Saturday, November 11, 2017

Moralizing Collides With Spectacle: The Louis C.K. - Obama Effect

Disgraced comedian Louis C.K. has not only had his movie premiere and TV deals cancelled after he confessed to masturbating in front of women. He's also been slapped with the ultimate punishment dreaded by A-Listers everywhere - he's been unceremoniously dumped from the latest in an interminable series of star-studded charity spectaculars which have come to substitute for public policy in this country.

HBO execs made the moralistic announcement that the reality-based selfish depravity of a comic, whose filthy, funny mouth has been so lucrative for them, will not be tolerated:
"Louis C.K. will no longer be participating in the Night of Too Many Stars: America Unites for Autism Programs, which will be presented live on HBO on November 18. In addition, HBO is removing Louis C.K.’s past projects from its On Demand services....”
 Jon Stewart is hosting Night of Too Many Stars, which will include stand-up performances, sketches and short films. Created by comedy writer and performer Robert Smigel, it raises money for autism schools, programs and services. C.K. was scheduled to appear along with the likes of Stephen Colbert, Abbi Jacobson, Jordan Klepper, Hasan Minhaj, John Mulaney, Olivia Munn, John Oliver, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and more.
The autism fundraiser has been held for many years, but this is the first time it is being nationally televised as a true media spectacular. Because in this age of record wealth inequality, it increasingly behooves wealthy liberal celebrities to ostentatiously "give back" before the largest possible audience as they inveigle their millions of fans into sending money for causes which used to be funded by taxing wealthy people like themselves to the hilt.

Federal funding for autism research has declined in recent years, like most social programs a victim of the bipartisan austerity imposed during the Obama administration.  But not to worry -  the ensuing cascade of fundraising extravaganzas on TV gives celebrities all the more free P.R. and airtime to say how much they hate Donald Trump and to virtue-signal how much nicer they are than that mean old president.

More ominously, though, these nonstop neoliberal charity bazaars give the uber-rich a chance to actually dictate policy. Witness the XQ Superschool Live education "reform" spectacular aired in September on all four major broadcast TV networks. The propaganda product of billionaire philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, the show was essentially one long infomercial against teachers' unions and for charter school privatization, corporate testing schemes, and the concentration of secondary school curricula to the STEM field.
Jobs... donated half of the reward for a $100 million competition calling for new high school designs. Roughly $10 million was awarded to 10 schools last year through the XQ Institute, an independent affiliate of the Emerson Collective, which Jobs started to focus work on social justice issues. XQ is continuing its work to use technology to “transform” high school, with the Web page promoting the show quoting Jobs as saying: “We all know America’s high schools need to be transformed to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist and a future that we can never see with perfect clarity.”
Into whose pockets all the money raised will actually go is also not seen with perfect clarity. But because Jobs inherited a fortune from her husband Steve, the co-founder of Apple, she apparently sees more clearly than most people, and therefore has no need to explain what, exactly, it is about high schools that actually need to be transformed. But I suspect that the technology used for this reform will have the ubiquitous Apple logo plastered all over it. With the magic  of unsullied star power, and billions of dollars and the co-optation of the "disruptive" discourse of social movements, public education is being turned into a private charity for the ultimate benefit, not of students, but of private corporations and oligarchs.

Laurene Jobs started her education privatization crusade in 2015 under the auspices of her think tank, the Emerson Collective, by enlisting the help of the Obama administration, including his first education commissioner, Arne Duncan. Duncan now serves as her managing partner, and both Obama and his wife Michelle began speaking at her think tank's events even before they left the White House. According to her website, Jobs plans a whole "series of ongoing conversations and efforts by the President and Mrs. Obama to explore partnerships with the private sector, non-profit organizations, NGOs, and other government entities that are committed to tackling violence, poverty, and unemployment in communities around the country. The Obamas say they look forward to working with organizations similar to CRED. Their eponymous foundation and the My Brother's Keeper initiative are both already committed to bringing much-needed opportunity expansion to Chicago neighborhoods."

Sadly, though,  Jobs's other brainchild, a liberal magazine to be run by former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier, recently ran into its own Louis C.K.-type roadblock. It emerged that Wieseltier has had his own sordid history of sexual harassment in the workplace. If there's anything that the philanthro-capitalist class never likes to be confronted about, it's their hypocrisy. The dogma that their money possesses some kind of moral power over the rest of us must not be exposed as the fraud it is. And so we witness them breathlessly racing to cut all ties with the predators who give predatory capitalism such a bad rap. Laurene Jobs scrapped her whole magazine before the ink was dry on the revelations about her newest partner.

Celebrities, billionaires and former presidents are naturally drawn to natural disasters, as well as to the standard manufactured ones like "our failing public schools" and the "skills gap" which conveniently explains why workers are so poorly paid. So the trifecta of hurricane relief spectaculars this fall popped up almost faster than the ruling class racketeers can divest themselves of the latest predator. These disaster appeals are both substitute and supplement to the delayed and denied and deficient government allocation of funds to the victims.

