Ye, olde town crier

“In their paper, titled Preference for realistic art predicts support for Brexit, Noah Carl, Lindsay Richards, and Anthony Heath conclude that respondents who picked all four realistic paintings ‘were a full 20 percentage points more likely to support (Brexit) leave” than those who preferred all four, or three-out-of-four abstract works. The result remained the same even when the team controlled the data for demographic variables, such as gender, age, education, ethnicity, or country of birth. Speaking to the Guardian, lead researcher Noah Carl said that he thinks the conclusion “largely reflects differences between social conservatives and social liberals. (Brexit)Leave voters were not much more economically right-wing than remain voters, but they were substantially more socially conservative,” he said. The paper suggests that social conservatives, who are more likely to have voted for Brexit, “display lower tolerance for ambiguity and greater need for closure than their liberal counterparts” and thus “experience more elevated psychological discomfort when looking at objects depicted in a non-representational way.” Henri Neuendorf

“While the story of the (extreme) Wings may be one of division and conflict, a very different story is found in the rest of America. In fact, the largest group that we uncovered in our research has so far been largely overlooked. It is a group of Americans we call the Exhausted Majority―our collective term for the four tribes, representing a two-thirds majority of Americans, who aren’t part of the Wings. Although they appear in the middle of our charts and graphs, most members of the Exhausted Majority aren’t political centrists or moderates. On specific issues, their views range across the spectrum. But while they hold a variety of views, the members of the Exhausted Majority are also united in important ways:

“They are fed up with the polarization plaguing American government and society.

“They are often forgotten in the public discourse, overlooked because their voices are seldom heard.

“They are flexible in their views, willing to endorse different policies according to the precise situation rather than sticking ideologically to a single set of beliefs.

“They believe we can find common ground.

“The distinction between the Wings and the Exhausted Majority takes us beyond a simple story of the left and the right. Based on their strong views and values, we believe both Traditional Conservatives and Devoted Conservatives belong in the Wings. On the other side, Progressive Activists belong in the Wings, but Traditional Liberals belong in the Exhausted Majority. They have clear liberal views, but unlike the three Wings tribes, they have a more diverse range of opinions, seem more concerned about the country’s divisions, and are more committed to compromise. While partisans argue and score political points, members of the Exhausted Majority are so frustrated with the bitter polarization of our politics that many have checked out completely, ceding the floor to more strident voices. This is especially true of Politically Disengaged and Passive Liberals, while Traditional Liberals and Moderates remain engaged. Members of the Exhausted Majority tend to be open to finding middle ground. Furthermore, they aren’t ideologues who dismiss as evil or ignorant the people who don’t share their exact political views. They want to talk and to find a path forward.” From Hidden Tribes

“There is nothing, I think, in which the power of art is shown so much as in playing on the fiddle. In all other things we can do something at first. Any man will forge a bar of iron, if you give him a hammer; not so well as a smith, but tolerably. A man will saw a piece of wood, and make a box, though a clumsy one; but give him a fiddle and a fiddle-stick, and he can do nothing.” Dr. Johnson

“Turns out that I’m nowhere near white enough to be outraged by this.” Savannah Man (link)

Many of us don’t inhabit this medium as frequently as we used to. (I am reluctant to use the word ‘blog’ as a verb here.) As such we get a little out of practice and – given the passage of time – we’re not quite as young as we used to be and our stamina has waned some. While we still think we can, as my father used to say, go bear hunting’ with a switch, the sad fact is that it’s difficult to sustain a long stream of content once you’ve fallen out of the daily habit.

Compounding matter is the daily distraction that surrounds us. Sometimes it’s social media and sometimes it’s something so odd that you can’t help yourself – you will be absorbed by it and you can’t break free. One of those things came along this week when word got out that someone had stuck google eyes on a statue commentating General Nathanael Greene who was part of The American Revolution.

Needless to say the Savannah, GA police reacted the same warm, jolly sense of humor you’d associate with a high-school gym teacher. At last report the police are still looking for Ossama bin Glue Gun and generally acting pissy about the whole thing.

