

I can forgive you if you can’t recognize a hustle when you see one, let alone identify when you yourself are being targeted by that very hustle. Con artists, after all, rely on your confidence and trust in order to get what they want from you.

Cons, however, are something I know a little bit about; I once made my living playing poker – a game where exploiting the confidence of your opponents is crucial to survival.  To win at poker, you need your opponents to have confidence in their own hands, to overestimate their odds against you and to believe so much in your weakness that they’ll actually put their own survival on the line against you – when, in fact, you’re actually in a position of strength. You want to “get it in good;” to manipulate your opponents to ensure that you do and then hope your odds hold up. There is no other way to win. Eventually, everyone has to go “down to the felt.”

In poker, recognizing the tricks, feints and gambits that your opponents use against you, as well as, of course – their “tells” – is an indelible part of the game. Constant observation is key to differentiating a trick from a tell and also discerning their meaning. After all, trusting the way an opponent presents oneself is never a good barometer of who they are or what they’re doing. The only thing one knows for sure is that everyone is an enemy. A good poker player, then, is always asking herself, “What does that mean? What is my opponent trying to tell me?”

Overwrought flattery, wry smiles, winks, trembling hands, a tremulous voice, belabored breathing, heavy sighs, the shuffling of chips and other tells (both deliberate and incidental) are all part of the mystifying tapestry collectively woven at a table that a player must rend – thread by perplexing, individual thread – if they’re intent on winning the game. The woman in the Cartier bracelet spinning yarns about her wealth may be overplaying a bad hand with the very last dollars to her name, while the guy with dirty fingernails in the grungy hoodie who hasn’t said shit all night is often a professional shark sitting on a monster hand and waiting for his chance to clean you out. It takes studied observation over time to identify who is trying to trick you and who is telling you information you can use to win.

Performance of identity is an integral aspect of poker itself – and that performance is all about deception. Who am I today? Am I presenting as the brash, overconfident rube – the backwards-hat-wearing frat boy that I’m not – but am performing in order to agitate my opponents so they go “on tilt?” Or am I really that asshole? Who is to tell? A good player will keep you guessing.

While deceit is an inextricable part of poker, poker players have agreed on certain parameters; secret collusion amongst players is forbidden, for example. Furthermore, the goal of the game is apparent to everyone playing at the outset: win the last pot and take home everyone else’s money. There’s no confusion there. That’s why everyone came to the table to begin with.

Activists and organizers who use Twitter or other social media tools as part of their strategy to organize against power aren’t so lucky. The myriad ideological or personal goals of the many players involved in this space aren’t openly agreed upon or even known and, in fact, they may actually be in very real conflict, even if they don’t seem so at first glance. Let’s face it – we’re not all here for the same reason. There are, as there always have been, strangers amongst us on the internet.

So, without conclusive evidence that a player in the game isn’t playing above board – that they may, in fact, be working against your interests – it’s crucial to consider the patterns of behavior and the results of those behaviors themselves rather than to speculate about the motives behind them. Of course, if a player at the table openly says they work for the fucking casino itself, it’s probably important to consider that information, too.

 

 

“All these scattered Uzbek dissidents began having blogs, began using social media, began having all these political conversations they’d never been able to have in a public space before and so I thought that was, you know, that was very interesting, and I wanted to continue to track that.– Sarah KendziorWe’re not playing a game, here, folks – this isn’t poker – and those who continue to treat online organizing as a game (or merely as something to paternalistically observe, “track” and comment on exclusively when it services their personal, career trajectory) put those of us arrayed against the state at very real risk. Their professional distance and detachment from struggle itself and their far-too-often, far-too-cavalier attitudes about our collective security (our reputations, our ideological coherence, our pseudonymity and our ability to effectively organize) should be cause enough for alarm.

This alarm, the spine-tingling feeling that something is amiss – that someone is out of place and is doling out social capital or public discipline to obscure that simple fact – is a phenomenon I’ll call “stranger danger.” If you’ve felt this feeling, a gut-wrenching unease I’ve felt about Sarah Kendzior for some time now, it’s time we actually heed that alarm.

Sarah Kendzior has consistently tugged on the heartstrings, flattered the egos and promised (or actually delivered) real, material aid to an entire cadre of misguided, naive and demonstrably dangerous flacks whose personal investment in the public artifice of “Sarah Kendzior” has too often led them to viciously slander anyone they deem a threat to her unassailable #brand. This brand investment, one that seemingly leads otherwise intelligent folks to abandon all critical reason, is something we need to constantly examine in these spaces and a task OLAASM always committed ourselves to exploring.

Members of “Generation Like,” it seems sadly, can now seemingly be bought off for trifles like “Retweets” or “Favs,” and this cheap dispensation of social capital has been Kendzior’s stock and trade as long as I’ve followed her on Twitter. If you are in her social media orbit and have been instrumentalized by Kendzior to defend her on this or any of the patternized occasions where she relied on others to help obscure her politics, I urge you to reflect on one question: is it possible you’ve been hustled? What did you get for it? How cheap was your own complicity for her purchase?

This shouldn’t be a cause for shame, of course. In Edward Bernays’ seminal text Propaganda, Bernays – the master manipulator – observes:

 

“If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway.”

 

Bernays continues:

 

“The group mind does not think in the strict sense of the word… In making up its mind, its first impulse is usually to follow the example of a trusted leader.”

 

If Kendzior selected you for flattery, cajolery or any of the other promises a stranger will often use to curry your future favor – it probably means, as a propagandist, she has identified you as a “leader.” Don’t be ashamed. It’s a compliment! Of course it’s embarrassing to get fooled, but we all get hustled eventually. Every poker player has once been fooled and it’s almost always their own ego that fools them in the end.

This is, unfortunately, a demonstration of how power always operates: carrots are dispensed for the select few who play along, sticks are wielded against the recalcitrant masses – swung all the more harshly against those whose very existence alone threatens power the most. Kendzior’s recent, scurrilous and unprincipled attack on the character of Doug Williams should serve as a clarion call to anyone committed to using social media spaces toward collective organizing. The attacks on him have been unscrupulous lies and ignoring those lies in deference to her well-cultivated, essential “victimhood” seems now nothing but the boilerplate deflection tactic of a well-coordinated PR blitz.

We must confront this behavior – a well-documented history of gossip, slander and character assassination – before it hurts anyone else, or before it further impairs our ability to organize ourselves against the greatest power known in human history: the kyriarchy that maintains the US empire itself. To that end, it’s important to consider the source of so many left-bashings in this space herself – Sarah Kendzior.

How have I come to think Sarah Kendzior is a lynchpin in this always-left-obliterating superstructure of social capital dispensing/destroying Twitter fuckery? Why am I singling her out? Studied observation. Again, this isn’t my first poker game.

 

– – – –

 

I used to support Sarah Kendzior’s work. As Williams himself keenly observed recently in The New Inquiry, her “discourse is wrapped in the language of concern and the language of the ally.” This a seductive affectation for anyone who believes intercommunal solidarity is essential to all our struggles. It’s also effective simply because I fucking care and can be confused by others who seemingly do, too.

I have come, however, to see Kendzior’s adept use of this discourse as little more than “mirroring;” a fraudulent co-optation of language insidiously employed only to insinuate herself within dissident communities. This is all the more dangerous because it obscures her very dangerous, reactionary politics.

Remember: Sarah Kendzior is – by her own admission in a recent interview  – a professional infiltrator of online, dissident communities. Her extensive, PhD-level career training as an anthropologist itself may very well reinforce what Diane Lewis called Anthropology’s “professional exploitation of subject matter” that itself is “an academic manifestation of colonialism.”

What does Kendzior do to actually challenge – let alone subvert – this inherently colonial power dynamic in her field? As a white Western observer, reporting through the very real “white gaze”, Kendzior occasionally gestures at inclusivity in media. That’s nice. But let’s remember: she does this while occupying an elite-and-whiteness-enabled perch within mass media herself – and while also seemingly never deconstructing how she herself got to that position or stepping back from her own privilege in any way to actually make space for others.

Disagreeing with how she wields her inordinate privilege is one thing, of course, but it strains credulity to believe that someone who earned a PhD studying a Uzbek dissident group’s use of social media can continue to be the source of so much strife within our own, dissident online community without knowing exactly what she is doing. That an “awww, shucks” cacophony continues to accompany Kendzior’s near-constant, bad faith provocations in this space belie her obvious intelligence and abundant, scholarly training in this very field.

