Friday, February 22, 2008

Obama or "Elvis joins the army"

David Seaton's News Links
Lately I have found myself ranting about Barack Obama and his "movement" on an almost daily basis. Experience has taught me that when that happens it is as wise to examine myself as to examine the cause of the irritation.

Reading over my old posts I find myself clamoring repeatedly for a citizens "movement" and commending Howard Dean for instigating Internet micro-financing to offset the big check writers. Why, then, am I so turned off by Obama?

This quote from Howard Zinn, the author of "A People's History of America", gets a corner of it:
We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress. Howard Zinn (emphasis mine)
What is needed to "change" America is a "citizens" movement, patiently built brick by brick from the ground up on the lines of Martin Luther King's civil rights movement that would put as much or more pressure on the politicians as the different lobbies and PACs do. And Doctor King was not alone, his movement spawned dozens of leaders, some of whom are still prominent and influential today. Few of them are office holders. By its very nature a "movement" cannot be in the hands of politicians, who as part of their function must make concessions and compromises every day of their lives. You cannot be both a sheepdog and a wolf, you have to choose.

Then my irritation became much clearer to me. What we are seeing with Obama's "movement" is the most classic maneuver of the American system's playbook: neutralizing and homogenizing any energy it fears. We have seen this happen over and over again.

For want of a better name I call the maneuver, "Elvis joins the army".

I call it that because of something John Lennon said when Presley died. Asked for comment the ex-Beatle said, "Elvis died when he joined the army". it was a brilliant remark, because before being drafted Elvis had been a national symbol of rebellion and untamed sexuality. Along with James Dean and the young Marlon Brando, he was a symbol of a new and dangerous way of being young. When they drafted him and cut off his hair, they turned him into a pasteurized version of himself. The fat, drugged, hambone, kitch, rhinestone, "living dead," Elvis was born in the US Army.

That is why, a generation later, Muhammed Ali's, rebellion was so important, he didn't let himself be pasteurized by the system, he made no concessions... He was absolutely true to himself and to those who looked up to him. Authenticity personified. He suffered and was vindicated.
You cannot be both a sheepdog and a wolf, you have to choose.

When I hear Obama and see the reaction of the crowds, I feel my inner Holden Caulfield rise from some dusty 1950's closest. "No, not again." DS


Anonymous said...

Bravo, Bravo. I finally 'get it'. That was a very concise explanation. Thank you for expressing this viewpoint. I know way too many people who still don't know that politics in the US - at least the main event - is a stage show. Pure Theater.


Jay Salter said...

Your recollection of John Lennon’s observation that “Elvis died when he joined the army,” caused me to flash back to 1958 when I was a soldier in the 3rd Armored Division, headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany. At that time, I was near the end of my enlistment. The troop ship that delivered Elvis to Germany (and to the 3rd Armored Division) was the same one scheduled to “rotate” me back home. I remember taking great pleasure proclaiming, “Elvis is my replacement.” I also remember that neither I nor any of my hundred or so returning comrades viewed Elvis as anything but a fool for having volunteered. Though many of us had also been volunteers ourselves (immersed as we had been in early 1950s Audi Murphy fantasy), we each learned soon enough to hate the US Army and yearned to return to civilian life. We openly derided Elvis for his “patriotic sacrifice.” It was the beginning of our transformation from sheepdogs to wolves.

So, metamorphosis is always possible. And a lone wolf whose tale spinning might possibly set in motion a sheepdog-to-wolf conversion is worth a careful vetting.

You yearn for a transformative, 60s style, peoples’ movement. So do I. We both know Hillary, who is the quintessence of the status quo ante Bush, is incapable of delivering any such thing. But Obama, should he actually win the presidency, will have done so only by generating an overwhelming expectation of truly progressive change. And the massive frustration and percolating rage that will surely emerge when he fails to deliver will likely midwife a powerfully revolutionary moment.

We should be preparing for that moment with gimlet-eyed calculation.

It is a very long shot, but what other hope do you see?

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Very good comment and a way forward. Thank you

anansi said...

I see "the massive frustration and percolating rage that will surely emerge when he fails to deliver" leading to a backlash against idealism and against revolution. But I would be more than happy to be proved wrong.

Anonymous said...

John Lennon's comment about Elvis is absolutely stupid.Elvis was great from the day he was born to the day he died.His sixties and seventies material was all fantastic which is more than I can say for Lennon's. He could not even sing well.

Anonymous said...

Jay Salter, I thought Elvis was drafted, not a volunteer. Re John Lennon's comment, he probably meant that Elvis changed his style from what it was in the early fifties, a lot of people felt that he shouldn't have done that. But we see it all the time, only now they call it "reinventing." If Elvis hadn't reinvented himself many times, he wouldn't have been the musical and cultural influence that he was. Personally, I prefer Elvis' later works. And I really resent it when people call Elvis fat, he was rail thin for most of his career, only gained weight towards the end, probably due to health problems.