Saturday, November 14, 2009
Oprah, Streisand, and Gramsci
If it seems remarkable that Russians overthrew their government and installed a radical new one in 1917, it sometimes seems more incredible that America doesn’t have a revolution today. Who could have guessed that the exploiting class—the superrich—would publicly flaunt their privileged status to every corner of the country?
If you say that people in Russia always knew about aristocratic privilege and tsarist palaces, note that America’s have turned the lives of the morbidly wealthy into entertainment. See the show, Cribs, for example, where ordinary viewers get tours of insanely ornate mansions, filled with basketball courts, swimming pools, ten car garages, and the like. It’s as if you were daring viewers to seize power in order to eliminate the disparities. Antonio Gramsci, Italian Communist, made the argument that the upper classes achieved dominance over the lower classes through cultural and ideological stratagems. The working classes would revolt, he said, if they hadn’t become complicit in their own degradation.
As we watch Cribs, we seem to be doing just that, admiring our cultural heroes and their privilege more than we love ourselves, our class, our country, or justice itself. Now I know I sound rather smug, mocking people who are in love with those refrigerators that are stuffed to the rim with 40 bottles of Cherry Coke and 22 jars of Nutella. Not so. I find myself enjoying Kathy Griffin’s journey to ever-expanding heights of wealth and power. And I’m in ecstasy when I get a glimpse of Oprah and Streisand just kicking back, sipping tea, and keeping it real by discussing the daily aggravations of the superrich, including the difficulty of finding five star hotel rooms for dogs displaced by Santa Barbara fires, the challenge of maintaining multiple homes and island retreats, and the bother of having to keep yacht staff at peak performance on both coasts at once—or words to that effect. Clearly, the revolution will not be televised.