Administered Opinion

Richard Long

Richard Long

“Lacan said that there was surely something ironic about Christ’s injunction to love thy neighbour as thyself – because actually, of course, people hate themselves.”
Adam Phillips

“The absolute is from the outset in and for itself beside us and wants to be beside us.”
Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit

“Paranoia is part of the concern that drives the formation of slave patrols and part of the reason why you’d hear so many stories of revolts..{ } The seemingly unrestricted brutality of patrols would find its mirror image during Reconstruction in the extralegal activities of vigilante groups that operated outside virtually all social restrictions…White Southerners visited retribution upon freedmen who had little means of protecting themselves from the next incarnation of slave patrols: the Ku Klux Klan.”
Sally Hadden

“A narcissistic society would be a deeply lonely place.”
Christopher Barry

Americans increasingly are collectors of opinion. During election season this is particularly noticeable. But really this mental affliction runs much deeper. Adorno observed that opinion “is the positing, no matter how qualified, of a subjective consciousness restricted in its truth content.”In the U.S. today the expressing of opinion usually comes with a subtle sense of courage to say the unpopular, even if the opinion is in fact hugely popular. Adorno noted this and added that when confronted by a well thought out argument the owner of opinion will dismiss the opposing argument as ‘mere opinion’. It is a kind of prophylactic subject position that both asserts a tacit authority and also resists reflection. And the core structure of this mental mechanism is that of narcissism. People own their opinions, and any threat to ownership is taken very personally, even if much lip service is given to the right of others to have differing opinions. In fact the narcissistic opinion holder is silently furious at any opposing points of view.

Adorno adds…

“The positing of an opinion, the mere statement that something is such and such, already implies the potential for fixation, reification, even before the psychological mechanisms come into play that bewitch the opinion into a fetish.”

There is a clear sense (which Adorno notes) of opinion as property. And in turn this holding of an opinion carries with it the characteristic of self aggrandizing and of insularity. And that insularity suggests a quality of unique reason on the part of the opinion holder. All thinking has a tendency toward exaggeration (per Adorno again) but in the case of the narcissist their thought must end in some form of delusion. And here there arises the historical role of technology. For today the owner of political opinion is ever more dependent on beliefs for which he or she almost certainly can have no verifiable understanding. And the appeal then is to social authority. Perhaps more than at any time in history. It is the authority of the state that determines that which is true (in opinion) and that which is false. Societal authority is de facto appealed to in almost all cases of popular opinion.

Sylvia Gertsch

Sylvia Gertsch

One of the obvious but still little noted changes in societies of the West today is the sense of technology’s presence in the home; the sense of electronic media as a friend, a family member even.

“The border between healthy and pathogenic opinion is drawn in praxi by the prevailing authority, not by informed judgement.”

The relation of thought to its object is ever more tenuous. The kind of thinking in which a dialectical process between subject and object in which both inform the other has atrophied — as the material world itself has become less defined and more distant. If Adorno is right that opinion is consciousness that has not found an object, then the sense of difference between fact and fiction is erased. And the result then is that opinion tends to take the line of least resistance. And in relation to aesthetics there is now, increasingly anyway, a default setting for subjectivity that privileges consistency. Even if that logical consistency is nearly emptied of content.

Khaled Akil

Khaled Akil

Today, the political opinions of most Americans are structured like the belief in astrology columns, or self help books. The choice between a Trump or a Hillary Clinton is predicated on what best serves to orient the subject in the world; in other words which provides the best signpost to a reinforcing of very basic common sense views of the society in which we live. The impossible reality of having to grasp the utter bankruptcy of both these candidates and then of electoral politics itself is traumatic and will be defensively attacked. This is the role that mainstream media plays, in a sense; it repeats enough of the most common phrases and generalities that are then clung to as part of an opinion — an opinion of only a binary structure. Common sense today is a manufactured and administered set of inanities whose sole purpose to guide the narcissistic subject back to the comforting shore of one or another opinion. The TV or internet news outlet, or social media, are like the voices of close family members, or even bosses or supervisors (since fewer and fewer people actually live in homes with their families). To present obvious facts of Hillary Clinton’s long career of dishonesty, military aggression, and sadism is met with no refutation, only with the bland assertions of her competence and experience. Facts are literally never argued. Facts do not fit into the shaping of opinions.

