PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Metaprotesting and the Stewart/Colbert Event

Are Colbert and Stewart exacerbating disillusionment, as so much media coverage tends to, or are they trying to genuinely moderate it and get us to appreciate democratic institutions, including peaceable assembly?

It appears as though I will be in D.C. for the big comedy event being hosted by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. I don't know anything about it other than it's happening and that it is supposed to be in praise of moderation, which, as Scott McLemee points out, is a pretty useless aim for a protest: "the anti-ideological spirit of the event is a dead end. The attitude that it's better to stay cool and amused than to risk making arguments or expressing too much ardor -- this is not civility. It’s timidity." Obviously this won't be anything like the protests in France or the head stomping in Kentucky. It seems like a naive protest against the very need for protests, against the necessary existence of politics. Basically a futile protest against human fraility.

I'm not sure why so many people are interested in attending this event -- perhaps the perception is that it will be a Woodstock-like event encapsulating a shared generational moment, an event whose sole function is to be something that later you can say you were at it. But maybe it will turn out to be an Event beyond ontology, the "gap between two heterogeneous multiplicities."

I'm only partially joking in invoking Badiou, who has written frequently (and cryptically) about political protest and goes so far as to declare that militant politics is one of the four (why only four?) "truth procedures" that yield subjectivity. He has advocated a "poltics without party" -- which is not far from what Stewbert claims to advocate. Badiou argues that a true political event forces "assigning a visible measure to the excessive power of the State," which under ordinary circumstances remains invisible and is why, for example, we put up with corruption and "politics as usual" despite constantly complaining about it, and why we vote for the least bad option instead of rioting in the streets for different options. Indifference, this pre-emptive sense of defeat many people have in the face of politics, is the effect of power.

Stewart and Colbert are arguably trying to use a paradox to short-circuit this indifference, reveal the State in its power and end the "errancy" of our perceptions of it, to use Badiou's terms. Once the power is revealed, however, the smooth functioning of its power is interrupted.

The apathy of non-political time is maintained by the State's not being at a distance, because the measure of its power is errant. We are captives of its unassignable errancy. The political is the interruption of this errancy, it is the demonstration of a measure of State power. It is in this sense that the political is "liberty." The State is in effect a bondage without measure of the parts of the situation, a bondage of which the secret is precisely the errancy of the excess power, its absence of measure. Liberty is here to set a distance from the State, through the collective fixation of a measure of excess. And if the excess is measured, it is because the collective can measure it.

Bringing a large group of like-minded people together is bound to be good for sending a "message" of some sort, and there will be no shortage of Rorschach readings after the fact. But regardless of the announced intent, it seems like the purpose of getting aloof fans of a TV show to make the highly inconvenient gesture of showing up somewhere is to habituate them to the effort of protest, to radicalize them to some degree, to make them feel the intoxicating, potentially disinhibiting energy of massification. It calls forth a collective identity and reveals the subjectivity possible beyond the limits of individual identity. Whether that is a good thing, or even registers as something different from the awareness of being part of a large TV audience, remains to be seen.

Addendum: Here's some bonus material from the Paxton essay about fascism I mentioned yesterday. "Programs are so easily sacrificed to expediency in fascist practice that, at one point, I was tempted to reduce the role of ideology in fascism to a simple functionalism: fascists propose anything that serves to attract a crowd, solidify a mass following, or reassure their elite accomplices." Interesting to consider in relation to a nonideological event touted by the so-called cognitive elite. On the other hand, "Fascism can appear wherever democracy is sufficiently implanted to have aroused disillusion." Are Colbert and Stewart exacerbating disillusionment, as so much media coverage tends to, or are they trying to genuinely moderate it and get us to appreciate democratic institutions, including peaceable assembly?

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.