Hurricane Harvey made the occasion especially heartwarming when all five living ex-presidents managed to put aside their pseudo-differences and war crimes to tell folks to send money, fast, and get FEMA off the hook. Their appeal for charity in lieu of a call for a massive public expenditure to get the downtrodden and displaced off the hook even garnered praise from the future living ex-president, Donald J. Trump.
 The stars got to show their faces, and their designer duds, and the regular folks out in the hinterland got guilted into sending in their ever-dwindling dollars to such money-laundering charities as the Red Cross. If George Clooney and Tom Hanks and Barack Obama are on the case, who needs the government? Meanwhile, actual hurricane victims are still faced with disease, homelessness, and joblessness as the stars go on to the next big noblesse-obligatory thing.

The next big thing for a few of them was canoodling at Barack and Michelle's  excellent propaganda reunion in Chicago last month. Although it didn't rate the star-studded TV spectacular treatment, it was live-streamed all over the planet. Chance the Rapper and Prince Harry of Britain showed up, along with Barack's favorite cultural sidekick, Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame.

Miranda has even taken time out of his busy charity performance schedule to schedule a few performances in Puerto Rico this winter. What's more important to starving, sick residents of a de facto US colony than a few hours of revisionist rap biography of the founding banker of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Slave?

Now, to be as perfectly clear as Laurene Jobs herself, the Obamas weren't money-grubbing for one specific cause or disaster other than their own future $500 million shrine. So to get the public on board with their zombie neoliberal agenda, they're just going the touchy-feely moralizing route for now. Any scolding they do is purely generic and not aimed at Louis C.K. or even at their erstwhile sugar daddy and BFF, Harvey Weinstein. The Obamas' new shtick is community organizing on an epic global scale.

According to Politico's coverage of the two-day event, Obama is staying true to form and still modestly "leading from behind." As political dynasty scion Caroline Kennedy schmoozed onstage with Miranda (or was it Prince Harry?) Obama had literally slipped into a back row seat, unannounced. Until he softly spoke up, that is, and the whole audience reportedly swooned at his blazing, amazing star power.

Who needs a roster of A-Listers when one is an A-List Superstar unto oneself? Who needs to agitate for gun control legislation just days after the latest massacre when all the world really needs is a 70s-style Encounter session with the Obamas? Their biggest claim to fame, after all, is that they avoided the usual slimy scandals during their entire eight-year stay in the White House. No extramarital affairs for Barack, no consulting astrologers or insider trading for Michelle. And let's face it: the Kill List president's extra-judicial drone assassinations of thousands of civilians simply do not count as a scandal in the moral political universe known as the USA. Unlike Louis C.K., Obama never operated the joystick himself. At the very worst, he just liked to watch.

As Politico frames it, if the Obama summit accomplished nothing else, it provided an escape from reality for the reality-based community. 
There was a morning meditation and yoga session, and an evening community concert with Chance the Rapper and The National. And in between breakout sessions with titles like “The Adventure of Civility” and “Who Narrates the World?,” people took pastel-colored chalk and filled out a blackboard customized with “I hope _______.” (Samples: “we speak better and listen,” “Americans will see each other,” “my nephews can escape toxic masculinity”).
“Therapeutic,” said one attendee. “The sanity bubble,” said another. An alternate reality, all the attendees at the kickoff of Obama’s new foundation acknowledged, some with nervous snickers, some with big, relieved belly laughs.
Who needs Louis C.K. with Obama still around to regale us into such paroxysms of yuks? He's even gotten the Emerson Collective's Arne Duncan to run interference for him against the hundreds of Chicago South Side residents who have turned out to protest the gentrification of their neighborhood and public park by his planned museum and professional golf course. To accomplish this repressive feat, the Obama Foundation has created a non-profit subsidiary whose only purpose is to convince residents that gentrification and globalization will literally save lives by helping get black boys off the streets and onto those strategizing ladders of opportunity. Now, where have we heard that joke before?

Obama even makes former President George H.W. Bush, who got a magical free pass from the media for hilariously groping women's behinds as "David Cop-A-Feel," look dour and dull in comparison.

Hilarity Ensues After Harvey: The Night of Too Many Presidents


Anne said...

"Unlike Louis C.K., Obama never operated the joystick himself. At the very worst, he just likes to watch." Another zinger from Karen Garcia!

So why didn't Obama do fundraisers to get the DNC out of debt, or more importantly, why did he help bankrupt the DNC by keeping his high priced campaign consultants on the DNC payroll right to the end of his administration and beyond. And why was he paying Clinton's money-laundering lawyer upwards of a million dollars in his last year in office?

Obama doesn't do anything that isn't intended to primarily benefit himself and his corporate buddies. Isn't global community organizing another name for neoliberal imperialism?

