Some B-side asides
In a quick aside, Ta-Nehisi Coates notes the implicit self-pitying misogyny of the idea that “women don‘t like nice guys.” But this warmed my heart: “I’m thinking of Freaks and Geeks, where the geeks lament that they can’t get laid. But what they really mean is that they can’t get laid by cheerleaders.”
I want to take that in a slightly different direction, which will, if anything can, help show why I’m still so interested in this show (a post on F and G’s scatology is upcoming, and maybe a post on Undeclared and Funny People as its antithesis). The fact that Sam is a Geek who longs to be a jock by appropriating cheerleaders (in a mimetic desire kind of way) is interesting because it shows how being the victim of a power structure can mean becoming entangled in the very logic of one’s own subjugation. Nothing teaches Sam to desire to be a jock more than being punished by jocks for not being a jock. As Fanon puts it not so differently:
“The look that the native turns on the settler’s town is a look of lust, a look of envy; it expresses his dreams of possession–all manner of possession: to sit at the settler’s table, to sleep in the settler’s bed, with his wife if possible. The colonized man is an envious man. And this the settler knows very well; when their glances meet he ascertains bitterly, always on the defensive, “They want to take our place.” It is true, for there is no native who does not dream at least once a day of setting himself up in the settler’s place.”
This is, then, a hidden tragedy of subjection to this kind of violence: while the violator can at least aspire to transcend his status as such, the oppressed is under the double burden of struggling with the desires implanted by that violence.
At CUP’s blog, I came across Julia Lovell writing about the book she translated, Zhu Wen’s I Love Dollars and Other Stories. She tells us that while “the adventures of group of sex-starved adolescents [in] My Little Brother’s Performance might…appear to some readers to be a kind of Chinese version of American Pie,” it, of course, is not, and goes on to explain why. But I wonder why the reverse can‘t be the case, though I‘m less arguing that it is than observing that the question never seems ot arise. Why exactly would be a bad thing to be a Chinese American pie? Why is it that this novella’s “slapdash crudeness is part of a careful literary design” and its “surface sensationalism overlies an audacious desire to probe difficult historical questions” whereas the slapdash sensationalism of American pie isn’t?
I wonder what would happen if got in the habit of talking about “privilege” instead of racism. There’s a follow-the-money kind of logic to it; if, instead of letting racists off the hook by accusing them of something which can never be proved, we thought very hard about who benefits from race talking, then?
Zizek’s recent LRB piece “Berlusconi in Tehran” manages to say very smart things about the Iranian revolution, Silvio Berlusconi, and Kung-Fu Panda, and you should read it because his thesis on “reasonable racism” and how state power immunizes itself from shame for its actions is profound. But this relative aside caught my eye:
“The American journalist Walter Lippmann coined the term ‘manufacturing consent’, later made famous by Chomsky, but Lippmann intended it in a positive way. Like Plato, he saw the public as a great beast or a bewildered herd, floundering in the ‘chaos of local opinions’. The herd, he wrote in Public Opinion (1922), must be governed by ‘a specialised class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality’: an elite class acting to circumvent the primary defect of democracy, which is its inability to bring about the ideal of the ‘omni-competent citizen’.
Something interesting is happening when a phrase that was coined to describe a positive phenomenon can be taken up, years later, to just as intuitively describe a negative one. I don’t like any of the words we use to describe any of these changes, but it’s a good illustration why the fact that “culture” is a completely flawed and impossibly obfuscating term and paradigm doesn’t mean we don’t still, you know, need the eggs.