“The Color of Black Power is Green” and The Failures of Identity Politics.



There is a terrific documentary that was released two years ago called “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975″, which goes into a detailed account of the rise and eventual stagnation of the Black Power movement, as well as major groups within it such as the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers were a group of revolutionary African-American, who while struggling for freedom and liberation for people of their race and identity within the US, also fought an equal struggle against capitalism, which they perceived as the basis of inequality and social injustice in America, not only against poor blacks but poor whites as well. While initially starting as a black nationalist movement dedicated to separatism, similarly advocated by other black nationalist such as Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X (though he renounced it later in his life), eventually the ideology of the party had evolved to the point where they began to reject black nationalism and became more a “revolutionary internationalist movement”. As stated by historian of the Black Power movement, Curtis Austin:

(The Party) dropped its wholesale attacks against whites and began to emphasize more of a class analysis of society. Its emphasis on Marxist-Leninist doctrine and its repeated espousal of Maoist statements signaled the group’s transition from a revolutionary nationalist to a revolutionary internationalist movement. Every Party member had to study Mao Tse-tung’s “Little Red Book” to advance his or her knowledge of peoples’ struggle and the revolutionary process.

Maoist notions of class struggle and working-class unity became central into the Black Panther Party. Liberation was not just a few more African-Americans given the same position of extreme power, wealth, and status as few white Americans in the US, but instead liberation was to erase a base and superstructure which the Black Panthers viewed as inherently oppressive, not only to their own identity but towards the most working class people. And by eliminating this factor, racial division (and the socio-economic divisions of it) within the US could be much more better combated. Just as to many black abolitionist during antebellum times, having more African-Americans become slave owner would not been seen as something emancipatory of black people, the Black Panthers viewed any attempt of assimilation into a social structure that was to them inherently injustice to much of the same sense. But gradually, as the sixties faded into the seventies, the Black Panthers faded as well. Not because of a division over ideology, but a division over action. Whether the party should pursue more reformist methods such as participating in local government and social services, or more revolutionary methods such as armed confrontation with the police and building dual power. By the mid-70s, the party was merely a shadow of it’s former self. The documentary captures all of this as it develops, and as it finishes off into 1975, one of the commentators Robin Kelley states this:

I see the Black Power movement as something of three different legacies, the most evident is this idea of building black institutions, buying black, supporting black businesses, but not necessarily revolutionizing or transforming society. Now in days its manifested in slogans like “the color of Black Power is green”, its about making money and supporting our businesses. It’s not a revolutionary ideology. Another extreme in that is a type of cultural nationalism, in that it goes in ebbs and flows. When Spike Lee’s film “Malcolm X” came out it was the height of a kind of cultural nationalist, sort of resurrection. And then finally, the other element is the black radical tradition. And how does it exist today? It certainly exists in certain forms of Hip-Hop.

The major disappointments and failures of Black Power groups trying to change the basic structure of society fueled desire for a less structurally radical and a more identity empowering, racially emphasized solution for representing the African-American community. This was a conscious shift in the belief that the only way to truly succeed for ones identity is to use the same capital-based organization the perceived rival identity uses. To use all of the powerful structural tools in society (no matter how unjust and harsh they may seem) to advance ones identity by any means. The same logic has been applied to second-generation feminism as well as the LGBT rights movement (primarily since the 1980s).

