-Kathy Acker, Empire of the Senseless
Could there be a better definition of a non-coincidence than the recent convergence of NewSouths Books's plan to release a "non-offensive" edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the media self-flagellation resulting from the Arizona shooting spree?
As we all know, not unlike Tom Sawyer's Aunt Polly, NewSouth Books plans to sanitize Huck, removing all usage of the n-word from the text. Because, you know, that makes the text totally tolerant of racial difference. Like Tom, you can let black dudes linger in jail cells and otherwise use them for your own entertainment as long as you don't call them the n-word. Hey, come to think of it, isn't that precisely what we do now in our post-racial America?
|Jim pleads with Huck to not use the n-word|
On the heels of this soaping of Twain's mouth, Jared Lee Loughner went on a shooting spree in a supermarket parking lot in Tuscan where U.S. Representative, Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with her constituency. Loughner wounded fourteen people, killed six and became something of a political hot potato being thrown back and fourth between liberal and conservative pundits. As liberals would have it, Loughner was a product of the "violent" political rhetoric being propagated by right wing windbags such as Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party. Always the voice of self-righteous indignation, that shameless simulacra of Edward R. Murrow, Keith Olbermann led the offensive against being offensive:
The right wingers promptly responded by accusing liberals of "politicizing" the shooting, and in the midst of the ensuing dogfight - you know, the usual one that passes for "political" debate - Giffords became one of those blonde, white, female martyrs, beloved by American popular culture.
So what do these two (non)events have in common? In both cases, a story of structural and bodily violence enacted upon people of color is overshadowed by a story about mostly-white people saying and doing violent things to each other. In the case of Huck, the extensive and often quite casual violence enacted upon the character of Jim, not to mention his stereotypical characterization as such, is completely overshadowed by a single word and by concerns over offending readers. NewSouth censored the book not because of a concern over racism but because they wanted the precious canonical text to be read in schools. So the real victim in need of saving isn't Jim or any other black subject, fictional or otherwise. To the contrary, the real victim in need of saving is apparently Twain! Our precious white male canonical author, god save him from himself!
In the case of the Arizona shooting and the media (non)event that it has become, the structural and bodily violence enacted upon undocumented workers daily in Arizona becomes overshadowed by the melodramatic narrative of Giffords, the white woman in peril. The fact is, each month hundreds of undocumented workers are murdered, either directly or indirectly, while attempting to cross the US/Mexico border, and groups like No More Deaths have been told that is illegal to leave water in the desert for these workers due to littering laws! But, it would seem that some bodies (i.e. the white blonde ones) are visible while others (un-papered brown ones) are not. The media's self-condemnation regarding an isolated killing spree continues to efface a perpetual, State-sanctioned killing spree. In related news, playing Call of Duty 4 has been proven to turn kids into terrorists:
That liberals would lead this movement for censorship is nothing new. Throughout the 80s, Tipper Gore waged war against heavy metal and any manner of popular music that supposedly turned teens into satanic perverts. What strikes me as particularly ironic in the present case is that some of the same liberals who are now ever-so-gleeful to deride Sarah Palin's use of crosshairs are the same liberals who jumped for joy when Robert Rodriguez used his trailer for Machete to comment on Arizona's SB1017:
I think it's fairly obvious that this brilliant movie trailer uses violence in order to make a political statement. Indeed, the entirety of the film, which I'd suggest is Rodrigeuz's masterpiece, deploys hyper-violent imagery to comment upon the subjugation of undocumented workers.
This hysteria over "media violence" and the "n-word" is a sort of PTA brand of pseudo-politics which amounts to nothing more than bourgeois navel gazing. Political discourse has always been, is, and will always be violent, and bully for it. We should not cede violent rhetoric to liberal narcissists who would censor it anymore than we should cede violent rhetoric to right wing juggalos like Limbaugh and Palin because no substantial political change has ever been properly non-violent. And, Gandhi and King are not exceptions to this rule. As Zizek suggests, sometimes the most violent thing one can do is to do nothing apparently violent. In this sense, the "non-violence" practiced by King and Gandhi was indeed quite violent insofar as it struck at the heart of the State.
We should read Huckleberry Finn and watch Machete in their original racist and gut-splattered forms because these texts develop complicated arguments about the intersection of race, racism, nation and violence, and if that means letting Palin have her crosshairs, so be it. The real insidious motherfuckers here, aside from the obvious right wing Juggalos, are the Olbermanns of the mainstream media who reduce the political to some wishy-washy brand of rhetorical etiquette. Beware of any instance where the media decides that what they have to say about the world is more important than the world itself. You can be sure that this is also an instance of the West insinuating its own cultural supremacy.