Fourth floor of the Packard Place Building — which, at about 25 years of age, should have a heritage plaque on it, in this place — the alternative media centre is kicking into life. Open plan, brushed-concrete roof, airport carpet, row upon row of tables and folding chairs, banks of powerboards, bloggers in ones and twos, alternative news group staffs in clumps, the occasional MSM wonk hanging out because it’s more interesting. Beards, Miller shirts and dreads seem to be the order of the day, and the men are even worse. Kaching.
The Democracy Now people have taken control of a U-shaped bank of tables in the centre. About a dozen of them, nodding earnestly, taking notes furiously, a total skin-care expenditure of $1.19 between them, for the past decade. The redoubtable Amy Goodman holds court, small, energetic, dressed like a car park attendant, her hairdo older than any building within a three-mile radius.
PPL seems to stand for both the people, duh, and the building itself, which is some sort of techno/start-up/smart entrepreneurship/TED/oil-me-up cap’n hub-type thing. Sponsored by Netroots Nation, the bank of TV screens says, and run by some outfit known as Eventbrite. In Denver ’08, the equivalent thing was in an enormous tent, and there was a bar at the end. Here, there are schmick ring-binder folios, roaster coffee and vanilla-cream biscuits. I would bring my own Scotch in, but it’s Labor Day, and North Carolina’s state-owned liquor stores are closed for the holiday, in the land of the free. It’s a weird scene, old progressives and radicals, in a vaguely cultish hook-up.
Who are the PPL? Who are Eventbrite? One has the awful feeling that tracing chains of ownership back would reveal that the whole thing is a subsidiary of the American Drone Corporation, running the joint as their way of putting something back, and ready to take it out with a single hit if necessary. The process illustrated at the end of Network –– where the whole of the US was revealed as run by the Western World Financing Corporation, running a TV station showing Crazy Howard Beale and a reality show based around a Maoist sect.
The brand is now total, and even the opposition to it must be mediated through its mobilising abilities. The Huffington Post, which was a part of Netroots last time, has peeled off and created its own “oasis”, in partnership with a group called “Off The Mat and Into The World”, which encourages yoga aficionada to work for social change. You should see the place. It’s like being on the inside of Arianna Huffington’s head, all white leather and candles. The smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear are still here, but now they’re sandalwood scented. Doubtless the secret Republican equivalent had hookers wrestling in wading pools of raw beef, and thereby hangs a tale.
That’s not the whole of the left, of course. On the outskirts of town, a town that is all outskirts really, the Occupy camp has been virtually rained out by a severe storm, no hurricane Isaac, but a belter nevertheless. Yesterday’s protest march had about 1000 people; today’s Labor Day march had no more than 300, in the state with the lowest trade-union membership in the country. The “March on Wall Street South” group’s website lists no further events, though there’ll likely be a couple of surprise ones.
Nevertheless, it would be hard to believe anything other than that they’d be blown away by a storm, not a good omen for radical resistance. Mind you, it’s an ill wind that etc, as it appears to have foreshortened James Taylor’s appearance at a Carolina-centric festival in the main street today. He is, solo, whiter than the entire Republican Party, though vote-wise I suspect it’s the wrong type of white. I wish he’d get back on smack.
The weather may be stormy, but politics is in a lull, with the Republican convention now washing on the shoals of memory, and the DNC yet to start. President Obama is in Louisiana, where the city of New Orleans was spared another thrashing, but outer parishes, as they call them there, were under water, having not had the benefit of the post-Katrina levee reconstruction plan. Obama’s mere appearance there, standing in the sodden mud, is all the politics he will need out of that, counterposed with the infamous shot of Dubya staring gormlessly at his ghost reflection in the window of his own plane, as they flew over the stricken city in 2005.
Meanwhile, in the mediasphere, small skirmishes have broken out on all fronts. With the consensus being that Romney and the Republicans didn’t get a huge bounce out of the convention, and that Romney’s speech has left little lasting impression — dissipated by Clint Eastwood’s performance, which, for better or worse, one can remember moment by moment — the Democrats have now come out swinging, with pinch-hitter David Axelrod saying that it was a “failed performance”, and generally taunting the Right to defend itself against the charge.
The Right meanwhile has been piling on to the question “are you better off than you were four years ago?” — which the Democrats wobbled on for about half a day, and then, with Joe Biden, leading the charge, came out with a resounding “yes”: 4.5 million jobs created, the Health Care Act implemented, GM alive, bin Laden dead, etc.
But by far the most interesting sideshow was Paul Ryan’s marathon-record. The exoskeletal Ayn Randian discipline-freak is, of course, a marathon runner, and appearing on the right-wing Hugh Hewitt radio show some time back, was asked about his running times. Nowadays, it’s de rigueur for hardcore politician-marathoners, such as Sarah Palin, to do the race in four hours, a substantial achievement by an measure. But Ryan said he had done it in three. Indeed, he told Hewitt, he sometimes got into the two fifties.Which was a bit too impressive — 14 kilometres an hour, which would have put him close to the top 100 in the race in question (in Minnesota, in 1991). In fact he came near 2000th, out of 3200 runners. The idea that he would misremember a placing to put himself out by orders of magnitude is absurd, and serious runners began pointing it out in the media. In response the Ryan camp put out a typically bizarre statement from Ryan:
“The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin — who ran Boston last year — reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three.”
It was another example of the “truthiness” that has grown like topsy in the Republican camp, and that is starting to play havoc with their message. Whether it’s women’s magical self-shutting down bodies, car plants closed by Obama a month before he took office, or a self-promotion from average schlub marathoner to Howard Roarkesque hard-body demigod, the GOP’s scattershot process illustrates the point made by Karl Popper about dictatorships — that when you don’t have a truth process at work, you can’t reality-test the world, and develop a strategy in response to real facts. At that point you’re flying blind, liable to hit the side of a mountain you’ve declared wasn’t there, because it would have been older than Jesus”.
The Republicans, and the Right more generally, are now starting to reap the liabilities of such a process, which can be traced to one factor above all –climate-change scepticism/irrationalism/denialism, and the sacrifices of rationality one must make to invest in it. Once you throw that, anything’s possible, but certain things become less likely — like victory.
So that’s all it is today — media positioning, rained-out protest and a wetter-than-usual James Taylor. Where will true contestation come from, after the Tea Party, after Occupy? We won’t know until November 7th, and perhaps not even then. In the meantime, it’s the PPL launch party in a sports bar, where the flabby white ginger denizens of the blogging world will circle beneath the harsh neon like puffer fish in a tropical tank. Grab a free, shit, American beer, check the men’s tags for clout, the women’s hands for rings, party on, all under the loving care of Eventbrite.
Tomorrow, the work begins.