Who would have thought that spindoctorjimbo would ever write about Miley Cyrus? While she served as something like a role model for my daughter—presumptions of privilege and wealth, libertine lifestyle, flashy au courant style—her imprimatur has remained ‘outside the contemplative box’ for the likes of this humble correspondent(THC). Still, Cyrus’ recent work, “Liberty Walk,” and commentary on it, command a reply from the spindoctor’s pen, as it were.
Certainly, this brouhaha contains interesting economic underpinnings and impacts. Equally so, the political meaning of the piece and its interpretation are noteworthy. Finally, the social implications of the situation are especially interesting. Although these three categories are actually inseparable, a brief examination that uses this economic-political-social rubric gives THC a chance to say his piece.
The overarching economic fact of the last forty years, more or less, has been that capital’s leadership has failed to deliver on its promises for most inhabitants of the planet. This is to say that more and more marginalization of working people has occurred, while the so-called middle-class section of the laboring masses has found its toehold on decent living conditions increasingly tenuous.
This economic quagmire has manifested in a variety of fascinating and important ways. A few of these follow here:
- Only through the repeated expansion and monetization of credit have economic leaders averted total meltdown, and even this persistent reliance on a ‘bubble system’ appears now to be breaking down.
- While every civilian productive sector has confronted glut after glut, each sector—agriculture, energy, textiles, metals, everything—has also created massive productivity gains that could readily serve community purposes instead of existing exclusively for profit.
- This contradiction has necessitated, on the one hand, an ever-growing reliance on militarized spending, including the massive expansion of the ‘Prison-Industrial-Complex’ via the ‘War-on-Drugs,’ the ‘War-on-Sex,’ etc., and, on the other hand, a burgeoning focus on fetishized commodification, ranging from plastic surgery and Viagra to tanning beds and hyper-inbred pets, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
- Objectively, Ms. Cyrus’ slickly produced and fetchingly packaged music extravaganza fits into this second category of the ‘functioning’ economy of capitalism now.
This précis of the contemporary moment, though condensed and capable of plenty of amplification, allows an observer to ponder an aspect of Miley’s most recent effort to ‘build her brand.’
Meanwhile, the central political fact of the present period—again, the last four decades or so—has been a dismantling of ‘liberalism’ as constituted in ‘safety nets’ and ‘New Deals’ and a concomitant surge in repressive, even fascistic, laws and approaches to politics. Inevitably, in inchoate ways here in Central North America and in more organized fashion in parts of the world less ‘liberated’ by the constraints of being the imperial center and the misled ‘bastion’ of ‘freedom and patriotism,’ resistance to this amped-up oppression has risen among the working folks for whom capitalism isn’t working very well anymore anyhow.
This subjugation to plutocracy has, as in the economic sphere above, shown-up in myriad ways of note and import. A few of these follow here:
- Even as ‘information’ has proliferated and become one of the current, purported ‘freedoms,’ actual access to data and knowledge has suffered severe diminution, at the same time that various whistleblowers—and ‘Wiki-Blowers’ have sought to counteract this trend toward both secrecy and fee-based exclusion from facts.
- Even as international political norms have become ubiquitous in all areas of politics, so that on the surface all and sundry are subject to the rule of law, in actuality, imperial crimes occur with increasing impunity—ranging from the mundane frauds of everyday life—three hundred dollar seat-belt tickets to make people ‘safer’—to the most murderous plunder—mass carnage in Fallujah that served both to open new territory for capital’s untrammeled sway and to cover up capital’s complicity in creating what it saw fit to destroy there.
- Even as the celebration of ‘the blessings of liberty’ have advanced on every front, political participation and the forms of democracy have become ever more tenuous, especially in the ‘belly-of-the-imperial-beast’ here in the United States; what with mass disfranchisement, purposeful political paralysis, and decreasing legitimacy of dissent, even the façade of majority rule is at risk.
- Even as any promise in the Bill of Rights takes center stage in all established mediation of power and justice, progressively more draconian suppression of real rights—from the negative capacity to avoid ‘unreasonable’ searches and seizures to the positive autonomy to speak and organize for a better world—continues to manifest itself; the Patriot Act is only an ongoing explication of this long standing and now seemingly intractable trend.
- Even as capital has, in these varied ways, arrogated ever-greater legitimacy to its hegemony, protest to this arrogant disregard for human rights and social potential has increased, especially in recent years, as the economy has spiraled downward.
- Non-assaultive political and economic responses of bourgeoisie rulers to such outbursts of discontent has operated in tandem: the packaging of radical-chic and the lionizing of ‘liberty’s guardians’—especially those in places like Cuba and China and Egypt—has always proceeded in both the marketplace and in every arena of power politics.
- Objectively, Miley Cyrus’s work operates both as real dissension and as an easily-packaged deflection and cooptation of discord; to an extent, her own coming of age has made resistance to the machinations of domination unavoidable, simultaneously as her ‘brand’ had to seek to commoditize and neutralize this nevertheless honest disagreement with the powers-that-be.
Politics, like economics, proffers onlookers with a lens for examining “Liberty Walk” and those who would deconstruct it.
Just as what Marcuse called ‘one-dimensionality’ has taken over economics and politics, so too compression and limitation have come to characterize the social realm. This process is all-the-more astounding in its delicious contradictions and luscious paradoxes.
- Thus maximum ‘diversity,’ ‘identity,’ and pluralistic mores coexist with straitjacketed uniformity and lack of individual capacitation.
- Entirely new, ‘revolutionary’ developments of community have led to diminished social contact and collectivity.
- Maximization of conformity has accompanied the most profound ‘desublimation’ of inhibition in every area of existence.
- At once, surreality passes for reality and alienation passes for compassion and empathy.
- Aggressive attacks on ‘depression’ and unhappiness yield the highest degree of cynicism and fatalism ever.
Wherever one looks, the processes of emiseration call forth countervailing tendencies, toward human fulfillment and the realization of the potential that exists in the combination of social labor and technique. Yet, still, those in charge seek ways to subvert and divert these outpourings of social desire for justice and democracy.
Once again, Miley Cyrus straddles both of these tendencies. Hers are liberating tropes at the very same instant that they represent marketing fetishes and misleading triviality.
One cannot watch “Liberty Walk” without seeing the deepest challenge to capital’s sway. Nevertheless, by itself, the effort therein is completely inadequate, since lacking a combination of dialogic capacity-building and conscious action-against-oppression, the song and its performance represent primarily another Walmart ledger entry, a further rationale for an i-Pod existence that lacks any creative or liberating outlet in the realm of the real.