I have been busy with lots of things, but wanted to post at least a brief entry today.

As one watches the political spectacle of U.S. presidential elections, you will naturally come across all manner of other “news” distraction. This week was the emmies. I am surprised they still exist, and maybe I thought they didn’t. But apparently they do, and the headline in three different on-line newspapers was about who was best dressed. So, it seems the awards don’t even matter anymore within the enclosure of discourse established by the culture industry itself. (I think Julianne Moore was voted best dressed for those wondering). The actual winners were, in fact, hard to find. I never did find a comprehensive listing of all the winners and nominees. But no matter, I saw who looked “good” on the “red carpet”. The biggest drama winner was Homeland. And interestingly the best actor this year went to Kevin Costner, for his role as Devil Anse Hatfield, in Hatfields & McCoys.

A quick google shows that the previous three years the award for best actor went to Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad. I find it not at all surprising that the only actor around WORSE than Cranston would be Costner. I don’t even hate Costner. What’s to hate. Poor schlep. But the mini series on the famous West Virginia fued of the late 1800s was paralysingly bad. Best actress was also our winner for best dressed, Ms Moore, for her role as Sarah Palin.

Moore as Palin

Alright. So, a few thoughts on all this. First, what is becoming more and more glaringly obvious is that the US populace views politics in exactly the same way as it views the History Channel or HBO or Showtime.

That Americans glean their understanding of politics from shows such as Homeland is pretty clear, and that such programming forms the backdrop, and defines the contours of critical thought and aesthetic appreciation, as well as political beliefs. Now, its worth noting that this backdrop (for lack of a better word right now) would also include all advertising and marketing, and that in turn these cultural products define and inculcate, from an early age, all U.S. citizens. Ideas about the “world” out there are fashioned early on and concepts such as meritocracy, and abstractions like democracy and freedom, are given huge emphasis. By the time one arrives at Homeland , a show based on an original Israeli show created by Gideon Raff, we are watching a full scale twelve hours of political infomercial. This is not to say, I hasten to add, that it’s not an amazingly well made show. For it is. Its addictive, as is crack, for the same reasons Breaking Bad is addictive. The world as depicted by Homeland is the world of Hollywood film’s established narrative for the U.S. Military and foreign policy. For ‘the war on terror’. Liberals love this show. It reinforces every cliche possible about U.S. exceptionalism, and the primitive nature of Islamic people. Oh, there is an Indian girlfriend trotted out for CIA middle east division chief (Mandy Patinkin) to pine over and agonize over because, you know, he is too dedicated to his work. There are Muslim masterminds, and there are the, by now, familiar structural plot devices such as POWs returning home in possession of, perhaps, secret knowledge (or Manchurian Candidate brain washed terror plots). In fact, this is Manchurian Candidate for the age of Bush and Obama.

For a show to be successful today, it must flatter its base…same as politicans. In this case, not the NASCAR mcnugget and mayo eating masses in Iowa and Kansas, but the liberal educated elite on either coast. What do Homeland, Hatfields & McCoys and Game Change (the Palin sort of bio pic) have in common? They pander to the conceits of this liberal affluent (or wanna be) class. They slum in the historical working class of inbred hillbillies, or make fun of the Alaska Republican (not hard) or recreate the fantasy backdrop that justifies neo-Imperialist foreign policy. That liberals get all hot and aroused by the military is no secret. In fact, they do far more than rural America does. In spite of a pathological patriotism found in small town America, you also, often, find a sense of reality that usually relates to knowing someone who actually DIED in the military. Or was injured, or driven crazy. For liberals though, it’s a reflexive excuse to pay homage to “real” American values…and one sees this in the fetishizing of baseball, or quilts or making your own cider or wearing L.L. Bean boots or some fucking thing. Its “rustic”…and its part of the David Brooks world bonobos. Except of course its far worse and more toxic than that. Its political brand loyalty. Its political accessorizing. “I loved Game Change….did you see the new Industrial restaurant quality stove we bought? Isn’t Romney a dick”?

