Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Welcome to the Palindome

Neoconservative and Tory Libertarian glee at the apparent confusion McCain's nomination of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin is causing the Left-Liberal A-Leets is the sort of schadenfreude that dare not face the financial and thereby cultural storm fronts still breaking on the US.

Major investment bank Lehman Bros is bankrupt and considering the reach of its financial 'products' stretches to charities and Local Councils throughout Australia, not to mention major Insurance companies in the US, the waves are only going to grow.

Palin seems to be a culture war distraction to what should be the main game in US political culture: fashioning a language and project of popular policies that unites the country behind something like a New Deal. Clearly this is a task that calls as much for cultural as political work. If the American Middle class starts to get it in the neck, financially, there is a danger that the de-democratising effects of Neoliberal governmentalities will have them increasingly seeking Neoconservative solutions. The semiotic turnstile that is Sarah Palin would, in this scenario, seem to attract a moral-authoritarian political affect.

A similar sequence of culture-war politician time occurred in Australia from around 1996 to 2000 over a disendorsed Liberal Party (read Neoliberal-Social Conservative) small Business owner Pauline Hanson. Hanson's tone of grievance was aimed at the urban 'elites' and the Canberra-based political power centre that ruled in favour of everyone-except-ordinary-white- people-like-us. After 13 years of 'economic reform' and a concerted attempt by the Labor-led Government to modernise Australian culture and legislate sympathetically around a Native Title decision, white rural and suburban men who had been 'hurt' by these restructures to the economy and loss of their central place from Australian culture identified with Hanson's simplistic egalitarianism and reactionary monoculturalism. Hanson-ism fed on her treatment by Australian journalists - in ways very similar to Palin's - and her political appeal was strong for at least 2 years, until the new Government under John Howard slowly reeled in her constituency by pandering to her right to speak (against political correctness) and to the resentful and chauvanistic feelings that good Australians had a right to.

Hanson has ended up spending time in Gaol for electoral breaches, and has maintained her profile by appearing on a Reality-TV dance show and being mooted as star of her own find a husband show. Her star faded, not least because her racism was directed at Aborigines and Asians in a time when markers of Islamic practice and Arabic connection had become greater sources of fear.

Hanson's political affect was a conduit for forms of anger and fear directed at the media and cultural workers who had been targetted as 'elite,' and her entry into the culture wars of that period did much to distract attention from the ongoing neoliberalisation of Australian political culture.

Like Palin now Hanson presented a weaker sort of semiotic turnstile: she appealed to the Neoliberals who wanted smaller government and to attack cultural gatekeepers and to those full of ressentiment, who envied the minority groups that appeared to enjoy the privilege of recognition and redistribution.

Pinocchio Theory analyses Palin's turnstile affect through the concept of paradessence:

If Palin embodies any sort of plenitude, it is that of the commodity economy, rather than that of an economy of gender. Palin was (quite brilliantly) chosen by McCain because — like any successful commodity product in the postmodern marketplace — she embodies what Alex Shakar, in his novel The Savage Girl, calls a paradessence: a “paradoxical essence,” a conjunction of contradictory qualities. “Every product has this paradoxical essence. Two opposing desires that it can promise to satisfy simultaneously.” The paradessence is the “schismatic core, [the] broken soul, at the center of every product.” Thus coffee promises both “stimulation and relaxation”; ice cream connotes both “eroticism and innocence,” or (in more psychoanalytic terms) both “semen and mother’s milk.” The paradessence is not a dialectical contradiction; its opposing terms do not interact, conflict, or produce some higher synthesis. Rather, the paradessence affirms everything indiscriminately; it is a matter of “having everything both ways and every way and getting everything [one] wants” (from pp 60-61 and 179).

Palin is a paradessence, and hence a wildly popular commodity, because she combines the family-centeredness of the ideal suburban Mom with the ruthlessness of a corporate “warrior” in the dog-eat-dog neoliberal economy, or of a hard-core ideologue/foot soldier for the Far Right. She is sort of a perfect combination of June Cleaver and Ilse Koch. She both energizes the GOP’s fundamentalist-Christian base (which was previously very suspicious of McCain), and appeals to non-fundamentalist, independent white voters (who find her even more charismatic than Obama — with the added advantage that she’s white, to boot). It is probable that, given how gender formations work in America today, so powerful a paradessence would have to appear in the form of a woman, rather than a (heterosexual) man. But the most valid categories for comprehending Palin remain those of media theory and political economy, rather than those of the metaphysics of gender difference.

Hanson is an entrepreneur of herself. Her reactionary conservatism increasingly exposed as a marketing tool: a way of promoting herself as an affective-identification-circuit that promised to sidestep Canberra and represent 'ordinary Australians' without mediation. Her reactionary conservatism a technique for garnering shareholders whose investment in her enterprise would be marketised with the funding that the Australian Electoral System rewards successful candidates and parties that obtain a slim percentage of the vote. Hanson's trajectory embodies the disjunct between ideology and political rationality: a professed neoconservative drive to use the state for moral purposes all the while practicising an entrepreneurial investment strategy centred on her 'self' as human capital.

The first sign that her model was a business one came after it was learnt that her political party was not democratically based at all, but was a three-person company: a political enterprise.
Her last (failed) run at public office has been seen as a cynical ploy to obtain election funding based on gaining a minimal percentage of the vote. Her continuing dalliance with Reality-TV points to a B-Grade circuitry in which celebrity is the currency that trades through entertainment on former political investments and afffect. Slipping from politics into entertainment it remains to be seen if she can generate enough media-capital to make another run at an election.

In the meantime Hanson's currency is falling. She still has fans-constituents but her public is shrinking. Maybe in our hypermediatized instantaneous times Palin's trajectory can be like Hanson's but even quicker. From Paradescence to bankruptcy.

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