Thursday, September 30, 2004
Debate summary (in which, for once, I do not pretend to be a Republican)
Well, Wolf, I have to say the surprise of the night was that John Kerry did not endorse Susan Watkins’s recent New Left Review essay, “Vichy on the Tigris,” which, as its title suggests, likens the forces of Al-Sistani and Al-Sadr to the French Resistance (thereby also-- subtly-- likening US troops to the Nazis) and closes with the rousing phrase, “the Iraqi maquis deserves full support in fighting to drive them out.” (I must say, though, that “Iraqi maquis” has a nice ring to it, certainly much nicer than “Iraqi theocrats and thugs.") So I think any viewers tuning in to see Kerry shout, “all power to the Iraqi maquis” may have come away dismayed and disappointed tonight.
That said, I thought the opening half of the debate was basically a tie. Kerry said his bit on Iraq (do it better!), Bush said his bit on Iraq (freedom is good!), and 43 and 45 percent of the TV audience, respectively, said “what he said.” There’s almost no way for Kerry to get around this. He can say “I have one consistent position-- Saddam was a threat, he needed to be disarmed, and there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it, and this President took the wrong way,” and that’s fine, but Bush comes back with “you can’t say ‘wrong war, wrong place, wrong time’ and ‘grand diversion’ at the same time you say ‘Saddam was a threat’.” That, together with the fact that Iraq is very likely unfixable, gives you a tie. Kerry did well to mention bin Laden, and mention his relative un-caught-ness compared to guys we’ve actually caught. But otherwise, I thought, there weren’t any of those “breakthrough” moments.
But then came the discussion of North Korea, and holy Moloch in a chicken basket, it was like watching a real President debate a B-list actor. My God, Kerry sounded like he knew more about nuclear policy in and on North Korea than the guy who’s actually running the United States, and that’s largely because . . . guess what? He does! Then Jim Lehrer asked what Kerry thought would be the greatest threat a US President would face in 2005. I expected Kerry to take a deep breath and list a couple of things. I expected wrong. Kerry calmly said, “nuclear proliferation.” Short but dramatic pause. Followed by the best goddamn discussion of nuclear proliferation anyone has ever managed in 120 seconds or less. Followed, in turn, by a confused and defensive Bush demurring about one of Kerry’s statements about Iran before doubling back and saying that he agreed that the biggest threat was “weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist enemy” and then saying that he would be against this.
Let’s go over that again, shall we?
Kerry: nuclear proliferation.
Bush: weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist enemy.
Man, nobody told me this Bush guy was so verbose, prolix, and also wordy.
From that point on, folks, it was a rout. Kerry gathered steam over the last half hour, and Bush was playing defense-- badly-- on just about every question. But Bush clearly hasn‚Äôt played defense-- or even backchecked-- for a long, long time. I was watching the C-SPAN dual screen, and when Kerry sounded good, Bush looked pissed; when Bush’s turn came, more than once he did the blinky deer-in-headlights thing we all remember so well from the morning of September 11. Which suggests something that I hope some of us pick up and toss around the Internet as a possible Talking Point:
Four years of sporadic, softball-laden press conferences and loyalty-oath-screened campaign appearances have made George Bush soft. There’s no question about it-- the bubble boy hasn’t had any serious give-and-take from a real opponent since the Yankees-Mets World Series. And tonight he went up against someone who really knew how to make a case, and he wilted.
I’m not just a-spinnin’ here. Every one of Bush’s utterances on North Korea made him look befuddled and amateurish. And once that became clear-- to both debate participants-- it changed everything.
For all that, I have no idea whether this debate will affect the election. I still think 45 percent of the electorate is with Bush even if he promises to sear the flesh of their children with branding irons. But John Kerry-- and his campaign-- have every reason to be proud tonight. And Kerry voters should be proud of their guy, too.
Monday, September 27, 2004
Blogging has sold out and nobody told me
There’s a fascinating essay in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times about how a group of scientists are searching for the reasons blogs are on the verge of extinction. It seems that they were once vibrant, snarky, and unpredictable, but now their “spontaneous eruption of populist creativity is on the verge of being absorbed by the media-industrial complex it claims to despise.” As a result of losing their evolutionary niche, some scientists say, blogs are being increasingly eaten by corporate megaconglomerates. But as they fail to reproduce their own kind, some of their features are being absorbed by Enantiornithes, a fairly diverse group of mass-media blogs, mostly political journals; Hesperornithiformes, toothless mass-media blogs which are chiefly apolitical diaries; and the toothed Ichthyornithiformes, salacious sex blogs whose authors probably feed on fish.