The distance, or sense of distance, from the material world has given public discourse a quality of deadness. The world is experienced as ever more opaque. This contradicts certain facts of social media and the internet — there is more information and data available than ever before in history, but it’s not experienced information. It seems not to lead to transparency. Its abstract. And consequently the narratives of mass media, fiction and documentary alike, are increasingly disjointed and opaque as well. For the narcissistic subject the ownership of opinion also provides a sense of exclusivity. And I find more and more this quality of exclusivity to be one that is marketed and designed for this passive consumption. This is *my* opinion and I own it and like a designer lamp, it bestows a quality of uniqueness to the owner. A uniqueness that is entirely fictional. Now the followers of Trump, for example, are granted a significant narcissistic gratification in knowing that they are racially superior. Adorno noted this, too, and quoted Karl Mannheim’s observation that racism satisfies a mass psychological need by fueling a sense of superiority — first cousin to the sense of exclusivity. Trump’s wealth, even if not exceptional by the standards of the 1%, is ostentatiously paraded. And his followers are allowed to feel like insiders who catch a glimpse of the 1% — a back stage pass to the rich and famous they know is denied them otherwise. And this reminds me, also, of the behavior of many people when arrested (even repeat offenders, I have noticed) that look to become friends with the police arresting them. It is a version of Stockholm Syndrome, but also an eruption of masochism that coincides with expressions of sadism.

Seung Woo Back, photography.

Seung Woo Back, photography.

So, two things issue out of all this. One is that the elevation of opinion (and simultaneously its degrading) has eroded the idea of *truth*. In fact in some respects Capitalism itself has been both cause and effect of this. For there is a kind of individualism at the heart of western capital. And while illusory, of course, it serves to further isolate the subject from the world, a world that includes other people. For a large number of Americans the sense of collectivity is highly ambivalent.

The agreement of that ‘consistency’ that Adorno suggested in the realm of the narcissist is a kind of background drum beat to contemporary consciousness. Adam Phillips wrote….“We are continually, if unconsciously, mutilating and deforming our own character. Indeed, so unrelenting is this internal violence that we have no idea what we are like without it. We know virtually nothing about ourselves because we judge ourselves before we have a chance to see ourselves (as though in panic). Or, to put it differently, we can judge only what we recognize ourselves as able to judge. What can’t be judged can’t be seen.” And this is probably even too complex a process, today. The sense of inadequacy Phillips points toward is treated, in a sense, by the narcissistic repetitions of owning exclusive opinions. That they are not exclusive at all is beside the point. Or, perhaps, IS the point. Phillips is correct when he suggests that the contemporary neurotic is beset with a constant impulse toward reduction. Real interpretation (Freud) means over interpreting. But the opinion holder is traumatized by interpretation. In its place comes public (mainstream media) opinions. Familiar opinions. Cutting across this is always the appeal to authority. Those media created opinions of familiarity are really the voice of authority.

Catalogue illustration for The Toad’s Frolic. Charles Urban Papers, National Media Museum.

Catalogue illustration for The Toad’s Frolic. Charles Urban Papers, National
Media Museum.

And underneath this is the narcissist’s gnawing feelings of inadequacy. Diana Trilling wrote of her husband, Lionel….“Indeed, he thought poorly of happiness and of people who claimed to be happy or desired happiness above other gratifications in life . . . seriousness was the desirable condition of man.” And this is one part of that cluster of effects involved in the erosion of an idea of truth. For it touches on storytelling and mimesis — but it’s also part of an ideological retro-fit psychologically. Happiness is an emotion like opinion is thought.

Under a system of mass disillusionment the ‘pursuit’ of happiness (and this is rather obvious) is inextricably caught up with commodification. Opinions are property and happiness is a commodity. Just the very word happiness suggests something tangible rather than an ideal of some sort. The narcissistic follower of Trump, again as an example, is desperate to feel superior. One can read the comment threads at almost any online site, if the topic is race, and hear the rage and mock superior tone. White men in America simply, by and large, cannot deal with the loss of all that they ‘felt’ made them superior. The acutely unhappy narcissistic personality, often infantile, is usually locked into a variety of generic opinions, and also feels a duty to be happy or at least have fun. I have written before that the concept of ‘fun’ is one of the most bizarre developments in modern society. And a relatively recent one. Even a mere fifty years ago people might describe an activity as having been fun. The idea of fun was something, usually, that had already happened. One did not go out with intentions to have ‘fun’. To buy up what fun was available. The narcissistic opinion holder is content with a sense of exclusivity, in place of grandiosity, both of which mask feelings of inadequacy. And that makes the narcissist leery of risking criticism from others. The solution is to not argue but to simply hold (own) opinions. The follower of Hillary will not argue her record or visible insanity, but rather repeat pre-packaged PR from the media or the candidate herself. For once you hold an opinion, there is no thought given to having to change it. And that desire to be friends with the executioner or cop is of course at work in hoping to be invited to a Clinton gala. In extreme narcissistic disorders the subject may or may not differentiate the object from the self, but at these extremities it no longer matters. Here again, the loss of a belief in the idea of truth haunts contemporary society.