When we talk about identity politics, many Marxists may initially view it as divisive and reactionary, something that hinders political and economical liberation for the general population and does not address the concepts of contradictions within a capitalist society. But most of those that advocate identity politics view it the only pragmatic and empowering solution to their situation of being an downtrodden people. I find problems with both notions. First of all, Orthodox Marxism has had a difficulty trying to address the complexities of shared identities, primarily because Marxism externalizes all history in class relations, with elites taking their position on the basis of claiming ownership to the means of production. While this is true and I agree with it, we shouldn’t ignore the influence the conception of identities based on social structure (whether they be religious, racial, or etc) have had on history, creating illusions not only to the average people but even to the ruling elites (such as nationalistic fervor, which can be expressed by all social strata of a given nation). Marxism can definitely address identities when the theory of Marxism is hybridized with other theories such as structuralism and post-structuralism, but by itself, Marxism is a theory on economics and historical class relations, and I may even hesitate as to consider it a theory of politics as well. Not to mention that many so-called “Marxist regimes” have often times suppressed different identities their leaders felt threatened the stability of the state, such as with the repression of homosexuality in virtually every Communist country, as well as outbursts of nationalistic chauvinism, as with the Soviet Union (Russian nationalism), China, and Hoxhaist Albania. Though to be fair, many Western countries also had the same problem for a long while, with regards to issues such as national, racial, and sexual identities, and many still strongly do.

But we should also recognize that identities are often times competing and fighting against one another, mainly for the position of importance among its fellow adherence, who also have different identities as well. For example, if there is a black gay man, which identity should he associate himself with the most? Should it be his racial one or his sexual one? Which one weighs more importance? And what if he faces some hostility from the majority of people of both identities? There is still unfortunately a lot of homophobia prevalent within the African-American community, enlarged to some degree by homophobic lyrics in the rap sub-culture. Equally, there is a great amount of alienation in the LGBT community for people of color, mainly because a lot of the imagery associated with gay culture shows primarily upper-middle class white gays. Plus many of the “gay neighborhoods”, places where LGBT people can feel some sense of liberty for their identity, such as Castro Street and West Hollywood are very racially gentrified. This is just one minor example of the complexion of identities and the fact identities in of themselves are not bound to become permanent. They are constantly being shifted, molded, reformed, destroyed, and created entirely new. But what they are bound to is the physical materialism that has created them.

If we wish to see a more permanent change, something that can be experienced mutually by all people, than we have to see that change coming from a structural and class based sense. People of the same socio-economic class, whether they know it or not, share much more with each other than people of the same skin color, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. And in our increasingly globalized world, where those of the capital based ruling class have far more interconnectivity with people of the same class position but from other countries, also share far more in common with one another. Today a billionaire in New York shares more in common with a billionaire in Saudi Arabia, or one in India, or China, than he does with an Average Joe stiff in his home town of NYC. And if a billionaire from America shares more in common with a billionaire in India, then why shouldn’t a working class person from America share more in common with a working class person in India? I do not see the prospects of a Communist world revolution seriously, I see any possibilities of a change from capitalism to a more egalitarian form of socialism as something that might happen due to a gradual and technological change in human production. Eventually rendering the capitalist class more obsolete. But we should nevertheless, we should try to build a matured concept of a globalized “human” identity, one based on the principle of economic and class solidarity. We cannot rid ourselves of nationalities, racial differences, sexual orientations, religions, etc, but we can supplant on top of those identities an all encompassing human identity, one that includes all of us, and that also coincides with class struggle. For a human identity,  an identity that includes you and me is an identity that is truly worth fighting for.

USSR 32 Image0035

“Socialism and Religion, Redux,” by Dario Cancovic

IMAGE: 1923 exhibition at a Museum of Atheism,
in German and Russian: “The struggle against
religion is the struggle for socialism!”

Originally posted on The North Star.

Marxists once saw themselves as  the vanguard not only of the proletariat but of science and progress, as the bulwark against superstition and reaction. In our postmodern age, we’ve  retreated from this,  questioned these values and notions, and abandoned the aegis of “science” and “progress” to the bourgeoisie. Our doubts about science and progress were not entirely unjustified, for in the hands of the bourgeoisie they are robbed of their liberatory potential. In its relentless pursuit of profit, the bourgeoisie has revolutionized the means of production and communication time and again. Rather than freeing us from want and widening and deepening democracy, as these advances can, it has instead brought us to the brink of environmental catastrophe, overseen the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands through the immiseration of billions, and strengthened the state surveillance apparatus beyond the wildest dreams of the Stasi.

