Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Enemy is Us

Over the past 10 years, the NYPD has shot a number of unarmed (black) men, beat up protestors just for the heck of it, blacked out the media from lower Manhattan, prevented protests from even occurring at the 2004 Republican convention, stopped and frisked untold thousands of people of color without probable cause, gotten their buddies off of parking tickets and then protested when they were censured for it, and now has  spied on muslims across state lines for no reason aside form their religion.

And the end result? The NYPD is pretty popular.

To me this illustrates the greatest threat to Liberty -- that the American people will simply hand it over to 'trusted' institutions like the police and the military, partly out of fear for our safety and partly because sentimental regard for those who 'put themselves in harm's way for us' makes criticizing them seem gauche.  And why should we not?  Most Americans will never have a particularly adverse encounter with a police officer, and the vast majority have nothing to fear from Guantanamo or wire taps.  Those who suffer under the heel of these infractions are minorities people neither like nor trust, so in the end the mass of the American people (the white mass) lose nothing personally when the security forces trample the rights of some brown people.

This is all old hat.  Tocqueville predicted as much with his memorable coinage 'the tyranny of the majority.'  It has been with us in some form since before Andrew Jackson made it an integral part of American politics with his white man's Democracy.

And yet, frustratingly, our cultural discourse doesn't have an expression for this threat.  It is all around us and yet movies and films do not warn of the People, but of select cabals that control things behind the scenes.  Pop culture is stuck in the anti-establishment politics of the 70's, despite the fact that American politics has moved on.  The bad guys in some of the great sci-fi TV of our time - "Firefly," "The X-Files" are behind-the-scenes conspiracies, not the indifferent populace.

Perhaps as my generation comes of age we will see pop culture that reflects the crises of our time and not those of the watergate era.  I can only hope.  We need a new narrative for new concerns, not one left over from our parents'.

PS: If anyone can think of some great anti-populist media, I'm all ears

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