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Author Topic: Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy
blake 3:17
Babbler # 10360

posted 01 March 2007 12:09 PM      Profile for blake 3:17     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
From an interview with Stephen Duncombe,author of Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy

You don't simply advocate that progressives learn from popular culture; you focus on aspects of it that progressives are likely to find appalling -- Las Vegas, the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, celebrity gossip, a commercial for McDonald's. What can we learn from them? What would you say to progressives who would claim that they demonstrate little more than that capitalism unleashes a drive toward the lowest common denominators of sex, violence, addiction, instant gratification?

I purposely picked examples of commercial culture that most progressives (including myself) find appalling. But I also used these examples because they are very popular. And if progressive politics are ever to be popular, then we have to learn how to speak to -- some of -- the popular desires and fantasies now given expression in things like Las Vegas and video games. Some desires can not and should not be addressed -- the violence and misogyny of many video games for instance, but some should: the joy in mastery and the freedom to explore that video games offer players.

A century ago William James gave a speech on the "Moral Equivalent of War." James, who was a pacifist, argued that unless pacifists recognized that war spoke to legitimate, and even admirable, desires like honor, community, and sacrifice, and then fashioned some sort of anti-war outlet for these desires, pacifism would have no popular appeal. That essay, which I read with a War Resisters League reading group nearly twenty years ago, stuck with me. What I'm arguing for is much the same thing as James: a progressive equivalent to commercial culture.

Because we live in a democracy and because progressives (should) believe in a system that speaks for and to the people, we need to pay a lot of attention to popular culture. This doesn't mean we should embrace a faux populism and throw on our NASCAR hats, but it does means respecting and learning from popular culture . . . and then fashioning progressive political equivalents.

From: Toronto | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 5171

posted 01 March 2007 08:38 PM      Profile for mayakovsky     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
My convuluted answer. As a writer and literary critic I have thought about this subject quite a bit and the discussion goes on in my own mind. I think it is a difficult question for progressives to answer. Partially because many progressives often find themselves tied to the 'alternative or counterculture'. Within this milieu there is a tendency to believe that what we are reading, listening to is better than what art the 'masses' are into. 'Alternative' is better because it has a better message or isn't cliche or overproduced etc: Over the years I started to take umbrage with this for many reasons, such as no one seemed to be able to define or point out who the 'masses' were. Another reason was it irked me that even though many thought the 'alternative' work should be out there, alternative folks turned away if it got too popular. Strange ideas like this anti-war song is just too popular! (To be honest I remember my horror at hearing 'cool' music I liked on AM radio.)

Herein, we enter the crux of the question. What is it about pop culture that connects with people. In the strict definition of terms all rock is pop culture. Today while making my lunch for work I was watching E Talk Daily. They were sending out the call for the Canadian Idol contest. I was thinking, and I think this is a good question for those who disdain it, what makes this go on? I am sure there must be an element that thinks it is so uncool or silly. But why? Then they went on to a segment that tried to define emo. It was weird to hear bands saying things that the bands that I liked when I was younger were saying: we don't want to be labelled, we are for the outsiders, we are against the whole corporate rock thing. Yeah but you signed a nice deal. Why not? Like any person who writes or sings you want to be heard by as many people as possible. Hey, it not only garners you a little bit of notoriety but you also get to meet like minded people.

I am definitely not for faux populism. 'I can only listen to country if I am being ironic'. Or if its 'cool' country. I think Johnny Cash because of his 'cool' gets caught into this category. Which is oddly ironic because I don't think there is anything ironic about Johnny Cash. At the same time I was talking to a friend from Northern Ontario who was pissed off about the faux 'white trash' look that was hip in Montreal. There was nothing ironic about dressing this way amongst people he cared about.

From: New Bedford | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged
blake 3:17
Babbler # 10360

posted 02 March 2007 09:51 AM      Profile for blake 3:17     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Strange ideas like this anti-war song is just too popular!

Exactly! I'm pretty disappointed by a lot of attitudes on the left about popular culture. The grudge against hiphop amongst many from the centre to the radical left seems genrally to be based on what people have read rather than experienced.

I just finished record executive Danny Goldberg's Dispatches From the Culture War : How the Left lost Teen Spirit. Here's a link to a Salon article on him.

From: Toronto | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged
Jacob Two-Two
Babbler # 2092

posted 02 March 2007 02:00 PM      Profile for Jacob Two-Two     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I completely agree. I have ongoing ambitions of making comic books, and though it's not a deliberate goal, my politics necessarily informs all the stories I conceive (I want to make straight-up comic essays on politics too, but that's another matter). I don't want these to be read by a snooty bunch of academic elitists, I want them to be read by the same people who are reading Spider-man and Inuyasha. I want to make "low-brow" (a term I hate) fun-to-read comics that are naturally progressive in the same way I am. I frequently think of writing kids books in the same fashion.

I think when people start wondering how they can infuse our culture with certain messages (always a bad starting point when you're making art) they get all wound up about being taken "seriously", but the people they want to be taken seriously by are the very people they don't need to reach, so why all the anxiety?

Right now, I'm writing a left-wing superhero story that's violent and fast-paced. My biggest concern is toning down the preachiness, because I'm naturally preachy, and it's not fun to read. My number one priority is still entertaining my audience and that means the lowest-common denominator, as the saying goes. Heck, I didn't even mean for the thing to be political, I just can't help myself.

From: There is but one Gord and Moolah is his profit | Registered: Jan 2002  |  IP: Logged

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