While idling through the blogs, yesterday, I came upon a rightwing blog that referred (disapprovingly) to a news story from Alabama.
The story goes like this:
“A bill by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." Allen said he filed the bill to protect children from the "homosexual agenda."
There were further entertaining touches in the story, including Allen’s suggestion that Tennessee Williams plays be banned and his idea that, since “novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed,” the thing to do would be to “dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them.”
So, I copied the article and pasted it into an email and made a few sarcastic comments and was about to send it off to a friend when I thought – what am I doing?
This is a story of a type that Mencken liked to collect for the Smart Set: cretinous Americana. Both the right and the left, on the web, love to find stories that report some aberrant act or another and pass them around. It is a genre that has, as yet, not found its Barthes.
There are several things that are interesting about this type of story.
1. It aims at a visceral response. My response to it is pre-set: well, here’s another example of what Bush America is about. Actually, I know that if Bush America was really just about bozos like Allen, it would be very easily disposed of. I also know that the sour gastric juices that constitute the Allen Politik do have a use-value for the Politik of Karl Rove. It has use-value in two ways -- first, that it exists pleases many of the Bush constituency -- and that it is put down pleases even more of the Bush constituency. One gains an advantage just by ingeniously depending on one's opponent to do the job of putting down these kinds of efforts.
2. Being visceral, the response blanks out the circumstances. In truth, Allen has proposed other anti-gay legislation, and it has failed – as the story points out. So Allen doesn’t represent the Alabama essence. He does probably represent poor, benighted Cottonville. Allen’s sensual image of burying gay books in a hole is such an obvious substitute for his own ill concealed s/m fantasies that the unconscious, here, is operating carelessly on the surface. He is going down a well travelled route, one that has been trod by many an evangelical preacher before him. It all ends up with some tawdry, blurry snapshots from some tawdry blurry hotel room featuring his naked butt and and somebody else’s. It is all so meaningless. Furthermore, part of me knows this.
3. But it is also all so mean, this sending of stories, broadcasting of stories, commenting on stories. The point of these stories is, in a sense, the opposite of the sociological sample – we know that the story doesn’t really illuminate some normal disposition of affairs, but it does light up our fantasy version of affairs – our fantasy, on the left, that Bush is really like Hitler, or the fantasy on the Right, which makes much greater use of these kinds of stories, that Liberals are really the disciples of the Marquis de Sade. When reality is used specifically to assume a substitute role, we know, we Freudians, that we are in the realm of the fetish. In the realm of the fetish, another logic rules. In this logic, the verbal is subservient to its intensity. You can see this happening in comments sections on certain blogs – the intensity of anger mounts in the counterpointing of comments in a very sexual way. It is a sort of anger jerk off.
What isn’t remarked upon enough is how important the anger jerk off is to our present state of politics. In fact, it is why American politics seems to be in a state of permanent after-burn. Where’s the old Village Voice when you need it? Where’s Norman Mailer? These are the sexual politics we just aren't talking about.
What, the question should be asked, is being substituted for what in the political logic we are tracing? It is not as evident as it first appears. For the desire I have, in the case of Allen, is that Allen’s desire be acknowledged to be the true desire of the Right. In other words, the fantasy, on my part, is that the truth about the Right is the fantasy entertained by the Right, which in turn is denied by the Right. My fantasy is about their fantasy – my desire is that they should show their desire – their differing of that desire – their denial that it is their desire – arouses a response of anger (finding its verbal equivalent in the ‘accusation’). That anger is that my desire to see the Other’s desire is thwarted by the Other – and that thwarting I take to be the strategy by which the Other intends to achieve its real desire. And what is that strategy? Seduction. And who is the seduced? Ah, the seduced is the Other’s other – not me, who sees through the false desire to the real one, but some innocent outside of me, lacking my knowledge.
When that other outside of me falls – when the other outside of me takes the bait, so to speak – my own latent identity with that other becomes a possible channel of pollution.
4. Fanaticism. I referred, in a previous post, to the essential dialectical role of the fanatic for Enlightenment thinkers. This will require another post. Which I promise I will write.