Kendzior has proven herself immensely capable of utilizing social media spaces and wielding them to serve her will, to promote her own work and those of others whose politics she wants centered. That Kendzior is, yet again, not to be held accountable for her lies, manipulations, smears, state-serving politics and neoconservative-think-tank-funded red-baiting because she is a “she,” is a perilous position for any radical to take. How are her politics and how she embodies them not to subject to the same scrutiny we’d give a Brandon Darby?

Further, regardless of whether the wreckage Kendzior consistently creates in her wake is a result of naive disregard or willful sabotage, it should still be enough to just look at the wreckage itself and move to distance ourselves from a very obvious wrecking ball. So, let’s look at that wreckage.

—–

 

The first time I became aware of Sarah Kendzior, she had written perhaps one of the most unethical, slanderous and unprofessional hatchet jobs ever posted, even to a mere blog. She got a lot of clicks for what is essentially little more than cherry-picked, blog-mining libel of another woman struggling to raise a family and share her own struggles. Kendzior decontextualized everything “Anarchist Soccer Mom” had written about over years of blogging, slapped it down under her own masthead to serve her own, finger-wagging narrative and essentially demanded her readers despise their author rather than empathize with her struggle. Is this the ethical stuff our media heroes are to be made of?

I don’t know anything about the subject of motherhood, so I didn’t really delve into it then – but what fascinates me now is not the subject of that kerfuffle itself, but rather how Kendzior responded to the inevitable pushback against her horrifyingly libelous screed:

 

The Mommy Blogger community has a threat problem...

Anonymous email threats. Go on an unethical, smeary attack – then retreat into the sanctity of unquestionable victimhood. Remember that. It might be relevant later.

So, I continued to follow Kendzior on Twitter, like some 31 thousand others, because she covers topics of interest to me and has a concise style that resonates there. It’s actually hard to avoid her in that space, so widespread is her reach. Anyway, I usually like smart people, particularly ones who seem to have an inclination toward leftist politics and (seem to) articulate the same. It wasn’t until May of 2014 that I was given real cause to suspect her politics weren’t at all what I had been led to believe they were.

On May 21, 2014 – the SEIU held a large demonstration at McDonald’s headquarters as part of their “Fight for Fifteen” campaign. That campaign, however, has taken real criticism from comrades like Scott Jay, who observed that while assuring “low-wage workers in Oakland, and elsewhere, are very likely going to get a long overdue raise,” the SEIU’s organizing tactics themselves seemed “to weaken such struggles and not further them.”

To compound suspicion, as the arrests themselves were unfolding that day, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry took to Twitter to thank police for their “diligence and service” in arresting workers! Labor historians don’t need to dig too deep to tell you that the police are the historical antagonist of collectivized, worker action. But as Jay had previously noted, it seemed obvious that SEIU was once again manufacturing “the veneer of struggle while limiting the power and political consequences of their actions.”

Enter Kendzior, who had written a middling, Jacob Riisian effort to propagandize the SEIU’s “Fight for Fifteen” campaign in April and hopped on Twitter to promote her previous work, as any brand manager might. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody took issue with her over boosting the minimum wage workers’ struggle while the SEIU action was unfolding. It’s an important fight and it’s good that it’s getting attention.

Then, as part of a series of tweets promoting her article from April (ostensibly to generate page-views in conjunction with the ongoing SEIU action that day), Kendzior tweeted this:

"Not All Corporations"

I’m not a scholar™ – but I’m pretty sure many of my comrades might take issue with this individualistic/moralistic pablum delivered as a grossly imprecise, absolutist pseudo-platitude. Criticism of the tweet was swift and ran the gamut from my own, “height of liberalism” riposte to more measured, anticapitalist exposition. What happened to the more engaging, left criticism – you might ask? Kendzior went on an immediate uninformed, disingenuous and eventually ad hominem attack:

Multi-generational, East Coast elite says worker only  supports "labor as an abstraction."

Now, I don’t know where Kendzior got the notion that “Emma Quangel” only supports “labor as an abstraction” or that disagreeing with Kendzior’s liberal assessment of corporations meant she did “not appear to support workers.” From my vantage point, both of these were bad faith attacks that grossly misrepresented Quangel’s position and cast doubt on her legitimacy as a worker. If I were Quangel, I would’ve been furious. This, of course, would only prove more absurd coming from Kendzior after I investigated her highly privileged background, but I digress. Glass houses and whatnot…

But this back-and-forth is when the “rape threat” of Jacobingazi legend apparently was emailed to Kendzior. Now, I’m not concerned with whether she got a threat or not. I imagine she did because she says she did and prominent women are continually harassed in ways meant to silence them. But I do want to address two things that weren’t adequately addressed during that Social Media upheaval.

First, what purpose would threatening Kendzior serve to anyone trying to actually get her to go on the record with what are clearly, at best, her atrocious liberal, “#NotAllCorporations” politics? Threats of violence are attempts to silence people. Nobody I know wants Kendzior silenced. I want to know exactly what her politics are – and threats of violence, particularly gender violence in this space – undeniably prevent that from happening.

Second, and this is important: by Kendzior’s own account, she received an “anonymous email.” Keep in mind that she had just written (in April) a piece uncritically lauding the SEIU’s “Fight for Fifteen” and was arguing on behalf of fast food workers when she was threatened. And yet immediately, she identified the source of the threat to who? “Brocialists”:

Mocking threats

Now, overlooking the “mocking” tone that Kendzior herself first employed above (for her own, political purposes), anyone with even a cursory understanding of counterintelligence knows that “anonymous letters” were the bread and butter of the US’ COINTELPRO operations against domestic dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s. I’d be hard-pressed to imagine similar strategies aren’t at work today in these spaces. Kendzior, however, a PhD whose focus was on Uzbek dissidents using social media, took the allegedly leftist (anonymous) author at their word and began mocking “brocialists.” And that was that. A star was born.

The “left” now had a wholly manufactured “rape threat” problem (which, of course it does have – because the world has a rape problem), despite the utter impossibility of assigning an anonymous email to anyone (of any political ideology) at all. And, despite giving her space, nobody ever got Kendzior to further articulate her “not all corporations” inanity. Then “Bro Bash” was published and the shitstorm of lies went “full tilt.”

Why nobody stopped to ask how anyone knew the rape threat had emanated from a leftist, I’ll never know. What I do know is that I observed, dishearteningly, as many organizers and activists stoked fires of outrage against my hated/beloved “left” over an anonymous, wholly-unsourceable email. At the outset, assigning it to a “brocialist” was unverifiable. This, of course, was the first thing that rang my “stranger danger” alarms about Kendzior. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) add up.

So I started doing research and kept paying attention.

– – – –

 

“The performative anti-sexist is certainly capable of learning and navigating those very same grammars to his advantage. It’s many a “good leftist guy” who has done all the reading, learned all the terminology, and used it as evidence of his harmlessness.” – Amber A’Lee Frost, Bro Bash

 

Having now seen a few of Kendzior’s “tells” up close, I stepped back. I observed. At Molly Crabapple’s private urgings, I publicly denounced “rape threats.” (Who wouldn’t?) But as I sat back and watched, I thought a lot about Frost’s words: “capable of learning and navigating those very same grammars” struck me as particularly significant. I wondered if they could be applied to other folks touring in anti-oppression communities. Scholars? Activist Journalists? Over-hyped doodlers?

I kept an eye on the Celebrity Left and, as always, engaged them – as I would and have anyone, really – whenever their rhetoric struck a discordant note. The way radical language and ideas are churned up by power, stripped of their revolutionary potential, sanitized and then redeployed by liberals has always interested me, so I pay attention to it. Further, any “anarchist” can tell you what it’s like to spar with “Libertarians” or “Anarcho-Capitalists” who continue to encroach on our identifying words, “Libertarian Socialism” and “Anarchism.” It’s a constant struggle against the churning machine of appropriation.

Then in early August, Mike Brown was brutally murdered by the pigs in Ferguson and the people rose up. I hate cops, so I paid rapt attention.