Wayne Gonzales

Wayne Gonzales

“The narcissistic self supplies small amounts of narcissistic-exhibitionistic libido which are transformed into subliminal signals of narcissistic imbalance (subliminal shame signals) as the ego tries to reach its goals, to emulate external examples and to obey external demands, or to live up to the standards and, especially, to the ideals of the superego.”
Heinz Kohut

There is a fascinating book by Oliver Gaycken on early scientific and educational cinema (Devices of Curiosity). I mention this because the late 19th century marked the start of a kind of middle brow cultural phase in capital. Such films were around even when I was in school. One of the electives one could take in Junior High School was called *audio/visual* — which meant you learned how to show 16mm educational films for classes(it was a complete goof elective). Many of these were, naturally, on cold war topics such as the duck and cover drill stuff, but also strangely uncanny science shorts. Gaycken noted, offhandedly, how most 19th century films were predicated on the proscenium lecture. In other words there was a heavy bias toward frontality in the filming. There is a clear sort of formality and authority in this lay out…and it was one that was challenged by educators in the 1960s. One does sort of wonder if the changes were not influenced by a spike of narcissistic self involvement. The loss of curiosity is so acute today that I do wonder if junior high school age students in the US have much sense of how the uncanny enters into the reading of the experience of the natural world. But it is more than that, of course. There was a deep nearly psychotic hubris that drove capitalism at its inception. The curiosity was shaped by, almost exclusively, control and domination. The opposition to the proscenium lay out of lectures has lessened now and that might actually be good. Learning occurs in ritual space. And ritual has a strange and unsettling relationship with authority. And maybe that is worth a deeper look. The loss of the idea of *truth* that Adorno and Horkheimer both examined is seen today in the retreating influence of philosophy. Most academic philosophy departments are based on positivism and are close first cousins to scientific thought.

Alarm Clock, late 19th century  ( British Musuem).

Alarm Clock, late 19th century ( British Musuem).

“And so in the name of a truth that liquidates the concept of truth as a chimera, a vestige of mythology, the distinction between truth and opinion itself becomes ever more precarious.”

Today, one sees the loss of philosophic thought in the collective social consciousness of most Americans. Opinion has replaced it, except in the exalted halls of academia where a specialized science expertise reigns and rejects philosophy on different grounds but just as stridently.

The Colonial sensibility was alive in scientific marginalia as it was alive in the grand geo-political projects of conquest. The pre-cursors for today’s corporate owned research machine is to be found in the scientific vaudevilles that Gaycken describes. Now, Adorno wrote the following only fifty years ago…..“Nowadays it is altogether problematical to oppose mere opinion in the name of truth, because a fatal elective affinity has been established between the former and reality, which in turn proves useful to the stubborn rigidity of opinion…{ } Anyone who nowadays hopes to comprehend the pathogenic element of reality with the traditional categories of human understanding falls in to the same irrationality he imagines himself to be protected from by his loyal adherence to healthy common sense.” Opinion is, then, today equated with individualism. For the shopper of opinion is looking to see, as he or she evaluates the marketplace of opinions, what the lifestyle implications might be.

Wang-Qiang (Golfer and Watermelons).

Wang-Qiang (Golfer and Watermelons).

Adorno’s insights on *opinion* are more relevant than ever I think. For this tendency toward a pathological fixation is impervious to argument, for argument demands some form of objective reason. And the interests of capital coincide now, almost completely, with opinions in the service of reproducing the whole. To question how science has come to believe what it believes is guaranteed to elicit a wave of accusations that one is mush headed and new age. One of the ironies of contemporary discourse is that philosophical critique is now labeled irrational and mystified. So great is the individualism and subjective ownership principles that any appeal to historical conditions and evolution of ideas is stonewalled. As Adorno said, the signature of relations of domination is a banality of thought. Additionally there is the incessant anti intellectualism of mass media.

