Paradise of Storm

Tag: Theodor Adorno

The Future of Desire

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by Guy Walker

What actually did happen to the sexual revolution? It wasn’t long after one of Freud’s most noteworthy students, Wilhelm Reich, landed on New York’s squalid shores in August of 1939, that the generation of prurience and free love was born. His most noteworthy invention and physical contribution apart from his writings now seems like an artifact of dereliction, some shambled box from an abandoned carnival: the Orgone Energy Accumulator. It looks like a boarded up telephone booth, an unexciting trunk turned on its side that you were supposed to sit in and wait to receive the brilliant and spontaneous orgasms it provided.

Sex from some obscure unknown realm has long been a preferred subject of science fiction. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a bounty hunter Phil Resch (a phonetic cousin of the Austrian psychoanalyst), who works for a fictitious police agency, and could be another android, remarks to Deckard with a tone of austere advice, “If it’s love toward a woman or an android imitation, it’s sex.” The reader is propelled into the obvious: how does it actually feel to be in a storm of eroticism with a robot?

Blade Runner 2049 offered another installment of this fantasy. Our hero’s girlfriend, Joi, is a three-dimensional hologram resembling an evolutionary masterpiece; you can watch the movie in what is seemingly another layer of 3-D, gaping up at her seductive digitization swaying into the bedroom, your mouth hanging open stupidly, staring up at the huge screen with your flimsy paper sunglasses. Joi’s character is a reincarnation of a character we know well.

In the 1956 French drama, …And God Created Woman, Juliette, the subliminally catastrophic temptress played by Brigitte Bardot, believed “the future was invented only to spoil the present.” Sixty years later, it’s the present that wants to spoil the future—it wants to give it all up for us, tell us of the trenchant nihilism ahead, popularize the ultimate ghosts of technology. In the film, she lays around naked, walks everywhere barefoot, undisturbed by the male forces and societal norms around her, causing a moral panic amongst those nearest her. The men in the film conclude she “was made to destroy men,” as they try to repel the inevitable gravity of her enchantment.

The destruction of man by the strange and impossible intrigue of the woman is a common theme now. Hollywood is smitten with this fantasy. How will people, you know, “do it”, in the future? Spike Jones’s 2014 dystopic interlude, Her, brought the same titillating futurism conceptualized in the bedroom to the big screen. The envisioned communing between Theodore and the computer operating system, Samantha, was little more than a banal exclamation that mimicked the snorts and grunts of pleasure. It was phone sex, mildly elaborated, only for the sake of the pronouncement of orgasm, leaving the fluids, sweat, bullwhips, fuzzy handcuffs, and every other physical attributor of touch, in question and out of the picture.

Ex Machina notioned that the most beautiful women of the future will be an invasive species of silicon chips molded in our most alluring fashion—they’ll be prowling amongst us, like a digitized playmate who could calmly and regularly beat the Kasparovs of chess, and then lock them in a cellar until they rot. There’s nothing more thrilling than taking someone home from the bar who might turn out to have a survival glitch that would necessarily have to kill you to succeed. BDSM for existentialists; the abstract fetishizing would turn a whole generation into a sex-themed Russian roulette game.

Or there’s HBO’s Westworld series, which featured robot prostitutes that would kill their way to freedom. Thus far, our popularized interest in artificial intelligence goes as far as what sort of envious bloom their reproductive organs will look like, how lusting and lifelike the interplay could and should be. Especially the women. Movie producers and audiences alike don’t desire the other possibility in quite the same way. There’s something deeply unsettling about their male counterparts that would only be used for sex—their dangling rubberized testicles waving in the dusty anarchy of the wild west, their smutty reprogrammable libido under spasms of defect, wreaking havoc on innocent female victims who only wanted a bit of cathartic delight.

It’s clear what’s happening. When Lacan famously announced “there is no sexual relation,” he wasn’t attempting a contrarian view of desire without features. He was iterating how we split ourselves up in the act of sex, between “its being and its semblance, between itself and that paper tiger it shows to the other.” In this, as in a combative death drive, we either give or receive a mask, “a thrown-off skin,” in order to protect our real being.

