12 October, 2008

Red is the New Black

I read a scathing indictment of stalking-horse Sarah Palin by Naomi Wolf, whom I respect but whose writing I often find perversely reactionary within the feminist canon. In this recent essay, Wolf makes a good case for the Rove/Cheney Axis having picked pliable Palin (chummy in that hillbilly Bush way and, based on her flirtatious body language, an equally adept liar) as the perfect tool and the solution to an overly principled John McCain. While I agree with and find interesting Wolf's central thesis concerning affable, weak figureheads and creeping fascism (although she goes a little histrionic toward the end of her essay) her blundering use of "S and M" as a kind of reactionary adjective for the embrace of threatening (capital B) Black accoutrement by modern police forces demonizes not only SM but fails (since no one has ever been stomped to death under an SMer's jack-booted heel) to draw a sufficiently grave image in the reader's mind of the potential threat of a full fascistic bloom.

As agents of the state go the great historical exponents of aggressive black paraphernalia are, of course, the Gestapo (Geheimestaatspolitzi or Secret State Police) and their superiors in the Schutzstaffel, the SS, who did indeed fetishize their costume. "Costume" is a fair characterization of high-ranking Nazi regalia owing to its operatic presentments, fussy personalization and lack of uniformity, but the black ensemble of the SS was originally designed as a uniform by SS officer Lars Bonne Rasmußen, introduced by Heinrich Himmler and manufactured by Hugo Boss. Although the Waffen SS (the "armed" combat corps, frontline ideological police and, later in the war, the field extermination squads for the "Final Solution") persisted in black colors throughout the Nazi era, domestic SS enforcers began moving toward Herr (army) feldgrau (gray-green) as the black uniform became increasingly identified among the German Volk with capricious, even gratuitous, bullying and corruption (see the excellent BBC documentary series War of the Century for the Nazi view of art as political legitimizer, and also Peter Cohen's brilliant Architektur des Untergangs ("Architecture of Doom") for a penetrating overview of the totality of the Nazi aesthetic, blackened and otherwise. Finally, Albert Speer's memoir, Inside the Third Reich, illuminates the dark power of perception management and the depth of public docility martial bombast can engender).

Ignoring Nazism, Wolf's one nod in the direction of meaningful Fascism/black associations is toward Mussolini's "Blackshirts", but even that's wide of the mark as the Blackshirts were the voluntary militia arm of the inchoate Italian Fascist movement - not state-sponsored, certainly not when they were founded, and then only tenuously once Mussolini came to power. Before the Nazis claimed legitimacy in '33 the SS were Hitler's personal bodyguard - the Brownshirts, however, did most of the stomping. With respect to state-sponsored thuggery Wolf has missed the SS/Gestapo connection utterly in favor of prosecuting a parochial antipathy against SM - a stateless social group, a culture if you like, and at best (giving Wolf the benefit of the doubt) an NGO - that advocates consent as among its first principles and has never had any material effect on anyone not in its own ranks.

Naturally I'm sensitive to such misappropriations, especially from the political camp to which I claim some allegiance, but it's I think instructive to note Wolf's use of the the stalking horse metaphor ("FrankenBarbie") for Palin, a device Wolf (like Rove) seems quite content to use when it advances her own demagoguery against "the other", in this case SM. It's no less mendacious, in my opinion, than the kind of rabble-rousing currently deployed by the Republicans desperately flogging a insubstantial connection between Barack Obama and one William Ayers, neighbor and one time party host to Obama, and a former member of the Weather Underground (known as "subversive" when they were active, but now conveniently called terrorists (in the present tense) by McCain, Palin and their acolytes).

Of the independently verified vacuity of a Obama / Ayers cabal McCain says "We need to know that's not true." Sure they do. For a generation, arguably since Nixon (who birthed the culture wars), conservatives in this country have needed to know that the truth is whatever the pathocracy tells them is required to control and banish "the other". What a pity that Wolf should stoop to the same ponerological tactic in her Palin/Black/"S and M" conflations.

Wolf could have set her "FrankenBarbie" arguments to right by simply stating that Palin and McCain have a lot to gain by steering attention away from Palin's hardwired associations with the Alaskan Independence Party, which advocates violent secession of Alaska from the Union and at whose conventions Palin has spoken more than once, as recently as this year. Better still, such red herrings distract from Palin's active membership in certain radical congregations of the Assembly of God church, which makes no secret of its lust for Armageddon and its aim in the meantime to install a theocracy in the US. Then there's McCain's memorable turn with as Number 1 of the cast of The Keating 5 at the outset of the last major bank failure, forgotten only to those now voting for the first time.

Regrettably, Naomi Wolf sees intellectual honesty in likely the same way Karl Rove and Dick Cheney understand it, as a trap that confounds the efficacy of spurious associations made to fan righteous fear among true believers, such as the Obama / Ayers canard, or, as in Wolf's case, the fusion of "S and M" and Fascism.

1 comment:

Asobime said...

Oh Damn, Mac, this is such a good entry...I have to reread it...idiots on the phone...post election crap...but this I think is one of your very best.

It certainly dovetails with my research right now on the Germans in Paris/French Resistance/1940.

I agree with much of what you write here...and I really think there is a anti-female backlash in the media, etc...on Palin. It reminds me of the nastiness with the women involved with Clinton. They were called 'white trash' 'sluts', etc...and this last not in a 'good' way.

I have been thinking of other cultural issues...like the bullying and insecure Gorean men who basically do the same, or have some of the same issues about women in general. Course, they base their crap on bad fiction, but Yuck...how retro without the good styles...or intentions.

Thanks, Mac...for continuing to shine a bright light on these historical issues and also the frailties of our present behavior.