Monday, August 10, 2009

Casting Call

Arthur Bremer's near-lethal performance on George Wallace, May 15, 1972.

The George Wallace mask was scrunched by video tapes in the box, but a quick airing out and it was ready to wear.

I bought this thing ages ago -- back when I was into political theater, a la Reagan For Shah and Ladies Against Women (Devo's use of masks played a part as well). My bit was to don the plastic Dixiecrat face at rallies while waving placards bearing incongruous messages. It was an early, raw attempt to satirize meaningless political labels in an increasingly corporate world. By then, Wallace had renounced his segregationist views, so the mask didn't have the punch it might've had in 1968. But his racist legacy lingered, and other people, primarily Black, didn't see the humor in a young white boy pretending to be Wallace. So I ditched the masked routine.

I slipped the mask over my head and checked the mirror. Memories of more vibrant days swam over me. I toyed with the idea of giving Wallace a spin in public, say in a nearby rural town where white resentment is open and deep, but several thoughts stopped me. One, there are laws prohibiting masks in public. Two, I'm too fucking old for something so ridiculous, which doesn't stop me on other fronts (check my YouTube vids), but this is truly out there. And three, I seriously doubt that anyone even knows who George Wallace was, much less his original political brand. My old Bircher bosses remember, but they told me that Wallace sold out to the commies long before he died, so the hell with him.

It seems that only the craziest wings of American reaction maintain some kind of political memory, however fractured and bizarre. I've been thinking of the Birchers while watching the Birther bullshit and right-wing meltdowns at what supposedly pass for town hall meetings. I haven't spoken to them in over a year, yet I'm certain that they are in the thick of this insanity. It touches on many of their key manias. It's probably their best bet to grab a sliver of pseudo-mainstream attention, and being Americans, that's what it's all about.

This wave of so-called populist tumult against Obama's "socialism" merely strengthens the status quo. Right-wing money and media help fuel this charade from below, but there are plenty of willing actors eager to play their roles. What alternative do they have, given their utter lack of political power? Meanwhile, liberals continue to moan about Obama's performance, with Frank Rich asking "Is Obama Punking Us?" Actually, liberals are punking themselves, and have been since last summer. Obama is performing his systemic function, as advertised. Everything else is projection and belated ass-covering.

You don't need a plastic mask to show a false face. Simply choose your character, learn your lines, and get into the mix. What -- you got something better to do?

BUT SERIOUSLY: Friend Louis Proyect takes a Marxian view of town hall theatrics.