We’re never really alone with our sexual partners. There’s always a deep fantasy or weirdly-cloaked fetish lingering in the shadows, hammering away at our heads in varying degrees of distraction. In the strange and extraordinary partnership of cultural totems, Slavoj Žižek was commissioned by Abercrombie & Fitch to write for their 2003 Back to School Quarterly, where he quipped his bursting tic-filled remarks on youth and sex, the capitalized large font spread across a glossy overlay of two boys and a girl completely naked, barely of age, carousing in green fields, the sun’s yolk spilled across the whole verdant jouissance like a pagan dream: “The only successful sexual relationship occurs when the fantasies of the two partners overlap. If the man fantasizes that making love is like riding a bike and the woman wants to be penetrated by a stud, then what truly goes on when they make love is that a horse is riding a bike…With a fantasy like that, who needs a personality?”

A horse riding a bicycle is as real as Ryan Gosling passing his dick across and into the flickering static of his girlfriend, both of which are only barely less real than an undisturbed sexual communion between two people. There’s nothing remarkably novel about Hollywood’s attempts to realistically imagine the future of bodily desire. A robot’s vagina is not the exemplary nexus of modern art, not some avant-garde interpretation of Freudian psychoanalytics. But some productions have imagined a sort of post-Oedipal world, in which man creates his maker, fucks her, and then is gruesomely slain by her.

What Ex Machina and Westworld achieve is they thrust the viewer outside the obvious torments of being killed by the glamorous female lead, and they allow you to imagine the daily benign thrill of the technicians themselves, and what it must be like for them to pick and prod and quietly sculpt women of our yearning. As viewers, we know the architects of these humanoids had to at some point kneel down and masterfully sculpt the deep swelling crevasse of her reproductive organ, the realism of her sensuality more essential than any other appendage or feature. The absurd bald mounds on Barbie dolls, like they were long-legged congenital eunuchs disguised in aprons and wigs, no longer suffice for the pornographic obsessions of the modern age.

The cinema is now our most easily digested form of suggestive enterprise. We bring the whole circus of crime and drama and comedy and romance and war into our bedrooms, our gawping voyeurism permanently attached to our laptop screens. But it’s always been like this. The preferred art forms from before quietly distilled the same libidinal hankering as multi-million dollar productions filmed in front of green screens do today. What happens when Picasso or Lucian Freud paints one of their women? Are they not attempting to garner a lusciousness of dimension of the female form they never managed to see themselves? They spent countless painstaking hours leaning over their huge canvases, trying to improve on mere replication, detailing the dimpled flesh and overgrown pubic forests like things of undocumented mystery. They composed these scenes, arranged their women in candid moments of trembling bliss, and hyper-realized the overflowing smooth flesh of women as the givers of all life. The title of the painting above is “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” the model’s actual job title. The words give a humanness, a normalcy to the shapeless spill of tit over the edge of the couch, as if this could be every moderately heavy woman walking down the street. We are pressed with the overwhelming gravity of who we really are, the unflattering reality of ourselves as a gruesome patchwork of anuses and other spluttering holes, all held together with this dying membrane of sweat and pores and hair, the festering wounds of age slowly eating away at us.

What’s next, beyond each fantasy, is another. Most of us spend our days slouched in some form or another, our necks sloped like a cow grazing her fields, staring at a screen. We tap away at it endlessly, as if it will eventually do something, fetishizing the swirling blots of color, a whole universe encased in Snapchat doggy ears and nose. When you watch porn on your computer or phone, you’re signaling one half of a holographic sex doll—an illusory, yet very real, pleasure. There’s a brothel in Germany that’s already gotten rid of all the prostitutes—all the real humans, that is—and instead offers their clients a lineup of lifelike sex dolls. We’re almost there. It’s the same fantasy played out in different forms—different brands of the same product within today’s culture industry. Adorno and Horkheimer illuminated in their philosophical monument, Dialectic of Enlightenment, that the “culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises.” It usually ends in flaccid regret. Instead of the high definition fantasy playing out in front of us, we end with a white pool of mucous in a dirty sock. “The promise,” they continue, “which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory.” But it’s voluntary. We pay $17 to see someone else play out our fantasies of what the future will look like.

