May 17, 2011

Academic Showbiz, Celebrity Profs, and Crankage-Creep on the Left

This is part one of a series. You can read parts two and three here
and here.

Here at OCIHACOSP, I do love my showbiz. I can't stop talking about it. It could be political showbiz of the Palin/Trump ilk that melds tabloid television with politics. It could be medicine shows, vaudeville, and classic film, like what's covered at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule or at Ivan's Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

Who could forget February's DeVega vs Cain Revue?

Or it could be one of my favorite forms of showbiz: the academic sort.

It was bad enough when Judith Butler, otherwise an intellectual hero, got into a fracas after calling Hamas and Hezbollah "left movements". Oh, please. Male-supremacist bigots and genocidal homophobes have nothing in common with me, I don't care how loudly they claim to be fighting oppression. They'll live without my support, I'm sure.

The latest place to see and be seen on the academic showbiz circuit is apparently the Israel-critical BDS/Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement, complete with whirlwind tours, and rising starlet profs. Everything's a holocaust, now. Everything's apartheid, now.

The Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement have now been repurposed as Perdana "peace" flotillas, so sez Alice Walker.

The ongoing handwringing in Black academia over the person and symbolism of Barack Obama would be just as merely amusing/annoying, were it not for the celebrity status of profs like Cornel West.

Recalling the Alex Jones conspiracy movie title, this Chris Hedges piece showcases -- or is it trots out -- West's discontent with Barack Obama the man, not Barack Obama the president. One gets the sense it's in the service of something much larger than West's personal dismay with the POTUS.

Perhaps there was never much of a struggle in Obama’s heart. Perhaps West only provided a moral veneer. Perhaps the dark heart of [former Obama administration chief of staff Rahm] Emanuel was always the dark heart of Obama. Only Obama knows. But we know how the play ends. West is banished like honest Kent in “King Lear.” Emanuel and immoral mediocrities from Lawrence Summers to Timothy Geithner to Robert Gates—think of Goneril and Regan in the Shakespearean tragedy—take power. We lose. And Obama becomes an obedient servant of the corporate elite in exchange for the hollow trappings of authority.

No one grasps this tragic descent better than West, who did 65 campaign events for Obama, believed in the potential for change and was encouraged by the populist rhetoric of the Obama campaign. He now nurses, like many others who placed their faith in Obama, the anguish of the deceived, manipulated and betrayed. He bitterly describes Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.”

And on it goes.

I don't think the choice of title, "The Obama Deception", is by chance. I own the freely-distributed DVD, which finds its home in my crankage stash along with the rightwing, segregationist, and nutball Evangelical materials. I acquired it from a friend who had the displeasure of being in the Haight-Ashbury district the day Cynthia McKlanny's "Power to the Peaceful" chemtrail circus came to town, distributing We Are Change 9/11 truth paraphernalia. With such has-been luminaries as rap artist KRS-One and reformed Jew-baiter Professor Griff, The Obama Deception video is directed squarely at pro-Obama Black youth. Upon viewing, one is to come away with the idea that Barack Obama is a puppet on the string of evil/sinister forces, such as international bankers and the vague, nebulous New World Order.

Hedges' piece, unsurprisingly, uses Dr. West to articulate and repeat similar, tired old tropes.

“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West says. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation. When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. And that’s true for a white brother. When you get a white brother who meets a free, independent black man, they got to be mature to really embrace fully what the brother is saying to them. It’s a tension, given the history. It can be overcome. Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.

“He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want,” he says. “He’s got two homes. He has got his family and whatever challenges go on there, and this other home. Larry Summers blows his mind because he’s so smart. He’s got Establishment connections. He’s embracing me. It is this smartness, this truncated brilliance, that titillates and stimulates brother Barack and makes him feel at home. That is very sad for me.

West's characterization of Obama the person has not been lost on his colleagues, or mine. MSNBC's Ed Schultz staged a little fight between West and Princeton colleague Melissa Harris-Perry. For those looking for sparks, no one was disappointed.

My colleague Deaniac83 at The People's View caught it:

See, Barack Obama is the child of a brilliant black father (read: a black man with books is obviously acting "white" unless he uses his intellect to talk only about racial issues) and a white mother (how disgusting that West has to get into a latent bias against interracial relationships between a black man and a white woman). Being a child of diversity, evidently, makes him "rootless." And since Barack Obama, a brilliant man himself, also did not spend all his time fighting and talking about racial issues, he must not count as black.

I didn't know you could be this offensive to this many people in the space of two short paragraphs, and I wouldn't have believed it had I not read Cornel's screed. Barack Obama is a "white man with black skin" - why don't you just call him an Oreo, Dr. West? I am neither black nor white, but I am wondering just who gave Cornel West the right to define what a black man is, what a white man is, and when someone can be pejoratively called an Oreo.


I am tired of this divisiveness, racism, religious intolerance and every other form of tearing us apart - no matter whether it is employed by Glenn Beck's fringe Right or Cornel West's fringe Left. I am not the only one.

No, Deaniac83, you're not. Did we not already go through this with Ralph Nader's expression of similar Uncle Tom/talks-white sentiment?

There is a cynical game being played with historical imagery here. If celebrities like Judith Butler, Alice Walker, Cynthia McKinney, KRS-One or Cornel West say so -- whatever it is -- no one is supposed to take issue because of their status, as Hedges puts it re: West, as moral authority figures. Well, I disagree with that.

Is anyone else tiring of this crankage-creep on the left?