According to one researcher, the “commercialization” of blogs’ “culture of dissent” has recently reached the point at which “media steer readers toward the top blogs,” and “the temptation to sell out to the highest bidder could become irresistible.”
OK, I knew I was coming to the party two or three years too late, well after most of the cool kids had left and the best hors d’oeuvres were gone, and believe me, I’ve had my moments of thinking, “man, Kurt and I put that blÃ¼sparx website together in the summer of 2002, why didn’t we convert it to a blog then? I could’ve had my rumpled shirts and my cans of Genny Cream Ale profiled in the New York Times Magazine by now.” God knows I’ve tried to make up for that profound sociocultural mistake by pointing out repeatedly, to all who would listen and many who would not, that twenty years ago I liked HÃ¼sker DÃ¼ before they sold out by signing that megadeal with TimeWarner in 1989 and agreeing to tour as Michael Bolton’s backing band.
But hell, if we’re already on the verge of extinction, that’s OK so long as there’s money involved. I therefore declare myself ready to be tempted by the highest bidder. So, Mr. or Ms. Highest Bidder, sir or ma’am, please identify yourself as soon as possible, since I have only recently learned that Blogshares is merely a “pretend” stock market, and that this blog is not actually worth $63,660.08 in real money. Thanks!
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Fear and laptops on the genesis project
There’s a fascinating essay in today’s New York Times Magazine about how a group of scientists are searching for the origins of blogging. It seems that in January 2006, the Stardust spacecraft will return from its encounter with the comet Wild 2, bringing with it a payload of cosmic debris “which scientists now expect may offer significant clues about blogging’s origins here on earth.”
Until recently, many scientists believed that blogs were formed in a kind of primordial soup formed when a bunch of people got really pissed off:
Left-wing politics are thriving on blogs the way Rush Limbaugh has dominated talk radio, and in the last six months, the angrier, nastier partisan blogs have been growing the fastest. Daily Kos has tripled in traffic since June. Josh Marshall’s site has quadrupled in the last year. It’s almost as though, in a time of great national discord, you don’t want to know both sides of an issue. The once-soothing voice of the nonideological press has become, to many readers, a secondary concern, a luxury, even something suspect. It’s hard to listen to a calm and rational debate when the building is burning and your pants are smoking.
While acknowledging that some bloggers lack the evolutionary maturity necessary to appreciate the “calm and rational debate” the American media offered when it keenly analyzed Bill Clinton’s fraudulent land deals, Wen Ho Lee’s treasonous espionage, Al Gore’s criminal eye-rolling, and Saddam Hussein’s fearsome cache of weapons of mass destruction, most scientists now believe that the origins of blogging go back much further than had previously been imagined.
Indeed, the search for a “Last Universal Common Ancestor,” or LUCA, may not only answer the question of how blogs first arose from inorganic media; it may also help to explain the process of evolution itself ‚Äì or, as one researcher puts it, “the question of how the primitive, early Kaus became the highly intelligent Kos we know today.”
The jargon of blog-biology is daunting, with its talk of “archaea” such as “extremoblogs” and “acidoblogs” ("blogs that have been found to thrive on the gas given off by raw ‘drudge’ and that both excrete and multiply in concentrations of acid strong enough to dissolve metal and destroy entire city sewer systems"). And some of the science sounds more like the stuff of science fiction, like the distant-future NASA mission to Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) in which unmanned spacecraft will drill into the moon‚Äôs miles-thick ice crust in order to search for the building blocks of blogs beneath. “We’d have a picture of what blogs may have been like on earth before they evolved into the modern Pharyngula of today,” says Jeffrey Bada of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Of course, it’s hard to imagine the kind of environment that‚Äôs on Europa producing blogs that look anything like the blogs we have here, either Kaus or Kos-like organisms. And that‚Äôs what I find fascinating.”