It could have been an interesting storyline in Blade Runner 2049, between K and his holographic girlfriend—where their moments of affection and confidentiality really lead to, what they would have done about having children, arguments around infidelity and if it’s really considered cheating. But the filmmakers never went there. That particular subplot ended in masturbatory ennui, a close indifference about the future of our relationships. Again and again, we’ll watch these films on our own screens, the clutching voyeurism of survival fluttering across the backlit rectangles, the colorful blobs of other humans superimposed. But the end is always the same. The credits roll and the screen goes black, and we’re left staring at our dark naked reflection in the glass.


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The Faux Patriot Phenomenon

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by Guy Walker

On a dank fetid afternoon in the middle of August, as the sweltering torridity encouraged record-breaking fires to spread even further across the American frontier, Donald Trump emerged for a group of journalists, their questions frantic, as if each one were trying to clammer over the another. His skin was more opaque than usual, like a mangled sun-roasted apricot, a glob of hellish torture that housed his gleaming white blocks of teeth. He kept his lips pulled back in order to show off his teeth like a prey trying to scare off its enemy, and answered questions about the racial-infused violence that occurred just days prior, famously uttering there “were very fine people” amongst the Klansmen, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis that stormed through Charlottesville.

It was a simple seditionary remark, another snort of his trademark grandiose ignorance, the kind he exhibited when denying he knew who David Duke was while initially running his presidential primary campaign.

Fast forward a little more than a month, when Trump is speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama. His skin is softer; he’s surrounded by his unwavering compatriots peering up at their charismatic hero; he’s more at ease, and therefore even more reckless in speech, encouraging the firing of any athlete who kneels during the national anthem. “You’re FIRED!” he screams, as the crowd roars with approval, a deluge of blood rushing to his emaciated genitals.

Responses to Trump’s more treacherous remarks incite the usual bursts of outrage like they were little anger-filled ejaculations glazing the screens of countless blogs and social media platforms. Likewise, it positions any number of Trump whisperers to pontificate on what he really meant, as they condemn the media for always listening to him incorrectly. But it’s not an issue of Donald Trump as master villain or gilded hero; it’s the present manifestation of tribalism gone mad.

In The Authoritarian Personality, Theodor Adorno and his accompanying authors posited a theory on the phenomenon of the authoritarian figure, including the unwavering patriotism of the masses that contribute to his manifestation. The authoritarian figure himself is the result of a Freudian developmental model, a sexually impulsive, insecure man, catapulting with outward hostility in order to overcome his shortcomings. With overwhelming impulses from the id (disorganized instinctual drives), and an incapable mediator of reason—known as the ego—the authoritarian shoves his way to power like a desperate and lonely drunk finally grabbing an old pumpkin to fuck. Hideous perhaps, but nevertheless inevitable.

Something analogous to the Napoleon complex, Adorno et al. considered that men pursuing roles of acute power and severity tended to be atoning for their bestial malformities. It seems plausible enough—a glitch in the mass outcropping of humans is bound to eventually take the form of a vainglorious sasquatch every now and then. It’s more the hysteria of support around him that is interesting—why do blundering fools such as Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler corral such aberrant loyalty? They were grotesque figures, considered buffoons before accessing power. It’s only because patriotism is more magnetic than any god. As Adorno et al. described, “patriotism…involves blind attachment to certain national cultural values, uncritical conformity with the prevailing group way, and rejection of other nations as outgroups.” It is the blind patriotism that is so fascistic—chauvinism, by its nature, is a fetid and truculent enterprise that only manifests from a long-exaggerated tribalism, when we smashed rocks and bones to establish survival over other threatening groups.

