Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, March 07, 2008

What the Big Box Battles On the Palouse Are All About

Even though his frequent self-congratulatory egocentrism makes me blanch (e.g. "I'm a university professor with a large, successful, corporate-funded program that advises them on their business,") I generally enjoy Chuck Pezeshki's online comments because he cuts through all the usual bullshit our local liberals spout and reveals the unvarnished thoughts of a leftist in public. Take for example this recent comment on Dnews.com:
It's pretty shallow to define life in America as some kind of enhanced shopping experience. I don't think that the Founding Fathers meant 'pursuit of happiness' to mean price-shopping in a small geographic area. Sadly enough, with the collapse of anything resembling an external life in this country, shopping and over-work have turned into the few available pastimes. Lest ye think that I lament only for liberal pastimes, look at the fate of groups like the Lions. And try to buy a beer in an outdoor venue in the US. Not allowed-- because we're all supposedly hooligans. Even though there are whole continents where such a simple pleasure is a way of life-- not an exceptional activity.

For the last 12 years, this country's hit the skids. People are afraid, and now many are queued up for losing their homes. The collapse is on its way. It ain't gonna be pretty...

Bubba definitely had something to do with it. But GWB hammered the throttle down.
Besides demonstrating a terminal case of Bush Derangement Syndrome, Chuck's comment perfectly illustrates what Professor James Twitchell of the University of Florida in an article in Reason magazine called "Marxism Lite:"
Since the 1960s, the primary "readers" of the commercial "text" have been the well-tended and -tenured members of the academy. For any number of reasons--the most obvious being their low levels of disposable income, average age, and gender, and the fact that these critics are selling a competing product, high-cult (which is also coated with its own dream values)--the academy has casually passed off as "hegemonic brainwashing" what seems to me, at least, a self-evident truth about human nature: We like having stuff.

In place of the obvious, they have substituted an interpretation that they themselves often call vulgar Marxism. It is supposedly vulgar in the sense that it is not as sophisticated as the real stuff, but it has enough spin on it to be more appropriately called Marxism lite. Go into almost any cultural studies course in this country and you will hear the condemnation of consumerism expounded: What we see in the marketplace is the result of the manipulation of the many for the profit of the few. Consumers are led around by the nose. We live in a squirrel cage. Left alone we would read Wordsworth, eat lots of salad, and have meetings to discuss Really Important Subjects.

In cultural studies today, everything is oppression and we are all victims. In macrocosmic form, the oppression is economic--the "free" market. In microcosmic form, oppression is media--your "free" TV. Here, in the jargon of this downmarket Marxism, is how the system works: The manipulators, a.k.a. "the culture industry," attempt to enlarge their hegemony by establishing their ideological base in the hearts and pocketbooks of a weak and demoralized populace. Left alone, we would never desire things (ugh!). They have made us materialistic. But for them, we would be spiritual.

To these critics, the masters of industry and their henchmen, the media lords, are predators, and what they do in no way reflects or resolves genuine audience concerns. Just the opposite. The masters of the media collude, striving to infantilize us so that we are docile, anxious, and filled with "reified desire." While we may think advertising is just "talking about the product," that packaging just "wraps the object," that retailing is just "trading the product," or that fashion is just "the style of the product," this is not so. That you may think so only proves their power over you. The marginalized among us--the African American, the child, the immigrant, and especially the female--are trapped into this commodifying system, this false consciousness, and this fetishism that only the enlightened can correct. Legendary ad man David Ogilvy's observation that, "The consumer is no fool, she is your wife" is just an example of the repressive tolerance of such a sexist, materialist culture.

Needless to say, in such a system the only safe place to be is tenured, underpaid, self-defined as marginalized, teaching two days a week for nine months a year, and writing really perceptive social criticism that your colleagues can pretend to read. Or rather, you would be writing such articles if only you could find the time.
See, the problem with Chuck's ascetic Waldenesque utopia is that he and his elitist and enlightened academic chums who share his vision don't just want to decide what goods, stores, leisure pursuits, lifestyles, thoughts, feelings and beliefs are worthy for themselves, they want to decide for you also. This is the path to a totalitarian society.

Another example of Chuck's line of thinking is the book "The Politics of Meaning: Restoring Hope and Possibility in an Age of Cynicism" by Michael Lerner. This book and its message have been enthusiastically embraced by Hillary Rodham Clinton ("It takes a village to raise a child"), among others. Jonah Goldberg in his #1 bestseller "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning" states that modern American "progessives," like Chuck, share the same nostalgic tradition as the communists and fascists in that they want to use political power to reestablish in the alienated modern city the lost innocence of community and kinship of the pre-modern village.

This is what the fight over Wal-Mart and Hawkins in our community is all about, not water, traffic, or stormwater runoff. I thank Chuck for reminding everyone of that.

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1 comment:

Paul E. Zimmerman, M.A. said...

Oh, yeah, reminds me - I was planning on comparing prices on 50" plasma HDTV's.

I think I might go for a beer robot, too.