Note: This is NOT an academic book review. Rather, this is me spending a few moments talking about a book that captured my popular attention … because that is what we study, right?
If you remember back to November and the election, the PDP team (in February) took some time to discuss how we were managing/making sense of/working through the election of FortyFive (once he earns my respect and demonstrates the ideals of the office, he gets to have a name). As you read, I dive in head first into things. I want to know what is happening and how we can make real change happen, starting at the personal and leading to the global.
About a month ago, I was listening to “On Point” on NPR (because, that is what all of us pinko liberal Marxist radicals do, right?) and Van Jones was being interviewed regarding his new book, Beyond the Messy Truth. In case you do not remember, Van Jones said this on CNN on election night:
The arguments he presented us with that night have stuck with me, and I have been looking for the next step, so when I heard about his book – I ordered it. I did not know what to expect. I actually did not know much about him at all. However, once I started reading it, I could not put it down. Here is why: he is calling everyone out!
Beyond the Messy Truth is his attempt, now a year after the election, to say “Stop screaming and start working!” In the book, he does a pretty damning “autopsy” of both the RNC and DNC, of liberals and conservatives, of independents, of Bernie-Backers, of Trump believers, of Clinton followers – everyone. What Jones does here is yell “a pox on all of OUR houses” and then asks how we are going to clean it up.
I find his most powerful discussions are in the chapters in which he writes about both parties and how they both failed. His discussion of why people voted for FortyFive, the interviews Jones conducted, the descriptions offered of the forgotten working class (which, let’s be honest, both the RNC and DNC establishments paid next-to-no attention to them), and the curtains he pulled back for me were exactly what I needed.
So – why talk about this book here? On Profs Do Pop? This written work is not from a pop culture scholar, or a Comm scholar, or a Sociology scholar. Nope – this one is from a lawyer, activist, and political insider. The answer to why for me is simple. Ask yourself this question: What are the underlying fears that you carry every day? Do you cringe whenever you see FortyFive or Sarah Huckabee Sanders or any of the minions on screen, blatantly lying about what they said possibly just a few hours ago? Do you fear for what could happen to you, to your partner, to your friends, if someone does not agree with them? Have you cut out those people who think differently than you rather than have meaningful dialogue with them?
If you have answered “yes” to any of these, then that is why. Our popular zeitgeist is now overrun with this subject. When Stuart Hall began studying culture, and when you talk to Larry Grossberg about what is important to understand, the common argument is often framed in this paraphrasing from Hall – “We don’t need another analysis of Fight Club (or insert your movie/song/game/artist/title of choice here).
This book got me back to the roots – Race, Class, Gender, Power, and the discourses that interweave them and are signified by them. Our current political realities ARE our popular culture right now. Do we need to understand the texts and artifacts that we construct? Absolutely. Do we need to see what those texts point towards and the discourses they signify through our lenses? Yep, we do, AND we need to look at the other thing head on, not just in our complaining and bitching, but through our lenses – and start figuring out how to get through this (hopefully dismantling it along the way).