As long as we’re still human, we’ll likely never fully outgrow our tribalism. It was a survival mechanism that worked too well. Now, we clutch maniacally only onto what we know, fearing the other shaded men outside. We hate the neighboring middle school in town, then the other high schools in the league, then sports teams or religions that differ from our own—we’re seven billion tribesmen standing with crooked cheeseheads and smeared body paint, stammering why our paddock of dirt is better than theirs. What makes it far more beastly and hideous today than when our ancestors hunched on all fours, grunting and tossing their feces, is we moderns should know better. We’re the momentary products of a 200,000-year enlightenment—one would expect us to be a little more astute of our prevailing commonalities.

But there’s reason for this lingering stupidity. English essayist, Samuel Johnson famously announced that “patriotism is the last refuge for a scoundrel.” Patriotism works like an impenetrable edifice of one’s identity, an ideological safe space for anti-intellectuals. The more illiberal corners of the political left have been justly blamed for calling anyone they disagree with a racist or a bigot—they apply it so haphazardly that when they finally do meet a legitimate racist, the term is no longer effective; similarly, many conservatives call their opponents un-American, as if this were the towering lord of all insults. It is difficult to recover from if a politician is deemed un-American—they’re now on the defensive, having to prove that in fact they are a proud member of this relatively new land.

The Patriot Act of 2001, by its very name, challenged anyone opposed to the act as the antithesis of patriotism. It didn’t matter what the contents of the act were—indefinite detentions of immigrants, the searching of telephone and financial records without a court order, the searching of a home or property without the consent of the owner or occupant. The Patriot Act passed 98 to 1 in the Senate, the only dissenting vote coming from Russ Feingold from Wisconsin, saying its provisions violated the civil liberties of citizens.

Blind patriotism is nothing new, and its tempting to think this is just one more manifestation of our cyclical human deformity, with all its baseless love for the stars and stripes. But it’s not. The patriotism of today is far more contrived than it is blind. There’s a bombasity and overachieving loudness to American patriotism today that makes it all seem so fraudulent and miserable. Men stomping around in head-to-toe camo with semi-automatic rifles slung over their shoulders, women proudly flaunting their bulging muffin-tops cinched tight with America-themed body armor, red trucks lifted to the height of houses, babies drinking breast milk from Big Gulp mugs while simultaneously punching commies—American patriotism is a fashion statement no more sophisticated than girls wearing garlands and John Lennon glasses at Coachella. It’s a shitty Halloween costume that countless Americans wear everyday. The faux patriotism of today comes out of a desperate overcompensation of life-without-meaning—they wave only the symbols of those ideals without propagating the ideals themselves.

As of 2013, 94 percent of all imported American flags came from China. Polyester showered with carcinogens. But it still works. The meaningless piece of cloth still triggers something deeply primordial in good patrioteers, like a bull who sees a red bed sheet and starts blowing steam from his nostrils. It makes the authoritarian personality that much more serious.

The monumental pettiness surrounding the national anthem debate essentially ends with the contents of the anthem itself. The entirety of “The Star-Spangled Banner” reads more like whorish pedantry, the abecedarian rhymes of which cheapen all polemics about nation and virtue. Written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, only the first verse has been extracted and used for our arduously long ceremonies preceding every major sporting event. Given that the first verse is still dragged through exaggerated undulations, minute after minute, like a glittered masturbatory spectacle in front of forty thousand exhausted beer-bloated fans, perhaps no one dare add a second verse. Adding even one more verse would compromise the attention spans for the rest of the night. Or, perhaps it was to hide the overtly racist rhymes near the end of the third verse:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Francis Scott Key was referring to something specifically annoying to him. In response to the Americans trying to hijack Canadian territory from the British Empire, the British recruited entire families of slaves, training the men to form their own regiment known as the Colonial Marines, assuring they would not return any of them to their former American owners. Not only was it an invitation to escape a life of shackles and routine whippings and sexual humiliation, but a chance to fight against the ideological perversity that enslaved them in the first place, to openly antagonize the ubiquitary of systemic despotism. Anyone in their right mind would take the British up on their offer. Francis Scott Key—a slaveowner himself—held this against slaves, scribing his paeans of death for the opportunistic men with darker skin than his.