Normally this would lead me to run out at least 2500 words on the subject, but you know what?

No can do.

I’m still keeping company with a hot water bottle and some Icy Hot because I over did it with the last entry. That’s why I’m turning today’s post over to Alaska Wolf Joe. (Pictured above)

No, it’s not about Kanye.

I have a whole post on a scratch pad about Ye, the gift who keeps giving. The central point of that draft revolved around the idea that the word ‘celebrity’ will eventually evolve into meaning someone who has an opinion. Think of it along the lines that when Shakespeare uses the word ‘villain’ it meant a genuinely bad guy whereas today a villain is acharacter in a movie.

That aside – it’s been quite a week for musicians in the news. Kid Rock went to the White House on Thursday got dumped by the side of the road when Ye went on his 10-minute oration in the Oval Office. Also while we were all busy reading about our relations with Turkey it seems The Iron Sheik is trying to broker a peace deal between Shaggy Too Dope and that motherfucker Fred Durst. This follows Mr. Too Dope’s attempt to kick Mr. Durst in the head while Mr. Durst was performing in New Jersey.

“SHAGGY TOO DOPE YOU ARE A GOOD MAN BUT YOUR DROPKICK IS FUCKING DRIZZLING SHITS … BUBBA I LOVE THE PEACE NOT THE WAR UNLESS THE SON OF A BITCH JABRONI DESERVE TO GET SUPLEXED. THIS WAY THE SHAGGY GOOD MEN. GOD BLESS YOI.” – The Iron Sheik

Here now – a word or two from Alaska Wolf Joe:

The Insane Clown Posse as a Project of Midwestern Utopianism

In a discussion with a colleague yesterday, we had come to a certain problem regarding the vulgar application of Marxist theory to the Midwest. I argued, in a naïve sense, that the reason that traditional morality regarding family and gender was still present in the Midwest was due to the fact that physical labor as the bulk of economic productivity had not disappeared; whereas the disappearance of traditional morality regarding family and gender was more erased in the cities due to the predominance of intellectual labor over physical labor. But they pointed out, correctly, that the major economic force even in deeply agrarian America (which Ohio isn’t completely) was that of a migrant worker economy. Given this, the workers being produced are not products of the family as such, but foreign imports. Why, then, does a traditional Christian family morality still exist in the Midwest and the agrarian parts of the country? If not the family unit as a social formation, what social structures are effects of the economically necessary steps of subjugating migrant workers in order to have productive labor?

This might be the sociological mystery of the Midwest, why tradition maintains an errant spectre and conservatism still is abound in the rustbelt, and why the post-industrial wasteland remains only a wasteland and hasn’t transitioned as efficiently as the cities have into places where information has processed. Nonetheless, some ideological structure pervades.

What, then, do we make of the Insane Clown Posse? It seems to have come out of the crucible of a post-industrial Midwest and represented … something … par excellence. I have been informed by my colleague that their film professor was very interested to know of our experience of going to this concert, and in fact, wants to meet with me at some point soon to discuss it. There have apparently been somewhere less than a dozen or so serious anthropological or sociological analyses which have attempted to analyze the Insane Clown Posse, despite their 31 year old career (started, reportedly, in 1989.)

Again, I can make no claims to any astute empirical knowledge of the current social formations in the Midwest, of its economic duress, or of its changing attitudes and demographics. Nonetheless, there are some facts that seem to pervade our entire discourse. Kanye West in his hallucinogenic speech to Trump two days ago touched on the same things: Why can’t a working man get a job in Chicago? Bring the jobs back to America. We produced steel! Beautiful, clean coal! And its flipside: The first thing I saw on my entrance to Oberlin was an advertisement saying “Heroin kills.”

The fantasy of the Midwest I have received is one of idleness in the wake of globalism. The invisible hand of the market does not fondle all parts of the globe equally, and the message seems to have been it has been a long time since that self-same hand gave the Midwest a tender caress. In its wake, consumption attempts to service the awful absence of industry. Post-industrial abandon is left with the dualities of productive-consumption: the consumption of spectacle, or the consumption of narcosis. In the latter, the opiate of the masses is itself opium. The former need, the consumption of spectacle, is perhaps what the Insane Clown Posse is born out of, and explains their curious apolitical dimension.

