One of the strangest sights I have had to witness took place in Paris, on the cobbled square where meet the 4th, 11th and 12th arrondissements beneath the aptly phallic Colonne de Juillet. A rowdy crowd of Parisians had gathered at the Place de la Bastille, among the grave and gorgeous architecture of Paris’ storied past; a group of fellow foreigners and I, having nothing else to do, resolved to investigate the fuss. There were rock music, riot squads, the fumes of cheap Parisian weed. It was a merry night in May, and France had found itself a new President.
All at once it struck me as astounding and absurd. Here, at a site consecrated by violent overthrow of government, the grandchildren of 1968 celebrated the ascension to authority of a bumbling bureaucrat and demagogue. And though the election of Francois Hollande brought to a welcome end the reign of Sarkozy, there is something unpardonably lame about partying for The Establishment, whatever its name.
I had the astrologically “significant” fortune of starting university in 2008—I left behind my jaded high school years, as lonely and unloved as the leaving President, and pressed forth to a bright and hope-filled four. So aggrieved were we with Bush, could we help but feel relieved? There was cheering, I recall. Perhaps some dancing too. But even a young and wide-eyed Marxist like yours truly was not caught in the cause célèbre called Barry O.
Loathing our leaders is more than the province of radicals and reactionaries; it is our national pastime. So I confess to being a bit creeped out when I see among my esteemed peers the Cult of Barack alive and well. Political cynicism seems natural to one weaned with George W. To see my former-fellow dissidents domesticated to the merely Democratic is quite disheartening.
May I be so bold as to submit that Authority, no matter how many Rolling Stone covers it incurs, will never be cool? It stands against everything youth ought to reify: freedom, rebellion, individualism. Meanwhile, our Rockstar President prolongs no less the imperialist pretensions of his predecessor. When he tramples upon civil liberties, it is trivial; when he unilaterally and opaquely kills without due process, it is “admirable.” It feels subliminally fitting that the artist behind Obama’s famous “Hope” icon now runs a satiric line of “street-wear” called “Obey Propaganda.”
At a recent dormwide viewing of the presidential debates, some friends and colleagues complained of Romney’s etiquette toward their beloved Leader. But where they saw “belligerent” and “reckless” rudeness, I saw all that is good and noble about America. One should hold in contempt those who rule, for no better reason than that they’re in power. (That our Dear Leader insists upon the right to kill without due process any one of us should make my case more compelling.)
The level of obeisance required by hero-worship never ceases to sicken; it reminds one that the herd instinct goes by many names, not all of them “conservative.” And yet—is there anything more conservative than loving one’s leader? To adore authority is quite patently to forfeit one’s claim to all things bold, inventive, independent and brave; and to submit, quite docilely, to the seductions of a Stockholm syndrome. A certain timidity of spirit and a willingness to be tamed attend such devotional deference, which is after all the soil of dogma and wellspring of orthodoxy.
It helps little that the Liberal legion behind our Barry prances as the party of youth, of non-conformity, of free thinkers, free spirits and the “fiercely individual.” Their rhetoric—fixed forever on my Facebook feed; spewed by the mouthful from media and celebrity—is nauseatingly “edgy” and smug. And yet I felt a familiar strangeness when I saw someone so irreverent and radical, so singularly individual, as David Lynch step grovelling in line to support the soporific vision of “shared responsibility” and gregarious “public spirit.” (It is an irony weirdly “appropriate” for Lynch.)
To the congenitally collectivist, that spirit seems seductive, if not self-evident. But to those of us weary and wary of groupthink, it is the creed par excellence of all that is vulgar, commonplace, mawkish, softhearted, servile, suffocatingly sensitive, pathologically altruistic, paternalistic, pitying, pandering and pitiful. It is a litany for a generation of wholesome, obedient bores.