Skullfuck You Very Much: Cultural Authority and the Dispossessed
Let’s talk about its use in political discourse.
Specifically, I’d like to address the many people who wrote to me or left comments about the inappropriateness of the word “skullfucking” in a political polemic.
A lot of the comments I received on this essay I wrote last week about the economic soundness of federal deficit spending chided me on my use of “blue” language and how my writing style makes me sound “like an impertinent child.” How dare I show our apparent new god, Market Theory, the flagrant disrespect of my “uncouth” language. Grownups, they tell me, do not use profanity to speak on such heady matters as industrial finance and social policy.
In fact, many of the comments I read before I turned off that shitfaucet were sent to inform me that my use of the word “skullfucking” invalidated my credibility.
So let me delineate the problem with this notion of credibility in the modern age in the wake of the divine right of kings.
Credibility is earned one of two ways.
First, there is populist credibility, which is what Bernie Sanders is cultivating when he skips the media almost entirely.
Fortunately for his campaign and sanity, Sanders does not rely on the media to courier his message to the masses. Bernie Sanders is not a stupid man. And it would be stupid to trust media owned by the shitbrains at Comcast (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, VOX) and the like to deliver with accuracy his vision on subjects like, oh I don’t know, corporate taxation, utility regulation and anti-trust litigation, as just a few random examples I’ll toss out there.
Nor does a man like Sanders translate well through a medium that we know traffics in aping gravitas and looking like discourse. Bernie Sanders is criticized often by supposedly “expert” analysts because he is “grumpy” and “unkempt.”
As if you can delegitimize what Bernie Sanders says because he has silly, old man hair.
But they resort to this kind of shit because they cannot actually analyze the substance of what he says.
The fact that most experts talking on TV and writing for online “news” media cannot swim in the critical deep end of the subjects in which they claim expertise is masked by the shallowness of the medium in general.
The analysts and experts who are invited to talk on TV about politics spend more time whitening their teeth than they do weaving nuance.
We are living under a media regime where a debate moderator can ask an absurdly complex question like “What will you do about poverty?” and expect it to be answered in less than a minute.
Comcast-owned NBC would not dare upset its nightly prime-time sitcom lineup with in-depth analysis that might upset their Comcast-owned bottom line.
Vox is not going to Voxplain how Comcast captures the media and cable markets both by lobbying for regulative barriers that prevent competition.
You’re never going to see someone greenlight an in-depth Nightline segment dedicated to demystifying shit ideas like “natural monopolies.”
For many people, the fact that Bernie Sanders is not being courted by this media is evidence to his lack of credibility. That if he had more credibility, the media would pay more attention him. Ergo, Bernie Sanders is not credible.
But this reasoning is tautological as fuck.
Bernie Sanders knows that relying on an intermediary with corporate interests diametrically opposed to his own would be like faxing his message through a shredder.
Bernie Sanders has no place to go but directly to the people because all the supposedly legitimate channels are captured and perverted by the exact interests he is opposing.
He recognizes that the “legitimate” channels that confer credibility upon a candidate are corrupted by the same forces he is running for President to dissolve.
Were he to say anything that actually challenged the bottom line of Comcast, for example, you better believe it’s not getting coverage on any Comcast-owned media channel.
But fortunately enough, we are increasingly living in an age where bypassing corporate mediation is now technically possible. The sunk costs of blogging, video and information transfer have virtually disappeared. Anyone can do this. Medium.com didn’t stop me.
Social media, at least in theory, has the potential to be politically entropic, bypassing corporate news monopoly, and affording people like me the chance to reappropriate the means of discursive production, pervert it with my foul language, and watch it go viral.
Because people who are fucking sick and tired of garbage media like CNBC are again turning to each other for their news, like heathens. They are seeking out people on Twitter they trust to talk about the news because clearly Vox and Slate cannot be trusted to abide by journalistic objectivity.
And because people are talking to each other, they are hearing an entirely different story and making entirely new political realities possible.
Candidates like Kshama Sawant in Seattle are demonstrating that overtly unapologetic socialist candidates can run grassroots campaigns against money-backed opponents like Pamela Banks and win.
