Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I remember the year 2006 as one of deep estrangement from my species. This may be due in some part to my individual purchase of the very first Xbox gaming console. But, I’d like to blame Society as well. I am confident that a toughening of the neoliberal consensus had produced alienation in plenty of others. If it had not, then we are without means to explain two mass aberrations. In the West of 2006, it had become acceptable to a) wear a velour tracksuit almost anywhere b) admire unremarkable persons for no good reason.

I was led one winter afternoon to walk through an Australian city centre. There, in this velour year, I found myself lost in a plush crowd of people shouting, “Hoff! Hoff! Hoff!” I was not so divided from my fellows that I did not ask another, “Is this a rally for tracksuit fascists?” It was not. A mob had gathered to greet visiting celebrity David Hasselhoff and support his mission to top the download charts with a reissue of a song ‘Looking For Freedom’.

The song is objectively awful. Its meaning and rhythms can resonate with no human, save for David Hasselhoff who recorded it during a pause in his celebrity. This is the sound of a man recently sacked from Knight Rider, yet to find a home in Baywatch, and if anyone tells you that they like it or find it truly freeing, you can be sure that they are lying. The appeal of this song is as the appeal of its performer: absent. Like the velour tracksuit, Hasselhoff had no form of any sort. He was a one-size-fits-most elasticised waistband of a man made for a year in which everything, including the development of musical taste, was uncomfortable.

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I have given serious thought to this “Hoff” afternoon three times. First, immediately after I’d escaped it. I returned home and read Susan Sontag’s famous essay about the appeal of camp. I just wanted to check that there was no joke I had failed to get and that large numbers of people had come to “Hoff” worship not through a sense of shared mockery, but because there was nothing less dangerous to do.

I thought about it again when Angela Nagle released her marvellous account of the US alt-right last year. Kill All Normies is a work that describes the blank consciousness of the fascist without condescension or sentiment. I did not understand all the Pepe the Frog gags or why persons found it funny to post, “Yeah. I am literally Hitler” on social media until I read this book.

The popularity of figures like Milo Yiannopoulos is better understood in the terms of the Hoff. The lure is their absence of meaning. A Milo or a Hoff is an absolute deterrent to meaning; you never have to explain your fondness because there is nothing to explain. It is a meaningless rebellion against meaning. It can’t be much else in a time where the declaration that one is “literally Hitler” means nothing at all.

“The Hoff” came to mind again last week when I passed by my local cinema and saw a large group of white women approaching midlife waiting for a session of RBG. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a mildly liberal US Supreme Court Justice, comes to be celebrated by the Australian late millennial feminist, I must understand this in the terms of the Hoff and velour.

This knowledge class group of youngish women claim to be angry and rebellious. Yet, the role models they frequently choose for their inspiration are of the Justice Ginsburg type. Like Hillary Clinton, Julia Gillard, Christine Lagarde or Gillian Triggs, Ginsburg is “qualified”. She is committed to a failed program of liberal reform. Her professional life has been spent in the service of judicial review which — as any angry rebel girl will tell you — has failed to deliver the progress it promised to women.

The love of the technocrat, the mild progressive, the NGO-figure or the large liberal institution might seem rational. But, it truly makes about as much sense as the love of the Hoff. That “progressives” of all sorts are not only uncritical but ardent supporters of a neoliberal-era regulator like the EU is curious. You don’t have to look at the troika for very long before you see that a single monetary policy imposed on various economies was bound to end in inequality. Still. The RGB-type love their bankers, their legislators and any commitment to any old institution, save for that one with no office — the patriarchy.

This week, the ABC website informs us that documentary subject Ginsburg is often referred to — lol — as “The Notorious RBG”. This, also the title of a Ginsburg hagiography printed some years ago, is a name taken from the slain 1990s East Coast rapper, The Notorious B.I.G. The ABC and its audience of uncritical liberal feminists find this very amusing.

I find it a bit crass, personally. I am not much in the business of “calling out” cultural appropriation as I find that when one starts on about the theft and upcycling of certain artefacts and practices, someone always mentions Lionel Shriver, and I would rather stab my self in the neck with a fork than talk about that tiresome topic again. Still. It does seem naff when a white knowledge class swipes the name of a dead black man without a by-your-leave.

We can conceal our own lack of rebellion from ourselves by adopting the techniques of the rebel. We inject ourselves with the blood of the underclass most failed by the liberal institutions we support by naming ourselves from their dead. We are not good, white lady prefects but dangerous black men! We are literally rappers. Or, literally Hitler. I’m not sure which. Whatever the case, we are not Looking for Freedom. Instead, we are looking to mask our inertia.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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