It is no surprise, then, that at a time such as this, when socialists are struggling to cast off the traditions of one dead generation, there are those who would burden us with the traditions of another. Those who would have us exchange the costumes and battle slogans of the Bolsheviks for the robes and psalms of the Apostles. Their rallying cry might well be “One step forward, a thousand steps back! To the Communist message of Christ!”

Both the legacy of Soviet-style state-sanctioned atheism and the neoconservative politics of the so-called New Atheists — whose militant bourgeois atheism is nothing new — have turned off many socialists. Their resulting distaste for militant atheism, combined with pessimism about mobilizing the working class behind the banner of atheism, has led some to call for a reconciliation of socialism and religion.

There are two types of “socialists” who seek such a reconciliation: fools and knaves. Fools genuinely believes that socialism is ordained by scripture, that their conservative co-religionists are unfaithful to their religion by not joining the progressive cause. Just like their conservative counterparts, progressives find what they want to find in scripture and ignore the inconvenient rest. Knaves, on the other hand, are atheist but  either cynically see the working class as hopelessly enthralled by superstition or  have a soft spot for spirituality, for those few poetic phrases in scripture that might be spun for socialism. They declare: “If Mohammed will not come to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed”; if the religious will not come to socialism, socialists must come to religion.

The capitalist (upper left) manipulates an Islamic mullah (lowest right), an Orthodox priest (lower right), a Catholic friar (upper right), and a Jewish kabbalist (uppermost right) to divert the masses

The capitalist uses an Islamic mullah, an Orthodox priest, a Catholic friar, and a Jewish kabbalist to divert the masses

These socialists have misjudged the nature of religion, the degree to which the working class is enthralled by religion, and the possibility and desirability of a reconciliation between socialism and religion.

It is understandable that, in a world plagued by suffering, people would turn to spiritual means to alleviate their suffering in the absence of material means. “Religious suffering,” as Marx put it, “is the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.” It is in this expression of protest against real suffering that we find some socialist-sounding phrases in scripture, but this in no way makes scripture a sound basis for socialism. Religion is not just an analgesic — it isn’t just “the opium of the people.” While it provides consolation to the exploited and oppressed, it also justifies exploitation and oppression. It is a product of suffering, one which reinforces and reproduces suffering.

Religion, at one and the same time, consoles sufferers and justifies suffering here-and-now by the promise of salvation hereafter. It consoles the exploited and oppressed and justifies exploitation and oppression here-and-now with the promise of retribution and justice for exploiters and oppressors hereafter. It justifies suffering on the basis of sin. The material roots of suffering are hidden behind a spiritual facade. Suffering is presented not as an alterable product of this world, but as unalterable punishment by God or karma for our moral transgressions. Just as the bourgeoisie declares that “there is no alternative” to capitalism, religion declares that there is no alternative to suffering, to exploitation and oppression, to class society. We humans are presented as so morally depraved as to be incapable of liberating ourselves — we can only hope for salvation through the grace of God.

Religion commands that the few, the privileged, ameliorate the lot of the many — the exploited, oppressed, poor, propertyless, suffering masses — through charity. Charity serves to ease suffering while leaving unaddressed the roots of suffering. It renders the condition of the exploited and oppressed slightly less intolerable, and eases the conscience of the ruling class. It gives the poor a few scraps from the tables of the rich to keep the poor from demanding a seat at the table. A few scraps do not make for socialism.

Religion is partly a product, as Engels observed, of “the world historical defeat of the female sex.” It is produced by, reinforces, and reproduces a perverse patriarchy in the household, where each man is promised mastery, if not over himself, then at least over his wife and hischildren. It is created by and re-creates the division of labour between the sexes. In doing so it divides the working class, setting up hierarchies within the exploited and oppressed. It gives some of the exploited and oppressed a taste of mastery, of domination, and thus attempts to give them a stake in maintaining the system of exploitation and oppression.