Still, the search for the origins of blogging poses fundamental questions about the nature of life itself, even if ‚Äì as the NYTMag essay suggests in its closing paragraph ‚Äì we are all about to kill each other in a surge of religious-fundamentalist hatred and turn the stewardship of the planet over to a bunch of enlightened, cosmopolitan giant insects who will get rid of American popular culture and replace it with a series of strange clicking noises:
“Things are in the saddle,/And ride mankind,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in a poem warning against the soul-withering effects of civilization’s excesses. Knowing what we do now, however, about blogs’ beginnings, the word “things” takes on a whole new meaning. And should our internal extremoblogs eventually ride or override us (as human behavior sometimes suggests they are doing) into recreating the very fires from which they first emanated, there is, perhaps, some comfort to be found in blog-biology’s revelation that our own rugged ancestors will be around to inherit this earth and start the entire cycle over again.
Really thought-provoking stuff, definitely worth your time this Sunday afternoon. Hey, I wonder if the insects will also have blog ads?
Friday, September 24, 2004
Friday Frank blogging
Well, Thomas Frank Week is almost over on this humble blog, and it’s been a blast. Even more fun than PBS Pledge Week, and twice as lucrative! It was great having Britney stop by, as well, though next time I wish she’d leave the snake in the car!
Today, for my last installment, I will take up the question of whether Frank advances a theory of “false consciousness.” Now, in cultural-studies circles, it’s true, asking this question is tantamount to asking whether Frank is guilty of thoughtcrime. False consciousness? You mean he thinks that the people are passive dopes? That is ignorant and reactionary! He needs to read my three-volume study, The People are Not Passive Dopes!! But we have to ask it anyway-- after all, Frank does open his book, on the very first page, by remarking that “people getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about” (1), and this does sound like someone knows what those fundamental interests are, and it ain’t the people who are getting ‘em wrong.
Full disclosure: Mr. Frank himself wrote me a nice little letter to accompany my publisher’s copy—what, you think maybe I buy my books?-- in which he said that he knows that it’s not “fashionable” to speak of false consciousness but that someone’s got to point out just how much damage the right has done, or something like that. The proper reply, I think (aside from “hey, thanks for the free book!"), is to point out that “fashion” isn’t the problem here. The reason that lots of cultural-studies people stopped talking about “false consciousness” at some point between Raymond Williams’s 1973 essay “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory” and Stuart Hall’s 1986 essays “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity” and “The Problem of Ideology: Marxism without Guarantees” wasn’t that it became “unfashionable.” Rather, it was because it began to look as if, in trying to understand why the dominated classes participated so eagerly in their own domination, left cultural theory was simply inventing the same wheel over and over again, and worse, it was a weird kind of triangular wheel that didn’t actually work on the road.
HAVING SAID THAT, though, I should get to the damn point. I don’t think, in the end, that What’s the Matter with Kansas? relies wholeheartedly on a theory of false consciousness. There are moments when it sounds otherwise-- say, when Frank speaks of Kansas conservatives as “deranged” (and conservatives in the media were, for some reason, quick to pick up on this)-- but I actually don’t mind these moments: it seems pretty clear to me that Frank is addressing this book to other liberals and progressives rather than to the Kansas Cons themselves, and you know what, I too think some of the Kansas Cons’ political senses are just deranged. (Ordinary economic libertarianism combined with cultural conservatism I can understand; people appointing themselves Pope or conducting searches for the bodies of all the people Bill Clinton killed with his own hands I do not understand.)
So yeah, there are times when the book sounds as if it’s always the economy, stupid-- as when Frank insists that for the New Right, “cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends. And it is these economic achievements-- not the forgettable skirmishes of the never-ending culture wars-- that are the movement’s greatest monuments” (6). But his own work shows that for many heartland conservatives, it really is about the cultural anger; it’s a cultural anger that is marshaled to cultural ends, and they don’t mind being impoverished by the economic agenda of Bush’s crony klepto-capitalism. On the contrary, for them, their immiseration is but another sign of their Election: they understand that they must live in poverty and tribulation on this earth, because they are serving a higher calling, namely, protecting unborn babies in the womb and/or protecting the sanctity of holy matrimony. Let those weaselly Europeans have health care-- we guide ourselves, instead, by what Jesus would do. And Jesus would surely bomb an abortion clinic.
That isn’t false consciousness, folks. It’s true consciousness-- the true consciousness of a theocratic right wing in which people really do think that their “fundamental interests” lie in prosecuting those never-ending culture wars . . . right until the day they end. And for all his many virtues, and they are many, Stuart Hall never had to account for a fundamentalist right so virulent or so entrenched as ours when he was analyzing the popular appeal of Thatcherite “authoritarian populism.”
