Tag Archives: politics

All in the name of entertainment

There is rarely any news. We are instead entertained, easily, by the lives of celebrities, sporting events, restaurant reviews, by introspective novels about our internal lives, our true selves. And we are never shocked, either in form or content by the information we do receive. Our entertainments never transgress our expectations. When our entertainments are called shocking, it is only by intensifying our expectation: sport becomes more violent, boxing gives way to cage fighting. Life in San Francisco, a friend told me, was under a decree: “You can’t have a meal; it has to be a feast. You can’t have a good time; it has to be a blast!”

We accept this of sport and soap operas, but we all know that it is serious topics that perform as entertainment, too. The television news is like this: explosions, shootings – an evening’s drama. As a child, I remember my uncle telling me about the coverage of the first Iraq war, We all watched those planes dropping bombs onto buildings, and I thought, ‘”Those are apartment buildings, people live there.'” All of this in support of toothpaste commercials and that new Fiat (I’m told there’s a dealership in Berkeley now).
Guy Debord’s book, Society of the Spectacle, defines spectacle in one sense as the convergence of real power and representations of power. When the military in their uniforms flank the sidelines, and fighter jets fly overhead, and millionaire minstrels perform the only work that a racist nation feels black men are fit for, with ads on the field for Lockheed-Martin, all to pour narcotic and numbing entertainment into the empty vessel called the American sports fan who stares into their television and occasionally applauds what they see on the box – a little Nuremberg rally in your own house every Sunday – we have a haunting image of American life and power in 2014.
(If that sounds strident, let me confess that it gives me pleasure when the University of Michigan defeats Notre Dame. I, too, contain multitudes, and we all like, Whitman, must be allowed our hypocrisy.) 

This is the media I grew up with, which exist as pure enjoyment, unchallenging, whose truths are self-contained, a fantasy world you enter into, in which that good grows and evil withers, that does not tell you anything about yourself that you do not already know.  And more, we select media because we know that it will not challenge us.
Roland Barthes called these media entertainments, “readerly” texts, those that confirm our prejudices and embody our desires. But he described a second category, the “writerly” text, one that can be transgressive and truly shocking, that can attack our beliefs and make us uncomfortable, that can rend the fabric of our settled and self-satisfied perceptions of reality and through this opening allow us to attain new truths and understanding.  This goal is the inspiration of great art, but we don’t like it, because it makes us uncomfortable and interrupts our gluttonous self-amusement.

Well, people are sometimes aware of this, and it causes them to be ashamed of themselves, their indolent minds and lack of moral courage. So we have invented new forms of entertainment that will deal with this dilemma. In the crisis of conscience caused by this era of destruction, we are soothed by the appearance of counterfeit “writerly” content, for instance, the provocations of contemporary art: sharks in embalming fluid, the photographs of Robert Maplethorpe, etc.  The late Robert Hughes called these, “…not a critique of decadence, they are merely decadent.”

Non-news takes a subtler form in the medium of radio, in particular, NPR.  The hosts on National Public Radio not only play to the desire of the audience to be amused, they are, in essence, the internal thoughts of the listener. It isn’t a man or woman talking to you; they are you, the voice of your internal monolog through the speakers in your car. In this way, reports about Iraq give way naturally to discussions of the complications of providing your dog or cat with health insurance, or an elk in Yosemite that has its own blog. Terri Gross listens to guests for you and asks inane distracted questions on your behalf as you drive along half-aware.  To some aging protest singer she will yawn, “I mean, um, for you, was that like a good thing or a bad thing?”
News is something you need to react to. It tells us something is wrong. Sadly, we have become convinced we can’t change the world. In a sense, we don’t have news anymore, on TV or in print, because “news” implies that you can do something to respond. And we feel the terrible events that happen all around us every day are all beyond our control. News channels and papers only present stories that, when not meant merely to depress our will to act or inflame our emotions, function as Party propaganda. Each crisis is held in a narrative that heavy implies that a resolution of any problem can only be achieved by the viewer’s loyal support for either the Republican or Democratic Party.

There is another view of the news. I have observed men and women in West Marin who cannot conceive of their own death. They have lived for decades desperately pressing the supposed frontier of existence; the belief that self-expression and the worlds we create in our heads are the ultimate purpose of being, a world with no future beyond ourselves. This ecstatic narcissism defines our culture. Its cynicism knows no bounds. So as age leans upon our dull cold bodies, some of us are entranced by apocalypse, which offers a perverse satisfaction in its “news”. It assures us: It is not we who will die. It is the world that will end.


Big government- it’s not just the Lunnys!


It is encouraging to see in the Citizen the visceral reaction to the DBOC closure, and the “go take a flying leap” attitude towards the dish it out but can’t take it crowd that sided with the forces of bureaucratic tyranny and fraud dedicated to running the Lunnys and the DBOC out of business.