Doug Williams, the target of Kendzior’s most recent libel, apparently noticed some of the same things I saw as events unfolded in Missouri. Kendzior (among many others, to be sure) dropped any pretense of gesturing at leftism and began parroting dangerous, historically racist language and even cited white supremacist websites to back her claims. She “othered” anarchists, exposing my comrades to more scrutiny by the hyper-violent state (and the self-appointed “peace police”) at a time when the focus should’ve been wholly on the cops and the white supremacist system they undoubtedly serve.

Williams, of course, openly addressed similar concerns in both Jacobin and The New Inquiry. So as Kendzior wrote “After Ferguson,” sang “We Shall Overcome” and ushered folks into her friend Antonio French’s Democratic Party Premature Healing Campaign while National Guard soldiers still patrolled its streets, Williams articulated observations I myself could all but stammer angrily on Twitter.

In Love Me, I’m A Liberal, he wrote:

 

As seen in the responses to Ferguson, many liberals today excel at aping leftist aesthetics in order to earn trust into a community while simultaneously resurrecting anti-leftist slurs like “outside agitator.” They pulverize words like “intersectionality” into a meaningless oblivion, and turn them into signals that, yes, they have also taken a Sociology 201 class. They “get it.”

 

Williams’ words reminded me, almost immediately, of Frost’s “performative anti-sexist,” only with Kendzior “aping leftist aesthetics in order to earn trust into a community” instead of a “good leftist guy.” Could Kendzior be “capable of learning and navigating those very same grammars” in order to insinuate herself into our dissident communities, online and in Ferguson? Well. Isn’t that exactly what her PhD trained her to do?

I think now, upon further study, that Kendzior’s knee-jerk reversion to state-supporting narratives at the height of the rebellion in Ferguson betrayed her neoconservative, colonial tourism that is otherwise so expertly swaddled in left-gesturing niceties. This is of concern to me, because as Williams observed in Nothing Short of A Revolution, I agree that:

 

Language matters. The forces of reaction, repression, and revanchism have long understood this, and they have used it to their advantage. Let us use our own language, that of liberation, working-class power, and revolution, to ensure that Michael Brown’s death was not in vain.

Sarah Kendzior knows language matters. She’s a PhD who had to learn a relatively obscure, Central Asian language out of necessity during the course of her studies in order to gain access to Uzbek dissidents on social media. She hails from a long line of Ivy-educated, Connecticut Yankees who have had important, government careers defending police from charges of wrongdoing and murder. Her grandfather worked for Wendell Willkie, the founder of Freedom House – a notorious, neoconservative NGO Kendzior would later work for that was expressly founded to propagandize US imperial adventures… Wait, what?

%22Opportunistic Communist%22 torch

Yup. Sarah Kendzior, who openly bashed communists in Ferguson worked for Freedom House, an organization that “took up the struggle against the… great twentieth century totalitarian threat, Communism” and is widely considered “a flak producing machine”, “an infamous CIA/State Department outfit” and “nothing but a façade for the special services of the United States.”

Is it possible she’s learned our radical Twitter language, too? Mastered hip, liberal white feminist “intersectionality” to either study it or destroy it, or just use it as a tool to further her career as a colonial observer? I can’t imagine leftist Twitter jargon is as difficult to learn as Uzbek, is it?

Now know this: I don’t want any harm to come to Sarah Kendzior of any kind and I definitely don’t want her “silenced.” I want her to actually start talking. As Joe Macaré has said, “be accountable.” If the damage she has done was accidental, she could start by apologizing to the hardworking comrades she has smeared relentlessly for the past year and acknowledge the issues raised above. She could start with Doug Williams and work her way back to Jacobingazi.

She could explain how working for Freedom House didn’t challenge her ethics, but writing under revised editorial guidelines at Al Jazeera did. She could address working for Freedom House at all. She could articulate any politics whatsoever other than a general, progressive headnod. She could explain what “Not All Corporations” means. She could explain why she linked to white supremacist website to smear communist organizers. She could explain why she seems so driven to get on to the healing in Ferguson, despite Gary Younge’s observation after the Zimmerman verdict that “Those who now fear violent social disorder must ask themselves whose interests are served by a violent social order in which young black men can be thus slain and discarded.”

She could do all of this, but I doubt she will. Because she isn’t a part of our community and doesn’t feel a need to be accountable to it. Because it isn’t “infighting” if you’re questioning the political opportunism of a libel-spewing neocon. And her neoconartist brand has not yet once apologized for any of its abuses.

And if she won’t be more forthright, the wreckage she has created and the troubling fact that she has openly played for the casino itself is enough for me to cash out of this game and to tell all my comrades to avoid playing with her or anyone who continues to play with her. Is she a paid, government provocateur? I can’t say for sure. But I, for one, won’t get hustled by someone playing at the table with house money. I know those are terrible odds.

It’s not a game.

The Blankest Canvas: On Art, Opportunism, Erasure & Whiteness

Anti Social Media

October 7, 2014

rauschwhitepainting51h15

“An empty canvas is full.” – Robert Rauschenberg

 

1951 was a big fucking year for whiteness. The United States, the last scion of both Western Imperialism and the white supremacy at its core, would finally fight to a stalemate on the Korean Peninsula – beating back both the Red Menace and the new “yellow peril” to the 38th parallel. But threats to the fragile reign of white supremacy’s new champion abounded.

At home, The Man From Planet X  opened in US theaters, dramatizing the collective fear of an alien invasion that would grip white Amerikkka and menace its lily-white, Enid Elliot-like daughters for the remainder of 1951 and beyond. That white panic on the big screen, however, found two real world targets – rabble-rousing commies and the black people they had allegedly duped to serve their alien agenda.

The “Second Red Scare,” already raging in 1951, was weaponized by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, which launched its second investigation into Hollywood. Back then, “blacklists” weren’t just empty threats on Twitter made by intentional nobodies, but a reality imposed by power that threatened the livelihoods of some of our best artists. The year also saw Julius and Ethel Rosenberg tried, convicted and eventually executed for espionage. The “traitorous and disloyal” outside agitators the US was fighting in Korea, it seemed, would have to be fought at home, too.

White Supremacy, as always, reserved its most brazen terror for black people. 1951 was no different. Despite a valiant campaign led by Communist William L. Patterson, the grandson of a slave who had himself famously been arrested protesting the execution of Sacco & Vanzetti, seven black men were executed for raping a white woman in Martinsville, Virginia. Willie McGee, another black man railroaded on charges of raping a white woman, was also executed that year in Mississippi.

In Florida, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall exercised his right to white vigilantism and summarily executed one black man and critically wounded another who were being transferred for reprosecution after their “Groveland” rape convictions were overturned by the US Supreme Court. Harry and Harriette Moore, who had organized for the NAACP in Florida and had boldly demanded charges be brought against Sheriff McCall for his crimes, were killed weeks later in a bombing at their own home that was never solved. This is, of course, why racist rumors started by a white woman that reduce a political opponent to a menacing black man isn’t a game, but that’s another story…

Ironically, the number one Billboard song of 1951 was “Too Young,” sung by Nat King Cole. Seriously. A black crooner singing about young love that others wouldn’t understand, while black men were being killed for looking at white women – that was the song on top of the charts. To end a year like that, then, could it have surprised anyone when Paul Robeson and William Patterson submitted a document called “We Charge Genocide” to the United Nations?

At last, in lesser-but-still-big-all-encompassing-whiteness news from 1951, Bette Nesmith Graham invented correction fluid in her own kitchen, making it easier for typists everywhere to “white out” their mistakes.  After all, whiteness adores erasure. Remember that. And while a dying Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote his Remarks on Colour, the coup de grâce to 1951 and its triumphant whiteness emerged when a pretentious asshole named Robert Rauschenberg began his White Paintings. Because, why the fuck not?

 

—–

 

Robert Rauschenberg was an insufferable, Neo Dadaist asshole. Neo Dadaists, it should be noted, are the folks who made us question not “what is art,” but rather, “are these fucking assholes joking?” In but one of many examples of his legendary assholery, when commissioned to do a portrait of Iris Clert, Raueschenberg instead sent a telegram that read “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.” He was that kind of precious asshole – the kind of precious asshole who inspired generations of other assholes to struggle to use a can opener to open a can of spaghetti-o’s in a room full of other precious assholes and then piss oneself, and then boldly call it “high art.” The kind of precious asshole who would inspire Yoko Ono to whitewash a chess set and uncritically title her racist work “Play It By Trust.”