There is today in the U.S. a huge repository of unarticulated anxiety and anger. That the massive and escalating police violence find so little outrage among the white population has to do with the the simple fact of white supremacist values that cling to everything in daily life. Alongside this white privilege runs a deep conformism. And its worth noting that this conformism is usually presented in some fashion as multi cultural or the proverbial *melting pot*. All these bromides, that grew in number after WW2, are part of that post Edward Bernays marketing machine that looked to reinforce the values of the ruling class and normalize a hierarchical society.

Andrea Buttner

Andrea Buttner

The entire melting pot notion houses its exact opposite. For to be included in any institutional form of tolerance means one has to first be amendable to certain actually very narrow standards. Adjustment to the status quo is the hallmark of multi cultural bureaucracies, of most substance abuse programs, and the vast majority of mental health programs. The pursuit of happiness is only allowed if one has already denounced all forms of heterogeneous behavior or values. It is marked just how staggeringly conformist the United States has become. Both in thought and opinion, but also in physical activity. So the tolerant West is really a society that has already marginalized, quite consciously and systematically, the outsider or radical thinker. The Democratic party support for the gay community is one that makes sure to shape an image of what is gay that adheres to a cultural normalcy. Those who resist, as those who resist addiction treatment they find problematic, are denied sympathy and future assistance. And one of the markers for inclusion is the confession of guilt or victimage. The addict must show remorse and admit his *problem*. The queer or transgender outsider must profess a desire for rescue. That many addicts ARE in denial and that many in the queer community ARE victimized makes these rituals of conformism much easier.

Marketa Othova, photography.

Marketa Othova, photography.

If one examines the facebook page of one of the dead Dallas policemen (Patrick Zamarippa) what you find is an Iraq vet (3 tours) and a rabid nationalist. There is a photo of him holding his presumably son, and both are wearing stars and stripes. There is even a slogan in quotes….’Dont Tread on Me’. So essentially this is a far right wing hyper violent nativist psycho. And a cop. In the New York Times the coverage, from vetted black voices like Michael Dyson, is replete with the usual mantras for *most* blacks the desire is for peaceful protest. Etc. I am sure that is partly true, but not close to entirely. There is a part of every black person in the United States (except maybe those writing for corporate owned news outlets) that sees the shooting as resistance to an intolerable situation. But that is not allowed to be said. Just as Palestinian resistance is not allowed to be spoken of. Or ANY resistance to U.S. global violence. The fascist nature of Patrick Zamarippa won’t be analyzed or discussed in media. How many people does one usually, on average, kill over the course of three tours in Iraq? Why is that not a significant part of the discourse on police violence?

But this is also an expression of the institutional racism of the U.S., and also the malignant narcissism of its citizens. The popular media will portray the dead cops are heroic and even many on the left will discuss how terrible these shootings. How peaceful protest was highjacked (per Dyson). And yet, Officer Zamrippa is a fascist. And a right wing extremist. The fascist personality, the violence loving war addicted sociopath is also deeply narcissistic and infantile. And honestly, I am always stunned this isn’t glaringly obvious.

Jaromir Novotny

Jaromir Novotny

So perhaps a few more thoughts are in order on the subject of narcissism, and its effects on the wider culture. Julia Kristeva has a very deep speculative take on narcissism. The DSM-IV defines narcissism….

“as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, self-focus, and self-importance. According to the DSM–IV, narcissists
are preoccupied with dreams of success, power, beauty, and brilliance. They live on an interpersonal
stage with exhibitionistic behavior and demands for attention and admiration but respond to threats to
self-esteem with feelings of rage, defiance, shame, and humiliation.”

There is more, including feelings of entitlement, but I think there is another aspect of the modern narcissist missing in all this. The narcissistic personality is highly manipulative and has an adversarial interpersonal orientation. They are insensitive to the needs of others except insofar as they assist their own desperate need for self importance. But that self importance is often hallucinatory.

Badge, Slave Patrol. Souther U.S., early 1800s.

Badge, Slave Patrol. Southern U.S., early 1800s.

