Media, News, and the US Election (2)

As The Guardian columnist Wajahat Ali remarks: the Presidential campaign in the US is now in the process of "fanning the flames of fear-mongering, racial hysteria and smear politics", courtesy of the Republican Party. At Republican rallies, people claim in interviews to be sure that Senator Obama is an Arab, a Muslim, a Terrorist, and All Of The Above (on a sidenote: and if we exchange "Terrorist" for its paradigmatic equivalent "Freedom Fighter", what would be bad about any of these three identities?). Furthermore, some of these enlightened individuals do not hesitate to translate these solipsistic convinctions into calls to have "that one" (quoting Senator McCain whilst referring to Senator Obama) bombed, killed, or otherwise removed.

The remarkable aspect of all of this is the apparent surprise with which these sentiments are greeted: by the mainstream news media as well as politicians and pundits on all sides.

But there is no surprise here. The middle class has been growing for decades now, and counts in most democratic market economies the vast majority of the people in its ranks. However, there are vast disparities within this class. Indeed, one of the reasons it is so large, is because a significant number (I would venture: at least half) of the members of the middle class are constantly balancing on the edge of falling "back" into poverty - into that dark realm of what Zygmunt Bauman calls "flawed consumers".

Flawed consumers are not just those that have no credit left to shop (or invest) - these are also people who have to face a failure to self-sell; as Bauman argues: no consumer unless a commodity first. Once you are unable to upgrade (yourself as well as the goods and services you acquire or have acquired in the past), you fall by the wayside. You become useless.

Useless people are understandably angry, mad, and eager to blame. In doing so, they invest in the last remaining avenue to self-commodification (because it is financially "free"): as a voter, a citizen. Their racial and class-based hatred of Senator Obama is like the logo on their t-shirts or the size of their car: something to sell yourself with, to have or shape an identity, to become a commodity.

Electing a President is an act of consumption. And there is no consumer unless he or she is a commodity first.