As an asshole, Raueschenberg was surrounded by other, similarly-inclined assholes. Assholes tend to attract other assholes, it seems. His asshole friend, John Cage, “composed” the famous “4’33” – which is just four minutes and 33 seconds of utter fucking silence. The blank canvas, creating nothing but a void where anything could be projected (even a politics), was now itself considered substantive and important “art.”

Rauschenberg and his coterie, in short, clearly presaged today’s trolls. And I’m glad he’s dead. I wish he’d died sooner, before his brand of utter and irredeemable, detached cynicism became as popular as it is today – because this airy, unaffected distance is, of course, a pure manifestation of privilege, be it racial, class or otherwise.

In Creative Tyranny, Rob Horning explains how many artists often reveal their real class allegiance:

“Because artists, unlike wage laborers, have a direct stake in what they produce and face no workplace discipline other than what they impose on themselves, their political attitudes are structurally different from those of the working class, who know they are interchangeable parts in the machine of capitalism and must organize collectively to resist it. ;“The predominant character’” of the contemporary art scene, on the other hand, ‘“is middle class,’” Davis contends, referring not to a particular income or earning potential but rather to artists’ relation to their labor. Artists work for themselves, own what they make, and must concern themselves with how to sell it. Though art has often made a mission of shocking middlebrow taste and artists have often congregated in urban Bohemian enclaves in working-class neighborhoods, they are less vanguard proletarians than petit bourgeois.”

 

So it was that in 1951, a few years before taking a nod from Bette Nesmith Graham, erasing a drawing by Willem de Kooning and calling that erasure itself “art” – Rauschenberg set off on perhaps his most famous act of trolling, his White Paintings. What had started as a joke between above-it-all, petit bourgeois art school buddies – when actually taken seriously outside of their insular bubble – soon became serious art. It then had to be retroactively justified when it had really just been a joke.

Of course, it’s important to say that Rauschenberg’s White Paintings can’t rightly be called mere “blank canvasses.” They’re actually paint on canvas. But they’re painted monochromatically white in such a way as to reveal nothing. They are the nothing. They aren’t a state of blankness, of emptiness – they are the essence of whiteness – the void-of-anything space that must consume everything around it in order to give itself any meaning at all. Nothingness has to appropriate to have anything, which is what whiteness itself tends to do, isn’t it? Indeed, as Raueschenberg himself observed, “an empty canvas is full.”

—–

weev_small


“If you’re going to do something as passionate and idealistic as be a full time artist, you need to be the toughest, most cynical, most opportunistic street fighter around.”Molly Crabapple

 

“Artists are eager to identify themselves with—and even lay claim to—efforts like the Occupy movement, but their involvement, Davis argues, muddles protest and derails organizational efforts more often than not… But because artists are celebrated by capital for their seeming independence from it, they are liable to become confused about the social role they play. They think being above wage labor gives them automatic solidarity with those who want to abolish it. They think they are fellow travelers when really they are running dogs.” – Rob Horning, Creative Tyranny

In July, Emma Quangel explored The Weaponized Naked Girl, where she observed that Molly Crabapple is a self-described mercenary entrepreneur and former naked girl who seemed to earn her credentials on reporting the topic of Syrian “revolution” by way of her being an unofficial spokeswoman and artist for Occupy Wall Street.” To be sure, the fact that Molly Crabapple was once a burlesque dancer is the least interesting thing about her, to me. I’m far more concerned with the role she continues to play as a mercenary for White Supremacy. Again, in her own words, I’m more interested in her success as both an opportunist and a cynic.

In his recent offering at The New Inquiry, The White Women of Empire, which echoes many of the concerns raised in July by Quangel, Willie Osterweil poses a stark but important question: “what happens when the white woman is the protagonist of the imperialist story?” Osterweil elaborates:

“It is clear that the helpless and/or metonymic white woman of imperial fantasy will no longer do. The historical victories of feminism have forced empire to interpolate (mostly white) women as its agents as well as its objects.”

It’s apparently easy for some folks to continue to ignore Crabapple’s expressed, imperial politics – her repeated role as Osterweil’s “agent” of empire. However, from Syria to Venezuela, Crabapple – promoted as a reliable, political commentator after Occupy Wall Street – has consistently articulated a politics that serve the white supremacist power structure and its inheritor, US neocolonialism. Erasing an actual fucking Nazi’s misogynistic past is actually a part of her art. She has made the supremacist, eugenics argument herself, Beauty is survival, not distraction. Beauty is a way of fighting. Beauty is a reason to fight.”

Even before writing her paean to an avowed, white supremacist, the cynical, opportunistic and – by her own admission – “mercenary” Molly Crabapple had regularly oriented her politics to the unequivocated service of white power. Crabapple, then, has proven her art is anything but a blank canvas; instead, she has repeatedly espoused a politics that – like Rauschenberg’s White Paintings – are actually canvases slathered in whiteness. Her work isn’t emptiness, it is whiteness.

It’s actually my job as a white revolutionary race traitor, in constant struggle, precisely to criticize that. Always. To struggle with it. To destroy it. And I won’t apologize for it. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.” I believe Molly Crabapple is the petit bourgeois, “cynical,” “opportunistic” and “mercenary” white supremacist she herself says she is. No artistic flourish, no flair and certainly no vacuous, repeatedly-self-repudiated revolutionary gesturing can change that. After all, we have previously discussed – at some length – that liberals are fully capable of performing in revolutionary hats and that anyone can and will serve Nazis, for the right price.

Yet people continue to misapprehend whiteness and their own complicity in it. As Tamara K. Nopper observed in The White Anti-Racist Is an Oxymoron: An Open Letter to “White Anti-Racists”:

 

“people such as Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and many, many others who are perhaps less famous, have articulated the relationship between whiteness and domination…

 

Further, people such as Douglass and DuBois began to outline how whiteness is a social and political construct that emphasizes the domination, authority, and perceived humanity of those who are racialized as white. They, along with many other non-white writers and orators, have pointed to the fact that it was the bodies who were able to be racialized as “white” that were able to be viewed as rational, authoritative, and deserving.”

 

Nopper, perhaps presaging Molly Crabapple’s racialized whiteness and service to white supremacy itself, continues:

 

Don’t assume that when I see you get the attention and accolades and the book deals and the speaking engagements that this does not hurt me (because you profit off of pain).

 

Also, vis-a-vis Crabapple’s claim of proximity to whiteness – and to the authority whiteness itself conveys – I think it’s important to consider an amazing contribution by my comrade, Chris Taylor, who – in Whiteness Supreme: Towson University and Liberal Ironists – reminded us:

 

“Whiteness is a property, a possession, one unevenly distributed across the social terrain. White supremacists tend to have diminished access to the supreme property of whiteness. White supremacy is thus an aspirational politics, one that attempts sticking close to what it imperfectly is in order to become what it should be.”

 

How does Crabapple use her art to stake a claim to the authority vested in whiteness? In her most recent work, Scenes from Daily Life in the de Facto Capital of ISIS published yesterday in Vanity Fair, Crabapple inserts herself as the authority and interlocutor between her audience and a Syrian’s own experience and art. This is gatekeeping, plain and simple. After all, although Crabapple’s claim that “art evades censorship” may be true, it doesn’t seem to evade her editorializing. After all, Crabapple’s is “extremely editorial art” that “no one could look at…” and “not know what side [she is] on.” Whiteness. Empire. If the “who do you protect/who do you serve” chant so often levied at the police were levied at Molly Crabapple, we should know the answer.

If there is still doubt, then we should examine her famous work whitewashing Weev, a vile misogynist and avowed white supremacist, who Crabapple herself “cared for” so much so she wrote a lengthy hagiography about. And as any propagandist might, from Leni Riefenstahl to Shepherd Fairey, she went further and  “created an icon” of her “weevil one.”

What would Molly Crabapple say of Robert Rauschenberg, who joked with his Neo Dadaist buddies and trolled the art world, for his antediluvian “lulz?” Would she misjudge “sincere belief as trolling?” Would she think his White Paintings meant more than mere emptiness? Could she see the whiteness in them? Would she acknowledge that whiteness itself is domination, and that unexamined proximity to whiteness itself is what makes being friends with an actual fucking Nazi possible? I have a lot of questions, but Molly Crabapple isn’t interested in talking about anything that makes her uncomfortable. And I guess that’s her right. But it sure isn’t very revolutionary.

