I’ve wondered lately whether all those “deconstructionists” and “culture-jammers” from the 1990s—theorists and artists, respectively, who thought that a major purpose of the left should be to get people to stop trusting media merely because it’s full of familiar, reassuring aesthetic cues—will admit that the present-day left proves they were complete failures.
After all, surely whatever successes the left of the 2020s has are due not to wild remixes, postmodern montages, skepticism, and radical rethinking—that is, the fun stuff—but largely due to hectoring people to believe the media, toe the party line, and beware any alternative-media deviations.
Further, studies suggest that it’s on the left—precisely the people who were the audience for the deconstructionists’ manifestoes and the culture-jammers’ avant-garde art projects at the last century’s end—that trust in media has grown significantly this century, while trust in media has dropped to something like single digits among right-leaning viewers/listeners.
For the left, apparently, “Trust the media” was the message for the past couple of decades (with “Believe the science” just a specific variation on that theme). Are the deconstructionists and culture-jammers sad about that, or do they think media have shaped up so impressively lately that we all ought now to submit to its charms? Is skepticism just for times when the left isn’t on top?
No political faction has gotten exactly what it wanted this century, which is largely for the best. It’d be nice, though, if the left’s successes (and those of any faction) were more of the “anarchic” sort than the “institutionalized power” sort. A New York Times piece last week praised comedian Janeane Garofalo for having “never sold out,” but when I see her in the mainstream-establishment Times, I’m reminded that she spent much of her career so far humorlessly pushing leftist political policies on the now-defunct Air America radio network. I instinctively recoil a bit.
By contrast, when I see her walking through the Lower East Side while I’m having drinks with friends—and it seems as though I spot her frequently for some reason—I’m reminded that she and I were technically in a movie together, the low-budget comedy sci-fi film Werewolf Bitches from Outer Space, directed by Lower East Side performance artist “Rev. Jen” Miller. I think it’s safe to say that that film had no policy agenda, and yet it likely featured more radical, strange leftists (and Troma-like occasional nudity) in its cast and crew than almost any Hollywood production. Still, that playful, crazy, more dangerous version of the creative left, including Garofalo, I tend to like.
That is to say, like the bohemian Village “radicals” (as opposed to “Progressives”) of World War I-era New York, or the anti-LBJ, anti-war hippies (as opposed to the pro-LBJ Democratic Party establishment), the left is at its best when it creates strange new things instead of just coldly trying to regulate all the old things (including me). The left/liberal establishment would love it if you forgot all about those embarrassing old internal divisions on the left—but no complacent Times reader should draw the conclusion that Garofalo appearing in Werewolf Bitches is somehow strong evidence for the benefits of tax hikes and climate regulation, any more than, say, lesbians throwing a fun party shows that government solar panel subsidies are a good idea.
And the right (like everyone else) should be delighted if the left does more art like Werewolf Bitches and less stuff like, say, the evening news. The werewolves are at once more radical and less destructive—more akin to rockabilly than to the Dept. of Transportation.
Similarly, there’s a good chance that some conservative or other will complain about Disney’s reportedly forthcoming 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea prequel TV series Nautilus if it leans heavily on anti-imperialist and anti-war themes, but those themes would be perfectly in keeping with Capt. Nemo’s old-fashioned and moralistic yet anarchist philosophy as depicted in Jules Verne’s novel and the classic Disney film.
If, in the real world, you sincerely want to prevent your nation being entangled in budget-draining foreign conflicts or want to prevent the white man from trampling indigenous peoples in conflict zones around the world (depending on whether you frame these things in right-wing or left-wing terms), root for an authentically South-Asian-descended Nemo to stop warring and waste with a vengeance in the new TV series—not for vaguely Clinton-like hero-bureaucrats to stop a foreign dictator’s missile launch in the final minutes of the last act of the show one more time while high-fiving the intelligence community and spending trillions on robots.
If you want a future in which the U.S. wastes money in neither Syria nor Ukraine (letting the president of the latter return to emphasizing comedy over militarism in his own cultural messaging), nor in any other hellhole, let Disney go ahead and groom a generation of Nemo-loving future anarchists and anti-war activists.
Likewise, though much of the talk surrounding Jordan Peele’s UFO thriller film Nope this week will be about black people instead of white people doing the alien-investigating for a change, I’ll see it with the more universalist and libertarian thought in mind that it’s about entrepreneurial private stunt people and photographers trying to snag the sort of world-altering evidence that governments have for decades lied and obfuscated about while spending real taxpayer money.
Ditch the idea that the central planners and centralized media can be trusted to supply you with the truth, are more “authoritative,” and you’re ready for launch, as are billions of other people’s beneficially competing, often strange, projects.
—Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on Twitter at @ToddSeavey