Socialists cannot compromise over sexism. To be a socialist is to be a feminist, because the working class’s struggle for its self-emancipation cannot be separated from women’s  struggle for self-emancipation. After all, as even Mao realized, “Women hold up half the sky!” Women are half, if not more than half, of the working class. We must let go of the antiquated image of the male industrial worker and the female peasant, especially since there has been an unprecedented feminization of the manual labour force. We cannot struggle for the emancipation of the whole working class while embracing an ideology that would see half of society remain enslaved.

Members of the Union of the Militant Godless crowd around a statue of Lenin for a photograph, 1929

Members of the Union of the Militant Godless crowd around a statue of Lenin for a photograph, 1929

We cannot claim to be working toward the self-emancipation of the working class — and through this the emancipation of the whole of humanity — if we appeal to authoritarian, homophobic, misogynistic, and generally misanthropic texts and institutions for aid and inspiration. There cannot be a reconciliation of socialism and religion; to call for such a reconciliation is to call for a reconciliation of emancipation and slavery. For every fine-sounding phrase in scripture or out of the mouth of a priest, there are countless more vile words. Religiously inspired deeds of cruelty far outnumber acts of charity.

The bourgeoisie has managed to cast off the shackles of religion, by elevating itself from the squalid conditions that give rise to religion. It has already turned its back on religion, in deed if not in word. For all its public professions of piety, behind closed doors it is as atheist as any of us. What Cicero said of the ruling class of his day, of which he was a member, is no less true of the ruling class of today: “It is difficult to deny that the gods exist, in public, but in private it is perfectly easy to do so.” Appearances must be maintained. “A tyrant,” as Aristotle remarks in the Politics, “must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. They less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.” It is profit that dictates policy, not piety. The bourgeoisie bows before Mammon, not Yahweh. Read More

An Open Letter to “the Left” on Social Media: The nine point plan on trolling and alienation

Dear Internet “Left”:

I have a few pieces of advice.

One)  Using academic jargon does not make you smart, but complaining about it in all cases because something it aimed at a technical audience is as asinine as complaining about computer technical jargon in a magazine for those who work on computers.

Two) Don’t play the “I am more proletarian than thou” game based on a someone’s name or facebook handle but complain about people essentializing on scant information.  Distinction is about class recognition, mates. We are about ending classes themselves, right?

Three)  Taking time to denounce someone for a generic political statement you don’t like without making an argument and resorting to ad hominem attacks is why we can’t have nice things.  We do not need another People’s Republic of 4Chan.

Four)  That other group is revisionist, deviationist, scabs, and wreckers lead by an ego-maniac, reformist, ultra-leftist, entryist cretin may also be the one you are in.

Five) Memes are not politics. Facebook does not change politics very much. Neither does twitter.  I know you are going to say something about the Arab Spring, but those are also street battles and began as street battles.  It would be like saying paper caused the French revolution, which is some sense is true and in another is totally vapid.   Go write an Atlantic article if you think that. You’ll make more money anyway.

Six) The oppression Olympics is about recognition inflation, and does almost nothing about oppression itself.

Seven) Please stop alienating people by adding -ists to everyone’s name after they die, or even retire their screen name.

Eight) “Petitions on the internet have defeated the reactionaries,” Said no revolutionary ever.

Nine)  Open letters on blogs don’t matter.


Instruction #4: Talk Into the Neural Neutralizer (rough)

Derrida in Ghost Dance 1[What follows is a rough draft for a proposed book on Star Trek and Capitalism.  This is the final part of a section called "How to Watch Star Trek."]
The Frenchman who we should really blame for these instructions, for the necessity of explaining what should be easy, didn’t call himself Marxist at all but, instead, was the first deconstructionist. It was Jacques Derrida who argued that meaning always had to be deferred, and that it was impossible to arrive at a meaning for a show like Star Trek because of the sheer density of meanings that the show contained. I don’t know if Derrida ever watched the show, but if he had he would have probably said of Star Trek something like what he said about ghosts in the 1983 experimental film “Ghost Dance.”

He was asked if he believes in ghosts and he replied: “That’s a difficult question. You’re asking a ghost whether he believes in ghosts. That is, since I’ve been asked to play myself in a film that is more or less improvised I feel as if I’m letting a ghost speak for me. Rather than playing myself, without knowing it, I let a ghost ventriloquize my words, or play my role.”

Now, clearly Derrida was very good at smoking a pipe and acting mysteriously brilliant, but in this case the mystery can be solved. Derrida’s point was that he was never fully present. It connects to his idea that every text always contains elements which oppose its meaning. This is what deconstruction was all about. Deconstruction was about finding these traces of opposition everywhere, in big ideas like Marxism, in pop stars like Madonna, and in philosophy books. Everything could be exploded because everything contained a bit of its opposite.

Now, if this seems confusing to you be comforted by the fact that you’re not alone in that feeling. Derrida was so confusing that many people, even other big intellectuals, were pretty put out by him.

url-4For instance, the sweater wearing anti-Capitalist superstar Noam Chomsky once wrote that, “Derrida […] writes things that I also don’t understand. No one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven’t a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities:
(a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of “theory” that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or
(b) … I won’t spell it out.

But I’ll dare to say that Derrida wasn’t a fraud, but rather that he was, like Barthes, trying very hard to kill the Blinking Light Aliens that kept popping up. What Derrida was on about was pretty much the same thing as what Barthes focussed on when he went after the Author. It was by and large the same target as what Nietzsche went after when he smugly proclaimed that he found God’s body laying dead in the marketplace.

In order to understand how these oppositions in a text like Star Trek can be worked out, in order to stop worrying and realize what is simple and what is complicated, you have to understand something fairly complicated first. The meaning of our lives, the context which history appears, the way ghosts like Derrida and Barthes and Karl Marx are to be understood, isn’t something we have to discover, but is rather something we can’t avoid creating.

url-3In the episode “Dagger of the Mind” the Enterprise transported needed supplies to Tantalus V, a rehabilitation colony for the criminally insane. Things go wrong, as they usually do, after one the inmates from the colony manages to sneak aboard the Enterprise. He stages several frothing and scenery chewing rages and is eventually captured and discovered not to be an inmate at all, but a member of the staff at Tantalus V. The escaped inmate is really Dr. Van Gelder and (according to the chief officer and head doctor at Tantalus V) he is a victim of an unfortunate accident with a neural beam. Kirk decides to launch a follow-up investigation of the incident and Doctor McCoy assigns the psychiatrist Dr. Helen Noel as Kirk’s technical aid on the away mission due to Noel’s experience with rehabilitative therapy.

This episode is, strangely, the one and only time Christmas is mentioned in an episode of the original Star Trek. When Kirk meets Noel on the transporter pad she mentions a Christmas party.

Noel: Dr. Helen Noel, Captain. We’ve met. Don’t you remember–the science lab Christmas party?
Kirk: Yes, I remember.
Noel: You dropped in–
Kirk: Yes, yes, I remember.
Spock: Problem, Captain?
Kirk: Mr. Spock, you tell McCoy that she had better check out as the best assistant I ever had.

Here’s the full plot of this “Christmas Episode”:

url-1Kirk discovers that the lead doctor at Tantalus V, Dr. Adams, is using a neural neutralizer on both the inmates and the staff in order to control and subdue them. When Kirk arrives with Helen Noel he is met by the unctuous head doctor who gives them a tour that includes a short inspection of the neural neutralizer. Kirk sneaks back to more thoroughly examine this machine (it looks a bit like a heat lamp) and tests the device on himself.

