Vox makes a good point: Fox News is a freak show. It’s a chapter from a dystopian novel. Unabashed racism, sexism, partisan hackery, and distorted facts. Unsurprisingly, Vox wishes to return to the past, when news show hosts like Sean Hannity didn’t openly campaign for a political party. But, my question is this: didn’t the past lead to the present?
Liberal democracy requires its participants to have faith in its process. To believe in the neutrality of the system. A privately owned, partisan “news” network like Fox News must abstain from pursuing partisan hackery from the good of its heart. A private corporation must assume neutrality rather than maximize profit. Perhaps, that is where the problem lies. FoxNews is not the only network that enabled Trump because he generated a lot of views. CNN and MSNBC hopped on the Trump train as well. The media under capitalism is addicted to controversy and sensationalism.
Certainly, our past news networks were less polarized. Fox News is a turning point. Yet, did it make a categorical difference? USS Maine. The Chinese Exclusion Act. Martin Luther King Jr. Angela Davis. The Black Panther Party. The media represented them as the controversy and sensationalism of the time. FoxNews certainly opened a new era of unabashed FakeNews. Yet, I cannot say that a privately owned media network in a racist, capitalist nation does not possess the seeds of Fox News. Similarly, fascism forever haunts capitalism as a specter.
Private corporations pursue profit rather than the liberal ideal of neutrality. Capitalism itself is opposed to the public good. Maybe, we need to question the nature of these networks owned by billionaires. Perhaps, large, private media networks should be converted to be more public and democratic? More radical than NPR and PBS which are rather largely private. If we do not want to repeat the past and the present, perhaps we should move towards the future. It won’t be perfect at first. We might just hear what we like. Democracy ain’t easy. Democracy is the difficult project of learning to build the future together. To make political decisions together. To make sure we hear the truth. To share a common life. Liberal democracy expects us to make decisions together while living separately as individual consumers.
Gordon Ramsay is just like Donald Trump. Maybe even worse, because many liberals regard his old fashioned capitalist authoritarianism as some kind of “realness.” The boss talks down the workers, who must simply obey and listen to their boss who “knows better.” The managerial class of capitalism knows better than the “uneducated” working class. Listen to the economists who gave us the 2008 recession. They still know better than the “unruly” mass.
But, Gordon Ramsay is a Michelin star chef! Yes, a star chef who mostly runs shit chain restaurants, with a few fancy ones for rich people. In fact, he’s no longer a chef. He’s a businessman. A celebrity CEO like Donald Trump. He isn’t really a working chef anymore; moreover, prestige and mastery do not warrant sexism and body shaming. Some might respond: “well, that’s just how it is in the cooking industry.” But, this is not really a response, because bullying workers was just how it worked in the factory too. It doesn’t mean we should keep allowing it to happen,
I understand the appeal of Trump and Ramsay. They’re a departure from the faux respect of 21st century capitalism. Workers are still subordinate to their boss, yet they cannot regard that relationship as exploitation anymore. The boss is a “relatable” person who cares about their workers. We all know, deep down, that the corporate structure cannot produce a genuine relationship between a worker and their boss without power dynamics. Yet, we have to pretend that capitalism now has a human face. Trump and Ramsay break apart that illusion. They give us the “real” face of capitalism.
However, it is dangerous to conflate their “realness” with reality. The reality is that a Trumpian CEO exploits us just as much as, or perhaps even more than, the CEO with a human face. Trump and Ramsay reap most of the profits of their businesses, while their workers — who produce most of the profit— make, more or less, minimum wage. Exploitation is still exploitation. The hyperreality of Ramsay is surely intoxicating. I am often entertained by Ramsay yelling at his contestants too. Our dull lives are shocked by the old face of capitalism. We escape into reality TV, because its hyperreality feels more “real” than the monotous lives of late capitalism. We live in the age of Francis Fukuyama, who proclaimed that welfare capitalism is the end of history. There is no system beyond capitalism; effectively, it means we have no future.
A society without a future is dull, because it has no vision. Our attempts to “fix” our problems always invoke the “good old past:” MAGA or New Deal Capitalism. Accordingly, the workplace has no future. It’s an everlasting present, in which we work from 9 to 5. Like a clock, it ticks the same way over and over again. You cannot care about a life that escapes the flow of time. Death and the uncertainty of the future make us care. This is why we need to be shocked into a semblance of caring through reality TV. Nonetheless, it is important to note that caring about hyperrality is distinct from caring about our actual lives. Trump or Ramsay as your real boss might not be so exciting. Furthermore, hyperrality does not have a future. It is a recording of staged events. Perhaps, it is time for us to reckon with our atemporal lives. To bestow upon it a future. The best things in life require uncertainty. Love is the act of falling for the other. To succumb to uncertainty. Similarly, caring requires us to head towards the future. Perhaps, it is time to be shocked by uncertainty rather than hyperreality.