“Quinn Norton once advised me to write about what I loved,” Crabapple wrote. And she, who so loved empire and its foundational white supremacy (or the money and fame it afforded her), wrote words that flattered it, and urged us – as eugenicists often do – to “fight for beauty.” As many mercenaries before her, Crabapple has identified that she lives in a time when artists are brand bots, obediently self-plagiarizing from their last success“ and that journalism often feels like vampirism.” But it doesn’t have to be this way. It is this way because of whiteness itself.

We have an opportunity to have art that doesn’t reinscribe white supremacy and other ruling class values. We have an opportunity to communicate directly with each other, without intermediaries like Molly Crabapple – who refashion photos from Syria and reimagine them for us. Who editorialize them for us. We could see photos from Syria ourselves. We could hear stories from Syrians ourselves. We don’t need better intermediaries who may prove themselves so tempted by lucre and committed to brand management that, in their endless pursuit of being “New Yorker respectable. Museum of Modern Art respectable,” they paternalistically make an actual Nazi respectable for us.

However, if we insist on replicating power structures here – among them, in this space, white supremacy – we will lose. We have lost. And that’s why criticism of our faves matters, I guess. Because earnest criticism isn’t “trolling,” no matter what the white women of empire say.

—–

“When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply, ‘Ours.’”‘ – Vine Deloria, Jr

The power of terministic control is a monopoly on the naming of things maintained by power. For example, as Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “there would be no oppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.” However, power, particularly in the discourse on public demonstrations against it, often makes a point to discern when “protests became violent.” The fact is, protests “become violent” whenever the armed enforcers of the state’s monopoly on violence – the police – arrive. Their presence itself is the violence that created and maintains an oppressed class. Terministic control, then, is what allows power to say otherwise.

Take the word, “trolling.” Crabapple has asserted that she mistook Weev’s retrograde, supremacist politics for mere “trolling,” or insincerity. As if insincere fascism is acceptable. Crabapple has also derided her critics as “trolls.” Does she think I am likewise insincere? Maybe, but consider that instead I have sincere complaints about her service to white supremacy. The naming of things, and controlling how those words take meaning, is terministic control. Crabapple, as an artist working under a pseudonym, knows more about this than she lets on.

One aspect of liberation has historically been seen as wresting back control over the power to name things, particularly oneself; to identify oneself instead of being identified. According to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad in Message to the Black Man in America, if a black man doesn’t assert that power, he has “never gotten out of the shackles of slavery. [He is] still in them.” From the US Organization, the BPP and BLA’s eschewing of “slave names” to our trans comrades’’ struggle against being misidentified by “dead names”: asserting one’s own identity instead of being named by power is an important terrain of struggle.

So, then, what might it mean if an artist or celebrity changed their name to one that more closely identifies with power itself? What might it mean if one were to orient oneself, through their own naming, in closer proximity to whiteness – to assume a name that may very well be the ne plus ultra of whiteness itself? What would it mean if Assata Shakur decided she wanted to be called “Becky?” What does it mean if Jennifer Caban draped herself in gothic whiteness, stole other people’s art and stories and rebranded herself with a name unmistakable in its own white blandness?

Now, close your eyes and repeat after me: “Molly Crabapple.”

I’m done being trolled by insincere, whiteness-made Rauschenbergs and Crabapples. I want something real, directly from people who don’t need whiteness as authority, whitewashers, sanitizers and those who will labor to make their own friends respectable, even if they are actual fucking Nazis, as intermediaries. We can’t go back to 1951, and frankly, I question anyone who would want to.

Fuck fighting for beauty, or New York’s conception of it – those white women of empire. I want to be in solidarity with what whiteness says is ugly. I’m not trolling Molly Crabapple, and I don’t hate her. I disagree with her politics, her mercenary vision for the world and her near-constant insincerity. Please. She can keep her white paintings.

Update 2

Trolls of a cynical, fascist feather… In her AMA, Crabapple noted:

My art is extremely editorial. No one could look at my bulging insect cops, or my pictures of Weev’s prosecutors, and not know what side I’m on. I try to convey my truth, rather than a party line, but they are deeply subjective.

Well… US Government propaganda tool and otherwise state-sponsored troll@ThinkAgain_DOS, knows exactly what side Crabapple’s art speaks to:

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Crabapple, of course, feigned surprise:

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It’s probably a good time for your people (whoever they are) to collect you.

Update 1

As if on cue, Molly Crabapple’s “most cynical,” “most opportunistic” auteur persona reemerged today. Crabapple –who, like Robert Rauschenberg – occupies the rarified, insincere space where blank white canvasses are just “trolling,” published a middling, wanna-be “ACAB” article at Vice today (which I have dutifully archived to limit her clicks, here). After plodding through the inextricable viciousness of the police institution, name-dropping her pals and actually interviewing a prison abolitionist, Crabapple concludes her otherwise superfluous piece with a bit of fascist whimsy:

Or here’s another, if somewhat facetious, idea: America is vengeful and loves punishment, so why not create a police force whose sole job is to arrest the police?
These meta-cops could be given quotas of officers to arrest each month. They’d no doubt lean heavily on quality of life violations, arresting cops who made communities unpleasant by groping black teens or hassling street vendors. As cops do now, these meta-cops could be promoted based on their arrest numbers. They might sometimes detain cops for rudeness, or failing to present ID, but that’s to be expected. Their jobs would be stressful. They’d have to lay down the law.

I don’t know any revolutionaries who think the creation of an über-cop is worth even “facetious” consideration. Also: the Feds already exist. Again: Keep your white paintings, Molly.

The White Women of Empire

The New Inquiry

October 1, 2014

times-square-ad

Despite the fact that advertising is the cutting edge of ideological production, there is little critical engagement with advertising outside of occasional controversies and industry-specific work. Truth in Advertising is a new monthly series which hopes to investigate how advertising is constructing psychic life and cultural narratives in the metropolis, often doing its work silently and unnoticed. To trace how often those narratives then emerge “naturally” as cultural criticism, political debate or interpersonal discussion: Behind every think piece, a subway car full of ads. This piece is also informed by Emma Quangel’s The Weaponized Naked Girl.

In imperialist fantasies, the most famous role of white women is the damsel in distress, the pure and purifying object of sexual desire menaced by the unclean, violent, sexualized colonial subject: Faye Wray in the grips of King Kong. There’s another major role for white woman in imperialist narratives, however: as the metonym of the homeland, the representation and image of civilization. The white woman “back home” is the reason the male protagonist goes forth, it is her image he fights for and against which the savagery of the colony is thrown into starkest relief. He may cheat on this mythical white woman with a sexualized, state-of-nature beauty, but he always returns to her in the end: To fail to do so is to fail the colonial project.

But what happens when the white woman is the protagonist of the imperialist story?

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This image collapses all those subject positions into one. What and where is the “homeland” here? The homeland is present both in the form of the white woman, and as the thing implicitly menaced by the fact of her difference from those around her. It is the values of the homeland that the burka’ed other imperils, violent invasion of the homeland which their sea of monotonous similarity promises. The very idea of a “homeland” only makes sense as something which can be defended from barbarians, in this instance uniform, colorless, de-sexualized barbarians whose country we must infiltrate and dominate to protect our citizens from current danger and our culture from future threat.

But it is clear that the helpless and/or metonymic white woman of imperial fantasy will no longer do. The historical victories of feminism have forced empire to interpolate (mostly white) women as its agents as well as its objects.

Madam_Secretary_TV_Series-518613013-large

It’s bold to claim a TV show clearly about the previous Secretary of State is “not politics as usual.”  Indeed, the “NOT” obviously takes up excess space in the image and is easily cropped out or visually ignored–it’s enough to make you feel like you’ve got a pair of Rowdy Roddy Piper’s magic sunglasses:

polasusual

But it’s no brilliant subversion of the ad to point it out. That’s literally within the framing of the imagery: The sight lines all center on Téa Leoni’s eyes. The advertisement’s visual language undermines its own tagline, but this makes the ad that much more effective at capturing its liberal prestige-TV-loving target audience. If it works on those naive enough to believe a show about a female secretary of state is subversive, it also flatters the media-savvy viewers imagining themselves to be deconstructing the ad and to be “above” those naive fools who believe the tagline. The purposefulness of this effect is visible in the billboard as well, where the crop is perhaps even more obvious.

madamesec

The ad campaign for State of Affairs, meanwhile, offers us a younger, sexier secretary and a more vulgar, militarized vision of power, the 24 to Madame Secretary’s West Wing.

