Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Going" Green or Merely "Performing" Green? And When, O When, Will We Stop with the Compulsive Use of Ironic Quotation Marks

Last week, Megs raised an excellent question about Americans, ranging "from esteemed blogger Andrew Sullivan to our own Harrogate," who have "changed their identifying display to the color in support of Iranian protesters."

Megs wondered whether it makes a difference at all, do the Iranian proestors even care? "Normally," she observed, "I'm all for the grassroots movement, but this one seems just too easy. Click a button, it says to me. That's all you have to do to help these people." Reading this post from the snug, secure confines of a hallowed Ivy League Library, Harrogate found himself feeling extra vapid. Worse, he was not much heartened by the latter half of Megs' post, which made an interesting move towards embracing the possibility that this "click of a button" movement might actually be doing something beyond making us feel proud of ourselves.

Sigh. Harrogate has no effective answer to this issue. But since Solon is right that intention always matters no matter how embedded in Theory we get, Harrogate in his own rambling way, would like to take a shot at stating why he went with the Green identifier.

First off, an important distinction needs to be made between Andrew Sullivan and us facebookers and lightly-trafficked bloggers (as friends know, Harrogate has deep ambivalence towards Sullivan, because Sullivan is a committed neoliberal, which Harrogate finds only marginally less repulsive than the mainstream American brand of social conservatism. But that is beside the point here). Sullivan's blogger coverage of the Iranian election and its aftermath has been beyond stellar, and one would be hard pressed to suggest that Sullivan has made no difference in shaping the public imagination, both in the United States and abroad, on these important events. To the extent that the Iranians have had uncensored access to the Internet during this time, Sullivan has in all likelihood reached protestors there as well.

Sullivan inspired Harrogate to identify Green on Facebook. Cannot remember the post (there are sooo many), but there was one where Sullivan argued that these identifiers matter. That whereas Obama and the Congress have a responsibility to be cautious with their Rhetoric, bloggers and "plugged in" citizens in the United States and throughout the Western world are not at all beholden to caution, and that while it may only be the click of a button, it sends a "human family" message.

Sullivan's was an assertion of the importance of Rhetoric in the most layman sense of the term. "That's just Rhetoric," some might say. But "Rhetoric matters," Sullivan responds, for it adds momentum to a sense of global sympathy for those who fight for their political freedom.

As Megs said, we all here in the US (except for those who want to bomb Iran and are thus sad that its people are suddenly humanized in the mainstream American imaginary) support the protestors there. Harrogate, persuaded by Sullivan, decided to inscrbe that support on Facebook, and he admits to having entertained the idea that some protestors would notice, and be gladdened by, the fact that so many are doing this.

In the end, Harrogate comes down believing that that we are, in some way and in Megs' hopeful words, "speaking to the Iranian populous" with these identifiers. But we also ought not to flatter ourselves that we are hardcore political activists in changing a Facebook Profile Picture from Picture of Ric Flair to a Placard asking "Where are Their Votes?"


Anonymous said...

"That whereas Obama and the Congress have a responsibility to be cautious with their Rhetoric, bloggers and "plugged in" citizens in the United States and throughout the Western world are not at all beholden to caution, and that while it may only be the click of a button, it sends a "human family" message." Yes, Harrogate, this is the best in us that I'm glad you reminded me to see it.

Also, we'll have to debate Sullivan sometime. I find him strangely likable.

Oh, and I love the label. Thanks for being the Pollyanna to my cynic on this one.

harrogate said...

Harrogate is always happy to debate Sullivan. He'll start now, and ye can take it back up at yer leisure.

Agreed on his likeability. But then Harrogate also finds George Will likeable. Heck, it may even be a prerequisite to be able to communicate likeability, to be a big time player in the championing of the neoliberal free market matrix.

So it's twofold, the complaint. First and foremost it's a matter of socioeconomic vision/ideology. That is an area where Harrogate is at this point, pretty damned unpersuadable.

The second point is more of a combination of related suspicions, both of which stem from Harrogate's disdain for identity politics.

One, that Sullivan's defection from the GOP almost wholly centers on his homosexuality--that is, he finally got fed up with the GOP homophobia post the red meat 2004 election. Yes, Reagan was a homophobe too, but Reagan didn't harp on the issue continuously and--more importantly--Reagan brought to bear the neoliberal wet dream of he who dies with the mist toys wins. For that, Reagan's luddite views of homosexuality could be forgiven.

And two, Sullivan's love of personalities. When W. took office, like Chris Matthews, Sullivan gushed about W.'s "style," his manly demeanor, his deep Christian faith, etc. Now, like Matthews, he gushes about Obama.

We have been down this road before on TRS, and Harrogate still laments the adulation of the floating signifier at the expense of ideological engagement.