ONE FINAL POINT ABOUT THOSE CULTURE WARS. For a guy who tends of think of them as a mere distraction from the real issues, Frank does a pretty damn good job of describing them. But when he says
The leaders of the backlash may talk Christ, but they walk corporate. Values may “matter most” to voters, but they always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won. This is a basic earmark of the phenomenon, absolutely consistent across its decades-long history. Abortion is never halted. Affirmative action is never abolished. The culture industry is never forced to clean up its act. (6)
-- he’s right only to a point. Never mind the culture industry cleaning up its act; that was Wednesday’s argument. Think about abortion and affirmative action, instead. Frank’s right that they haven’t been stricken from the laws of the land, as the right so desires-- but he underestimates, I think, just how much damage the right has done and might yet do on this score. These “cultural” issues aren’t just smokescreens for the repeal of the estate tax; lots of people actually believe in them on their merits. Planned Parenthood v. Casey really did represent a rollback of abortion rights, and anti-abortion terrorism has had a profoundly chilling effect on the lives and livelihoods of family planning providers. (And let’s not forget the many many dimes’ worth of difference between Democratic and Republican presidential administrations when it comes to family planning organizations overseas.) Likewise, court decisions like Wards Cove v. Atonio (1989) really did do enormous damage to affirmative action-- in that case, by gutting eighteen years of “disparate impact” theory following 1971’s landmark Griggs v. Duke Power Co. decision and basically whacking the knees of most claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. (The civil rights bills of 1990 and 1991-- the second a badly watered-down version of the first, but the only thing the Democrats could get Bush I to sign-- represented Congress’s attempt to restore the status quo ante Wards Cove.) And never mind the Fifth Circuit decision in Hopwood v. Texas (1996), which sent college affirmative action offices into freefall for seven years (until last summer’s rulings).
Again, Frank is right to suggest that what’s going on here is a kind of shadow-boxing in which the right plays at winning these battles outright but always seems to come up just one vote short. But how many of you are willing to bet that nothing important will change in these forgettable, never-ending culture wars if Bush is elected in November and appoints two or three new justices to the Supreme Court?
HERE ENDETH THE SERMON. And I should close by saying again what should have been obvious all along but (to some readers, so far) apparently wasn’t: I really, really like most of What’s the Matter with Kansas? Frank’s wit and smarts are considerable (rare and valuable commodities, ahem ahem, in the serious-pundit class), and his analysis of right-wing populism is just indispensable-- most of all for Frank’s account of right-wing populism’s substitution of a “cultural elite” (as the cause of working-class conservatives’ marginalization / victimization) for the economic and political elites (or what C. Wright Mills rightly called the “power elite") who are really doing the dirty work. I’m also happy to see Frank’s increasing “crossover” success, and I’m not the least bit jealous of any of it. Really. Except that I wish I’d written a book that got a blurb from Janeane Garofalo. Maybe next time. Hmmm, let me think, no, not much chance there either. OK, never mind.
Have a good weekend, everybody.
UPDATE: Almost forgot! Go get your own copy of the book right here (no, you can’t borrow my copy). Now’s a good time to read it!
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Thursday is American Street day!
That’s right, dear readers, I’ve been invited to join the mighty gang of bloggers over on The American Street, and Thursday is my day to post. So now it is Thursday! And that means it is my turn! My very first effort is somewhere on the alternate side of the street-- actually, right over there by the double-parked blue Impala with the whitewall tires.
Drop by and tell ‘em I sent you!
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Thomas Frank Week Continues!
Hello again, everyone. Sorry to have missed the crucial Day Two of Tom Frank Week just after declaring the week to be Tom Frank Week, but when I returned from Binghamton I came home to a very sick child who turns out (as we learned when Janet brought him in to the doctor today) to have pneumonia. And in this house, sick children take precedence over post-Marxist critiques of What’s the Matter with Kansas? All right already? So get off my case, people!! I only missed one day, dammit! Just sit still until I get back to the bit about corporate culture, will you?? Will you do that much?!?
Er, beg your pardon there. We’ve been, ah, kind of tightly wound around here lately.
