Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Obama, Joker, Capitalism, Schizophrenia

with 2 comments

From one of my first published pieces as an academic, a slightly strange bit of cultural criticism called “Person of the Year: Obama, Joker, Capitalism, Schizophrenia,” originally written for the Yale “Politics of Superheroes” Conference in 2009 and unexpectedly available in its entirety here:

That CHANGE is a highly adaptive buzzword meaning nothing and everything briefly fed the fantasy that 52% of the country now agreed on some soon-to-be-enacted radical program of change—but now we know better. This is to say that Obama achieved the presidency through a largely content-free, Joker-like demand that the applecart be overturned and the flows of our own military-industrial-mafia-corruption complex be disrupted, and that this demand has, paradoxically, catapulted him to a Batman-like office where his job is to preserve, not disrupt, capital’s flows.

I’ve been thinking a bit about that piece tonight, particularly the way it ends with a quiet echo of Obama’s own once-frequent calls for his supporters to “hold my feet to the fire”:

It is not surprising that Obama’s sky-high approval numbers have sharply dipped since his inauguration; it is Obama himself who has returned to Earth as his ambition, his taste for CHANGE, has been tempered by the duties of the office he now holds. There is only one way for Obama to retain his vitality and his creative energy as a political actor—to remain in his own way, if you’ll forgive me, Batmanesque. He must let himself dance with the Joker, pushing on and being pushed by the limits of CHANGE. He cannot grow complacent; he will have to, in the Joker’s words, let a little chaos in. And to the extent that he cannot, to the extent that any person in his position will necessarily become the champion not of change but of continuity, it will be up to those who supported him—those who are psychologically invested in Obama’s success but who at the same time want to see the flows at last disrupted and the old codes finally overturned, who want in the end CHANGE (whatever that means)—to reassert their impossible demand for a Utopian break from history, to push the limits, to resist the schemers, to Jokerize themselves in opposition.

So, then, let’s Jokerize…

2 Responses

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  1. The Democrats are Socialists. Why don’t they just come out and say it.

    Dave Smith

    September 7, 2011 at 1:04 am


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