The grandiose delusions of the narcissist finds a perfect soil for extended development in U.S. culture today. And especially in institutional situations. For police are the authority apparatus that continues to grow and now has seemed to culminate in taking over the role of judge, jury, and executioner. The police officer involved in racist attacks is one with an utter loss of empathy, but also one with a need for constant self aggrandizement. The Enlightenment emphasis on autonomy developed along lines of ego pathology (Capitalism) and by way of instrumental reason.

“Revising Freud, Kristeva argues that the bedrock of personal identity develops when the emotional matrix of child and primary caretaker is triangulated by a mediating ideal (usually personified as a paternal metaphor). If the matrix is broken without the assistance of a nurturing, rather than castrating, parental agent, the core self fails to develop sufficiently, resulting in a “borderline” personality prone to psychic fragmentation. Without such pre-oedipal triangulation, the child remains suspended in a regressed state of primary narcissism.”
Jeffrey Adams

There is a sense, then, of how Christianity interceded to shape Western subjectivity.

“…At the start of a new era, the Christian
era led us to assume our humanity through the imposing
suffering of Christ, insinuated in parallel fashion, not on the sacrificial
heights of Calvary but in the dank, swampy, wastelands of
human experience, that internality, that Psyche turned into psyachicism
had a price—a new insanity.”

Julia Kristeva

Nicolas Moulin

Nicolas Moulin

Infantilism and perversion, per Kristeva, are bedrock formations for the modern psyche. The insanity comes from the absence of object (echoing Adorno). It is not the Dionysus abandon, or sexual frenzy, but rather the futile chasing of self through the liminal images of self — the reflection that is everywhere and nowhere. Seeing oneself whole rather than being whole.

Lacan’s unconscious imaginary borders affectivity and the symbolic, the body and the psyche. Baudrillard noted forty years ago that contemporary humans are surrounded more by objects and less by other people. All of these threads come together under a system of acute inequality. And the regression to near feudal economic relations coupled to the distancing of material reality, the distancing of actual concrete tasks or jobs, results in a delusional state of ego pathology. Otto Kernberg, in his paper Sanctioned Social Violence writes…

“A group involved in a paranoid regression conforms to Bion’s descriptions of the ‘Fight-Flight basic assumption group’. It becomes hyper-alert and tense, as if there were some danger against which it would have to establish an aggressive defense. The group selects a leader with a strong paranoid potential, a hypersensitive, suspicious, aggressive and dominant person,ready to experience and define some slight or danger against which he and the group following him need to protect themselves and fight back. The members of the group, in turn, tend to divide between an ‘in group’, rallying around the group leader, and an ‘out group’ who are suspect and need to be fought off. The mutual recriminations and fights between the in group and the out group give a frankly hostile and paranoid quality to the entire group, and may lead either to splitting into paranoid splinter groups, or the discovery of an external enemy against whom the entire group can consolidate around the leader. The fight then evolves between that paranoid group and the external world.The narcissistic regression of the dependent group is characterized by the prevalence of primitive idealization, projected omnipotence, and acting out of a regressive parasitic dependency; by contrast, the paranoid regression of the Flight-Fight group is dominated by projective identification, splitting, and acting out of rationalized aggression. If the leaders of the work group fail to conform to the respective expectations of the narcissistic or the paranoid regressive group, the group will and alternative leaders that correspond to its expectations, and with an unerring certainty such groups tend to select the most narcissistic or the most paranoid individual of the group for their corresponding emotional needs.”

Johan Rosenmunthe, photography.

Johan Rosenmunthe, photography.

And here it is important to examine the effects of mass communication on mass psychology. Moscovici noted the fluid mass crowd, one simultaneously in-touch via media and the potential for additional pathology due to the unreality of this kind of crowd. But it is more than that. Allow me a longer quote from Kernberg here…

