Tag Archives: capitalism

2017-When Powerful Predators Pay the Price

HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” opened its 2017 season on an interesting note. While the popular Emmy-winning news comedy show has never shied away from delivering scathing political commentary, its first main piece of the year was about how the newly-installed Commander-in-Chief, Donald J. Trump, is a dangerous machine of lies.  It’s a hefty and bold accusation for an entertainment show to make, even when you consider “Last Week Tonight” has affected some actual change (notably in net neutrality). Towards the end of the segment, Oliver pleaded with the media and the viewers to hold Trump and his team accountable for any misinformation they may spread and for the actions they commit. And if enough people push this position, real consequences might come.

Looking back, that segment almost feels like a foretelling of a theme of 2017: holding powerful men accountable for terrible deeds. Over the course of the past eleven months, we have seen many prominent and powerful men in many industries forced to face consequences for reportedly bad behavior — Travis Kalanick stepped down as UBER’s CEO, Harvey Weinstein was ousted from his film production company and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Warner Brothers studio has severed ties with director Brett Ratner, Fox News fired Bill O’Reilly, and just recently NPR’s Vice President of news and editorial director Michael Oreskes was placed on indefinite leave. All of these cases stem from one commonality: all the men ousted had been accused of sexual harassment and/or assault.

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Taylor Swift tries to silence Popfront with cease and desist letter

A few weeks ago, PopFront published a piece about Taylor Swift and her alt-right, white supremacist fans. The piece dove into a history of white supremacy and eugenics and how those ideologies have played a role in the political discourse of this country. It compared the lyrics of Swift’s song “Look What You Made Me Do” and the chants at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville Virginia.

The end of the piece offered the following call to action:

“And while pop musicians are not respected world leaders, they have a huge audience and their music often reflects their values. So, Taylor’s silence is not innocent, it is calculated. And if that is not true, she needs to state her beliefs out loud for the world- no matter what fan base she might lose because in America 2017 silence in the face of injustice means support for the oppressor.”

PopFront is far from the first outlet that has noticed the connection between Taylor Swift and the alt-right. Vice, Konbini, and Complex are just a few news outlets that have written about Swift and the alt-right. Swift has very vocal alt-right fans that make public statements about their fandom and assign their ideology to hers on social media. There have been many stories about this connection in the past 18 months and our piece was an attempt to continue the discussion, as well as call on Swift to denounce this hateful group. The rise of the alt-right must be examined critically. It is unsettling to see Americans openly expressing racism. Celebrities are not obligated to voice their political beliefs, but it is not a stretch to assume that Swift would want to issue a statement even if it could be controversial.

We could not have imagined this article would result in Swift’s lawyer sending us a cease and desist letter. Taylor Swift is no doubt loved around the world and has many millions of dollars to show for her success. She is in a position of privilege that most people will never experience. She is also probably aware of the different social movements and issues that rocked America in the past year. And while it is unnecessary to expect all celebrities to be political commentators, many of her peers with similar influence have lent their voices to these affairs. Swift’s silence on the alt-right is especially notable because her white supremacist fans have taken the time to politicize her image. Taylor has historically demonstrated a concerted interest in how she is perceived by the public, so it would be in her interest to make a statement denouncing these groups or at least against racism and bigotry in general.

But instead of publicly making such a statement or publicly addressing her critics for failing to do so, Swift chose to privately employ legal threats and demand PopFront’s criticism disappear.  In a threatening letter, Swift and her lawyer demanded the story be immediately removed. This tactic can set a dangerous precedent because it would mean any public figure could chill any criticism levied at them. At a time when the press is under constant attack from the highest branches of government, this cease and desist letter is far more insidious than Swift and her lawyer may understand. The press should not be bullied by legal action nor frightened into submission from covering any subject it chooses. Swift’s scare tactics may have worked in the past, but PopFront refuses to back down because we believe the First Amendment is more important than preserving a celebrity’s public image.

PopFront has sought the help of the ACLU to address the demands made by Swift and her lawyer. The cease and desist letter, the ACLU response, and the original article that sparked this action are here.

We will not be silenced.

PopFront is a small online publication created in 2013 to discuss critical social, cultural, and political issues. We regularly critique and analyze the media with opinion-based pieces. PopFront fundamentally cares about intellectual integrity, facts, and truth. And most importantly, every PopFront piece serves to elicit discussion and hopefully inspire action. We will continue to provide high-quality critical pieces touching on social and political issues and build a diverse platform for people of all races, sexualities, genders, or neuroclassifications.

Why the Rich Love Burning Man

The author discusses why Burning Man became a festival that rich libertarians love:

In principle the annual Burning Man festival sounds a bit like a socialist utopia: bring thousands of people to an empty desert to create an alternative society. Ban money and advertisements and make it a gift economy. Encourage members to bring the necessary ingredients of this new world with them, according to their ability.

So why do rich libertarians love it unironically? Perhaps because the way that the city is created charitably allows them to build the world that they desire, unimpeded by the pesky democratic process or the protestations of the proletariat; in other words, it provides a model for the sort of laissez-faire, top-down economy they want to live in: .

This is the dark heart of Burning Man, the reason that high-powered capitalists — and especially capitalist libertarians — love Burning Man so much. It heralds their ideal world: one where vague notions of participation replace real democracy, and the only form of taxation is self-imposed charity. Recall Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s op-ed, in the wake of the Obamacare announcement, in which he proposed a healthcare system reliant on “voluntary, tax-deductible donations.”