"All the president's men are nothing compared to her"

And then, just in time for the fall season, the Democratic Party’s main rag publishes a think piece about the shows, pretending all this Hillary worship is some fascinating cultural phenomenon emerging from the creative ether, not an obvious piece of the Party’s electoral machine preparing for 2016. As though the entertainment industry didn’t go 5 to 1 for Obama, and, as a result, get favorable administration action on intellectual property enforcement.

Of course, empire isn’t just administered by the federal government. There are all the local internal colonies to deal with, the carceral state to defend. But as white women’s imperial function is localized, the marketing is made more immediately bodily, more familiar, more sexualized and ridiculous. As the women get closer to home, so to speak, the advertising becomes more traditionally sexist.

Badjudge

She has nothing to do with the law — this Bad Judge upholds and breaks “the rules.” Her casual sexiness, her red hair (as opposed to the Aryan-differentiation-from-brown-women blondes), her come-hither stare, her short skirt and ample bracelets: This judge is fuckable. Why get caught in a confusing nexus of ideological and symbolic desire production when you can just have the audience desire the state, directly, in one of its flesh and blood incarnations?

badjudgeforreal

The marketing campaign is terrible–that font!–which never bodes well for either the show’s prospects or the network’s confidence in it. But the show also goes too directly for the ideological money shot, its political project is too obvious, its premise too icky. People don’t find judges desirable: The pop culture judges (Joe Brown, Judy, etc) are older, stern, maybe sassy but never hot. They evoke folk wisdom, righteous anger and final authority, not fucking. Cops, however, make much more sense in the daily circuits of family, desire, and work…

Catching bad guys. Raising naughty ones

This tagline is almost identical to the tagline from Bad Judge. But Laura here has one more role than the judge. Not made sufficiently schizophrenic by her roles as a woman and an agent of the state, Laura is also just as much a mom, the perfect triumvirate of lean-in feminism subjectivities (career-haver, family-maker, cis-white-woman), the pathetic pun on mysteries (indeed, how does she do it?) already resolved visually: Laura is literally tripled in the image. Just like Bad Judge she’s a redhead, not a blonde. Just like Madame Secretary, the pitch is the “novelty” of a woman in a man’s role, but it is a wink-wink novelty, it is actually normal, normalized, and everyone knows it.

Here the anti-feminism is particularly strong, equating the work of mothering with the work of policing. It’s a variation on the old myth of controlling mothers–a misogynist inversion of the fact that in a traditional hetero-patriarchal family, it is dads who are structurally always cops, while the relation of the mother to order and oppression is more complicated and ambivalent.

bg_mysteriesLaura

But not in these ads. In the beautiful world of the spectacle, things aren’t complicated, they’re great: Women are detectives, moms are cops, judges are babes, look at all this progress we’ve made, get ready for Hillary, rah-rah-rah to the war against those Middle Eastern women in their burqas, the horrible unspeakable women who do not give themselves to our gaze, who refuse our liberal democracy, who could never be a sexy Secretary of State, a sexy homicide detective, a sexy storm trooper with her high-heeled boot sexily poised on the throat of some horrid barbarian.

Homeland-Season-4-Ad-Little-Red

Wont you please help her help you help her save herself, the homeland? Or at least tune in on Sundays and watch her try?

 

Consumer Culture and Mental Health

A Culture of Imbeciles

October 6, 2014

EDP-999-Mental-Health-Crisis

I was thinking about what a rich opportunity it is, in the aftermath of the climate week hoopla, for academic associations — particularly in anthropology, sociology and psychology — to solicit papers and schedule conferences on communications, journalism and public mental health in a netwar environment. 
The social engineering and self-delusion on climate change is so pervasive and lethal in consequence, that I would expect at least a couple noteworthy op-eds in mainstream media, and maybe a high profile counter-narrative that views the celebritization of Naomi Klein as a mental health symptom of consumer culture thriving on fantasies.
This would be an appropriate topic, for instance, as a theme issue at IJOC, the International Journal of Communication. Maybe a feature story in Harper’s or the New Yorker.
Recent research shows that renewable energy cannot even begin to come close to replacing fossil fuels at the level of US consumption, and that this consumer demand is increasing. Indeed, American culture is based on high consumption, and US society is mentally ill as a result. World Health Organization statistics note this mental health crisis is particularly pronounced in the US, and negatively affects immigrants when they try to adapt to the American way of life.
I think that many Americans who hope we can continue consuming four times the energy per capita as the rest of the world  — by developing some magical “clean energy” — will become psychologically depressed as reality intrudes on this chimera. In my view, this geography of mental ill health (as well as official corruption) prevents the international community from achieving anything useful on the Kyoto Protocols, Cochabamba Accord, or UNDRIP.
Some conclude that Americans don’t care enough about suffering in the rest of the world to curb their consumption.
My take is that Americans are politically illiterate, and in their infantile level of awareness, changing US society is so far beyond their collective ability that they cannot imagine anything but fantasies based on false hope and advertising.

Arundhati Roy Debunks the Gandhi Myth

Video Published on Oct 21, 2014

“On The Laura Flanders Show: Author/activist Arundhati Roy on the Annihilation of Caste, B.R. Ambedkar and the Western myth of Mahatma Gandhi.”

The Weaponized Naked Girl

manyfesto

July 15, 2014

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The 1976 film Network is the story of a failing television channel and its scheme to improve ratings by putting a crazy man on television. Howard Beale is driven out of his mind after he’s laid off to shield the bottom line. He is a widower, no real friends – a victim of the economic rearrangement of the 1970s. Promising to blow his brains out on live TV, Beale is suddenly the savior of the network as the ratings are higher than ever as a result of this outburst. He appears on television and delivers emotive appeals to his audience, reasoning that while he doesn’t know what do to fix the situation, he at least encourages everyone to “get mad”. But no mass movement erupts. Once his shares start to dip, the network assassinates him to pull their ratings out of the fire.

This is the usual synopsis you’ll receive. Network’s other story lines, the ones about Faye Dunaway’s sexually aggressive yet sexually vacuous character, the cynical manipulation of Black Power politics, are usually ignored. Everyone loves a story about a maniac street preacher. But Network is also about how the media is manufactured, how our pain and frustrations regarding the state of the world are manipulated for ratings, and how legitimate grievances are monetized under capitalism.

It’s a shame we miss out on that, because the media we consume today is just as cynically manipulated. It’s just as weaponized against the population as the media of a hundred years ago, but has now adopted new marketing techniques to sell, promote, and defend imperialism and capitalism. This is not to say that older techniques are not still used – some corruption is still as blatant as taking money or gifts – but other techniques have not been as examined, as thoroughly condemned. While sex and race are just as common as ever in the media’s worship of imperialism and capitalism, the new neoliberal strategies of atomization and the cult of the individual gives the old tropes of manipulation a fresh coat of paint:

We live in an era of flux. The old model of a creator or creative type—a person who does one thing well, and depends on institutions for support—is falling by the wayside. The creator of the future is a super-connected trans-disciplinary mutant: engaged and intellectually rebellious. Molly Crabapple has created everything from Occupy Wall Street posters and arts journalism of collapsing countries to murals on the walls of the world’s most exclusive nightclubs.  On stage, she delivers an energizing, take-no-prisoners talk on how creators—how everyone—can create a life of their own design, without asking permission. (Emphasis mine, from Lanvin Agency)

Atomization is the isolation of a person from their “institutions of support”, meaning, essentially, not just their fellow human being, but also the traditional ways of reading and perceiving knowledge, though history or dialectical reasoning. The atomized individual is “intellectually rebellious”, cut off from the ability to reason correctly and confused by constantly shifting parameters – relying on their own atomized and manipulated environment in order to successfully parse reality. A strategy as old as time is to successfully make the person feel like they came up with the idea to oppress themselves. The fresh coat of paint here is to make everyone relate to their own oppression in an intimate, ego-shaping way. The individual’s decision – once they choose oppression, of course – is a sacred decision; their reasoning and their motivations are private and autonomous. The oppressed are oppressed whether they choose to be or not – but the propaganda encourages the oppressed to accept it anyway, because it makes things easier for domination and atomizes society faster.