The most insightful comment came from Axel Nelson, who quoted his brother Lars-Erik as writing “The enemy isn’t conservatism. The enemy isn’t liberalism. The enemy is Bullshit”.

If the enemy really is bullshit, Axel Nelson might want to take his brothers words to heart, and revisit his negative assessment of SF Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll’s recent comparison of Kevin Lunny to the “ultra-right wing nutcase, Cliven Bundy”.

Carroll was actually on to something, but not in the way that most might imagine.

Any fair review of the heavy handed tactics of the government and its enablers regarding Cliven Bundy will show that Bundy, like Lunny was the victim of a wildly disproportionate response to a minor land use dispute.

Bundy was also the victim of a far more extensive media driven character assassination campaign than that brought against the Lunnys by environmentally extreme propaganda organizations.

What has happened to Cliven Bundy and the Lunnys are far from unique events.

Such heavy handed tactics have become the norm rather than the exception from a government entity that believes the people are there to serve it, rather than the other way around.

As another example of heavy-handed government tactics, lets consider when during last years government shutdown, the shock troops of Jon Jarvis’ National Park Service were deployed to close the nation’s most popular public recreation areas before any other truly wasteful, redundant or ineffective bureaucratic agency was affected.

And if that isn’t enough, there’s the recent revelations of the weaponization of the Internal Revenue Service against potential opponents of the permanent bureaucracy.

This comes on top of revelations that the National Security Agency carefully monitors virtually all electronic communications for any signs of dissent.

So in light of these events, and what has just transpired locally, maybe these ultra right wing nut cases aren’t so nutty after all?

At the same time, what has been revealed is something which should make more than a few locals uncomfortable.

Virtually none of the incidents mentioned above have sparked the kind of local outrage generated by the government’s treatment of the Lunnys.

How hypocritical is it to stand silent when government force is directed against law abiding citizens who might not march in lockstep with one’s political views, and then vilify those who sided with the government against the Lunnys?

Its time to take the lessons learned locally and apply them more broadly to the activities of a government leviathan and that is clearly out of control, and the authoritarians more than happy to bring its power to bear against any who dare to question their authority, no matter what political views they hold.

Ever the optimist, I remain steadfast in my belief that there is far more uniting than dividing us.

The greatest fear that the ruling class has is that a significant portion of the general population will find common cause against autocratic big government, and actually vote and work to dismantle it rather than return to power the self- serving elected and appointed officials that continue to feed the beast.

Remember, “The enemy isn’t conservatism. The enemy isn’t liberalism. The enemy is Bullshit”.

Paul Lesniak
Stinson Beach


Response to Paul Rampel’s comment:


You may want to re read my letter.


I made no mention of the liberal community of West Marin being silent on DBOC issues.


I was pointing out the selective outrage on display while unaccountable and corrupt government force is being routinely deployed all over the country by an agenda driven and punitive government class.


It is that very agenda driven corruption that had the NPS get the ball rolling in their crusade against the DBOC and the Lunnys.


Any legal decisions that followed in the wake of that demonstrably corrupt and tainted process are also corrupt and tainted by their very nature.


It is banana republic governance at its finest, and you, like far too many around here, seem to have no problem with it because your guys are the ones in the generalissimo’s uniform and sunglasses.


You ask, “Why make common cause with fools and racists?”


Because they are your law abiding fellow citizens having their lives, liberty and property taken away by unaccountable and agenda driven government force.


Defending the rights of those with whom you might disagree is the very essence of freedom and liberty.


Try wrapping your head around helping them instead of joining in, because, like the Lunnys, the next guy in the breach could be you.


Also, perhaps you can explain exactly what makes your productive, law abiding fellow citizen Cliven Bundy a fool and a racist.


Is it the fact that Bundy is a cowboy hat wearing, drawling, cattle ranching cracker who has spoken an inconvenient truth about the ghettoized, urban, black underclass?

Before West Marin was taken over by politically correct retired lawyers, university professors, and a few entitled and envious hipster doofuses, you’d run into guys like Bundy every day in Point Reyes Station.


When ANY mention of the social pathologies plaguing the black underclass is deemed as racist, then the word loses all meaning.


Accusations of racism are usually deployed as a weapon by those with nothing intelligent to say on the subject and little to no first hand experience in dealing with the grim reality of that segment of the population.


Speaking of making common cause with fools, I’ve been waiting for the boiling seas of climate change to wipe out my little slice of paradise since the first Earth Day.


But since I haven’t seen more than the usual number of ‘for sale’ signs along Sea Drift or Tomales Bay lately, and sales of coastal real estate continue to soar to new records, I’m guessing that those who might really have something to lose take such big-Government funded bullshit as seriously as it deserves.


Paul Lesniak