You probably already know what the neural neutralizer is or have a sense of it. A portable version of the mechanism is featured in the Men In Black films. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones use a pen sized neutralizer to blank a person’s consciousness and implant false memories. The neutralizer on Star Trek does the same thing, and in order to discover the full implications of dangers involved Kirk puts himself in the hotseat. He goes under the beam while Dr. Noel is at the control panel.

url-2Kirk: I have no desire to damage my brain. Can this be handled with reasonable safety? Yes or no?
Noel: Yes.
Kirk: And will you be able to determine if that beam is harming me in the slightest?
Noel: Yes, Captain. I know my profession. Ready?
Kirk: Mm-hmm.
Noel: We’ll try minimum intensity–a second or two.
Kirk: Anytime you’re ready, Doctor, just for a second or two.
Noel: We already tried it for that long, Captain.
Kirk: Nothing happened.
Noel: Something happened. Your face went completely blank.
Kirk: Try a…harmless suggestion.

Let’s pause on that, leave Kirk under the heat lamp and waiting for Noel to implant her suggestion. Instead of continuing on with Star Trek I want to turn instead to one of my earliest Christmas memories. It dates back to 1977, back to Kindergarten.

I was six years old and I was selected to play the part of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for our classroom production based on the Rankin/Bass television special. I recall the wooden trunk that contained the reindeer costumes; I imagine I remember it as being painted with off white paint and having gold trim. The teacher dragged it to the front of the classroom and I became excited as she pulled out antlers and leather head bands decorated in jingle bells. Everyone of the children in Miss. Dendot’s Kindergarten class wanted to a set of these new appendages but there were maybe 17 or so of us and only eight reindeer: Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen.

urlSitting on the orange carpet, a little narcissist who was sure the world revolved around me, who knew that whatever was happening was staged for my benefit, I watched with my legs folded as Miss. Dendots hand out the antlers to the others. Each time that I was passed over for some other Kindergartener, each time I was rejected, I felt as though I’d received a blow. When all the antlers were distributed, and I realized that I was not going to be a reindeer, I felt as though a judgement on my character had been rendered.

“Everybody is going to get a part,” Miss Dendots told us. But, I didn’t want just any part. I didn’t want to be an elf, or the Abominable Snowman, or anything else. I wanted to be a reindeer. Besides, it turned out that she was lying because I was passed over each time this time as well. She handed the elf hats to other children. I wasn’t going to be the elf dentist or Santa or Mrs. Claus and I wasn’t given the snowman mask. Soon enough everyone had a prop or a costume and there were only two of us who were still empty handed.

The teacher held up what seemed to be a red superball and a pink bow.

So, to return to Doctor Helen Noel and the neural neutralizer, she was about to make a suggestion to Captain Kirk.

What Helen Noel suggested was that “something different” happened between them after the Christmas party. She starts to describe their tryst in order to recast it a different light when she is interrupted. Doctor Adams catches them in the act, in two acts actually, and he intervenes. But, before that Doctor Helen Noel started to describe the Christmas party, and what she said can be interpreted in at least two different ways.

url-5Here’s her suggestion to Kirk: “At the Christmas party…we met. We danced. You talked about the stars. I suggest now that it happened in a different way. You swept me off my feet and carried me to your cabin.” But what does this mean? We, the viewer, is left with a choice. We can either believe that nothing happened at the Christmas party originally but that she wishes it did. We can suppose that she’s suggesting her own sexual fantasy to Kirk, or we can take it that she is retelling what actually did happen but, perhaps in a more romantic light. Perhaps her intended suggestion never arrives due to Doctor Adams’ intervention? In fact, we aren’t given a clear picture of what happened at or after the Christmas party. In fact, we’re forced to read it both ways. On the one hand if they did have a tryst then why does Noel describe their original encounter as having ended with Kirk talking about the stars? Why does she unfurl the story of their return to his quarters as something she’s adding to the original story? On the other hand, if they did not have tryst then why did Kirk seem so uncomfortable when he ran into her on the transporter pad at the outset of the story?

This is, perhaps, how Roddenberry and company make us complicit in the lurid fantasy of Kirk and Noel’s intergalactic coupling. This contradictory suggestion that brings forth the image can also always insist on its own innocence. In any case, before Helen Noel can complete her suggestion she is discovered. Doctor Adams finds her at the controls of the neural neutralizer, and he has his assistant subdue Doctor Noel while he takes over at the microphone.