I know from watching every minute of Sawant’s last two campaigns that her team cultivated relationships with grassroots bloggers like Seattlish and amassed hundreds of dedicated individual twitter followers who invested their free time to attend her events, write about her speeches, distribute literature and amplify her message. And because of this grassroots groundwork, we now have a wildfire nationwide labor movement organizing to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
I was told by rich white men that the internet disrupts business as usual and I’m finally seeing proof of product: we have a female candidate of color advocating for Socialism in America and winning.
And both Sawant and Sanders share the same populist strategy. They eschew media polish and just express their ideas in public as often as possible. They invite and welcome debate because it only gives them a chance to speak more on things most Americans actually believe in, like universal healthcare, public education, and livable wages.
And they’re doing it without the mediation of the monopoly-owned media that conditions our political discourse.
This brings me to the second kind of credibility I want to address which is mediated credibility. I assume this is what people want to accuse me of lacking when they say I sound like an Irish dockhand; that by sounding like I wipe my hands on my pants and spit on the ground, I absolve myself of the intellectual credibility they believe educated people to have because educated people do not sound like Irish dockhands.
Which is also tautological as fuck.
After all, as everyone knows, the only people who have anything meaningful to say about economic policy are the ones being paid to explain economic policy by the monopolies in whose interest it is that we do not understand economic policy.
You know, like Comcast.
I’m not a big proponent of mediated credibility. I actually have a lot of it. Institutions bestow upon me the halo of credibility because I have demonstrated my “talent” in taking tests and writing essays. I get the proverbial cookie when I make the people who run these places happy by writing in their journals, winning their prizes, and ultimately playing by their rules.
But you can probably imagine that if I wrote for them like how I write on here, no one would give me any cookies.
Because I sound like a fucking Irish dockhand, obviously.
I know every Presidential candidate talks about how poor their grandparents were like it’s somehow a reasonable facsimile for firsthand suffering in a transparent effort to ingratiate themselves with the working class.
But I actually have firsthand experience being the working class and everyone I grew up around sounded like an Irish dockhand. I didn’t grow up around people with college degrees and shit like The Atlantic on their coffee tables. I grew up around waitresses, plumbers, mechanics, and towtruck drivers who will be interred in the ground with decades of caked grease under their fingernails.
I know how the dispossessed talk.
And the thing about where I come from is that we use words like skullfucking all the time and laugh when it’s used because it’s funny.
I affirm that it will always be funny to the powerless to imagine powerful men putting their tiny penises into silly inanimate objects.
Look at #piggate and tell me that’s not funny.
And here I am, telling you as someone who has lots of accumulated mediated credibility that in no way does presenting one’s contentions in the vernacular of the dispossessed invalidate them.
In fact, I’m here to tell you that when you tell me this kind of bullshit, what you’re really saying is people like me shouldn’t be assuming authority.
It sounds suspiciously like you’re telling me to shut up and let things stay as they are.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned about people who have a vested interest in tone policing: they care a lot about reproducing a status hierarchy and legitimizing stratification. They feel completely entitled to talk down to people who don’t approximate their idea of legitimacy. They then decide that this person is not worthy of cookies and if they are getting cookies, those cookies are illegitimate.
They are here to tell you that legitimacy sounds like them; that they have gotten all their cookies the fair-and-square way: by sounding like rich white guys.
In Sociology, we talk a lot about how kids from low-income and urban backgrounds are systematically discriminated against in schools because they don’t sound like what middle-class white teachers think is intelligent. Over 13 years of what amount to millions of tiny exchanges, poor and working-class kids are gently guided out of the most rewarding educational tracks towards vocational careers that middle-class teachers think are a “better fit” for them than college. The end result is a lot of kids reproducing the destiny of their parents because they didn’t sound like the ideal held by a pantheon of middle-class teachers.
In my own life, I spent my formative years as a poor kid desperately trying to cultivate the voice of my more privileged peers to stave off this fate. I recognized that if I wanted to leave my station in life, all paths to advancement hinged on me learning to sound and act like those whose parents went to college, drive Audis and subscribe to The New Yorker.
It wasn’t authentic for me and admittedly super awkward. But killing off my own identity and embracing the culture of someone else’s good fortune got easier over time and I ended up convincing enough middle-class teachers that I was a “smart kid” who could go on to a “smart kid” college and from there go onto “smart kid” graduate school.
