By Jack Halberstam
In a country inured to lies and half truths, Kanye West’s intervention at the MTV Video Awards the other night, could be received as a breath of fresh air. The night was already old due to the stale humor of Russell Brand and his sneering schoolboy sex jokes and the Michael Jackson tribute was wearing thin, so I, for one, was sort of relieved when Kanye grabbed the mike from poor bland Taylor Swift as she tried to make off with Beyonce’s award for Best Female Video. And when he told her and the crowd what we all knew – that Beyonce was robbed – you might have thought, from all the twittering critics afterwards, that he had just said something really controversial… that Dick Cheney was a war criminal, or that we all pay for the bailout or that Russell Brand needed to shut the f**k up about Lady Gaga’s gender ambiguity. But no, it was just Kanye, being Kanye and pointing out the truth about Best Female Video. He has now apologized to all parties concerned; he has shed tears on Jay Leno’s new show and he has been parodied and mocked on youtube. Beyoncé, meanwhile, won for Best Video of the Year (raising the perplexing question of why you would have made the best video of the whole year but NOT the best female video) and turned her airtime over to Ms Swift to make nice. The Kanye-Beyoncé-Taylor ménage a trois had the media grumbling and groaning about Kanye’s “tirade” and left Taylor in a much bigger spotlight than she would have earned by herself with a tame little acceptance speech. And as for Beyoncé? Well we can only imagine – check out one youtube comedienne’s hilarious version of the morning after for the diva:
Of course a world where Taylor Swift can beat out Beyoncé for best female video is an upside down place, one where, perhaps, right wing nuts can get people fired up about a community organizing group that gives legal and financial advice to poor low and middle income people seeking mortgages. As you know, this week, conservatives were jumping up and down on the grave of community organizing group ACORN after entrapping ACORN employees in a series of video interviews. The videos show ACORN employees offering advice to self-declared prostitutes and pimps about how to get tax breaks.
The people funding the campaign to smear ACORN claim that it gets federal dollars to advance a “liberal agenda.” And of course, we all know that giving poor and middle income people advice on how to get mortgages at a time when banks have gone belly up after selling bad ones is a “communist plot” or something! As usual, Republicans are casting informal laborers as the real drain on the economy and ignoring the more obvious burden: the banking class. Why don’t they take their cameras to the offices and boardrooms of high-finance investment bankers to tape their numerous consultations with overpaid lawyers about how to funnel their ill-gotten gains into unmarked bank accounts in Switzerland in order not to pay taxes on it? Whatever the truth of the matter might be in relation to the ACORN videos, we can be sure that ACORN is truly not at the heart of this country’s economic woes (http://www.acorn.org/)
“The abuse of power,” as Jenny Hozer aptly noted in one of her aphoristic art pieces, “comes as no surprise” and so the smearing of ACORN is par for the course in a bizarro world where rich people steal from the poor and then enlist the poor to worry about organizations committed to helping them. This bizarro universe is also willing to bail out banks and fraudulent insurance companies but not willing to offer universal health coverage or real welfare assistance. We pay lawyers more than teachers, we require our politicians to be millionaires, we cast suspicion on groups geared towards helping poor people and we support a religious industrial complex with mega churches and renegade preachers. And we truly believe that Taylor Swift could out dance or out sing Beyonce!
These are confused and confusing times – we have been robbed, manipulated, cheated and lied to by a combination of Republican leaders, big banks, hedge fund daddies and the religious right but the right wing media wants to warn the very people who have just been ripped off by big business against small time crooks. Small time crooks have not drained your savings account; prostitutes, generally speaking, at least the kind with pimps, are not overly concerned with tax shelters; community organizations are not manipulating poor people. But guess what: bankers have spent your money; investment bankers do need tax shelters and right wing churches and media are most certainly lying to poor people.
When Joe Wilson yelled “you lie” during Obama’s address to a joint session of congress, he was about a year too late. President George W Bush and his scary crony Dick Cheney most certainly did lie to the nation about their motives for going to war, their use of torture in the process of justifying an illegal war, their ties to big business with interests in Iraq and so much more. Lying has been a Republican sport for about two decades now and in a country with inadequate public education and no real plan for improving it, politicians can get away with all kinds of misinformation and conspiracy theories can pass for truth. Still, when progressive activists sign on to conspiracy theories, they get smeared for it: and so, Van Jones, a White House environmental official, had to resign a week ago because conservative media revealed that he had once signed a petition implicating Bush’s government in the September 11 attacks. But the many Republicans who have circulated the inflammatory and conspiratorial rumor about the infamous “death panels”–a rumor that seemed to link an Obama sponsored health bill to Nazi eugenics—have not been asked for their resignation.
Living in a country where potentially affordable health care can be compared to social Darwinism, where rich people sneer at poor people’s efforts to make something of nothing, where community organizing is held up as cheating and big business is celebrated as the American way makes one almost ready for a new phase of political resistance, perhaps of the kind captured in the German film, The Baader-Meinhof Complex, which was just released in the US.
The Baader-Meinhof Complex looks back to Germany in the 1970’s when a generation of activists reckoned with the Nazi pasts of their fathers and mothers and decided to take arms to make sure such a time never came to pass again. Whether the time for armed revolt is past or still to come, and whether it is more likely to come nowadays from the right than the left, questions raised by the film, I will leave for another blog, but in the meantime let’s not confuse survival with crime or banks with charities or health care with socialism. Let’s make the appropriate connections between ruling financial elites and fascism and between right wing media manipulation, religion and lying. And let’s all be willing to admit that on any given night, in any given competition Beyonce’s hips that don’t lie will always beat the wispy wimpiness of a Taylor Swift. Kanye was right.