Richard Wolff reminds us that Free Trade vs. Protectionism is ultimately a futile debate. It’s like Coke or Pepsi. Both sides have been used by big industries for their own gain, because that’s how capitalism functions. Capitalism, in any kind of trade, begets a system of inequality and labor exploitation. In other words, the means of production are private.
I have criticized free trade, not because I’m fundamentally on the side of protectionism. After all, I am not a capitalist. Plus, it would make me enthusiastic about Trump — I am not. Rather, like Ha Joon Hang, I am trying to criticize the mantra of free trade as panacea. History paints a complex picture, in which both free trade and protectionism were employed to develop economies. In fact, 19th century US and 20th century South Korea could not be characterized as anything other than protectionist.
The mainstream media portrays free trade as “the gold standard,”because that’s what capitalists want at the moment. Economists will give you “data” that shows you free trade HELPS THE POOR THE MOST. Yes, if you’re poor, any amount of money from trade is a lot compared to before! Yet, these economists omit the fact that, for example, liberalized India and China are seeing historic levels of inequality. Unsurprisingly, a free trade lobbyist of 40 years, confesses that he had never mentioned american jobs or poverty in a meeting. Like I said, it’s good old capitalism that’s the problem.
Wolff makes a great point at the end that we should be part of the debate, nonetheless. More precisely, we should use the debate for our cause. This is why I have attempted to weigh in on the debate. Contrary to the Washington Consensus, developing nations have more than one option. Protectionism is a viable option for a developing nation, if it’s done right, in tandem with appropriate levels of liberalization. Most importantly, they should doubt the trifecta of bad faith: the World Bank, IMF, and WTO. You don’t have to privatize water like Latin America, and descend to a dystopian present. Patents mostly benefit large corporations; copying and reverse-engineering are essential to any skill, art, or science. Property is a man-made myth; don’t believe it like gravity. Don’t get swept up by the mantra of free trade, because capitalism is fundamentally unconcerned with your well-being. My hope is that criticizing the mantra of free trade and sowing seeds of doubt for the global economic order will lead to a rejection of the capitalist system.
Cohen simultaneously criticizes and entrenches racial stereotypes. Unlike the overt racism of Donald Trump, such liquid racism is more difficult to analyze. It must be discerned whether the act seriously challenges the racial hierarchy of contemporary society. Without a doubt, Cohen does not challenge anything. Borat, perhaps his most challenging film, is only challenging on the surface level. He does a brilliant job at pointing out the post-911 hysteria and islamophobia of the US. Yet, he does not question the fundamental structures that enable such racism, which is evident in his choice to satirize Kazakhstan as a nation. Cohen is only concerned with his white audience. He wants to offend and educate them. Yet, the plight of Kazahks in the west doesn’t even enter his mind. In other words, Cohen is trapped by the white gaze. His ultimate project is a liberal utopia, in which there aren’t any Trumpers. In his utopia, Latin American immigrants’ labor will still be exploited. Black people will still be policed and jailed disproportionately. Such problems will persist, because he won’t question the subtleties of white supremacy and capitalism. Instead, he wantst to remedy such issues by white people satirizing racial stereotypes! At least we don’t have any taboo! It’s a sign that we’ve progressed!
Another important element of Cohen’s liquid racism is his racial status. White people are comfortable with Cohen taking up his role, because he’s ethnic enough. There is enough non-whiteness in his make up to “justify” minstrelsy. Sacha Baron Cohen’s mother is an Israeli of German origin. His father is a Jewish person of European origin. In other words, he’s white but not quite white enough. This is why he shares the white person’s desire to move on from race; at the same time, he can act as their dancing, post-racial clown. Sadly, Cohen appears to be a victim of the very system he enables.
“Ali G expresses three strands of liquid racism. These are ‘postmodern minstrelsy’ — Ali G as a black man, ‘ethnocultural hybrid racism’ — Ali G as a white man pretending to be black, and ‘anti-Asian racism’ — Ali G as an Asian man pretending to be black. It is the combination of the three and the erasure they inflict on one another that creates liquidity. Finally, some non-racist themes in Baron Cohen’s comedy are outlined that encourage analytic confusion.”