“Land of the free and the home of the brave” is now a meaningless phrase that still triggers the most frenzied ravenous excitement. We humans are animals that attach overbearing emotions onto words. When Trump tweets “Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag” as reason for why professional athletes should be forced to stand during the national anthem, he’s serving a word salad of patriotic idioms that his base will recognize as their own. Every major word in the sentence ignites a shallow sense of pride and purpose; it assures arousal without providing any real meaning.

The word “patriot”, for example, wasn’t always used to describe the illustrious bravado of camo-obsessed Americans as it is today. Liddell & Scott (A Greek-English Lexicon) wrote that patriotes was “applied to barbarians who had only a common [fatherland].” It was a term used for derisive mockery, defined in Samuel Johnson’s fourth edition of his Dictionary as “a factious disturber of the government.”

The American journalist John Thomas Flynn wrote about it in his As We Go Marching in 1944, a time when even the most ardent American patriotism may have seemed justified: “[W]hen fascism comes it will not be in the form of an anti-American movement or pro-Hitler bund…it will appear rather in the luminous robes of flaming patriotism.” This is where we are today—the gilded dawn of fascism, when men and women march gladly into their weaponized barbarism. Flynn said “when fascism comes,” not “if,” as if it’s an entropic inevitability, as if we humans will invariably create dystopia in our pursuit of utopia.

The cult hero is the representative of this phenomenon, hoisted on his high stage, lamenting about why non-patriots are destroying the country. Trump managed to corral 81 percent of the white evangelical vote without noticeably understanding any Christian practice himself. Similarly, he successfully branded himself as the patriotic choice without having any history in serving the country. When he famously mocked John McCain for getting captured and tortured for five years in Vietnam, or snubbed the Pakastani-American parents of Army captain Humayun Khan, or announced on Twitter that transgender soldiers would not longer be allowed to serve in the military, he became the incarnate celebration of the faux patriot. We’re amidst the self-destruction of reason, a gloating dystopic tribunal of normalities. The world is a cube; sea cucumbers are just slimy cucumbers; and it’s patriotic to loathe and belittle true patriots.

Trump had five deferments during the Vietnam draft, one of which was for heel spurs—calcium buildup in the heel that can oftentimes be treated through stretching exercises. In an interview with the New York Times in July of 2016, he said “I had a doctor that gave me a letter—a very strong letter on the heels.” He never produced a copy of the letter, nor could he remember the doctor’s name; but it doesn’t matter because it was categorically the most patriotic thing he could have done. He was patriotic not to pay his taxes. He was patriotic whenever he grabbed a rogue pussy. He was patriotic under every golden shower, lathering his mangled genitals in the noxious suds. And if hard evidence does reveal that he purposefully colluded with Russia, Trump’s loyalists will not waver—the magnetism of the cult hero is fixed permanently.

This self-styled faux patriotism erodes away only through reason alone, as the demagoguery and supreme brutishness is slowly replaced with a more humane understanding of ourselves, until we fully abandon what Bertrand Russell called the “willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”


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A Dialogue of Brutes: the Successful Attack on the Free Press

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by Guy Walker

All that’s left is constant snorting, rummaging through the garbage heap for an edible morsel. Our language has degraded into a pile of censored insults and sensitivies; our press soon nothing more than congratulatory think-pieces on Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. The president’s administration has one main prerogative—more urgent than the wall, the immigration ban, or repealing healthcare: making all dissidence slander.

When Bannon spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February, it was the first time he appeared in public since Trump’s inauguration, his aura of putrid steam billowing across the ballroom like a hypnotic glaze. Supporters finally saw their man—the pale greased-up beast, occasionally scratching himself under his bristled chin—as they’d nod and reassure each other how smart a human turnip actually could be.

He sat there hunched. His gelatinous belly heaved over his sweaty and suffocating crotch, the liver spots that dazzle his face almost peeling at their corners. His eyes, tired and cavernous, are the eyes of complete and impenetrable nihilism—as if he was forced to stare at nothing but cat memes for thirty years, and now seeks revenge on the entire world.