OK, right then. Today’s installment is subtitled, What’s the Matter with Arguing that There’s a Contradiction Between the Right’s Opposition to Media Vulgarity and the Right’s Support for Media Consolidation? As I noted last Friday, Frank tries to argue that Sam Brownback’s support for the Telecommunications Act (and the massive media consolidation it enabled) runs counter to the right’s moral crusade against vulgarity: After all, as the industry critic Robert McChesney points out, the link between media ownership, the drive for profit, and the media’s insulting content should be obvious to anyone with ears to hear. “Vulgarity is linked to corporate control and highly concentrated, only semi-competitive markets,” McChesney says. And for many conservatives, “the radio fight was the moment of truth. If people are seriously concerned about vulgarity, this was their chance to prove it.” (74-75)
Last week, I said there were two things very, very wrong about this line of argument. Today, finally, I divulge them! And here they are!
WRONG THING ONE: the things Frank and McChesney don’t like about mass media are not at all the same things the cultural right doesn’t like about mass media. It should be obvious-- obvious, I might say, to anyone with ears to hear-- that radio, for most cultural conservatives, is not a site of vulgarity; for them, vulgarity issues from the MTV Video Music Awards and the Super Bowl halftime show, whereas radio gives them Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, James Dobson and Oliver North. So the idea that the right would join forces with the anticorporate left on this one, out of some common ground of opposition to vulgarity, is simply delusional.
Let me be exceptionally clear about this, so that I don’t invite any straw-man counterarguments about how I (and all my crypto-libertarian colleagues in cultural studies) fail to acknowledge that the mass media are owned by corporations. I know very well that the mass media are owned by corporations. But the problem with those corporations-- say, Clear Channel, perhaps?-- is not that they promote “vulgarity,” whatever that word might mean to you. The problem with them is that they consolidate great political power in very few hands-- and in the case of Clear Channel, those hands coordinate pro-war rallies and purge radio playlists of objectively pro-Saddam Fifth Columnists like Steve Earle and the Dixie Chicks. That’s not about vulgarity-- that’s about right-wing control of media that advance right-wing politics, which is (once again with feeling) not at all the same thing. In other words, trying to rally the right against Clear Channel on the grounds that corporate culture is vulgar culture is, quite honestly, a fool’s game.
One more point on this front: the question before us here is not whether our culture is vulgar. Undoubtedly, some aspects of it are. For the record, I am personally opposed to any further exposure of Christina Aguilera’s butt, and I know that it takes me only a few minutes of watching Nick and Jessica or The Bachelor to lead me to wish that our species would be wiped from the face of the earth and replaced by enlightened and cosmopolitan giant insects (which is why I have never watched more than a few minutes of either-- but hey, if the giant cosmopolitan insects are reading this blog, I’m with you, guys). The question on the table, rather, is whether you can derive the meaning of a cultural object by discovering who owns its means of production.
AND IN THAT RESPECT (see, I learned a new, Sullivanesque method of breaking up long posts, thanks to some unsolicited advice from the Kerry campaign), the Frank/McChesney thesis takes us three theoretical steps back-- back to the days when we could simply say, “the ruling class owns the means of mental production, and thereby produces the ruling ideas.” This is not a trivial point, and it should not be left to the last remaining Marxist Theory Debating Societies on the fair campuses of our fair nation. It really has important practical consequences for how you understand the cultural right.
For the premise underlying Frank’s argument here is that somehow, the cultural right is justified in taking offense at America’s commercial culture, and wrong only to blame it on “the liberal elite” rather than on the corporations responsible for it. (As he says in the Salon interview, “I’m just trying to play up the flagrant contradiction. If you hate this stuff, talk about capitalism! Talk about the forces that do it!") Now, if I wanted to be all snarky and dismissive about this aspect of Frank’s work-- you know, the way he’s been about cultural studies for the past decade or so-- I would say something like what my Penn State colleague Jeff Nealon said a month or two ago: if only ordinary Kansans understood that the Madonna-Britney kiss was the work of Archer Daniels Midland, that Janet Jackson’s breast was underwritten by Monsanto, and that Eminem is but the name of one of Enron’s holding companies, movement conservatives at the grassroots would turn with fury on the real elite, the corporate elite that is poisoning our cultural groundwater!
But I wouldn’t say anything so snarky or dismissive, now, would I.