Habermas describes one of the features of late capital as “the exhaustion of Utopian energies.” This central thesis is that the idea of utopia centered around the notion of utopia as an ideal social structure which provided a form of just and unalienated social labor. The welfare state solved this up unto a point: it provided enough necessity and mediation of social labor that social labor was not a wholesale form of alienation, but it did not provide enough to fix the continual social crises and misery of capitalist social organizations. As such, the notion of utopia began to dissolve as a public way of thinking, and more notably, the central political focus on the notion of social labor began to disappear. With it came the welfare state’s forms of utopianism, which focus predominantly on fantasies of communicative harmony and communicative utopias. The dimension of utopia through resolving the forms of inequity and domination that subjugate people into productive labor have been left to various outsider groups or academics. In political discourse, it has all but disappeared. But I would suggest that it has found another outlet: the fantasy of a system of utopian labor fulfilled through aesthetic representation.

What could be a better model for a utopian fantasy of non-estranged social labor than a circus in which one both participates in delirious enjoyment and produces with the same movement? What better represents a certain heyday of a working class figure of spectacle than the figure of the carnie? The myth of Dionysian ecstasy, of the pure consumption and production of bliss, does not go far enough into producing a product. The circus goes further: not only does it enable the consumption and production of bliss in an ecstatic state by its participants, but it produces a commoditized experience which can be bought and sold. This is one dimension of the spectacle which ICP represents.

The other dimension is seen through the hallucination of the body as a productive force. Both members of the ICP, as early as six years before they started rapping, were amateur wrestlers in Michigan. A full analysis of professional wrestling here would be needless, but it is curious that professional wrestling has more of a cultural affinity with the Midwest than many other parts of the country. I would speculate that this is because it still allows to see man as fundamentally laboring, even if the actual spectacle of wrestling is one of profound artifice. Even in the disjointedness of performance, the body still appears as working, and as violent. Wrestling doesn’t represent a regress to the “human nature” of violence, but of the professionality of violence; of the pure domain of physical force and its exertion, but in such a way it can be consumed as spectacle. It is, I would say, a return to directly confronting a form of social labor. Even if wrestling does not feature in the ICP’s performance, it hangs as a backdrop and as a theme, as part of the mythos and aesthetic of the ICP – even if abstracted. There is some affinity between their artistic presentation and the aesthetic of professional wrestling and its implications and their music, but as to what I’m not fully capable of saying.
Through these two dimensions, the Insane Clown Posse accomplishes the aesthetic representation of a certain fantasy felt missing in the Midwest: Not only the return of productive social labor in the post-industrial wasteland, but the return of productive social labor in its unestranged form through consensual non-subjugated labor and ecstatic bliss.

And at the same time, it cannot abide by the same traditional structures of morality and socialization which otherwise are/were functional for the Midwest. The circus by itself presents a certain sight – if not its European incarnation of “the Other Victorians” then at least of us Other Americans. The circus is not only the sight of apexes of the human body, the subjugation of man over nature in the form of performing animals, but also that of the freak show. And this is the theme that is most stressed by the ICP: The notion of the ‘dark circus’, the continual presentation in their stage show of actors wearing disfigured clown masks, of a sense of horror lurking under the circus and the site of the circus as a location for those quantified as ‘other’ in America to live without judgment. It is at the same time a utopian space for the other as well as a place of subjugation. Only through presenting and performing as ‘Other’ does the freak show enable itself to be economically profitable. Yet, through its presentation of ‘Otherness’ it reifies the concept of otherness, the presentation of being Other means you are consumed as being Other in the spectacle, and hence really are Other.

This central theme is perhaps the purest theme of utopianism in the Insane Clown Posse: We are awash in our otherness. We are so awash that we do not care if you dignify us or do not. We are immersed in our ecstatic bliss and will never change. It is up to you if you want to pay for the circus or not, but we know if you pay, you will enjoy it to no end.

