by Phil Rockstroh
MANY BELIEVE FASCISM will come to the United States of America resembling contrived spectacles such as The Super Bowl, The Academy Awards, and American Idol, with the proceedings intercut with teary, yet ultimately triumphant, Oprahesque tales of how redemption can be gained through the renunciation of one’s rights, liberties, as well as, the dutiful turning in of one’s subversive neighbors.
Don’t reach for that remote, folks: It’s already here.
Our journey to fascism began at the end of The Second World War when the tenets of the hyper-commercialized entertainment/military/corporate state became sacrosanct by means of our internalization of it from constant mass media reinforcement. What purported to be only a message from our sponsors metastasized into the 24/7, corporatized UberCulture of the present day. The Revolution will not be televised -- because The Corporatist Coup is being continually broadcast.
Commercial advertising is a form of political speech: A very potent one and its effects are far from benign. By means of its cultural dominance, commercial advertising is promulgated, to the point of total market saturation, without any form of effective opposition; hence, by its very nature, it amounts to corporatist propaganda and serves as a vehicle of mass indoctrination.
By way of a ceaseless bombardment of advertising imagery, we exist in a nonstop, holographic, corporate Nuremberg rally of the collective mind. We need not participate in old school, torch-lit processions of Brownshirts through the streets: This brand of all media penetration proto-fascism has been internalized. We, like maggots born into a pile of dung, find nothing malodorous about our place of birth.
Karl Rove, Roger Ailes, et al are not evil geniuses. Well, at least, they’re not geniuses. They’re simply cocktail party-variety, confidence artists of the electronic age. They're media professionals who understand the proto-fascistic fantasies of the populace of the consumer state.
Hitler and Goebbels grasped what any advertising copywriter is taught early on: People can be manipulated, if an appeal can be addressed to modern man’s yearning to break free from the constraints of his existence as an economic animal. Whether it’s the promised dawning of The Thousand Year Reich or the empty facsimile of freedom promised by the purchase of a new automobile, both provide the feckless sucker with the illusion of shaking up the old order; hence, the quotidian prison will collapse, allowing one’s imprisoned longings to escape to freedom over the rubble. But first, paradoxically, one must surrender their rational mind to the individuality-destroying agendas of the state and/or corporation.
When people habitually surrender their free will to the irrational dictates of a dominant order, an inner anxiety results. Outwardly, one feigns strength, yet inwardly one is ridden with doubts. To compensate, an individual will grow, over time, more rigid, even totalitarian.
Enter George W. Bush, a man affecting a massive measure of feigned toughness -- yet, at the same time, riddled with such a high degree of concomitant inner doubts that when he attempts to speak, his words trip and stagger over his lips like drunken dwarves attempting to clear a high curb.
In temperament, Bush is as vain and brutish as any tin-plated dictator. Worse, Bush, more closely resembles an abusive pimp – tragically, Lady Liberty’s. Habitually slapping her around, accusing her of holding out on him, and paranoid of betrayal, Bush, a preening caricature of Macho Narcissism, like any run-of-the-dark-alley pimp claims to be her protector, as, all the while, he abuses, exploits, and degrades her. Apropos, Bush’s vast collection of outfits for every occasion should include a plum purple pimp suit; accordingly, the presidential limo should be tricked out to sport 1970s-style Cadillac El Dorado opera windows, a two tone paint job, and be accessorized with plush, white fur-lined upholstery.
It was the black magicians of advertising who sold us George W. Bush. Bush was initially marketed as a box of detergent (though he's dumb as a box of rocks) -- a cleansing, Christian soap to be used as directed to wash and scour the stain of Satanic jism left on the fabric of American life by the sinful Bill Clinton. Bush, a former drunk, now "cleaned-up," was ready to lead America to a whiter-than-white future -- plus provide round-the-clock protection from the offensive odors emitted by the body politic.
But, after the Eleventh of September 2001, Bush was marketed as a Humvee. The biggest, most powerful vehicle traveling the perilous roadways of a hostile world: It's O.K. kids, daddy's at the wheel . . . just sit in the backseat and watch your DVDs . . . You're safe and protected: anybody or anything stupid enough to get in our way will be crushed beneath us. Challenge us you evildoers and you'll join the rest of the smoking wreckage and pulverized road-kill in our wake.
Although -- after wildly fluctuating gas prices and a series of deadly rollovers on the roadways of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Post-Katrina Gulf coast -- the Hummer presidency of George W. Bush is sputtering: the DVD player is running an endless tape loop of Bush strutting, clad in a flight suit, while Iraq burns and bleeds; in addition, the vehicle’s passengers are carsick and road weary.
The fool’s gold standard for this form of governance-by-marketing-subterfuge was set by former soap and nuclear missile salesmen Ronald Reagan who was successfully sold as a kind of grandfatherly Marlboro Man. Reagan, whose fantasy-prone hagiographers still believe, by some cryptic act of telegenic alchemy, brought down the Soviet Union -- somehow -- by simply reading a teleprompter. Later, Bill Clinton was a rock-a-billy cool Elvis who fattened up the economy like it was binging on a round-the-clock, fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches and chocolate cake diet.