Jay–Ottawa said...

“Their biggest claim to fame, after all, is that they avoided the usual slimy scandals during their entire eight-year stay in the White House.”

Lies, theft, hypocrisy and murder get a pass in every administration; that’s just politics, which Obama does so well. Consensual dalliances and sexual assaults, however, will eventually earn a ticket on a fast track to the front page. Obama knew enough to steer clear of that kind of scandal. Great actors are picky about the roles they play, and the Obamas were smart to always play the good guys.

The pinks and blues of sex are just so entertaining, whether you’re in the middle of things or an innocent bystander citizen voyeur just trying to keep up with events, and the more detail a journalist can dredge up, the more viral the column, the greater the readership, and oh the sales.

A downward slide, not slime, is Obama’s legacy. His astute avoidance of slime crimes meant that the lazy MSM couldn’t lay a glove on him while he shadowboxed with Republicans and rope-a-doped the trusting demos. He surrounded the noisy playgrounds of neolibs and neocons with his special brand of no drama passivity and quietude. His legacy boils down to a long string of omissions and missed opportunities. His own party, like the nation’s infrastructure, continued its slide into decay.

But that side of the story is so dull and complicated. Who wants to read––or write––about an explanation of why “x” version is true and “y” version is a lie, of the dismal detail in the latest economic chicanery, of the complex linkage between the executioner in a suit on one side of the world and the victims in strange garb on the other side of the world?

The episodes about twosomes and threesomes in “House of Cards”––here’s looking at you Spacey––are so much more riveting than gray details, always in the background, about dirty money and wars without end.

If you’re going to make a living out of serious evil in D.C., use your smarts to choose the right commandments to violate. Apply yourself to the science of hypocrisy. Hang cool and develop the discipline to observe the commandments that must be respected at all costs, according to the reigning ethos. No one can fault Obama for lack of talent or commitment along those lines.

Mark Thomason said...

Anne asks a key question that goes to the heart of Karen's topic, really big money in politics: "So why didn't Obama do fundraisers to get the DNC out of debt, or more importantly, why did he help bankrupt the DNC."

It is not because Obama is stupid. It is not because he is short sighted. No, behind this there is a smart view into his idea of the future.

The DNC was Hillary's vehicle, not Obama's. He is rather young to be an ex-President. He could be king-maker, and eminence grise, for decades. He could have real power, not unlike the bully pulpit itself, if he manages right.

Hillary was in his way. Her DNC was helping her to be in his way.

We can look for answers to this by watching how Obama interacts with the big money people, which causes he sponsors, where he puts the focus of his very own unique bully pulpit. Remember that Richard Neustadt wrote in JFK's time that the ability to command attention was the real power of the President. Obama still has that, and has kept it from Hillary.

So that is my answer to Anne's question.

Erik Roth said...

Actually, I can and do fault Barack Obama for betraying his promise to make "change we can believe in." He held out what proved a false hope for a New New Deal, which he would put forth.
Instead, as far as the big picture appeared, from Wall Street to the Pentagon to insurance & pharmaceutical companies, we promptly, persistently, and essentially got a new boss the same as the old boss. Not only was the corporate-controlled status quo never challenged under Obama, he significantly reinforced it. So, heckuva job, Barack.
And he's still influencing the Democratic Party elite to resist and reject those favoring the progressive direction of Bernie Sanders.

Note how Saturday Night Live views the Democrats:

Anne said...


Your Jim Hightower link on your blogroll is a 404 error. This is his website now I guess, although there have been no new posts in the past several weeks:

Also, here's one I like that you might want to add to your blogroll:

Jay–Ottawa said...

That’s a fun blog, Anne. To understand what ConsentFactory is all about, friends, first read its informative “About” intro, of all places. Made my day. No need any longer to wait for the next round of satire by C. J. Hopkins under the banner of CounterPunch. And there are moments when I suspect C. J. Hopkins just might be the “Benito Mussolini” commenter over at The Intercept.

Karen Garcia said...

Thank you, Anne, fixed the broken link and added the new site you suggested to the blogroll. It's very funny!

Anne said...

Edward S. Herman, co-author along with Noam Chomsky of the book 'Manufacturing Consent', died a few days ago. I don't suppose the mainstream corporate media will mention his passing or his important work.

I learned about his death and this YouTube link from Glenn Greenwald's tweet. RIP, Professor Herman.

YouTube video of 'Manufacturing Consent'

Anne said...

In probably the last article that Edward S. Herman wrote, he took a well-deserved shot directly at the New York Times. I hope everyone who actually pays the NYT for their propaganda reads this article from this summer. We owe him no less.

'Fake News on Russia and Other Official Enemies, The New York Times, 1917–2017'

Jay–Ottawa said...

CounterPunch just put out a review of Ed Herman's work here: