Fascist Kabuki

There is no question that most television is a waste of time. The people connected with it realize how bad programming is and go ahead with their shows as cynically as possible. Producers are turning out programs that literally make me sick. TV seems to re-infect itself each year, using the same approach to shows and making them worse each season.
— Richard Boone, Hanford Sentinel, 1960

…the intelligence empire’s efforts to manufacture the truth and mold public opinion are more vast and varied than ever before. One of its foremost assets? Hollywood.
— Nicholas Schou, The Atlantic, July 2016

Like Saddam’s WMD in 2002, the threat posed by the tightening credit of 2008 was made to seem infinite for being undefined, but this time the terrible menace just below the horizon was global, and the fabric of reality itself, now daily called “capitalism” in the world media heretofore shy of this term, was threatened with extinction: without any real reportage, newscasts disseminated narratemes from Hollywood disaster films presaging total obliteration of the familiar. Strife was promised in terrifying and titillating epic visions – of a period of riotous turbulence, of systems crashing and structures imploding, of reigning isms lying in ruin and our species’ hubris chastised, of hedonistic society abruptly repentant in the wake of cataclysm, of wastelands of Darwininan struggle, all lying just around an epochal bend – but first, with special vividness, of perilously inadequate economic plumbing, suggesting that if the “toxic assets” “clogging the system” were not cleared without delay, at any moment the world would be submerged in deep financial shit.
— Alphonse van Worden, The Protocols of the Learned Lacanian of Ljublitzia, June 2016

There is a huge amount of material on CIA involvement in Hollywood. This is not new, but it seems to have been compartmentalized by most Americans and shuttled off into the dark corners of their consciousness. Most people largely don’t want to know. And the reasons for this are complex. But before digging into that, it’s not only the CIA that shapes entertainment, it’s nearly all institutions of government and almost all corporations and media itself. Giant media conglomerates are in a sense hardly distinguishable from the CIA and Pentagon and State Department. Which is rather close to the classic definition of fascism.

The esteemed former University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky agrees. In Operation­Hollywood, Chemerinsky asserts that “the Supreme Court has said that above all, the First Amendment means that the government cannot participate in viewpoint discrimination.” It “cannot favor some speech due to its viewpoint and disfavor another because of its viewpoint.” Moreover, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his 1995 decision Rosenberger ­v.­The ­University ­of­ Virginia that the government must abstain from “regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker is the rationale for the restriction.
— Tricia Jenkins, The CIA in Hollywood, March 2016

And yet this is what happens constantly.

…they have become very good at persuading the public that a good movie is the one that opened strongest last weekend, even if the critics hated it. The media helps them do it, by reporting on box office figures without discussing the ways that those figures are manipulated. The media are part of the gravy train anyway, because of the ad campaign revenue.”
— Paul Brynes, Sydney Herald, 2014

Now, again, the cooperation of the CIA and Pentagon is well known. Two films that won Oscars for best picture (Argo and Hurt Locker) were essentially pure CIA and Pentagon propaganda. And this to not even get into stuff like Zero Dark Thirty. But what is more pernicious is how, in turn, all public narratives have taken on the quality of a Hollywood movie. And today this is evident in the way the Covid lockdowns are being depicted. Watch the opening episodes of any of the Dick Wolf TV franchises this new season: Chicago Med, FBI: Most Wanted, etc., and you see blatant unquestioning support for the government narrative (FBI agent advises daughter to not leave the house without her mask). This exactly meets the definition of propaganda. Dissenting views are completely absent. In Chicago Med the pandemic is depicted as if it were bubonic plague. Public discourse on the pandemic reflects TV’s treatment.

In fact, dissent is usually portrayed as dangerous and unpatriotic. The looming question is, then, why do so many people attack dissenters when they know (because the information has been around and available for thirty years) the government (and Hollywood) lie…they lie all the time. In fact, they ONLY lie.

Now, recent polls suggest that half of Americans reject the idea of more lockdowns. That’s a lot of people. Yet very few of those people speak up, or post opinions on social media. And this is an interesting phenomenon. There is an enormous fear of being called ‘conspiracy theorist’ or ‘anti vaxxer’ or ‘Covid truther’ etc. There is a tacit assault on the truth itself embedded in this stigmatizing. A pathologization of the search for truth. And this seems something that has arisen out of the culture of social media.

