Kanye West photo by David Shankbone
As the de-facto leaders of an American culture so obsessed with fame it practically believes it’s in the midst of its own reality TV show, celebrities wield way more power than people want to give them, but nonetheless, the people abide. The presence of Kanye West and Michael Moore at Zuccotti Park was more confusing to some people than the Cuban Missile Crisis, caused about as much factional infighting (forum flame-wars) as the magic bullet and made the Spanish Civil War look like an imaginary fight between two warring tribes of Playmobils.
Ideally, there’d be no conversation here. West and Moore would come and go as everyone else, chanting and shouting like the crowds and voicing their support either monetarily or vocally, and their influential statuses would reign in their worshippers who’d do anything to emulate their beliefs. Liaising is different, however, from co-opting an entire movement and settling it under one’s brand. We have to be thankful to people like Moore and West for remaining detached enough in their allegiances to Occupy not to succumb to becoming representatives or voices for the movement. There’s no peace sign or tye-dye symbol yet, and there haven’t been any crazy eccentrics with wild speeches to make headlines. Then again, we usually need symbols to verify the importance of shit, so I suppose I should wait on that statement.
In the ’60s and ’70s, counter cultural America spawned a whole host of now recognizable faces from John Lennon to Abbie Hoffman, celebrities who either co-opted the social movement or benefited from its popularity in some way. People can attach faces to the revolution without having to read anything or know what the fuck actually happened – the American way.
In the eighties, the government learned from its mistakes. The failed anti-nuclear movement during the Reagan administration showed that a decentralized grassroots campaign that could not accumulate a strong-willed core would never overcome the power and influence of the three branches of American government. Furthermore, its inability to organically produce celebrities made its legacy very small to those who were not yet alive in its heyday. Reagan proved he could topple even someone as charismatic and photogenic as Ralph Nader and Al Gore – and now it’s funny, cuz like, those dudes are now all like, ‘oh, we support nucklar energy cuz like, it’s like the last resort ‘n stuff before the global climate meltdown, ‘n whatever so, like, yeah we’re bein prag-uhhh…praga-mathematical, ‘n stuff’ (in other words, a paraphrase of this).
The ’90s ended with the WTO demonstrations, which proved that our police can tear gas and beat up U.S. citizens. The ’00s were maybe the greatest years of psychotic complacency ending in the traumatic December 2007 Jamie Lynn Spears pregnancy. That sent our country into shock, causing the 2008 economic collapse (which was really more of a total collapse of our trust in the purity of our celebrities – I heard Bieber was with child; no big deal).
Now in 2011, we have this big protest thing, and we don’t even have Jane Fonda (or Megan Fox) to pose naked on a tank. Also, where are our professional athletes in the armed forces? I guess we know better after that…but still, I gotta turn on the TV and see this (and that) instead of this?! How am I supposed to worship all these ordinary people who think the same way I do? It’s so boring on TV I might have to actually go investigate the damn thing myself.
A decent amount of history says that political movements need leadership, especially in a country like America where our obsession with the individual is borderline terrifying, so who better to throw at the helm than a celebrity? Who was a more qualified representative of anti-nuclear belief: Michael “Gordon Gekko” Douglas or Al “ManBearPig” Gore? And who is better at representing the 1%: Kanye West or Michael Moore?
The Occupy movement might have a strong core in its sleepover occupiers, but it needs to start telling everyone else what to do, when to do it, and where to go, and that’s something Kanye West has been doing subliminally for years. Better yet – hire jackass writers like me to tell them what’s right and wrong with their movement from my computer.
All jokes aside, Moveon.org has done a great job mobilizing people through their daily newsblasts and petitions, and it has undoubtedly helped the movement initiate periodic purposefulness despite Occupy’s general tone of vague populist anger. However, MoveOn has this strange tactic of sending emails from hundreds of their members, which is extremely annoying because if you have a fetish communicating with weird people over the internet, it’s always a let down seeing that Lenore Palladino and Daniel Mintz (whoever they are) emailed you on the same day. I think I’d rather see an email from Lindsay Lohan telling me to sign a petition, wouldn’t you?
Such are the issues facing a movement too rational, too grounded in classic American republican values for many people to comprehend. The same minutiae that preoccupies a gossip-oriented twitterati such as Kim Kardashian’s private life is being sublimated into people’s views of politics and further, the accusation of hypocrisy, which is shared by everyone ever so let’s just move on(dot org).
The media-inherited game of muckraking we play on a day-to-day basis (like tweeting whenever you see Anthony Weiner in public) needs to start happening to all of us otherwise the empathy inherent to community politics will not function. We’ve been hurt too many times, I believe, by both politicians and celebrities, and perhaps Barack Obama and Jamie Lynn Spears were our last hopes of heroes not getting pregnant all up in our faces. God I hate all those public people with their public faces and pregnancies and divorces and… faces!
That is why the Occupy movement is so successful and confounding to us from the vantage point of a media observer – there isn’t a singular face to poop on yet, or a cadre of ladies and gentlemen with “questionable” pasts or inadequate facial features, beige pant-suits or gaffes to endlessly quote, relate with or hate on. As long as Michael Moore steers clear of taking a leadership position and simply offers his support, he won’t infect anything with his so-called left wing establishment shortcomings. Neither he nor West would ever (I hope) run for office, because they understand their roles as documentarians and artists, and I would rather not continue the trend of the celebritician made famous by Ronald Reagan and forced on us in the future by Alec Baldwin. Al Franken is having loads of fun though, so I may be speaking too soon.
The Tea Party’s biggest failure was letting in talking-points characters like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann completely co-opt and de-legitimize whatever was legitimate about the Tea Party, transforming the movement into a mere marketing device for their campaigns.
I’m talking out of my ass, but to be real for a second, the founders of the Constitution argued over this problem constantly during the Federalist and Anti-Federalist titty-for-tatty exchanges between Jimmy Madison, Al Hamilton, George Washington (no nickname for George) and the lesser known opposition members such as beer connoisseur Sam Adams, P-Funk All Star George Clinton, and failed poet Rob Yates.
During that time, Federalists and Anti-Federalists fought over who was actually a “Federalist” much like skinny-jeans wearing men prefer the title “eclectic” over “hipster”. Their stories are practically identical.
Some Federalists, James Madison in particular, held the view that dissenting parties more often than not grow from private interests, and the best method of acquiescing their needs was to co-opt their demands into the establishment, as the establishment is designed to honor the needs of the public interest rather than the private. But when private interest is masked as public interest (top-down economics, Alan Greenspan market de-regulation), and public interest is manipulated as private interest (the tragic “53%” complacen-tivists), the Madisonian approach to adopting major groups of dissenters into the agreeable whole is a bit harder to pull off.
The people are mad? Well shit, convince some Hollywood-type to calm people’s nerves. If that doesn’t work, grab someone from the marginalized section of the population and convince people his ascension is proof that all is well and fair in the country. Banks failed and now everyone knows what we were doing? Shit.
Even Joe Dimaggio can’t be thrown on TV to tell us we’ll all be OK, and that, I believe, is a good thing.
Written By Jakob Schnaidt