Yet, from this self-production of Otherness the ICP must needs necessarily exclude itself from the domain of politics. To concern itself with the political or with legitimate problems of social labor would be disingenuous. And if, for some strange reason, the ICP engaged with the modern liberal-democratic utopia of pure communicative engagement, it would fail to be Other whatsoever. The presence of the Other as a theme represents an anxiety of dis-communication. One can see this notion fairly intuitively in contemporary discourse: “The only reason the white supremacists are still racist is because they have never lived with a black person and experience the suffering of their community. If only they talked to one another, they would realize that we are all human.” The fantasy of utopian communication mirrors the inherent tendency in the digital age to connective immediacy. Through the reference of all to all, human differentiation disappears, and all differentiation only belongs to the proper domain of differences between “generalized human themes” – not the racial or class separation of “white and black” or “rich and poor” but the generalized experiences of man being differentiated, the difference and otherness of state between “the [human] experience of being in love” or “the [human] experience of suffering” or “the [human] experience of anxiety.” The liberal-democratic dream of reducing all American life to a vast commonality which is continually communicated and reciprocally understood by all to all dissolves the Other as a category of social experience, and reduces Otherness to the difference between one generalized experience of a mental state to another. But the presentation of the Insane Clown Posse, the presentation of the Juggalo in general, can only thrive of its association with the category of Other. The FBI classification of the ICP as a gang reflects this inherent trend – the ICP is not Other to the law, but it is Other to representational politics. Perhaps the most radical notion of the ICP is itself its wholesale rejection of representational politics as a theme in its works whatsoever, not because it has been “subjugated” into having no voice, but rather as an intentional choice and a necessity of its cultural sensibility. This is, some would argue, a political stance, but it is nonetheless antithetical towards an American political sensibility, and hence, “apolitical.”

Through these points, I hope to have pointed towards an ideological stance of the Insane Clown Posse, and its specific brand of American utopianism.

Two other themes, disconnected from the above also presented themselves to me:

The Pleasure of the Commodity

The trademark of the Insane Clown Posse is still Faygo soda. It is the local brand of Detroit, and extremely cheap. At their concerts, they have between 50-200 or so 2 liter bottles of Faygo, which they shake up, spray on the audience, and throw at the audience. The audience members do not feel effaced in any way, but revel in it. But I wonder if in some way this isn’t itself a form of animating the commodity. The animation of the bottle itself seems to suggest in some way its coming to life, its own ecstatic state. It’s a representation of the working class nature of Michigan, where the ICP hails from, and also a sort of faux representation of the Bacchanalia. It really appears as a product of uniform mass production, and it does not provide any form of intoxication. It would be very easy to do a tired Freudian reading: Oh, it’s just phallic ejaculation! But something seems unsatisfying to me. I can’t put any deeper finger onto it, but it feels like a certain jouissance of the item itself. It is as if the soda is alive and wants to be spread in the most perverse way possible, finding it another part of the pleasurable voluptuousness of the spectacle.

The Dream of Death

Like all vaguely metal or ‘horror’ themed musical acts, the hint of death remains heavily. But this is a very joyous death, the continual joy and ecstasy of murder or gothic themes. It is the ‘dark circus’, the carnival of death. Where this takes on a jubilant theme in other cultures representing a certain attitude towards death (compare Dia de los Muertos), it is very contrary to the American fear of death and the continual prolonging of life for the sake of further productivity. I wonder if in some way this is not because it is another form of utopian thinking, the ability to fantasize about death in an orgiastic was a sort of exit from the state of destitution and the forced will to live present in the disciplinary institutions from the 20th century to the 21st century which still haunt the post-industrial landscape. Death remains always opposed to the system of capitalism, and as Baudrillard points out, maybe the only point of resistance which really wholly and completely opposes the current state of things. It remains, however, only a fantasy.

(Ed. note: Alaska Wolf Joe’s previous essay on The ICP and the nature of performance can be found here.)