Imperialism, too, wants invitations for military advisors, trade agreements, and foreign direct investment. Wars and battles can be disagreeable. Usually it’s preferable both morally and logistically when the oppressed ask for their own subjugation, argue for it themselves. Likewise, patriarchy seeks to subjugate by invitation. Women are told that patriarchy really does have nothing but the best intentions, that she can cleverly twist patriarchy on her own to make it “work for her”. In this way, we can compare the woman who feels violent pornography is empowering to the country which feels monoculture depending on the imperial markets is empowering. Under this paradigm, we the audience, must believe that if they are asking for it, we must respect their agency. Systems of oppression, however, do not simply disappear because they are somehow passively (or actively!) accepted by the oppressed. Indeed, systems prefer the acquiescence of the oppressed to conflict. This is why it is so important for us to be told that women love being prostitutes and how much happier developing countries are under capitalism. In many cases, this functions as a sort of shield for oppression – it’s their choice, after all! And we must respect that. And if not their choice, well then, certainly NATO has their best interests as individuals at heart. An argument about imperialism successfully becomes an argument about agency.

All of this is not just a successful tool for atomization, it is also a savvy marketing strategy for oppression. For this essay, I am going to write mainly on how imperialist-marketing techniques specifically corrupts feminism. While women who stand against oppression and imperialism are often excluded from public platform, or labeled as “crazy” otherwise, when standing for imperialism, misogyny, racism, and capitalism, women are seen as strong and independent-minded. When their representations of the aforementioned are attacked, these otherwise “modern” women simply melt back into stereotypical gender roles, and are posited as victims. I will present three case studies for this phenomenon that will seek to make this connection between feminism, traditional gender roles, agency and imperial aggression.

For the first case study, let’s take a look at a so-called feminist, modern group of women: FEMEN. The marketing strategy of this Ukrainian group is pretty simple to grasp. A photo of any FEMEN action usually includes a half naked blonde woman, political slogans scrawled across her breasts, her face contorted in pain and fear as a police officer or soldier, generally a man, attempts to tackle and arrest her. Here we have a twofold approach: one strategy is that instead of holding placards, these women use their bare breasts as “weapons” (their word, not mine) to trick an otherwise apathetic and disinterested male population into buying whatever it is they’re selling, while courageously doing this as wielders of their own agency, allegedly wielding it in the name of atomized feminism (what I call elsewhere “postfeminism“). This is greatly analogous to marketing strategies which seek to utilize female sexuality – we can see examples of this on any convention showroom floor.  They are simultaneously empowered by using their sexuality to sell their politics, while at the same time cynically bowing to traditional gender roles. The second part of the marketing strategy is to usually include the police. Their groping hands put these lovely blonde ladies in danger. They roughly claw at their exposed flesh. Like King Kong, these women are generally presented as helpless against their attackers, suspended in midair by the ruddy paws of the enemy who seeks to destroy us all. We are winked at by the titillating vision of half-naked attractive white women, offering their politics on their breasts as a way of appealing to the so-called essential nature of of piggish men, appreciative of their strong choices, angry that a man would stand in their way. 

Upworthy Reveals Audience Behavior, Begins “Collaborations” With Brands, NGOs

Unilever will be first commercial brand in new program, underwriting curated content around building a brighter future for children

Digital Journal

April 1, 2014

NEW YORK, PRNewswire

WKOG admin: Aside from embracing misogyny, more recently, Unilever, with Kellogg’s, General Mills, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, and other corporate entities  funneled big money into defeating Prop 37. Now, Unilever, one of the largest consumer products corporations in the world, is looking to  employ “effective story-telling” to help Unilever “engage with people more meaningfully” in order to “create a better future for children.” (We can assume this is the same children unwittingly being fed genetically modified “foods”). (More on Unilever here.)

It is critical to note that one of the two co-founders of Upworthy is Avaaz co-founder Eli Pariser, as well as president/chairman of MoveOn.org’s board. [“Prior to position of chair, Pariser served as the Executive Director of MoveOn.org. Pariser has worked directly with former Vice President Al Gore on drafting MoveOn-sponsored speeches and assisted in fundraising for John Kerry’s presidential campaign. In December 2003 Pariser worked with Jonathan Soros, son of George Soros, on a MoveOn.org campaign. On December 9, 2004, one month after Kerry’s defeat, Pariser declared that MoveOn had effectively taken control of the Democratic Party.” Source]

220 Members of FAWU, employed by Unilever`s Food Solutions and Tea Factory divisions in Pietermaritzburg have embarked on strike on Friday, 17 January 2014 as a result of a dispute between the company and the union. – See more at: http://www.cosatu.org.za/show.php?ID=8359#sthash.mLmo2iH9.dpuf
220 Members of FAWU, employed by Unilever`s Food Solutions and Tea Factory divisions in Pietermaritzburg have embarked on strike on Friday, 17 January 2014 as a result of a dispute between the company and the union. – See more at: http://www.cosatu.org.za/show.php?ID=8359#sthash.mLmo2iH9.dpuf
220 Members of FAWU, employed by Unilever`s Food Solutions and Tea Factory divisions in Pietermaritzburg have embarked on strike on Friday, 17 January 2014 as a result of a dispute between the company and the union. – See more at: http://www.cosatu.org.za/show.php?ID=8359#sthash.mLmo2iH9.dpuf

Fergie Teams up with Unilever on Universal Children's Day

Utilizing celebrities: Effective behavioral change and indoctrination of children into corporate culture.

The average Upworthy post generates 42x as many Facebook interactions as the average post from a top 50 U.S. media site. Promoted brand content on Upworthy.com performs at 73x the average. These and other first-time insights into the highly engaged Upworthy audience will be shared later today at the Ad Age Digital Conference here. The company will also announce its initial revenue approach, and that Unilever will become the first commercial brand to join a new “Upworthy Collaborations” advertising and sponsorship program.

Upworthy lands Unilever as first brand customer #aadigital

Today, Upworthy has one of the most engaged audiences on the Web:

  • The average piece of Upworthy content drives more than 75,000 Facebook likes per post, some 12x more than BuzzFeed, according to engagement data from Newswhip.
  • In 2013, the average unique Upworthy.com visitor spent 11.44 hours with the company’s curated content. Currently, the site is registering more than 5 million “attention minutes” per day.
  • Unique monthly visitors to the site now consistently top 50 million.
  • And 78% of Americans on Facebook have either Liked Upworthy or have a friend who has.

“Billions of sharing actions take place in our network, and Upworthy consistently ranks number one across many of our social metrics, from shares-per-post to percentage of incoming traffic from social networks,” said Sachin Kamdar, CEO of Parse.ly, a provider of content analytics solutions for publishers, whose clients include Conde Nast, Fox News, Atlantic Media, and The Cheezburger Network.

“Upworthy attracts a huge community of highly influential, socially conscious citizens — people who share our goal of building a better future for children,” said Marc Mathieu, Unilever Senior Vice President, Global Marketing. “Our partnership will include work for several of our brands, and we are looking forward to seeing how effective story-telling can help us engage with people more meaningfully.”

Unilever Marketing Vice President Kathy O’Brien will join Upworthy co-founders Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley on stage at Ad Age Digital to discuss the companies’ partnership to promote the core values of Unilever’s Project Sunlight. The program aims to engage people in more sustainable behaviors that will create a better future for children. Upworthy will curate content from across the web, highlighting stories of leaders working toward a more sustainable world, and will work with Unilever agency partner Mindshare to promote the best Project Sunlight content.

“Unilever’s leadership in moving to improve child welfare and contribute to a more sustainable world made them a strong fit for this program,” said Upworthy’s Pariser. “The heart of Project Sunlight matches several of the top topics our audience voted to see more of in 2014. We look forward to working together to bring more attention to young people who are making the world more sustainable.”

First Three Types of Upworthy Collaborations

Participation in the Upworthy Collaborations program will extend to brands, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and foundations. It will take three initial forms:

  • Promoted Posts — Here, participants create content and pay Upworthy to present and distribute it on Upworthy.com and Upworthy social channels. Pilots of this approach in 2013 included one with Skype.
  • Sponsored Curation — Here, participants underwrite Upworthy’s curation costs on a given topic. In this category, Upworthy retains full editorial control of both the selection and presentation of the content. Pilots of this approach in 2013 included All 7 Billion with The Gates Foundation.
  • Content Consultation — Here, Upworthy will work with participants to advise on content selection, packaging, and distribution strategies with a focus on testing and optimization to draw shared insights as a relationship evolves.