I have spent my entire life cultivating mediated credibility so that I would be seen by the cultural authority as legitimate and worthy. The incentive to narrow yourself to appease the privileged in educational settings is egregiously apparent. There are many scholarships and prizes to be won by poor kids who will dedicate their energy, time and sanity to legitimate the delusion that this system is somehow meritocratic, balanced and fair.
But kids like me punish themselves to fit an ideal that in no way services their class origins. My family can’t read my academic writing. It will never reach them.
Instead, I am stuck personally resolving the contradiction of working in an industry that tells people it’s advancing and distributing knowledge while at the same time upholding its tradition.
You know, the white people tradition that decides who is legitimate and who isn’t.
Specifically, the white male tradition.
Specifically, the rich, white male tradition for whom the buildings, auditoriums, scholarships, prizes, football fields and professor chairs are named.
Allow me be the first to tell you that the seemingly most “legitimate” institutions for the conferral of cultural legitimacy are absurdly antidemocratic and corrupt as fuck.
They do not accommodate class diversity so much as homogenize it.
Our degrees promise us lots of mediated credibility from the cultural authority of John Harvard and Leland Stanford whose white male privilege snowballed over centuries into halo factories primarily for the benefit of the rich and privileged children of the 1%. It is presumed that once you have one of these halos, you are now blessed with mediated credibility to speak to the public on matters relevant to your degree. Because by virtue of passing through these places and obtaining their halos, you presumably learned how to speak in the way that rich white men find legitimate.
Never mind that this legitimized language you learn to use is being read by no one. Despite having all this mediated credibility, academics have so long ago lost the public imagination that I question why I even stay in it if my goal is to actually dismantle inequality and break the fucking wheel.
I could have written a long, boring essay about the legitimacy of deficit spending in an academic tone in the manner expected by other academics. I know I can do this. I’m trained to.
But I didn’t.
Because I’m not stupid.
What I wrote about instead was an essay written in the voice of someone who knows what she is talking about so well she can analogize it to skullfucking. I wrote it in the same vernacular that I, as an academic, would use to talk to my friends and family if my intention is being humored and even potentially understood. I wrote it at the level I would use if I were trying to convey the theoretical concept of political hegemony to college students.
You know, because I communicate complicated material for a living and might actually know what the fuck I’m doing here.
If my intention is to reach the people I want to reach, it would be stupid to use academic language.
Mostly because it’s boring.
People don’t make academic language go viral because it’s no fun.
But some shitbrains thought they were being cute sending me tons of messages about how my cursing somehow invalidates my credibility and corrupts my message. How if only I could make myself sound more like a passable academic, I could be then maybe be taken seriously.
Until then, I should get no cookies.
But I am here to tell you that I got SO MANY COOKIES and they were DELICIOUS.
The takeaway I am dancing around here is this: the gatekeepers working against you often have a vested interest in stifling the vernacular of the dispossessed and legitimizing their exclusion from the halos of credibility.
Many (especially white men) think themselves profound when they guard the sanctity of discourse from people like me who might show the masses that the market emperor is wearing no clothes.
Medium.com allowed me to bypass the gatekeepers to write about macroeconomics in a language that actually resonated with smart people who are sick and tired of corporate media vomiting out clickbait listicles and shitpieces about spooning while the rest of the fucking planet IS ON FIRE.
And so by explaining it like an foulmouthed, ill-bred Irish dockhand, I made tens of thousands of people actually want to read an essay about the politics of deficit spending and macroeconomic theory.
And share it with their friends.
And talk about it at work.
And hopefully feel empowered by what I said to go on and help others understand that the “balance-the-budget” shitfaucet that is the workhorse of the RNC platform doesn’t even make economic sense.
I got the chance to say without any editorial mediation that political austerity is antidemocratic, immoral and only works for the benefit the same shitheads who get professor chairs named after them, who monopolize the media and profit off of private usury and the derivatives of private usury.
Which was my goal: to communicate something complicated to the people I want to reach so they can go out and change this.
While using words like shitbrain.
So, with that said, haters, skullfuck you very much.