“the nature of conventionality (that is, of value systems and ethical judgments arrived at, confirmed or condoned under the influence of mass psychology in the absence of a specifically focused leader) reflects the projection by the individual on to the total social group not of the total infantile superego structure, but rather of the infantile superego layer of the ‘latency’ years (Jacobson, 1964). In this period that follows the advanced oedipal stage (of 4 to 6 years of age) and extends to the reorganization of the superego beginning with puberty, the superego maintains many features of primitive psychic functioning: a tendency to sharply differentiate what is good and bad; intolerance for ambivalence and ambiguity; splitting the object world into idealized and persecutory figures; a primitive morality in which the bad are punished and the good always triumph; an acknowledgement of sexuality, but with profound repression of the linkage between eroticism and tenderness (unconsciously reserved to the oedipal couple); regressive analization of acknowledged and permitted sexuality that links sex with excretory functions; an intolerance of emotional depth (reserved for the libidinal ties linking the adult couple), with a tendency to replace sentiment with sentimentality; and, finally, an outstanding urge to adapt to the group mores and values that reflect the social life outside the home, in the effort to separate emotionally from total dependency on the parental couple. At the same time, cultural objects that evoke infantile omnipotence; magic that helps overcome the sense of frailty and inferiority,and frees one from painful reality and ordinary social constraints, also become an avidly appreciated source of fantasy.The mass media activate this ‘latency’ aspect of mass psychology which is perhaps most typically reflected by the soap opera, the detective thriller, the appeal to cliche´-ridden sentimentality, and advertising geared to gratify narcissistic needs.”

Alexander James, photography.

Alexander James, photography.

The contemporary Western psyche, consumers of mass cultural product, are granted an identification with this vague, but on-going *mass group* — an infantile gratification with images that pander to cheap erotic fantasies, and that prop up feelings of specialness and favor. The viewer is part of an elect. Mass media pounds on the virtue of the viewer, as part of this group viewership; he or she is good and loyal and deservedly superior collective. This fantasy collectivity then serves to discredit actual collectives and communities. The viewer is already part of a group, a special and much better group. And once wandering the real world feels disoriented, wondering where that phantom group might be hiding. And the product is one that normalizes infantilism. The real world of human relationships is felt as shabby, and demanding. Especially groups.

I wanted to end with a thought or two more on the aesthetics of American culture. Beyond the class antagonism in the U.S., in which increasingly that educated white 30% that Chomsky and Herman noted thirty some years ago openly express their hatred of the poor, there is now a deepening cultural divide. The Dallas police officer who was slain represents that jingoistic NASCAR white culture of the, mostly, South. The photos on his page reflect an anxious clutching after some ideal of country and family. Such rabid *patriotism* is never really separated from earlier deeply and openly racist political organizations like the Klan (and two police officers were taken off duty in Fruitland {sic} Flordia this week for being members of the Klan). All of that is obvious and hardly bears repeating. What *is* more interesting is the sense of psychic fragility. The wooden smile, the discomfort of how he holds his son, and the kitsch stars and stripes outfit. This is the culture aligned with suburban shopping malls and large half empty parking lots. What he wrote on profile was…“Im addicted to the thrill of this job. I own the night”. And yet this will not receive a mention anywhere. Such proclamations are in one sense dog whistles. Just as the ‘don’t tread on me’ slogan is a kind of code. This is also the grotesque endgame of a masculine terror and panic.

“We are in a new historical era, one that is marked a culture of lawlessness, extreme violence, and disposability, fueled, in part, by a culture of fear, a war on terror, and a deeply overt racist culture that is unapologetic in its disciplinary and exclusionary practices. This deep seated racism is reinforced by a culture of cruelty that is the modus operandi of neoliberal capitalism–a cage culture, a culture of combat, a hyper masculine culture that views killing those most vulnerable as sport, entertainment, and policy.”
Henry Giroux

Sean Kernan, photography.

Sean Kernan, photography.

It was Henry Dicks who noted that concentration camp guards exhibited acute infantile narcissism. I’d say the same about U.S. police officers. The landscape of suburban America is one now so generic that it defies accurate description. Buildings are low bid and designed for, at most, ten to fifteen year life spans. There are 73,000 cell phone towers across the U.S., and that’s not counting utility poles. Wealthy neighborhoods are of course immune to such blight. This normalized ugliness is reflected in the narcissistic rage of a white working class who indeed have lost jobs and all economic security. The constant outpouring of Hollywood product now contains either fantasy science fiction that includes extensive mass violence, or smug white identity narratives aimed at the relatively affluent. The default setting is self congratulation. For the white under-class there is a resulting knee jerk regressive populism of open even casual racism and misogyny, as well as narratives that define this brutally ugly landscape as a war zone. And this is liberal Hollywood’s reflexive trope. And perhaps the late 70s and the 80s was the watershed for this new mythology. Films such as Adventures in Babysitting , Bonfire of the Vanities, Fort Apache, and Colors reinforced a theme of urban dark skinned danger.