At this point, hapless George W. Bush, as was the case with his geeky, hyperthyroid father before him, must be beginning to cause his corporate creators to drastically up the dosages of their respective SSRI prescriptions, because, while they intended to market Bush II as the heir apparent of the iconic cowboy Ronald Reagan, it's clear he couldn't handle the responsibilities of the San Diego Chicken.
Bush should serve out the rest of his term wearing a chicken costume. Such an act would be emblematic of the man, as well as our era: Bush as an emblem of the populace of the United States -- a people who have lost their dignity, by way of surrendering it to the corporatist order.
In a more literate age, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, limned characters emblematic of his era. Yet the words he wrote in the 1920s still resonate today as a powerful indictment of those who created and enable men like Bush -- the corrupt corporatist classes of the present time:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made ...” (Pg. 180-181)
Carelessness is the manner by which extroverts manifest despair. Being a nation that considers introspection a loser’s gambit, carelessness has been our national mode d'être since the countries inception. Bush is only its latest manifestation.
And the mess is piling up by the hour. As was the case with Gatsby, beneath the carefully constructed image and manic consumption of the UberCulture, the American empire is doomed. Although, we, unlike Gatsby, for all our cunning artifices and desperate subterfuge, are not flaming out and falling amid the glittering debris of frenetic, jazz-imbrued bacchanals -- we have only managed shopping spree debt, over-priced coffee jags, McMansion-enclosed anomie and porn habituation.
Gatsby remains an emblem of the hollowness howling beneath the convivial veneer of capitalist man. An updated version of the model is Oprah Winfrey.
Yes, I realize Gatsby is a fictional character, imagined and realized by F. Scott Fitzgerald within the context of a novel; Gatsby is a construct of the mind sent out into the world to synergize with the imagination of the reader. Yet the Oprah we hold in our mind’s eye is also an imagined character -- a character wholly created by Oprah, fully imagined and realized inside the media hologram.
Oprah is a corporate capitalist, performance propagandist. Her rousing tales of personal redemption are very useful to the plutocratic order of the present day, an elitist order in which she's comfortably ensconced.
In a time when the besieged laboring and middle classes would benefit from an honest exposé detailing the ruling class machinations that belie their sense of powerlessness, Oprah, instead, proffers twelve step-usurped platitudes, "Self Help" bromides (suggested book club title: An Idiots Guide To Idiocy) and shop-worn Horatio Alger doggerel, all refitted to the media age.
The Gospel of Oprah reeks of faux redemption. Even when Oprah addresses a topic such as the wage enslavement of minimum wage jobs, she avoids the obvious question of who benefits from having this exploitive system in place. Such disingenuous story telling is analogous to Charles Dickens penning "A Christmas Story" sans Ebenezer Scrooge.
Oprah is a plutocratic enabler disguised as the populist underdog who made good. She is a shill for the status quo. She will never point a pampered finger towards the corrupt ruling elitist of the corporate class -- because that finger would end up pointing back at her.
The UberCulture’s frenetic come-ons and false promises flatten people out emotionally, rendering them depressed, passive, and conformist. Moreover, in a culture where success is deemed the end all/be all of all things -- even a measure of God’s love and grace, when contemporary Americans risk straying from the mainstream and fail, the repercussions are terrible, more than most people can endure, economically as well as psychologically. And within the parameters of a corporately controlled economic structure -- rigged for the benefit of a privileged few -- failure is altogether likely. Then combine those noxious realities with the puritanical idea that failure is due to some character flaw (a toxic notion Oprah has given a makeover for the media age) and we’re left with a populace who are conformist, terrified to risk, yet cling to the defining delusion that they live in a society where industry, innovation, and pluck are rewarded with success.
For this reason the corporatist order needs a consummate propagandist like Oprah; a charismatic mountebank who, by means of her stem-twisting tales of personal redemption, dangles before her credulous audience the elusive and illusionary carrot of success. Success and personal fulfillment are possible for one and all, she lies, if only one will surrender their rational instincts and avail oneself to her gospel of self-help salvation. In doing this, Oprah simply sells a variation of the old totalitarian snake oil.
Oprah Winfrey is a sleight-of-hand artist. One of an order of corrupt illusionists who have conjured an all-pervasive, corporatist narrative, a ceaseless mass-media phantasmagoria, wherein empty imagery deluges authentic apprehension and our minds are whirled within a virtual-reality vortex that drowns out resonate experience. The Virtual States of America.
In reality, a large measure of our lives are comprised of long work hours, rounded by tedious, time-decimating commutes, while in unison, mass media manipulation creates a psychological and societal dynamic whereby we must work, nearly continuously, so that we can afford to purchase the empty distractions needed to stave off the demoralization attendant to this soul-numbing arrangement; yet, for all our efforts, we only accumulate more enslaving debt. Ultimately, condemning ourselves to exist indentured to our corporate bosses, by means of our own consumerist compulsions.
These circumstances and our own complicity contrive to fetter us to the global company store of late capitalism as, all the while, our perceptions remain imprisoned within the proto-fascist panopticon of the UberCulture. Part prison, part holographic theme park of the mind, it spins a ceaseless spectacle of commercial propaganda. Call it: Six Flags over Neo-Nuremberg, U.S.A.
Phil Rockstroh, a self-described auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: email@example.com.