SOHRAB AHMARI: The Political Economy of Dystopia. “What if dystopia is already here? What if our territory already conforms to maps drawn long ago by science-fiction authors? Could it be that we have crossed the invisible frontier that divides an ordinary place, an ordinary topos, from a dystopian realm?”
To tie all this together: It seems to me that we are living in a kind of Eden-Olympia writ large. Or rather, we are in a stage of transition—a shift between, on one hand, a vestigial world of still-embodied communities inhabited by political animals with historical memories and, on the other, the nightmarish utopia of Eden-Olympia (note that the name is both biblical and classical, suggesting a religious-mythic utopia, or non-place, which, when established in the real world is, of course, a dystopia). The paroxysms that so worry us—woke-ism, cancel culture, gender ideology, etc.—are symptoms of this historical passage.
The neoliberal class, the globalist class, the managerial class—whatever you wish to call it—is subjecting us to a kind of ratissage, raking us over to create a world that will serve its material interests even better than the semi-normality that prevailed just a few years ago.
Hence, for example, the bodily obsession and social distancing: the dream of a world without grime, without the scent and sweat and germs of other human beings—an aspiration as much for Eden-Olympia’s executives [from novelist J.G. Ballard’s Super-Cannes] as for our ruling class.
The laptop class generates value by manipulating information on screens, and it looks with bewilderment and contempt at two classes it sees as vestigial: small property holders and what I have called tangible workers. What to do with them? Ideally, all that kind of labor and value generation would be automated, relegated to drones, online retailers, and so on. But the intangibles class, or the laptop class, still needs tangible labor: Silicon Valley, as the author Michael Lind has pointed out, can’t do all it does without massive storage and power-generation facilities spread across the heartland of the United States and maintained by the working class, by tangible labor.
Eden-Olympia needs farmers and restaurants and high-end escorts and private security. Now enter Covid-19: a real crisis, but also what a tremendous opportunity to squeeze the tangibles class, to discipline it, to transfer as much of its livelihood as possible to virtual realms controlled by the laptop class—an incredible opportunity for an upward transfer of wealth. And, of course, the added benefit of social distancing: literally enacting distance between people and classes, a separation symbolized by the medical hijab and the Plexiglas barrier. Why won’t they let the virus go? Why won’t they let us move on? Because class war is carried out in many ways.
Hence, too, the war against historical memory. The bringing about of Eden-Olympia demands ahistoricity. People who have historical memory have heroes, they have romantic ideals, they have authorities that guide their individual consciences, they have national pride. Family and community form the warp and weft of their characters. People who don’t have such things make the perfect corporate subjects, be they the ones who occupy the commanding heights or the ones who toil on the peripheries.
Related: “Cheers Up, Liberals. You Have the America You Wanted,”Ross Douthat writes in the New York Times.
He’s sitting in a gently lit living room, wearing a blue, button-down shirt, a pullover sweater, and a small smile. The pitch of his voice is soft; the words are reflective, self-critical.
“They saw your greatest strength is your greatest weakness,” he begins. “I’m living proof of that. I can rub people the wrong way…or talk when I should listen, I own that.” He then explains that he’s fought for a longer school day, tougher gun laws, and a higher minimum wage, before concluding “I may not always get it right; but when it comes to fighting for Chicago, and Chicago’s future—no one’s going to fight harder.” (You can see the whole ad here. - The words are coming from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel)
REVIEW: The Many Saints of Newark.
In The Many Saints of Newark, we see the mob boss on whom Tony modeled himself—his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti (“many saints”)—behave in much the same fashion. But for some odd reason, the movie’s creative team—Chase, his cowriter Lawrence Konner, and director Alan Taylor—seem to want us to excuse Dickie’s behavior. Dickie stumbles into his evil and is torn up about it, as though that makes a difference. What’s more, they cast Alessandro Nivola in the part, and while Nivola is a fine actor, he comes across as a matinee idol who wandered in from another kind of picture entirely.
Everything that’s good about The Many Saints of Newark has little to do with the story, plot, or themes. It looks like a million bucks. The set design, costumes, and rendering of late-1960s/early-1970s New Jersey are all sumptuous and seductive. Many Saints is a beautiful thing to look at, which is something The Sopranos never was—it was far too exact about the sociological details of the dull suburban lives Tony and his confrères were living to glamorize or beautify them. The Many Saints of Newark makes you wish you could live in Newark for a while, which, trust me, you didn’t even then.
One of John Lindsay’s reelection commercials in 1969 was basically, “Sure, I really screwed up, but vote for me anyhow — at least I didn’t transform the Fun City into Newark!”