Saturday, June 03, 2006

Heroes and Demons

Jamison Foser's excellent, if unsurprising, articles on the lies and myths the MSM is deliberately presenting about Democratic candidates are definite must-reads. The new one this morning on Media Matters uses some very pointed examples of the double-standard the press, particularly DC Kewl Kidz and the talking head TV pundits, consistently enforce. The take down of Broder is especially satisfying. This is the key graph:
Those who would apologize for the media's treatment of Clinton, Gore, Dean, and Kerry -- or who somehow fail to recognize it even now -- chalk it up to Clinton's supposed slickness, or Gore's trouble with the truth, or Dean's craziness, or Kerry's liberalism, and on and on and on -- somehow failing to recognize that they're excusing flawed media storylines about these candidates by citing those same flawed storylines. Hopefully hoping for the day when a progressive leader would emerge without these weaknesses.
What goes unacknowledged in the left blogosphere is how much the "left" regugitates these story lines. In one breath, they can decry the idiocy of the media, and in the next go into full on 'roid rage intensity attacks against [fill in Democratic office holder's name here] and how much s/he is a flip-flopper/liar/wimp/shill/Republican in drag who is going to do unspeakable damage to the republic. The only difference between the attacks is that the "left" attacks the person for catering to the right while the MSM and wingnut noise machine attacks them for catering to the left. But the story line is exactly the same.

Hillary is a fake, inauthentic, pandering bitch. Al Gore is a stiff, humorless, exaggerating prick. Kerry is an ambivalent, vacillating, suck-up loser. Pelosi is weak. Shumer is a shill. Reid won't fight. And off they go, merrily babbling the wingnut talking points, thorougly internalizing the bad press spread about our office holders.

We persistently savage our own side for being weak, preferring to take down the "losers" than take on the challenge of defending moderation against extremism. It's easy to be outraged, particularly when you don't get what you want. It's easy to behave like Bill O'Reilly and the rest of the noise machine, particularly when the script is presented to you, right there, in bullet item talking points.

I had a bizarre exchange with a former friend where she explained to me how, when she was a conspiracy-obsessed right-wing nutcase, she hated liberals because they were going to take over the world and destroy conservatism. Now that she is a conspiracy-obsessed left-wing nutcase, she still hates the liberals - because they aren't going to take over the world and destroy conservatism. She was shocked to find out that the boogeyman of her youth was not even the Wizard of Oz, pulling levers and being clever, but some rather mild-mannered people with moderate views and a decidedly pragmatic agenda, like childhood immunizations, progressive taxation, and being a benevolent hegemon in international affairs. She is angry that the left does not live up to the right's mythology, and in that lies a lesson.

We want heros and demons, avatars of our own fears and desires. This is inescapably human. It's why people pray to gods to intervene and bless/blight as the supplicant requests. When we are lucky, individuals and groups come forward in times of trouble and become the lens through which we can perceive commonality in what is otherwise a private, individual, idiosyncratic experience of the world, allowing us to stand in the place of the other, even an other who was once a denizen of our demonology, like blacks or gays. We can be inspired to ovecome the FUD factor and act in ways that will change the world we hold in common, even when the immediate effect of the change may not be beneficial to our self-perceived interests. They make us become our own heros.

More commonly, individuals and groups come forward who prey upon our demons, because it is easier to respond to fear than to overcome it. The boogey monsters are going to get you! And the majority responds because they are ordinary people with ordinary thoughts who respond in predicatable and human ways to what frightens them. The entire Cheney regime is predicated upon deploying a time-honored demonology of dark-people, baby-killing women, and internal enemies seeking to corrupt our precious bodily fluids. It is cheap and effective, and ends up destroying what it touches.

Heros and demons, Martin Luther King Jr. and Osama bin Laden, are exceptions in our world. Our reactions to them are not in balance. We tend to recognize our heros after the fact, and they often are portrayed as demons while they do their work because they share something in common with the demonic - they scare us. They want us to do what we fear to do. The demons simply want us to fear, and thus to refrain from doing. Those who want things to remain as they are often hail the demons as heros, particularly if the demonic avatar inflicts harm on those the person sees as demons, like gays or Western individualism or politically empowered women.

But these people are exceptions, and this is probably a good thing. We cannot always be manning the barricades or storming the gates of heaven/hell. I have a small wall hanging. It says "There have been no dragons in my life. Only small spiders and stepping in gum. I could have coped with dragons." For me, this captures our wish to dwell within our more abstract fears, to cope with dragons, when life hands us spiders and gum, the mundane problems of living in this world. Mundane does not mean unimportant. Mundane may be lack of transportation, no health insurance, stagnant wages, a dying parent. Mundane leaves us isolated and frustrated, beset by fear of what we cannot prevent. Mudane is what politics, in its proper role, is supposed to address - enabling citizens to cope with the small, wearing, demoralizing, individually threatening events of ordinary life by making sure we are not left to fail by ourselves.

But we don't want ordinary leaders. We want heros. We want to dedicate ourselves to something great and grand, something beyond the mundane, to face down dragons, not scrape gum off the bottoms of our shoes. In the absence of heros, we will organize ourselves against demons. I may not have health insurance, but - by God! - the fags aren't going to get married. I can take action against dragons (mythical beasts) in a way I cannot get rid of spiders (found in every corner).

The contempt of the left for our own leaders has to do with the fact that they aren't heros. They are rather ordinary people for the most part. They remind us of our own weakness, our own inability to get out from under the weight of ordinary danger - illness, an unexpected expense, loss of a job - and we respond with fury when they are too much like the face in the mirror and not enough like the fantasy in our heads. How dare they not be our heros? Thus, we join in making them into demons, because at least demons have powers, even if they use them for evil.

It is better to think that somone is in charge, even if they are doing us harm, than to think that we are at the mercy of our demons. Then the argument becomes if we could only get them to behave and "do the right thing," everything would be OK. To think otherwise is to live in a world where nothing can change, bereft of heros. Heros frighten us because of what they demand of us, but their absense can drive us into the arms of (our own) demons.

We need heros because we are human. We have demons for precisely the same reason. To face issues like global warming or human rights abuses, we need heros, people like Al Gore or the Dalai Lama. To engage in normal politics, however, we need to reject both heros and demons, put aside the dragons, and deal with spiders and gum. We are in a particularly wretched era of political demonology, but we will not get away from the politics of fear by playing into them. To do this, we must become our own heros. The first step is to stop making demons on the left.


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