As we all know, there was a rally in Washington, DC on Saturday. It’s gotten tons of attention in the media and had some high profile guests, like The Roots, Jeff Tweedy, the Mythbusters and, of course, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Its aim is…well, nothing. Just to get together on the national mall, have some laughs, and get the Viacom-sponsored duo some attention. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But my previous enthusiasm for the rally and for the brave master satirists hosting it has been tempered lately. It seems not to be any kind of beneficial political activity, but, as Irregular Times put it, a promotion of “inactivism.”
The website Irregular Times has done a good job of writing about this over the past few days. Here are a few choice cuts:
“I can’t stop the war, shelter homeless, feed the poor
I can’t walk on water, I can’t save your sons and daughters
Well I can’t change the world to make things fair
The least that I can do is care.”
– Kid Rock, Rally to Restore Sanity
The hell you can’t:
who lives in one mansion in Malibu
another mansion in Michigan
and voted for John McCain
to keep his capital gains taxes lower
The man is filthy rich. Kid Rock can do a lot of the things he says he can’t do. He chooses not to. If we work together, we can stop the war, shelter homeless, feed the poor and change the world to make things fair. Will we choose to?
Unlike a genuine political rally, Jon Stewart’s Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear was full of corporate advertisements. People attending the rally were handed pre-made signs to show whether they stood with Sanity or with Fear… and on the back of every sign was an advertisement for Yahoo.
In another bit of advertising, free hand towels were handed out to people attending the rally, because… well, I have no idea why they were handed out. What do people attending a rally on the National Mall need with a hand towel? The hand towels featured the official logo of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, and the logo of Reese’s, which makes candies with chocolate that’s harvested by child slaves in Africa. The towel itself was manufactured not in the USA, but in India, where textiles factories have a long and consistent history of using child labor, paid pennies a day to work in dangerous sweatshop conditions, if the children are paid at all.
The most surreal moment came before the official start of the rally, when the TV screens were turned on and tuned in to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Huge crowds of people fell silent, and gazed up at the screens en masse.
Then, the crowds were shown old clips from the Daily Show and Colbert Report. The clips were from the shows in which Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced that they would hold a rally in the first place. Almost everyone in the crowds had already seen these clips, if not once, many times. Yet, they laughed.
The crowds laughed at jokes they had already heard about a rally that was being planned, but which they were actually attending in the present. The rally was a re-run even before it was over.
That’s when it hit me: These people had all come to Washington D.C., not to participate in any rally for anything, but just to watch television.
Even Jon Stewart’s big final speech that focused on the role of the media was incredibly frustrating. The lack of depth seen in the media is precisely because of control of corporate conglomerates like Viacom, which sponsored the rally. And instead of focusing on breaking up the big media companies or something like that, Stewart took a very superficial view of politics, calling only for “moderation,” which is an ambiguously beneficial quality in politics.
I know Stewart said that he wasn’t trying to insult people who are passionate and active in politics. But that is exactly what he did. He mocked us and he encouraged people to do anything else before they join our ranks. His rally – with a rallying cry of “I can’t change the world” – served only to justify servile passivity and guiltless obedience to the ruling order, one which nourishes itself through war profits, oil profits, and sadistic practices like state-sanctioned torture.
And I know it wasn’t supposed to be a political rally! But that’s beside the point that’s being made here. Over 200,000 people showed up for what was essentially a big concert. When I went to the nation’s capital in March to protest against the war, there were, at most, about 10,000 people there.
We have become a corporatized people, and that can perhaps be demonstrated by both this rally and the rally which preceded it. Glenn Beck’s disgusting perversion of Martin Luther King’s rally was indeed a corporate-sponsored event. Corporate donors are what fuels the Tea Party, not any kind of grassroots effort, which is mild at its strongest. The rally this Saturday, on the other hand, was more blatantly passive and corporate-sponsored.
This might sound ridiculous at first, but Stewart’s rally was, in a way, a kind of tea party of the Democratic Party (I would have said “American left” there, but the left is mostly outside of the Democrats and maybe too small to merit a role in Stewart’s rally). It was a timid gathering of misguided individuals who have legitimate anger toward the status quo (and of course not all of the attendees came because of politics), but are only reinforcing it through their actions.
Even our activism is corporatized these days. We’re raising money for candidates along with corporations or we’re attending corporate-sponsored rallies or we’re tempering our criticisms so we don’t offend the corporate-sponsored media or we’re buying products “for a cause.” We’ve been turned off, tuned out, and dropped into a culture of consumerism, and even our activism is now following.
So, yes, I was too busy to go to the rally on Saturday. I was spending a few hours working for a local Green Party candidate, making my voice heard, not content to merely laugh away the nation’s troubles.