Today I attended a screening of the above movie at the Brecht Forum, an event hosted by GoLeft.org, and also attended by the film’s co-writer Jeremy Pisker. GoLeft describes themselves as a group of “activists and pop-culture whores” that attempts to figure out how to make activist politics more palatable.
A necessary goal – I am taking up an oath to never once more chant “What do we want? [insert demand]!!! When do we want it? NOW!!” or “The People, united….” or other such chants at rallies or protest, on principle because of triteness and political impotency. The fundamental mediocrity of so much protesting almost hurts, and recycling halfhearted chanting makes that pain almost too much to bear. the Bulworth event sparked some interesting ideas –
What if the Left Media Bias Was True? – Any serious analysis of the news easily picks apart the claim of a left-leaning slant in reporting, but that doesn’t mean that activists can’t find useful tools in mass media. In the book Dream, Stephen Duncombe deconstructs a McDonalds commercial to discover arguments for shorter workdays, improved education systems and a clean environment – a ‘bias’ not evident in the ads funding or intent, but implicit in its appeal to the ‘good’ in people’s lives. The amenability of corporations to greenwashing and other forms of consumer activism (organics, Whole Foods, other such shit) demonstrates the underlying aesthetic of consumption in the fulfillment of human desire – it is this aesthetic of dreaming that progressive politics must attach itself to.
Make sure your people are enjoying themselves – A basic philosophy of new age corporate management is to treat your employees like volunteers. This means respecting them as human beings, and creating a work environment that is its own reward, rather than a mere means to an end. In my experience, too many left organizations don’t even treat their volunteers like volunteers. Folks show up to pay their moral debts, pontificate, or make very stern faces for news cameras. The desire to stop something usually incites this type of masochism. Making protests/actions/organizing interesting in and of themselves might improve the saliency of their appeals. Someone in the audience tonight put it thusly: “we must be beholden to the value of human interaction” a fancy way of saying “talk with people like its fun to talk to them, not because you necessarily want them to do something for you.” This idea might also lead to the result of making every action organizations pursue an end in themselves – producing awareness or sparking new activism, even if their explicit demands aren’t met.
Last, the role of mass media. The screenwriter Pisker said something interesting in the Q and A (which was remarkable all around – he was engaging and thorough with every question, and showed a real regard for everyone in the audience). He expressed concern about a proposed ending to the film, which would have Warren Beatty’s character abandon politics to become a community organizer, as “too preachy.” This caught my eye because commentators (on the right in particular) level the ‘preachy-ness’ complaint against most celebrities/Hollywood types that become politically active. The fact that Fox distributed Bulworth created no slight ambivalence for the screenwriter as well – in response to a question I asked, he said that ‘if I wanted to devote my life to political change, I wouldn’t be in this industry’ – a comment that suggests difficulties for anyone trying to create a mass mediated revolution. From the perspective of a viewer, I’m not sure I agree with his dismissal. I think mass media entertainment products can create change within limited boundaries, while providing lessons to organizers who want to create more radical change. Here’s the lesson I took: organizers should make entertaining a priority as high or higher than that of a carefully crafted message, so that the message becomes relevant, popular and accessible.