The program blends these elements with additional reader-engagement tactics to build always-on content partnerships, fueled by shared learning, organic optimization, and true relationship building with the Upworthy community.

Reception to the paid-content pilots in 2013 was positive, with strong performance of the individual posts and praise from the Upworthy community for how clearly the content was marked.

Upworthy Collaborations launches amid continued strong performance from the two-year-old company:

 

  • Upworthy’s core community of subscribers now tops 7 million, comprising nearly 6 million Facebook fans, 1.6 million email subscribers, and more than 350,000 Twitter followers. All receive Upworthy.com content daily and form the core of a massive sharing community.

 

 

Upworthy brings massive amounts of attention to things that matter in the world. Every day, curators unearth and spotlight awesome, important content using a proprietary approach that combines deep social science, strong voice, and a passionate community. Co-founders Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley have raised $12 million in initial financing from a group that included prominent venture capital firm Spark Capital, the Knight Foundation, and leading individual investors such as Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and BuzzFeed co-founder John Johnson. Each month, more than 50 million people experience Upworthy content. Learn more at http://www.upworthy.com.

Logo – http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20140401/AQ95317LOGO

SOURCE Upworthy

 

Breast Cancer Has Become the Consummate “Free Market Feminist” Cause

Health Communication, 25: 286–289, 2010

An excerpt of the paper Pink Diplomacy: On the Uses and Abuses of Breast Cancer Awareness

By Dr. Samantha King [Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Health Studies | Cross appointed to the Department of Gender Studies and the Cultural Studies Program]

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In the past two decades, breast cancer has become an unparalleled philanthropic cause. During this period, corporate marketing strategies, government policies, and the agendas of large foundations have worked in concert to construct the disease as an individual challenge that can be overcome by shopping, exercising, and what Ellen Leopold(1999) calls a “tidal waves” approach to research funding(p. 19). Closely linked to this history is the transformation, since the 1970s, of the meaning of breast cancer from a stigmatized disease and individual tragedy best dealt with privately and in isolation, to a neglected epidemic worthy of public debate and political organizing, to an enriching and affirming experience during which women with breast cancer are rarely “patients” and mostly “survivors.”In the latter of these three configurations, the breast cancer survivor has emerged as an archetypal hero who through her courage and vitality has elicited an outpouring of individual and corporate generosity—a continued supply of which, we are led to believe, will ensure that the fight against the disease remains an unqualified success. In the latter of these three configurations, the breast cancer survivor has emerged as an archetypal hero who through her courage and vitality has elicited an outpouring of individual and corporate generosity—a continued supply of which, we are led to believe, will ensure that the fight against the disease remains an unqualified success. Moreover, the new image of the woman with breast cancer that has emerged with the pink ribbon industry—youthful, ultra feminine, slim, light-skinned if not white, radiant with health, joyful, and proud—leaves little room for recognition that people still die of the disease(that, in fact, roughly the same number of people die as they did before the pink ribbon juggernaut took hold), that some women are not in a position to live the all-to-familiar restitution narrative, or that happiness and individual striving, in the words of Audre Lorde (1980), cannot “protect us from the results of profit madness” (p. 74). Lorde was referring here to what she viewed as the deleterious effects of the capitalist system, in general, on women’s breast health and the well-being of the population more broadly. She could probably not have envisaged that three decades after she penned these words, corporations large and small would be clamoring to tie their names to the disease, taking advantage of the destigmatizing work of early breast cancer activists and newly enthralled with cause-related marketing as a way to sell products to women. Nor would she likely have imagined that they would spend millions of dollars identifying and packaging the next product to be stamped with a pink ribbon and sold to consumers with the promise that a percentage of the sale price will be donated to what is often referred to, vaguely, as “the cause.” Nor, given Lorde’s concerns about the links between environmental contaminants and breast cancer, might she have foreseen that it is often the corporations responsible for selling products most closely linked to deaths from cancer that have been most successful in linking their brand image to the disease. Moreover, the new image of the woman with breast cancer that has emerged with the pink ribbon industry—youthful, ultra feminine, slim, light-skinned if not white, radiant with health, joyful, and proud—leaves little room for recognition that people still die of the disease… The profit madness seemed to reach new heights just a few weeks ago, when I came across an advertisement for a breast cancer gun: a black Smith and Wesson 9mm pistol with an awareness ribbon engraved on its slide and an inter-changeable bubble-gum pink grip. The gun is part of the Julie Goloski Championship Series and sold with the claim that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to “a breast cancer awareness charity” (http://www.juliegolob.com).

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The Tyranny of Cheerfulness

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The “saving lives by taking lives” logic of the pink ribbon pistol that critics quickly seized upon seems only slightly less mind-boggling when one considers that over the past two decades millions of women have become enthusiastic consumers of a slew of potentially harmful pink ribbon products ranging from automobiles to cosmetics to house-hold cleaning products. Under what I call the “tyranny of cheerfulness” that infuses the marketing of these items, it has become increasingly hard to think of the disease as an injustice to rally against rather than an enriching and affirming experience. Indeed, breast cancer has become the consummate “free market feminist” cause, to use Chandra Mohanty’s (2003) term.Under what I call the “tyranny of cheerfulness” that infuses the marketing of these items, it has become increasingly hard to think of the disease as an injustice to rally against rather than an enriching and affirming experience. Indeed, breast cancer has become the consummate “free market feminist” cause, to use Chandra Mohanty’s (2003) term. Like all good practitioners of free market principles, state agencies, foundations, and large corporations have recently begun to pursue breast cancer fundraising initiatives in new geographic locales, as they seek to expand their markets for breast cancer treatments, the fruits of pharmaceutical research, and pink ribbon products. Major players are involved: Astra Zeneca, the maker of the chemotherapy drug tamoxifen and the creator of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, launched its first transnational campaign in 2004 with the goal of “reaching previously inaccessible audiences across the globe.” The Komen For the Cure Foundation now has overseas chapters and an office devoted to international affairs. And since 1999, Estée Lauder has pursued its Global Landmarks Illumination Initiative for which buildings and monuments are bathed in pink lights during the month of October. To date these sights have included the Taj Palace in Mumbai, India; City Hall in Sulas, Honduras; the Taipei Tower in Taiwan; the Burj Al Arab in Dubai; and the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. Like all good practitioners of free market principles, state agencies, foundations, and large corporations have recently begun to pursue breast cancer fundraising initiatives in new geographic locales, as they seek to expand their markets for breast cancer treatments, the fruits of pharmaceutical research, and pink ribbon products. The U.S.–Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness was created in 2006 and marked the U.S. government’s first foray into international breast cancer policy. By 2008, the partnership included the Komen Foundation, the Avon corporation, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, and a variety of cancer care and business organizations in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Palestine. The campaign is a subproject of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), launched on December 12, 2002 by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The official mandate of the MEPI, which operates out of the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, is to “advance democratic reform and vibrant, prosperous societies in the Middle East and North Africa” (http://mepi.state.gov/mission/index.htm). To date, the MEPI has focused on encouraging the development of public–private partnerships in providing “greater opportunities” in the region (http://mepi.state.gov).

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Read the full text:

Pink Diplomacy-On the Uses and Abuses of Breast Cancer Awareness

PINK RIBBONS, INC. – A CONVERSATION WITH RAVIDA DIN:

WATCH: Pinkwashing of American Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Uploaded July 11, 2012

Samantha King, author, “Pink Ribbons, Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, speaks about pinkwashing of American foreign policy in the Middle East through Breast Cancer Awareness events.

Samantha King is the author of Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy and associate professor of kinesiology and health studies at Queen’s University in Canada.

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Breast cancer has become the poster child of corporate cause-related marketing campaigns. Countless women and men walk, bike, climb and shop for the cure. Each year, millions of dollars are raised in the name of breast cancer, but where does this money go and what does it actually achieve? Pink Ribbons, Inc. is a feature documentary that shows how the devastating reality of breast cancer, which marketing experts have labelled a “dream cause,” becomes obfuscated by a shiny, pink story of success. 

The film is based on the 2006 book Pink Ribbons, Inc.