Friday, January 20, 2012

The New Man, Capitalist Version

"Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." George Orwell, 1984

One of the great jokes of the Cold War was the way the Stalinist state  of the Soviet Union portrayed its people versus the reality of their appearance. The Soviet citizen, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the October revolution, was portrayed as a proletarian superman, with bulging muscles clenching his work tools ( easily exchanged for a bayoneted rifle or submachinegun on a Red Army poster) and his chiseled chin jutting with confidence in the direction of the future. Oftentimes he was accompanied by his female helpmate, beautiful but chaste ( wearing the inevitable babushka), and wielding agricultural implements.
The reality was somewhat different. Civil Wars brought famine and the average Soviet citizen in the 1920s was malnourished and painfully thin. Even in the Great Patriotic War against Hitler's legions the Red Army rifleman was still usually shorter and lighter than his Western counterparts. The broad chested, seven foot tall warrior of the victory monuments simply did not exist. During the Cold War the combination of bureaucratic ineptitude, gross military spending, and the lasting damage of the war against fascism produced quite a different Soviet citizen than conceived in the propaganda of the Politburo. The Soviet citizen, after years of hardship and unkept promises, developed into a shrewd businessman who traded on the black market, a cynic who doubted the Party line, and a fatalist whose black humor was usually directed at those who claimed to be serving him.
Throw in rampant alcoholism and this guy was pretty fucking far from the square- jawed working class hero ready to exceed his quota of washers or catch a reactionary bullet in defense of the revolution.
The New Man was one of the cherished myths of  early 20th century socialist eggheads. These cranks envisioned a new version of humanity, one that would rise above petty emotional ties to possessions and family to serve the collective good, to sacrifice anything for progress, and to stride boldly into a future bright with Utopian promise ( this is the image that George Orwell mocked so effectively in his novels Animal Farm and 1984 ).
But before you supporters of capitalism pat yourselves on your backs, I can inform you that the elites you worship have made their version of the New Man. Only they were quite a bit more clever than their commie counterparts.
The capitalist ideal of the New Man is all together more intoxicating to the average asshole in the street because it is it is so easy to obtain. Think of how the common man is portrayed in the media, particularly television. Our working class hero looks like us. He is likely to be overweight, lacking in intellectual curiosity, and obsessed with the trivial ( sports, junk food, pornography, etc. ). In fact he is effectively an adolescent, his mind forever frozen in the 8th grade by a consumer culture fixated  with youth. The only significant break with reality is that this slob is usually married to an incredibly hot wife, but therein lies the genius of this marketing campaign- you can be a fat shiftless moron and still  shack up with an awesome babe.
For the Soviet elite, the purpose of their propaganda was to give their people something to aspire to, to spur them on to greater action. The capitalists who run the United States have a completely different agenda on their minds. The last thing they want is to have working people actively engaged in politics or working for a new future. Our ruling class is quite happy with the way things are now. Their goal is to create a complacent and apathetic class of consumers. The vast majority of the citizens of the U.S.A. do not participate politically in their supposed democracy, not even to get up off their big asses to vote for who will become the most powerful person in the world every four years. This could be excusable if this was the same type of cynicism displayed by the Soviet citizens of the last century but cynicism it is not. It is sheer laziness brought on by years of polluting the airwaves with mindless crap designed to appeal to the basest instincts a human being possesses. Unconscious and disengaged, The New Man of the American Century is not so much a conquering hero as a grazing cow.

1 comment:

Dresden Scott said...

It's clear that the ordinary subject of every government is to be treated, one way or another, like an animal, whether it's beaten and forced to work, or beaten down and forced to consume. A few folks have the intelligence to question the way our food animals are raised - why are they pumped with steroids and kept in tiny cages? Fewer, though, wonder the same about us, ourselves.

The question, "does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?" can be answered when we understand how our everyday conditions are reflected and reinforced in the media we consume. And that, in turn, consumes us - occupies our minds.