WHICH BRINGS US TO WRONG THING TWO. If it’s a political mistake to think that the cultural right will bond with the cultural left over media vulgarity, and it’s a political and theoretical mistake to think that vulgarity is simply an epiphenomenon of corporate ownership, it’s a Whole Nother kind of mistake to go after “vulgarity” in the first place.
On this score, the problem is that Frank really does think our culture is vulgar. Yeah, I know I took that question off the table five paragraphs ago, but now it’s relevant again. When he writes,
for . . . aggrieved “Middle Americans,” the experience has been a bummer all around. All they have to show for their Republican loyalty are lower wages, more dangerous jobs, dirtier air, a new overlord class that comports itself like King Farouk—and, of course, a crap culture whose moral free fall continues without significant interference from the grandstanding Christers whom they send triumphantly back to Washington every couple of years (136),
he really means it. We live in a crap culture whose moral free fall continues without significant interference from anyone.
Perhaps you think he’s just paraphrasing a position with which he himself does not sympathize? OK, that’s charitable of you (Augustine and Aquinas would approve!), and I have to admit that for a while I thought so too. But the argument returns again and again throughout the book-- in its closing paragraphs, of course ("Why shouldn’t our culture just get worse and worse, if making it worse will only cause the people who worsen it to grow wealthier and wealthier?"), but also as part of its analysis (about which I’ll say more in another installment) of how right-wing culture wars are designed to fail:
Even when it is judged on its own terms-- as a struggle over values, patriotism, national honor, and the correct way to worship the Almighty-- the backlash has pretty much been a complete bust. Culturally, it has achieved almost nothing in the past three decades. TV and movies are many times coarser than they were in 1968. Traditional gender roles continue to crumble. Homosexuality is more visible and more accepted than ever. Counterculture has been taken up by Madison Avenue and is today the advertising industry’s stock-in-trade, the nonstop revolution that moves cereal and cigarettes by the carload. (121)
This is a very difficult passage, mixing things that Frank is clearly opposed to (counterculture’s incorporation by Madison Avenue, which was the subject of his first and much of his second book) with things that . . . uh . . . things that . . . well, things that we’re not quite sure what to make of. For surely Frank can’t be serious when he says that TV and movies are many times coarser than they were in 1968? Ah, but he is serious, and on this count it’s worth asking him whether he’d trade the corporate vulgarities of (for example) True Lies, The Lion King, or Die Hard VI: Die Even Harder With Still More Vengeance (all of which suck, by the way) for the world in which Southern television stations would censor Star Trek for that famous interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura (which, when you think of it, is especially weird, since-- only one year after the Supreme Court decision of Loving v. Virginia, striking down state “miscegenation” laws-- it displaces the US’ first televised interracial kiss to the 24th century). And is Frank serious about those traditional gender roles and all that acceptance of homosexuality? He can’t really be suggesting that cultural liberalism on those fronts is to be regretted, or ascribed to coarseness and vulgarity?
I honestly don’t think he is; I’m certainly not going to accuse him of treason in the war of position against All Bad Things (racism, patriarchy, homophobia, imperialism, theocracy, late late late capitalism, bagism, and dragism) when I know that he’s on the side of the angels. I mean, I’m aware that some of the Baffler crew were unduly influenced by the work of the late Christopher Lasch, but I don’t believe that any of them are really nostalgic for the traditional gender roles and pre-Stonewall closets of 1968. All I’ll say is that this passage is confusing and confused.
AND SO, DEAR READERS, I would urge you to take seriously our corporate culture’s fitful ventures into cultural liberalism. Not because the Madonna-Britney kiss was subversive (it wasn’t, and pace Frank, it wasn’t “lascivious” either), but because there’s a sense in which the forces of secular modernity really are liberalizing, both for good and for ill. Remember, when we lefties think about vulgarity, we think about the reification of human life, the reduction of every human interaction to the cash nexus; but when the cultural right thinks about vulgarity, it thinks about Six Feet Under, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Harry Potter. (And don’t imagine for a moment that the six-temptations-of-potter can be ascribed simply to corporations trying to make money!)
And I would also urge you to join Frank and McChesney in opposing the corporate control of cultural expression and the accelerating consolidation of mass media-- but I would urge you not to do so in the hope of stamping out “vulgarity.” As an internationally-renowned American composer said to me recently, after reviewing Frank’s arguments against our crap culture, “a left campaign against vulgarity? Fuck that shit!” I don’t think I can improve on that.