This is the dream of libertarians and the 1 percent, and it reifies itself at Burning Man — the lower caste of Burners who want to partake in the festival are dependent on the whims and fantasies of the wealthy to create Black Rock City.

Read the rest: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/burning-man-one-percent-silicon-valley-tech/

Also featured on Salon: https://www.salon.com/2015/08/27/why_the_rich_love_burning_man_partner/

Fictional Politics and Politicized Fictions: “House of Cards” and “Scandal”

Politicians debating

Since 2013, critics have been comparing and contrasting the hit shows House of Cards and Scandal. Both deal with the seedy, often immoral world of Washington politics, and the ambitions and passions of those playing the game. But aside from these surface similarities, critics have often dismissed them as radically different shows. House of Cards is a sleek, efficient portrayal of Democrat Frank Underwood’s rise to the presidency. Scandal tells the passionate, if trashy, tale of how Olivia Pope and a cabal of players made Republican Fitzgerald Grant president, and the fallout (both personal and political) of their machinations. With their differing tones, visual styles, and intended audiences, critics can often overlook what connects these two shows at their hearts: their fictional depictions of American liberalism in action.

Liberalism in the United States is difficult to define, but can be broadly summarized as service to the individual, encapsulated in America’s self-appointed nickname “Land of Opportunity.” Individuals in America have the opportunity to vote for their elected officials, to speak freely without fear of government censorship, to advance within the class system through education or hard work. The liberal narrative is Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches archetype retold: Frank Underwood can go from Gaffney, South Carolina to the White House, simply by being more clever and ruthless than those around him; Olivia Pope can become the most powerful woman in Washington by working twice as hard and being twice as good as her white contemporaries. The writers imply that America is a meritocracy, because if anyone else was as devious as Underwood, or worked as hard as Olivia, they would be in the same positions of power.

In both cases, the characters gain their social and political power through their actions, rather than the legacies left to them by their parents or the class boundaries inherent in capitalism. Frank Underwood’s father was an abusive alcoholic, but he overcame; Olivia’s mother died when she was young, and her father was manipulative and controlling, but she overcame. In overcoming, both characters choose success over morality. House of Card’s Frank Underwood knows that he can lead the United States better than Garrett Walker, the man he helped get elected, so he resorts to extreme measures and careful gambles throughout season two to ensure his place as Walker’s replacement. Scandal’s Olivia knows that Fitz is the man that America needs as president, so she rigs voting machines to ensure his place in the election. Continue reading

Fear of a Capitalist Planet

Martian Canals

A map of the so-called Martian canals, an optical illusion witnessed by astronomers in the late 19th century. Image courtesy NASA.

A Popfront contributor wrote how scientists and businessmen project our economic system onto the stars:

Have you ever seen an alien? Scientists haven’t, but that hasn’t stopped them from speculating that imperialist extraterrestrials could be on the way.

With the exception of one inconclusive blip in 1977, we haven’t detected signs of alien intelligence. Having scoured our solar system with probes and turned up empty, extraterrestrial (ET) signal searchers now survey the galaxy on the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, where photons can traverse interstellar distances and arrive on Earth unscathed.

The most prominent and well-funded organized effort to search radio bands is led by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, a private nonprofit foundation that borrows time on radio telescopes or scans the skies using their own arrays.

While the SETI Institute has been actively searching for forty years, there have been few attempts to send out focused radio signals of our own towards presumptive inhabited worlds. This poses a conundrum: why should humans expect aliens to send out focused “hello” signals of their own, if we do not do it ourselves? This idea, that we should send out messages in addition to listen for them, is known as “Active SETI.” Continue reading

Finding Fandom

OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE A’s

When it comes to sports, calling me a fair-weather fan would probably be… well, fair. At the last Super Bowl party I attended, I announced my intent to leave after the next inning, to the chagrin of everyone around me. I was swiftly corrected, my colleagues seemingly less concerned over my departure than my attempt to count the innings in football. I’d thought it was simple: there were four. Continue reading

The Salesperson’s Stories

Article Illustration 3With a wallet freshly fattened by my first commission check, I proudly marched into my place of employ for the first time not as a salesperson, but as a customer. My feet springing on the buoyant surface of the socioeconomic level to which I had ascended, I readied myself to at last engage in the ritual to which my newly heightened stature earned exclusive participatory rights. In so many words, I prepared myself to make a purchase. But this wasn’t just any purchase. For I wouldn’t return to the grand threshold of Barneys New York with eggs or bread, pots or pans, socks or underwear. My purpose at this moment was singular in its irreverent flouting of necessity for the sake of paying worship to its opposite. Luxury, a quality that I saw living and breathing in the seams of that Fall 2010 Balenciaga dress. A design roused from the house’s storied archives, it was classic, it was modern, it was fabulous. It was most definitely worth $1,395.

The concept of such an object’s value, ensconced as it is within the artificial structures of  production and consumption that gird the tenuous constructs of the capitalist economy, is necessarily divorced from the reality of its utility.  Rather, the value assigned stems from a collective illusion, internally generated and externally sustained, of the worth of that object’s possession.  Such worth is illusory because the desire to own an object is preceded by the desire to acquire the object.  In other words, the desire to have obscures the more pressing desire to shop. Continue reading