“Howells ultimately extracted a sense of utopianism from Cohen’s work. His message was that if we as a society can laugh about ‘race’, like we do sex, then that will be beneficial to wider social relations. The extent to which ‘race’ can be a laughing matter to those whose everyday lives are shaped by the forces of racism across Britain and the world is, however, another matter.”
Liberals love Sacha Baron Cohen, because he exposed the absurdity of Republicans. Yet, they say nothing about his racism and their complicity in it. Satire doesn’t excuse routinely portraying negative stereotypes. It actually affects people. For example, Kazakh students in the US and UK were mocked because of Borat. Kazakhs have no representation at all in the west. Frankly, Cohen’s intentions do not matter. The consequences are indubitable: Borat made life worse for many Kazakhs in the west.
Satire loses its edge when the target is powerless. Libyans and Kazahks have no social capital in the west. James Franco’s film, The Interview, is horrible for similar reasons. North Koreans are only presented as fat, ugly maniacs or brain-washed goons. Unsurprisingly, Cohen mocked Kim Jong Il’s death at an awards ceremony, dressed as Gaddafi. Unlike Republicans, none of these people have a standing to be ridiculed. Cohen, for the sake of pointing out his country’s racism, will drip himself in racist portrayals that negatively affect these people. Shock value is his game, and it’s more important than Kazahks and Libyans.
Some might claim that it’s just “benign ignorance.” If so, why is this “benign ignorance” allowed and sustained by those who know better? Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense under Barack Obama, has openly talked about many of the things I mentinoed above: North Korea is not irrational, there is a complicated history between US and NK, and etc. William Perry, former secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, is even more sympathetic to North Korea — and he’s talked about this openly too. The US military is clearly aware of the things I have pointed out above. Yet, why aren’t these voices as emphasized as the negative steretypes? Why was Hussein suddenly demonized, despite US presidents like Reagan praising him as “great leader” in the past? Why is Gaddafi now a joke? All in all, one should be wary of ridiculing dictators who have no social capital in their country. We should be learning more about the other. Without prior knowledge, satire becomes a blank canvas for racism and xenophobia.
John Oliver and many others are criticizing Facebook for effectively spreading hate and fake news. Indisputable at this point. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s good for one’s health. Nonetheless, I feel like they’re missing the point.
The printing press under capitalism has always been broken. One of the first major jobs of the printing press was the witch-hunt. They effectively spread the paranoia of witches to corners of Europe that were rather unaffected. Historian Silvia Federici has pointed out the undeniable link between the witch hunts and capitalism (Caliban and the Witch). There was a reason why the witch hunts were most severe in areas with mass land privatization, whereas those with communal ownership suffered close to none. The printing press was an effective tool for the capitalist genocide of women. Accordingly, the printing press and later corporate media have been spreading hate and fake news for the sake of capitalism. This is why Iraq had WMD’s, women were witches, black men were rapists, North Korea is crazy, and Edward Snowden is a Russian spy.
Eliminating Facebook is not going to fundamentally change this dynamic. Fox News still exists. YouTube helped Alex Jones more than Facebook. YouTube and Reddit have been fueling far-right channels, in some respect, far more effectively than Facebook. CNN and MSNBC lie all the time. Children in Yemen will never matter more than Trump’s toupee under capitalism. Facebook would not exist if not for capitalism.
Facebook deserves criticism. I am not trying to deny that. Rather, my issue is that too many stop at just that. I think there is a clear reason for this. John Oliver is a descendant of the printing press, beholden to capitalist interests. His show is run by a large corporation and is dependent on social media; thus, it cannot question certain matters. This is why John Oliver is a liberal darling.
Last but not least, is Facebook truly a radical step towards unhappiness and lack of human connection? Before Facebook, there was Fox News and the mainstream media in general. Before Facebook, we didn’t talk to our neighbors. Before Facebook, we wanted to sell our bodies and personas to become celebrities. Before Facebook, every aspect of our lives were advertised and commodified. Structurally speaking, there wasn’t a big difference. Facebook simply amplified these problems. We can become mini-celebrities on Facebook. Our everyday lives are now the products next to advertisements. We are still unhappy. Instead of watching TV, we scroll through the blue, Facebook wall. We still work most of our lives without much time for meaningful connection. We are still brainwashed by the media. What’s so radically different? Perhaps I might’ve missed a few radical elements. Nonetheless, I think my point still stands: a lot has not changed and we are not speaking against those aspects because of capitalist ideology.