Homeland works as well as it does however, because it’s also announcing signifiers for *prestige*, a sense of seriousness, and it borrows from a dozen (or fifty) other shows and films that have dealt with the same themes. The performances are restrained and highly “naturalistic” in the accepted style. And actually, Damien Lewis is a compelling actor. The story, the plot points, are as predictable as an after school special, but then that’s not the point, is it? But lets couple this to the Palin TV film, Game Change, about McCain’s choice of the retard Alaskan reactionary to be his running mate. What is interesting here, and look, I only made it half way through, is that the cynicicism of electoral party politics is treated as a given. The focus is really on the political advisor (played by Woody Harrelson) and hence its another example of getting invited behind the scenes. This is how it “really” is to be part of a Presidential campaign. It’s West Wing on steroids. It also caricatures Palin and Alaska while making a great effort to fawn over the “real” real-ness of those moose eaters. The liberal elite love nothing as much as ridicule. The framing of a narrative within the “behind the scenes” meme is a profound reinforcement for a trust in the spectacle. That TV is more real than life.

I’ve always had the feeling that the same nastiness and mean spirit and sadism that allows capital punishment is at work in making fun of the poor and rural.

The Costner project does to American history, what Homeland does to American foreign policy. It provides an simulacra of not just history, but of character and does it within a carefully reduced world view where a landscape of post civil war suffering and hardship is transformed into a ‘history brand’. Its Disney World Hillbilly land. This brand gives simplistic psychological motivations, laced with revisionist historical touchstones — and in fact, even in its slavish homage to previous films, it cannot achieve the scope and magnitude of an Anthony Mann or Howard Hawks, let alone the ambivilance. It is a cleansed world where the Civil War is only an issue that seems to cause alcoholism.

Costner as Devil Anse Hatfield

The narrative is so truncated as to evaporate before one. All that is really left are the signifiers for *meaning* as understood by an audience trained to respond to sign posts that indicate which emotion to feel, but more importantly, to agree with the normative outlines of the narrative. And really, those outlines are exactly the same as Homeland. There is no epic sweep, no sense of how large the American wilderness still was, how majestic. There are only signifiers for this, abbreviated moments and camera positions that suggest a faint echo of Ford. The ersatz is to embraced the way children embrace those dioramas at the Museum of Natural History.

Richmond, after Civil War, 1865

This is how a public now ‘reads’ public discourse. It’s how it internalizes, as it has done for decades, since childhood, a belief in the consensus view of what politics means, and further, what their own interests and feelings are. How does one understand the Claire Danes character in Homeland? As an impossibly beautiful CIA field officer, but one with imperfections (in this case she has psychological issues–but I don’t remember if we ever get a diagnosis….we might have…..I stopped listening that closely). But the heroine must overcome the obstacle put in her way. She must not jeapordize U.S. national security. The true viciousness of large state bureaucracies is air brushed away. The role of Israel in middle east foreign policy is air brushed away, the vindictive reactionary anti communist hysterica of foreign policy is air brushed away. What is left is an eroticizing of the military, and in Claire Danes, the making of a heroine we can accept because she embodies the virtues of a man, a military man, a career patriot, etc etc etc. She is also, alas, a bit weak. She has mental problems. Well, her old boss, Mandy Patinkin has her back. That this show is astoundingly reactionary and racist is a given. But then so is 99% of what Hollywood produces. The normalizing of militarist imperialist US occupation of Arab countries, of the de facto ‘war on terror’ as being exclusively about Muslims, all goes a long way toward the familiarity the show gives. And again, its crack.

So the emmies bestow their awards on the most venal and self congratulatory. They continue to photoshop the US landscape to make sure povery remains invisible. But that is not the sinister part, not really. What is sinister are the absences, the secondary layer of mimisis that allows the viewer to interrogate him or her self in the re-narration that is such a large part of viewing. The rinsed antiseptic sets, the military porn, all aid as delivery system for a normalized sense that the spectacle is the only reality we have. And even that is in jeapordy because Muslims want to steal it.

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