Adams: Captain Kirk is going to have a complete demonstration. I want there to be no doubts whatsoever in his mind.
Noel: Mmm.
Adams: You’re madly in love with Helen, Captain. You’d lie, cheat, steal for her, sacrifice your career, your reputation.
Noel: No, Doctor! No!
Adams: The pain–do you feel it, Captain? You must have her, or the pain grows worse, the pain, the longing for her.

Here’s the thing: Kindergarten is an introduction to the public realm through puppets, the alphabet, the days of the week, and your peers. In school you are taught how to deal with other children, how to navigate adults, by using the things you’re given in the classroom. The pencils and worksheets are tools used to get the teachers to relax and stop worrying about you, the crayons, scissors and paste are the ways you to get talk about television with your friends, and rubber balls and jump ropes are the tools used to either ward off or implement physical violence.

Or take show and tell, it was a kind of self-presentation. I recall bringing in a mouse shaped piggy bank. It had mostly cartoon like features: his ears were big like Mickey Mouse’s ears, but his hind legs were shaped a bit more realistically. My mouse had buck teeth and might have really been a rat because he had a long rubber tail that was always cold to the touch. He was covered in a layer of blue felt-like material, the same stuff they used to coat the heads of a drinking bird toys only blue and not red, and I recall that I managed to rub the blue material off around his hands and ears just by playing with him. I’d grab his ear in the same spot to make his head swivel, and put coins in his upturned hand. But when I brought him to the classroom and shook out the pennies inside him, wiggling them out through the slat on his back, nobody noticed the bald patches or irregularities. Instead, the unanimous opinion was that my mouse was cool.

Being selected to he Rudolph was even better than being recognized as the owner of a cool piggy bank. While the toy was merely what I wanted to be, being picked out as Rudolph defined me as me. The teacher’s judgement was official and she’d named me Rudolph. She’d given me the lead.

The red rubber ball was actually a rubber clown nose and when I put it on I found that it smelled bad. There was a sort of chemical smell inside and that smell filled my nose whenever I wore the nose. Also the device pinched and was uncomfortable. Still, when I was given the choice to use red face paint instead I refused. This extra appendage was what made me Rudolph and as bad as it smelled, as uncomfortable as it was, I wasn’t about to give that up. How could I break up the set? A little blonde girl whose name I’ve now forgotten but who I’ll call Jennifer had received the pink bow at the same time that I’d been given the rubber nose and she was my girlfriend, or Rudolph’s girlfriend, in the play. In the Rankin/Bass version Rudolph has a girlfriend.

Once this little girl was chosen by my kindergarten teacher I felt that I really did like her. Of course, there was nowhere for this attraction to go. I didn’t have a birthday party coming up and I didn’t even think of inviting her to my house for a play date–but I tried to be near her in the classroom, to continue on being Rudolph to her Clarice. I was disappointed when, at snack time, she sat with the boy in the brown pants and not by me. Even though, or because of, the fact that my relationship with Jennifer was entirely a construction I felt hurt by what I was her rejection. It wasn’t just that she didn’t like me, or preferred this other little boy, but maybe I didn’t deserve the part, but why had I invested so completely in the little play?

The answer might be made clear by recalling how the fantasy of the Christmas party was created on Star Trek, or how the neural neutralizer supposedly worked.

Simon Van Gelder: Our minds so blank…so open…that any thought he placed there became our thoughts. Our minds so empty…like a sponge, needing thoughts, begging.
Empty. Loneliness.
So lonely to be sitting there empty…wanting any word from him. Love? Yes. Hate? Yes. Live. Yes. Die. Yes. Such agony to be empty.

