Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mere Orthodoxy podcast on meritocracy and an article by Helen Andrews' proposal that there's a new aristocratic class forming

A few brief thoughts, for now.

Regular readers will know I've quoted Jacques Ellul's proposal from half a century ago that those in control of mass media constituted a new aristocratic class capable of influencing culture and policy without themselves being subject to any democratic processes and that this group of vocational propagandists constituted a new aristocratic class.

And, of course, this year I've been looking at how Ellul's writing on propaganda and propagandists explains not formal political propaganda (which is too obvious) but the megachurch pastor (aka what Mark Driscoll transformed himself into, namely from "pastor" to "propagandist").

And, of course, Ellul's description of the populist agitator pretty well anticipated Trump.

and to a lesser extent Sanders.

But there's an additional idea in this meritocracy/aristocracy idea that might be worth discussing.  In an era in which entertainers are taken seriously as policy pundits and in which film directors and film critics proclaim that this or that is fascism, Ellul's comment was that in the mythologies of communists and anti-communists the great enemies were fascism and communism--these paranoid narratives need these kinds of enemies.  Anything that isn't explicitly democratic becomes the "enemy of democracy", and once democracy has become an ideology rather than a mode of governance it becomes as totalitarian as formal totalitarianism.  That's all old hat here.

Well, let's propose that since Americans are so class averse and so loathe to concede that class exists; and since when Americans DO talk about class mobility within meritocratic contexts they only think of upward mobility (per Whit Stillman's riff in Metropolitan), let's float the idea that the superhero genre is Amerca's way of interrogating itself on the expectations it has of its aristocratic class without conceding that such an aristocracy actually exists in the real world.

This could culturally make at least "some" sense in an era where income inequality is a going concern on the one hand, and arguably overpaid entertainers feel some sense that they are obliged to sound off on politics as if they are somehow magically on the proper side of a class war.  :)  If those with controlling interests in mass media are the new aristocratic class then the unavoidably not-even-ironic irony would be film directors who complain about superheroes being fascists would embody the ethos they've criticized by dint of having made the kinds of films that instill the putatively fascist ethos (i.e. if you directed Die Hard you're not in a great position to complain about Captain America as if you haven't contributed to the ostensibly "fascist" cause in cinema).

But if the superhero genre is an indirect, closeted riff on what Americans expect from their aristocracy ... this gets back to my earlier proposal that Batman is an American imagination of how if there must inevitably be a "one percent" what do we want that one percenter to be like.

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