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“Politics is the entertainment branch of industry.” – Frank Zappa
The Trump presidency has perhaps more than anything been a spectacle, a sort of post modern meta-reality TV show. Every week there is a new firing, sexual allegation, secret leak, or at least inflammatory comment. Some people take the side that this is fake news generated by one side or the other but the underlying fact is that most of the major news organizations have made huge profits off of the Trump brand. Even during the campaigning phase Trump dominated the news programs. In the overarching narrative Trump has been the necessary villain, like Sauron for Tolkien, or Vader for Lucas. Inevitably though stories tend towards resolution, and the bad guy usually has to fail.
In 1977 Tim Leary attempted to break down the terrestrial politics of domesticated primates here in the states, while he himself was in Federal prison in San Diego. That was when he wrote Neuropolitics. It has been a favorite Leary book of mine for a long time but on re-reading it recently I caught that moment-of-lucidity feeling about our current state of affairs that I’ve often got from his writings. In particular with regards to his theory of the outlaw industry in American culture.
“The average American watches television five hours a day. This is a neurological fact so ominous in its implications that it cannot be understood in words. Would it take a year of full time Television explanation and neural demonstration for us to understand how our brains have become addicted to electronic “junk”, how television creates, manages and schedules our reality, how tonight’s crime show becomes next week’s crime wave, how the images and illusions of politics are produced?
In order to package and arrange the flow of “news” our television civilization requires a continual supply of newsmakers…reality-actors who play parts in the day- time and prime-time shows which define our existence. And who, besides the “mad-programmer” of ABCBS, understands how news-events are carefully calibrated to meet seasonal scheduling? It is no accident, for example, that political carnivals usually occur as summer replacement shows. Urban riots, conventions, and political upheavals occur in the summer not because of the weather. Don’t you dig? They are scheduled to charge up the boredom of summer programming. It’s not the heat, it’s the cupidity.”
According to some sources the average American spends 5 hours a day on their phone. American culture is more addicted to electronic junk now than in the 1970’s, and the pace of information has increased. Instead of one or two political disasters a year we get one or two a month, sometimes one or two a week. It is only fitting our president be a reality TV star. The fact that the majority of Americans are plugged into the Trump scandal through the screens of their phones is reason enough to caution there could be foul play afoot. That’s essentially why there are so many conspiracy theories/battling narratives strung up on essentially only two opposite sides. Chomsky pointed out long ago “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….” Leary continues..
“There is nothing new about the political martyr role. In mammalian politics as in every other competitive game there is a winner and many losers. Martyrs are traditionally produced and exploited by losers to symbolize their resentment against those on top… American television culture has added an ancient twist to the familiar “martyr role”. In a religious ritual rivaling that of the blood-letting Aztecs, the American people seem to demand the public immolation of its top officials. This mysterious process has been called “The Curse of the Oval Room” to remind us that, since 1900 (the beginning of American Empire) the psycho-history of the American Presidency reveals an ominous record of failure, break-down and death..”
At this point Leary switches focus from just presidential affairs to the entire Outlaw Industry as he calls it. The industry of news making/headline grabbing symbolic offenders who come onto the media stage for a dramatic scene and then make their exit. All this to the profit of the media and lawyers. All of this as systematic in its operation as the production of beef on a cattle farm.
The “Outlaw Industry” depends upon the cooperation of three groups:
1. The Symbolic Outlaws are the talent, the players.
2. The defense and prosecuting lawyers are the
3. The Media provides the Artistic Direction.
The rituals and performances of “Concept Criminals” are totally stereotyped and perfectly understood by both the players and the consuming public.
1. A symbolic crime publically committed.
2. The chase or surrender.
3. The arrest.
4. The Grand Jury hearings (optional).
5. The pre-trial litigation.
6. The trial and verdict.
7. Sale of media rights by the lawyers.
The Symbolic Crime must be committed deliberately and publicly. The criminal, in violation of the customs of the professional crook, claims credit for the deed! The taboo-infraction cannot involve the normal motives greed or passion. The offense must be a moral flouting of authority. The enormity of the act can range from the sophmoric cutup of the Berrigans to bombing, high-jacking and outright assassination. The aim is always to morally shock, to incite retaliation, to stir up public opinion. The crime (better described as sin) is directed against a sacred object the flag, draft- records, an authority figure or symbol the president, a building; or it must threaten the sanctified-security airplane high-jacking, Mansonite invasion of middle-class homes, Black Panther guns in the streets. The Chase is, of course, the most basic mammalian thrill celebrated in every TV crime show and realized in the hunt for the Weather Underground, the SLA, the Cleaver-Leary exiles.”
In the Trump spectacle we still seem to be mid chase. His symbolic offense is against democracy, a most sacred cow here. Book deals have already been struck up and you can be certain a movie or two is already in the works somewhere. The gotcha/near misses of the chase dominate the news with millions of peoples facebook/twitter feeds already filled with opposing final verdicts, and filling their mammalian brains with dopamine bursts. The show is building to a climax. It seems we are coming up to the end of the first act.
TV channels always slow programming during the summer but now we have online streaming services. Netflix isn’t scheduled to release any new titles this year in the months of July and August, seems about the perfect time for a news frenzy to climax. With four to five more months we’ve still got plenty of time for a few more Judas’ to enter and exit the stage, a few more firings/falls from grace, and definitely a final confrontation scene between Trump and Mueller. The recent exit of a Trump lawyer has set the stage for an ill-advised sit down with Mueller. That scene alone will result in millions of dollars for both the news media and the lawyers circling. The media is playing the public for outrage and division to generate wealth from clicks and views. The whole thing is evoked into reality by the legal system and paid for by advertisers. Its capitalization on myth and narrative as it functions in the American mind.
And what is Leary’s final message here except that the media and lawyers have found themselves in a perpetuating system of profit. This doesn’t even have to be conspiracy, this is a natural function of capitalism at the intersection of these groups and forces. Profits have given rise to it, and profits will dictate its entire existence. Perhaps then its time to get other people to drop out of the facade. Convince people to actually want something else. Really, though isn’t this what both sides want, where both narratives lead, for Trump to be crucified as some criminal/martyr? For now though the show will continue, even if it is only shadows on a cave wall brought to life by the light from world burning down outside.