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I Wish I Could Live In The Leiter Zone

Apart from their entertainment function, blogs serve as gatekeepers for busy readers. For instance, one can keep on top of legal events and appellate litigation (and the most interesting commentary) by browsing through the appropriate websites. And if you want to know what's going on in the "boggier corners of the fever-swamp Left," you can do a lot worse than to click over to Prof. Leiter. Anyone remember the Great Draft of 2005, brough to you by the strange alliance of King George III and his faithful sidekick, Charlie Rangel? It's a whole new world!

There's nothing so mind-broadening as travel to such alternate realities. Don't get me wrong: I make it a point to cultivate my own particular pocket dimensions. For instance, I recently explained to my girlfriend that I live in a world in which Hilary Duff does not exist. For some reason (probably songs like "Come Clean") I find her brand of lyrical candyfloss particularly insubstantial. I'll admit that it takes an extreme act of will, but through extended effort I've managed to blank the slightest hint of her from my world. [1]

Nevertheless, Leiter's latest link to "sharp cultural analysis" in ZNet suggests that I'm living in a sub-optimal fantasyland. True, the fine art of denial leads to a life of quiet contentment, but ZNet has me convinced that the world of the paranoid is more fun. To show what I mean, let's examine "The People Are Unfit to Rule: The Ideological Meaning of Maury Povich and Jerry Springer" in the spirit it deserves. The lead paragraph itself is a classic of the genre:

One morning last Fall I witnessed a mass-cultural war crime in the comfort of my own living room: The Maury Povich Show.
When I think of Maury Povich, I typically think, "What did Connie Chung see in him that she didn't see in someone more famous, talented, and funny? Someone like, say, Wings & Vodka?" Little did I know that Mr. Povich was more than a rather talentless shadow of Jerry Springer: he's actually the schlocktrooper for a mediofascist regime in the Mass Culture Wars.

The article first goes through a rather predictable rant on the evils of trash TV in a manner unlikely to generate much disagreement from Focus on the Family or Pat Robertson. It starts by arguing that Maury Povich, Jerry Springer or Jenny Jones, as well as TV Judges like the infamous Judge Judy, prey upon the uneducated, the powerless, and the just plain freakish in order to fill the gutter demands of popular entertainment. Particularly vile to the author's eyes (and, for that matter, to mine) is Maury's habit of performing a paternity test for his guests to prove whether a child is actually the blood of his father.

ZNet describes such horrors in the first dozen or so paragraphs without breaking much new ground. Then the full fevers of the class-obsessed left kick in, and the entertainment truly starts:

What’s going on here? Beyond their profitable (for broadcasters) appeal to the public’s most base and voyeuristic instincts, these and other “real—life” television shows play a neglected ideological role in the corporate-crafted “popular culture” of parasitic late capitalism. They are part of an elitist thought control project: the cultural engineering and enforcement of mass consent to social hierarchy.
See, in my world the crass nature of popular culture results largely from a race-to-the-bottom: most people laugh at cheap gags and spectacle, while more complex humor finds it hard to connect with a mass audience. There's Something About Mary became a hit in the theaters because sperm-in-the-hair equals butts-in-the-seats, and in my world it would be too much to expect Hollywood producers to spurn such riches. But if I lived in ZNet world, I could see this as the work of the Hidden Masters, an "elitist thought control project." [2]

Supposedly, such thought control has two diabolical ends.

The first such idea maintains that poor people –--- it is practically always working- and lower-class people who get held up for ridicule in the human cockfights staged by Maury, Jerry, and the rest –--- deserve their own poverty and related isolation and criminalization in America. A college student who has been mass culturally weaned on Jerry (Springer), Jenny (Jones), Sally (Jesse-Raphael), Judy (the judge), and Maury et al. is not a good candidate to follow his left-liberal sociology, history, or English professor’s discourse on the role that structural forces and elite agents of class, race, and/or gender oppression play in creating mass inequality and misery in the United States.
(As an aside, isn't that last sentence precious? To rephrase: "Any college student subjected to THEIR brainwashing on TV will be much less susceptible to OUR brain... er... propogan... er... education in the classroom, where they're supposed to get it. Damn those sneaky Hidden Masters, subverting our subversion of the dominant paradigm!")
Of course, Maury and Jerry don’t do shows about the rampant social injustice that produces the people who show up on their stages. Judges Judy and Joe Brown and the authorities on Divorce Court don’t adjudicate on the political-economic abandonment of the inner city or the corporate globalization that destroys jobs, families, and communities.
Again, this could be because Maury and Jerry are the foot soldiers in the Grand Class War, following the instructions of elite Culture Generals tasked with numbing the masses through a secular opiate. Or it could be because Jerry Springer doing a show about the "rampant social injustice that produces the people who show up on their stages" becomes Meet the Press, Face the Nation, or This Week. These are shows unlikely to garner Springer's mass audience appeal until George Stephanopolous loses it and bashes George F. Will over the head with a chair.