Katherine Simpson wrote, focusing on just the South Bronx…

“Metaphors for urban blight in the South Bronx were familiar ones of war and disease, reflecting the country’s anxiety over the situation of its cities and a reluctance to come to terms with real problems. Associating city neighborhoods with disease and destruction contributed to the hysteria surrounding urban problems. The South Bronx was compared to post-war Dresden, Beirut, and London, while the Cross Bronx Expressway was likened to the Maginot Line. For Americans in the 20th century, a war was fought in a faraway place: images of war provided distance for suburbanites unwilling to concern themselves with urban ills. In Los Angeles, urban blight was compared to a tooth infection needing to be cleaned out. Similarly, the problems of the South Bronx have been compared to organic diseases such as cancer attacking the body of the borough. The danger in these metaphors was how they allowed the country to avoid responsibility for what had happened: an invisible enemy or a disease made it easier to separate oneself from the real problems.”

The danger, aesthetically and culturally, is not seeing this dialectically. For the denial of violence becomes it’s own violence, much as sentimentality is an expression of repressed anger.

Thomas Helbig

Thomas Helbig

“Nevertheless, does not fear hide an aggression, a violence that
returns to its source, its sign having been inverted? What was
there in the beginning: want, deprivation, original fear, or the
violence of rejection, aggressivity, the deadly death drive? Freud
abandoned the vicious circle of cause and effect, of the chicken
and the egg, by discovering a complex being completely alien
to the angelism of the Rousseauistic child. At the same time as
the Oedipus complex, he discovered infantile, perverse, polymorphic
sexuality, always already a carrier of desire and death.”


This is why cultural production matters, in a sense. And reading Kristeva, or Klaus Theweleit, there is importance in this analysis, whatever faults one finds with it because it is a reminder not to become Tipper Gore.

“Could the sacred be, whatever its variants, a two-sided formation?
One aspect founded by murder and the social bond
made up of murder’s guilt-ridden, atonement, with all the pro-
jective mechanisms and obsessive rituals that accompany it; and
another aspect, like a lining, more secret still and invisible, nonrepresentable,
oriented toward those uncertain spaces of unstable
identity, toward the fragility—both threatening and fusional—of
the archaic dyad, toward the non-separation of subject/object,
on which language has no hold but one woven of
fright and repulsion? One aspect is defensive and socializing,
the other shows fear and indifferentiation. The similarities that
Freud delineates between religion and obsessional neurosis
would then involve the defensive side of the sacred.”


Franco Moretti describes the mid 19th century as a time when aesthetic taste was in the process of creating a culture of the Industrial Revolution. Partly a deference to the old aristocracy, but also, looking forward, an entrenchment of lost feudal symbolism — a shared symbolism, then, of the upper classes. It was Church and the accumulation of Capital and the result was the Gothic revival and various half formed cultural monstrosities (St. Pancras). But this also marked a change in how crowds were perceived. E.P Thompson noted this in that earlier class relations featured a paternalistic authority, often local, and that of the common crowd. This was says Thompson, ‘dislodged’ by acute anti Jacobin sentiments (and new anxiety in the aristocracy) and the legitimizing of social repressions. It was the beginning of the triumph of political economy and the stigmatizing of the crowd. And it was also the beginning of shifts in aesthetics, in taste. Moretti’s discovery, in a sense, was that the defining characteristic of bourgeois culture was its *regularity*. Its consistency. Consistent in form, if nothing else. In fact the consistency was, in a sense, masked by a fraudulent faux diversity. Today, as Adorno noted of *opinion*, it is the subject in search of an object. The new Gilded Age is an apt enough meme just now, and the architecture of financial capital is seen in Hadid and a dozen other starchitects. The Bejing Airport Terminal Building as the new St. Pancras.


  1. I want to translate it into Turkish with your permission for
    english version;

  2. John Steppling says:


  3. Paul Haeder says:

    Spot on John. I read it on my way to downtown Portland Oregon to work as case manager for homeless and addicts and just out of prison clients. All controlled by this punishment society. Much in this post of yours hits my gut as I confront the plague of American debt mongers and punishment givers.

    My cry …. Over at LA Progressive

  4. darragh says:

    y’know when I saw the pictures of the cops who lost their lives in Dallas, the first thing that struck me, was the sadism in their eyes.

Speak Your Mind


To Verify You\'re Human, Please Solve The Problem: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.