His speech made the usual allegations, posturing conservatives as the underdog, as if they are the political embodiment of Rocky Balboa, knowing well that we humans root and holler for such figures. He said they were being unjustly attacked by the “corporatist globalist media that are adamantly opposed” to their agenda. It’s more a sophomoric tantrum than political rhetoric. It’s what they always blame liberals for doing: snowflakes who “cry and weep” when things don’t go their way—then Trump turns and tweets that SNL is “really bad television” because they made fun of him.

As chief strategist of the White House, Bannon is paralyzingly void of political acumen. He’s squirmish in his suit and tie—his natural, more charitable state is in a bulging-tight wifebeater (because it’s not an undershirt, it’s a way of life)—slouched in his sticky sofa, cursing at the news personality on the television as bits of uncooked pork rocket from his mouth. His ‘strategy’ from the beginning has been to silence dissidence, to insult those who question Trump’s infallibility. In late January, he said “the media”—in general sweeping terms—“should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and listen for a while.” In a way, it makes complete sense for Bannon to hate the news. He was, after all, executive chair of Breitbart News.

The patterned formula for Trump’s cabinet positions is to nominate someone who condemns the mere existence of that position. Betsy DeVos hates public education. Scott Pruitt sued the EPA many times before being appointed its chief administrator. Rick Perry once said he wanted to dismantle the Department of Energy (he actually forgot the name of this department, but later admitted that this was what he meant). They’re like schoolchildren giggling for wearing their underwear over their pants during Backwards Day, almost purposefully mocking the public for making us accept it.

Everything is reversed. A media tycoon hates the media. A 70-year-old baby plays with his toys of the world’s most advanced nuclear arsenal. Language is meaningless. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. We’re all floundering in the dark, trying to grab hold of something real.

Writers have long waded into the depths of cliché by referring to the actions of the opposition political party as “Orwellian” (a queer and unfitting word, as George Orwell made a career of opposing tyranny). His concept of Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four is used to describe the more disparaging antics of both the left and the right ad nauseam, leveraged to whatever paranoia is most fitting: from the flailing pettiness of political correctness that spawns from scrawny self-abusing leftists, to the Nixonian litigation of the War on Drugs, condemning every magical cabbage that sprouts its head. But Trump’s administration is something entirely new: a band of shit-smeared pigs haphazardly shuffling pieces on a Scrabble board, squealing triumphantly when they get a three syllable word. When journalists from the New York Times, CNN, and Politico were recently barred from attending a Spicer press briefing—and Breitbart and America News Network greeted quickly in—a new narrative unfolds: only praise will be allowed.

Milo Yiannopoulos, Gavin McInnes, and other professional conservative trolls who pose as free speech advocates, suddenly lose their platform. Their reality-show ideologue hates the freedoms of those who disagree with the minutia of his brutish declarations of absolute power. If he could, he’d fire every dissident, every skeptic and examiner of the truth.

But he doesn’t really need to. A storm cloud of disinformation has overwhelmed the modern political dialectic. The fake news phenomenon is more a pop-culture phenomenon than anything else—it’s yet another symptom of what Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer called the “culture industry,” the churlish beast of mass culture that anesthetizes an entire generation through its pageant of entertainments. In Adorno’s 1951 book, Minima Moralia, he writes:

    “Lies have long legs: they are ahead of their time. The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power, a process that truth itself cannot escape if it is not to be annihilated by power, not only suppresses truth as in earlier despotic orders, but has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false, which the hirelings of logic were in any case diligently working to abolish.”

The bucktoothed carnies are in charge now, chanting their new vocabulary, requiring us to debate only in grunts and farts, the most repulsive one winning a garland of Easter basket nesting in order to better resemble their god. Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” moment was testament to this—a lazy-eyed performance art of Gustave Flaubert’s famous remark, “There is no truth. There is only perception.” She tours one news station after the next, her procedural drawl resembling a sticky-fanged bobblehead, a wax paper automaton smiling larger when she lies, shifting her aching buttocks in front of another green screen. It demonstrates the annihilation of truth is a necessary prerequisite for the rise of authoritarianism—it leaves a void that is naturally occupied the quickest by power and aggression.

