Wednesday, February 04, 2004

I hate bandwagon fans in sports, but in politics it's good to know when to walk away and when to run, so I've removed the Dean links from the left-hand column. I haven't sorted out the whole Kerry-Edwards race, but either way I feel like we'll get a candidate I can get behind. In other words, anyone but Bush. Or Lieberman. (Yay!)

I'm not sure what more can be added to the Janet Jackson din, except that what frightens me a bit is the way people seem to be trying to pick this up in a generalized way to re-ignite the culture wars on the indecency/obscenity issue. On some level I can at least understand where true, classical conservatives are coming from on these things. We call consumption "consumption" because back in the 19th century people saw it as a really bad thing--a using up of scarce, unrenewable resources. As we have shifted from producer to consumer culture, that sense has gone away; we no longer have similar attitudes toward buying things and toward tuberculosis. But real cultural conservatives maintain some remnants of the old discomfort toward unfettered consumerism.

Most "conservatives" nowadays, though, are not of that kind. They are full-on Adam Smith capitalists--or at least they think they are, but they didn't get to the part where Smith warns about the evils of the joint-stock corporation. That's a side point, though. The point is that consumer capitalism is one of the pillars of contemporary right-wing thought. This pillar co-exists somewhat uneasily at times with another pillar, which is fundamentalist or at least conservative Christianity. I have to say that the marriage of these two right wings arms continues to confuse and bewilder me, even as I continue to try to think it through here.

Sex and drugs are two of the key places where these interests can clash. Obviously, the cultural conservatives don't like them (mandatory Oxycontin joke notwithstanding). But the logic of consumption doesn't work very well with prescribed boundaries. Paul (note updated link, finally) pointed out to me years ago the fundamental absurdity of the way we talk about drugs in this culture. It's like Sam Kinison's (or was it Bill Cosby's?) old bit about The Garden of Eden--telling Adam and Eve "you can eat off of any of the trees except...that one!" Consume, consume, consume, consume--except not those! Obviously sex is somewhat different here than drugs, but the logic isn't all that dissimilar: sell sex, sell sex, sell sex, but don't buy sex and don't engage in it except under certain circumstances.

Now, I'm not making any arguments about getting rid of consumer culture--it's not as if I long for subsistence agriculture, a Jeffersonian farmer's republic, a Marxist regime, or any other type of economic set-up that you could name. Consumer culture is about as good as it gets amongst the lot of them. My point here is on the other end instead--trying to maintain some notion of a limit (headlines today read "has popular culture gone too far?"--what exactly does "going to far" mean?) on id/libido/whatever while advancing no limits on consumption in general creates a basic tension and ultimately rupture that simply cannot hold.

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