Not satisfied with merely planting seeds of Social Darwinist thought in the minds of the proletariat, the Hidden Masters have another agenda item:

The second richly authoritarian idea “taught” by Maury and Jerry et al. holds that the ordinary populace is too stupid, vile, savage, selfish, atavistic, and ignorant to be trusted with the possession of any particular power in “democratic” America.

. . . .

The mass populace that appears on Maury and Jerry (both on stage and in the audience) is more than merely unfit to rule. It is a modern-day embodiment of the wretched, unruly, and childish “mob” – the dangerous and all-too “masterless” and “many-headed monster” – that aristocrats have always claimed to see when they describe the common people. It is proof of the classic authoritarian and self-interested ruling-class idea that the ordinary citizenry is unqualified for freedom and must always be checked, coerced, and manipulated from above. It is evidence for the venerable bourgeois thesis that “human nature” is essentially nasty, violent, disagreeable, and brutish. Especially at the bottom of the supposedly merit-based socioeconomic pyramid, this thesis maintains, civilization’s majority is composed of ignorant and boorish louts. That thankless rabble must be controlled for their own good and the good of society by benevolent, far-seeing masters, who are supposedly less tainted with humanity’s inherent inner savagery.

Who would have thought Maury Povich hid so much!

Now, in my world this lesson doesn't make much sense. Sure, we show the freakish private lives of the poorest of our society through Jerry Springer. We also show the freakish lives of the wealthiest of our society. The paternity revelations of Maury Povich are crass, but they don't differ much in kind from the latest romantic tribulations of Brad/Jennifer/Angelina or the "let's film ourselves having sex in green" antics of Paris Hilton. In the former case, the spectacle has interest because the observed other is generally poorer than the audience; in the latter, because the other moves in a world of relative luxury but universalist tribulation. Springer guests show up without much to lose; celebrities appear in tabloids because they mostly gain from getting even a scandal-soaked name in public.

ZNet suggests that if the middle class doesn't get much attention in this circus it's all part of the Master Plan. That delusion never occurred to me. As a grubby capitalist myself, I'd expect that Divorce Court or Judge Judy would jump at middle-class or wealthy victims willing to make fools of themselves, and fools are not a scarce commodity even among those who escape the collateral damage of the class war. Sadly for the producers, however, middle-class misfits have no reason to subject themselves to televised abuse. I would have thought that's why they're largely absent or fictionalized in shows like Dangerous Housewives.

As delusions go, "The People are Unfit to Rule" beats denial all to hell. I mean, just think: I've been avoiding watching daytime TV for years as something really not worth my notice, something lacking in intellectual substance, like professional wrestling or Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominees. [3] Little did I know that they were the craven tools of an elite classist conspiracy, and that thus there was tons to learn from Mr. Povich and company.

[1]: I have yet to achieve true pop-culture nirvana: the ability to mentally block from my consciousness the Pussycat Dolls, Shania Twain, or . . . well, Nirvana.

[2]: My regular readers will realize the attraction of this worldview for me. Any elistist though control project will need an Elitist Thought Control Project Manager. If someone knows where I can apply, please tell me. References provided upon request.

[3]: I'm sure some commentor will get bent out of shape by my glancing comment on the Alito hearings, but they remind me in passing of a quotation that a former classmate put in his Administrative Law outline:

"Notice-and-comment rulemaking is to public participation as Japanese Kabuki theater is to human passions—a highly stylized process for displaying in a formal way the essence of something which in real life takes place in other venues." E. Donald Elliott, Re-Inventing Rulemaking, 41 DUKE L.J. 1490, 1492 (1992).

Whatever the theatrical value of the hearings, I don't really believe that a format in which the questions of Senators are longer than the answers of the nominee is likely to generate much actual information. That's not to say that they're less edifying as to the real strength of a candidate than professional wrestling, but certainly I don't credit it with much more.


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When I think of Maury Povich, I typically think, "What did Connie Chung see in him that she didn't see in someone more famous, talented, and funny? Parentage. Maury's the son of legendary Washington Post baseball writer Shirley Povich. [No, I am not making that up.... :-) ]

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