And it clearly works. A Fox News poll marked Americans’ distrust of “reporters” deeper than their distrust of Donald Trump. The slithering reality-show host who launched his political career by alleging that Barack Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya, and then officially endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, has more favorability than the grossly generalized populace of journalists and talking heads. Bannon’s comments are not actual threats to shut the media up—he’s simply gloating that he can say this and get away with it. He thrives on the inflammatory, on offending entire populations of fragile leftists into yet another frenzy.

Orwell never wrote anything that argued specifically against fascism. He took it for granted that Cartesian common sense wouldn’t let a generation go entirely mad. He was, however, obsessed with language. In one of the most important political essays, Politics and the English Language—written a year before Trump shoved his veiny head out of his mother—Orwell conferred that we “ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language.” He meant the hyper-intellectualization of language—speech used by many economists, politicians, academics with the intent to confuse the reader or listener under a glaze of jargon. He criticized use of ‘pretentious diction’ and ‘meaningless words’ as confabulatory, stupid, and manipulative. If Orwell could look upon today’s political arena, and listen to the level of debate and discourse, he may very well enjoy a fiendish delight in even his most pessimistic concerns being surpassed. There is nothing Daedalean or exaggerated about the Trump-Bannon-Conway approach to their speech, but rather a literal degradation of language, a dogmatically stubborn defense of adult retardation assuming the highest office in the world.

Early-stage fascism is the most opportunistic and consequential, and yet also the most fragile. As the Trump administration takes its first steps forward, it momentarily glances around to see if it can still get away with it—Trump’s affinity for Putin is obvious, as he restricts the press and puffs his chest as he does it. But he succeeds only through the sordid apathy of the public, through our splendor of the culture industry, like bugs flying stupidly towards a florescent lamp.

Is Ryan Seacrest the Erection of God?

I think of my great swan with his crazy motions,

Ridiculous, sublime, like a man in exile,

Relentlessly gnawed by longing! and then of you.”

-Charles Baudelaire

ryan_seacrest_american_idol_2014_l

You wake up squinting under the blinding effluvium, the jasmine-scented hand lotions overwhelming your dream state, the ocean breeze of Malibu shoving its way into the white marble living room, the long alabaster silk curtains blowing in and gently caressing your glossy buttocks. The couch is, of course, made from endangered hippopotamus leather, dyed bright orange. A bowl of plastic peaches and bananas are arranged in stellifariously kinky positions. A six-foot portrait of pop radio host turned reality tv producer, Ryan Seacrest, looms above the fireplace, and Don’t Stop Believin’ is playin’ softly somewhere—in the surround sound perhaps. You look around, still half-awake, not entirely sure what all this is about. Then a meaty little Guatemalan maid dressed up as a Sugar Plum Fairy walks into the room, her huge feathered wings knocking over a vase of pearl-plated dildos, smashing them to the ground; she ignores the mess completely and greets you with a crystalline bowl of M&M’s, except instead of the colored chocolates they are a blazing assortment of muscle-relaxers, anti-depressants, opioids, and sleeping pills. She smiles, and then opens her lipless mouth. “A tribal offering from our leader, mister Ryan Seacrest himself,” she says. You take a handful and pop them into your mouth, and spend the next 30 minutes thoughtlessly scrolling through photos of your ex-girlfriends, when the maid returns. “Mister Ryan Seacrest will see you now. You must wear this when in his presence.” She hands you a pair of leather pants and suspenders, with the dozens of miniature faces of the entire cast of Keeping up with the Kardashians (a show Seacrest created and produces, as well as the spin-offs Khloe and Lamar, Kourtney and Kim Take New York, and of course Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami) printed all over them, every one of Bruce’s face crossed out with a red marker and Caitlyn’s printed even larger next to it. You walk across the living room and push open the white marble door, and there is a roundtable of the entire cast. Caitlyn is sitting with her legs spread, her cryogenized shriveling raisin face barely held together with Elmer’s glue and Onabotulinumtoxin, her neck skin hanging loosely like a chicken’s gizzard. She drums the tips of her long red fingernails against the glass covering of the walnut table, staring at you blankly. Kim Kardashian has disappeared completely into her own ass; she is just one huge glistening ass sitting in the leather chair, an amorphous sphere, she is used more as a steatopygous scrying stone for Kanye and company to peer into. You look up at the wall, and Ryan Seacrest is a flickering hologram, a static two-dimensional image talking to everybody—yet nobody—about cooking utensils, then nail polish, then dead cats. Then he turns his gaze and stares directly at you, his eyes piercingly familiar. “I want to make a television series of you,” he booms over the loud speakers. “You will become a black woman who’s only desire is to be spanked by Donald Trump. We’ll call the show Margaret gets the Donald. You will be famous. You will be wretched and hideous, but you’ll be incredibly famous.” You turn and flex in the mirror, and you smile.

