The Revolution Will Not Be Commodified
“What was considered ‘socialism’ only yesterday is turning into a sound business investment”
— Michael Harrington
Thousands of dissidents gather in front of their screens. Broadcast for their viewing pleasure is The Resistance. The skirmish is swift and clean, if one sided. Not a single bullet is shot. Instead, Sean Spicer, or at least that part of him which bears any significance to the world at all — his character — is tactfully assassinated. No blood has been shed. And when it’s clear he’s dead and gone for good, a convulsive wave of liberal orgasm telecommutes through blue tinted screens across wealthy middle class suburbia, expressing itself with a collective toe-curling, an extension of limbs, and finally culminates in the hushed moans of embarrassed love affairs. Thanks be to God for providing us with such potent valor as is embodied in our hero, Melissa McCarthy.
But, like a perverse repetition of Christ’s Easter, a few days later Sean Spicer rises from the dead. Though the oddities of his character are now perceptible as slightly more grotesque, also vaguely effeminate, he appears well. He even takes his death in good humor, commenting on his assassination with jest. And so liberal America stumbles on, defeated, but not wholly disenchanted. There will be other skirmishes, other chances to topple the Trump administration. Mostly, though, there will be think pieces, t-shirts, and twitter thread indictments.
This is the unfortunate state of much of liberal resistance. Their shirts say Nasty Woman, but in the war they wage on the Trump administration, they’re actually frustratingly tame.
To be clear there have been shining moments in The #Resistance: The massive demonstrations of protestors crowding airports across the country, in turn worrying airlines, were certainly effective. In addition to opening public dialogue, demonstrating a heartening solidarity with the Muslim communities, as well as the resulting flood of (badly needed) positive press for activists, the eventual judicial decision to reverse Trump’s travel ban may well have also been a result of these demonstrations. History has set a clear precedent: when industry wallets are in jeopardy, government corrects the problem. With luck, this correction directly favors the protesters.
But on the whole, opposition has been ineffective and too polite thus far. Driving this general impotence is both the commodification and the outsourcing of our resistance. Though each distinct phenomena, the two often intertwine themselves and the result is mass complacency when movement is necessary.
We are thorough bred consumers of an impressive depth. We consume to become. If I buy black skinny jeans and a tight fitting Dead Kennedy’s t-shirt, I’m a punk. So how to become a certified member of Trump’s opposition? Buy Buy Birdie Sanders T-Shirt!
To be clear, a visible caste of activists would not be a loss to the Left’s cause. A uniform can be empowering. But commodifying resistance does deserve concern, even scorn. What it can represent is a release valve decompressing collective opposition. All that wrought and desperation you felt on November 9th can be slowly eaten away in politically charged paraphernalia and Late Show viewership. More to the point, it gives those of us who felt alienated in an America which elected Donald Trump an overall undeserved comfort of radical communion. I’ve got a Nevertheless She Persisted tattoo, you’ve got a Nasty Woman shirt, his bumper’s got a Bernie sticker! And with each recognition, a pang of affirmation, a small but significant uptake of dopamine, a pavlovian conditioning telling you now, it’s okay, we’re all working to fix this.
And this false comfort is only the slightest perturbation in an activism with capitalist values.
Pirating Our Opposition
Donald Trump is a cartoon villain. This quality should be a valuable resource in curbing his influence and building a strong liberal/left coalition. The problem, however, is that the accessibility to, and the plurality of, vested hate for Donald Trump and his administration also provides otherwise uninterested corporations with a new way of courting consumers.
Type “companies opposing Trump” into Google and you’re presented with a slew of headlines boasting lists—impressive in number as well as quality of name—of powerful institutions which, too, claim to number the ranks of The #Resistance. But these practiced marketers are more than supposedly moral, they’re smart. They understand effective advertising. And since Trump’s opposition now also constitutes a thriving demographic with money to spend and humanity to mend, why not market the chance kill two birds with one stone?
When you buy a Starbucks coffee, you’re not just buying a drink, you’re also engaging in conscious activism. “Vote with your wallet!” goes the corrupting mantra. This cheap gimmick to affirm your liberal credentials is more than not enough, it’s also founded on the dangerous notion that we should choose which industry leaders to empower, rather than considering our own empowerment.
And so when Uber got caught effectively serving as scabs on the NYC cab strike, all Lyft had to do was make a minimal effort to inform the press that they oppose Donald Trump’s muslim ban, donate a small sum to the ACLU, and watch eagerly as liberal twitter’s feed flooded with pictures confirming that their market competition had indeed royally fucked themselves. All we’re left to do is keep up to date with the latest headlines confirming which brands Trump is under fire from now. Our fight is outsourced.
Rather than building a strong populist program, we’ve been taken by business. Now, self identifying technocrats have sideswiped our table, grinning suggestively as they affirm that they will pick up the check. Lyft will give to the ACLU, they might even put pressure on Washington, so support Lyft. Starbucks will provide refugees with jobs, so support Starbucks. Melissa McCarthy’s performance will make Sean Spicer literally shit his pants, so watch SNL. With each act, it feels like something must be getting done. At the very least, it feels as if we’re engaging in a culture of opposition. Instead, the same industry leaders who will run to profit off the Trump administration if given the chance, have pirated our movement and sold it back to us. But only after removing its spine.
Rescuing Our Resistance
What’s necessary moving forward is, first, a recognition of the motivations of some of the biggest actors within Trump’s vocal opposition. If MasterCard gave a shit about upholding a responsible ethic of public defense, it likely wouldn’t be embroiled in a lawsuit boasting a punishment of $19 Billion for screwing over their British customers. So take no comfort in counting them among your ranks. Certainly, don’t let them sell you the movement.
Furthermore, we need to concentrate our efforts on scaring those household brands, not ingratiating their investors. One of our most effective tools for commandeering the public stage and applying pressure to our governing agencies is making crucial and influential industries fear for their wallets. So rather than providing a new and lucrative market, we should make it a point to remind these businesses that production or resistance or revolution: it’s all on our terms. Striking; Mass demonstrating; Occupying heavily trafficked nodes of infrastructure —We can take back the resistance.
Support is already visible. So let’s embrace each other in a shared culture of opposition; but let’s be sure to utilize our new communities as a means of achieving a new world, rather than comfort. Let’s develop a practiced devotion to protest and community organization. We can still laugh with Melissa McCarthy, but let’s not laugh our way into protofascism for lack of effective mobilization.