So the point here is that, for Derrida, there was no such thing as a neural neutralizer. No matter how powerful the setting on the blinking light he always held onto the possibility of there being some trace of something, something that couldn’t be neutralized or erased. But that trace, that part of an idea that or a word that has to be there in order for a thought or meaning to seem to be present, isn’t itself some thing. These Blinking Light Aliens aren’t really out there in the world, hidden away in underground fortresses or stored in plastic globes. The meanings of a show like Star Trek, meanings that seem easy and obvious, the meanings that allow us to think, they’re just the words we are speaking into this blinking light.

proletariat_unite_by_party9999999-d3136ldThese meanings and all the contradictions that come along with them are really just our own actions. No matter how hard we try to act like geeks and just enjoy our lives, we can’t help creating Authors, Blinking Light Aliens, evil computers, Star Ship captains, and all manner of other ideas.

The trick, when watching Star Trek, is to recognize that the show is just a way we are talking and then to seize hold of words you can understand and use them to understand even more.

The Sexualization of (Political) Violence

The Caption on the Israeli soldier's Instagram photo reads "Fuck all Arabs their blood is tasty.”

The Caption on the Israeli soldier’s provocative Instagram photo reads “Fuck all Arabs their blood is tasty.”


A columnist on the Electronic Intifada (a website dedicated to news, information, and blogs on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank), Benjamin Doherty, recently pointed out in an article how the Israeli Army has directly and indirectly used Instagram and other social media outlets to promote it’s image. Some of these pictures are provocatively sexualized, with Israeli soldiers posting photos of themselves posing half-naked while holding an M-16 rifle. Doherty has a name for this phenomenon among the Israeli Army, “War Sporno”. As he puts it to use “male and female bodies to eroticize the military, to displace violence against Palestinians, to encourage Western public’s to identify with Israeli soldiers.” While I agree partially with Mr. Doherty’s analysis of this, I think there is another, even more dangerous and devious side to this “War Sporno”. Because it doesn’t just work to present a positive image of the Israeli military (and State of Israel as a whole) by “de-uglyfing” the imagery of the occupation and Israeli soldiers. Even worse, it is trying to erase morality and ethics from the political situation entirely by portraying violence against the Palestinian people as a part of an almost romanticized justification. Surpassing even any necessity to present oneself as moral or “good”, because the moral question no longer applies.  Though there is a difference between the official Israeli Army’s use of War Sporno, which is just trying to “de-uglify” the image of the occupation and Israeli soldiers by presenting them in a positive and “beautiful” light, and the unofficial, regular Israel soldiers use of War Sporno, which evermore represents something of a conflation between the oppressive violence against the Palestinian people and the sexualization of the Israeli army (and people).

War Sporno represents a dangerous product, some produced through decades of oppression and dehumanization of the Palestinian people. In the end, the goal of such dehumanization is not to try to present oneself as the moral good of a conflict, but to present evil as something positive in the face of such a conflict. And to make that evil seem all the more attractive through the use of a sexual image of violence.  With talk of annexation of the West Bank increasing as well as the growing political hegemony of the right-wing in Israel, we shouldn’t throw out the possibility that in such a scenario, there will not be members of the Israeli far right who may consider that political Apartheid over the Palestinians is not something permanent. That eventually Israel will undergo the same faith as South Africa and will be ruled mainly by an Arab majority. And that with already most of the world condemning this near-future Israel, the only way to truly end the “Palestinian problem” is through total genocide of the Palestinian population. Whether through mass murder or sterilization of the populace. And in such an event, dehumanization of a people prove to be a great tool in the perpetration of absolute atrocities.

But if this is the case, then War Sporno is nothing new in the history of human conflict. The linking of sex and political violence have occurred in many conflict zones, from the Serb army in the Bosnian war to both sides of the Liberian civil war, where a stunning 75% of the women in Liberia during that war were reported to have been raped. We must realized that correlating violence in any such a matter as being romanticized is inherent dehumanizing and ethically immoral, especially if this violence functions on a mass political scale. When this happens, truly horrific things can occur, and we lose all sense of our basic humanity.