The question remains: Exactly who is Ryan Seacrest? Of course, he’s the radio and television personality, but who is he beyond the coruscating blush of personality? In Adorno’s Minima Moralia, he writes, “The self, its guiding idea and its a priori object, has always, under its scrutiny, been rendered at the same time non-existent.” The ego, the superego, and the id, are dressed in the womb and then shoved into the florescent screaming world, growing unwittingly into a child, then an adult, then a drooling automaton, all with varying degrees of morality, decency, and libidinal dandyism, until death finally sweeps us into the curdled pile of wet ash. But Ryan Seacrest is not actually human. He is perhaps something closer to Baudrillard’s “hyperreality of God,” a turgid simulation of a man, or beast, pretending to be a god. He is not even a thing, but rather a personality. He’s an abstract filament of the psyche itself that has manifested into a man on your television screen, asking movie stars what it’s like to be human. It’s obvious that Ryan Seacrest was the voice inside Nietzsche’s head, forcing him to toss himself onto the horse in Turin. He is the complete and final annihilation of the Self. Adorno continues “…that which posits itself as ‘I’ is indeed mere prejudice, an ideological hypostasization of the abstract centres of domination, criticism of which demands the removal of the ideology of ‘personality.’” But the ‘personality’ is the necessary lie that holds all the chaos and drama of our lives together. The award-winning actor, for example, is a chameleon of personality, beautifully blending into the charismas of crime lords and superheroes through his mastery of method-acting. But wild-eyed fans don’t want the man or woman behind the mask—they only want the personality. When Hunter S. Thompson was interviewed on his property in Colorado, he confessed he never knew if people wanted Hunter or the caricature of himself that he portrayed in his books—because they were drastically different persons, one a man of desires and despairs, the other strictly an ‘ideology of personality.’ This rationalization “confirms man’s non-being,” as Adorno later put it, for personality is everything, and it is itself fraudulent. This is why man can never be in love without a bit of mystery. We are drawn more by fantasy, more by the picture of a gorgeous woman or man that we say we would ‘love to know,’ when in fact we must never really know. Because once the facade fades, we are merely another hairless ape trying to dampen our private parts. The divorce of intimacy naturally ensues when the alpha and the cowboy and the ballerina are dragged out into the open, and the shattering despair of reality is all that’s left. We live for eternal desiring, eternal longing for beauty, for something that will make us ache for life. Slavoj Žižek said in A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, “there is nothing spontaneous, nothing natural, about human desires. Our desires are artificial. We have to be taught to desire […] Cinema is the ultimate pervert art—it doesn’t give you what you desire, it tells you how to desire.” It’s obvious that Ryan Seacrest studied Adorno and Žižek when constructing the psychoanalytic format for American Idol and Keeping up with the Kardashians—these shows gently stroke our incessant desire for personality more than anything else. The culture industry is a great machine of glistening asses, led only partially by Ryan Seacrest. If he wasn’t there, somebody else would be, tirelessly grinding away at the stone of desire. Soon there will be nothing left. Just an orgy of holograms, rubbing against the immense black emptiness all around, a white burning comet hurling by.

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