One understands that if the law says wear a mask or be fined, then people will wear the mask. But there is no law (yet) in expressing a dissenting opinion. And this lynch mob mentality has, predictably, attracted the most virulent xenophobic and racist memes and opinions possible. Of course, major social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are perilously close to outright censorship now. One is labeled dangerous if one questions the narrative on the pandemic. Simply pointing out that the fatality rate is extremely low despite all the lurid headlines is cause for censorship on Facebook. Stating facts has become, quite literally, dangerous.

But there is another layer involved in the shaping of opinion. And perhaps it is better to describe this as the shaping of consciousness itself. And this is because it’s really not just opinion, it’s something both more expansive and much deeper. One aspect is the now glaring infantilizing of the public. Here is n interesting side bar.

And one aspect of this childishness is the aforementioned compartmentalization. Many of these people attacking dissenters well know the government lies. Ask them about WMDs or Yellow Cake in Niger, or mobile chemical weapons labs, or even the guns to Contras and US trained death squads in Central America. They know they were lied to. And yet they desperately cling to official narrative regards Covid.

Deception can be coercive. When it succeeds, it can give power to the deceiver.
— Sissela Bok, Lying; Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, September 1999

The public has little interest in the Pentagon Papers, in John Podesta’s leaked emails, or in why Gary Webb was murdered. The official narratives regarding the break-up of Yugoslavia, or the coup in Honduras, or the killing of Gaddafi — the official narratives to any of these have been debunked years ago, and yet the lies persist and continue to shape opinion. When the U.S. helped with the fascist coup in Bolivia, the story was on the front page of most news outlets. When the socialist party was re-elected the story was seen, literally, nowhere. Most people think the coup was a popular victory for the people of Bolivia. Same with Hugo Chavez and the narrative in Venezuela. (see the debunking of liberal icon John Oliver here.)

Now, two things to note here. One is that much of the pandemic suspension of rights was possible because of the Patriot Act. And, two, the rabid anti-communism that runs through U.S. history and U.S. educational institutions has left a residue that clings with particular tenacity to the white liberal class. The most ardent virtue signalling is found among the affluent liberals of urban America. And these are people with great visibility and are also the target demographic for advertisers.

The clumsily-titled Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act, or USAPA) introduced a plethora of legislative changes which significantly increased the surveillance and investigative powers of law enforcement agencies in the United States. The Act did not, however, provide for the system of checks and balances that traditionally safeguards civil liberties in the face of such legislation. Legislative proposals in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were introduced less than a week after the attacks. { } One of the most striking features of the USA PATRIOT Act is the lack of debate surrounding its introduction.
— Epic.Org, Electronic Information Privacy Center, May 2015

There isn’t even the spirit any more that was in Vietnam, of skepticism, and the sense that the patriotic thing to do is to tell the American people the truth and to try to be impartial and not to be the cat’s paw of the government. But when I say this on TV the reaction is overwhelming; there is tremendous hostility to the free press in this country.
— John MacArthur, Harpers, Censorship and the War on Terrorism

The government has simply abandoned the idea of referendum, or really, it was never considered (which Neil Clark wrote about here.)

The same hostility to free speech is found regards actual democracy. Now, this is not a majority opinion, I don’t think, but like the lockdown polls my guess would be about half. So who makes up this half of the U.S. that is hostile to stuff like free speech or democratic procedures? Again, my guess is the educated white liberal class. These are the people who exhibited an outsize hatred of Trump to the extent that anything he said was going to be opposed and this includes the pandemic. These are the people who beatified Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Who refuse any criticism of Obama, and who love FBI directors if they were against the Donald. Why? I have no real answers except that in the age of screen culture the waves of opinion form quickly and migrate often and rarely can be rationally explained. Something in cyber culture (more acute due to the lockdowns) encourages simplistic narratives of good and evil. And in times of acute precarity there seems a default setting of ‘trust’ regarding state institutions. This also all falls under infantilism.

There are psychological aspects to this beyond just the inherent influence of screen culture. And this is a subject that does not lend itself to simplistic discourse.

We see that the object is being treated in the same way as our own ego, so that when we are in love a considerable amount of narcissistic libido overflows on the object. It is even obvious, in many forms of love choice, that the object serves as a substitute for some unattained ego ideal of our own. We love it on account of the perfections which we have striven to reach for our own ego, and which we should now like to procure in this roundabout way as a means of satisfying our narcissism.
— Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1921

Because there is no single Fuhrer figure in contemporary America, this libidinal attachment is diffused over a variety of figures. Why, for example, is Dr. Fauci so respected? Nothing in his dodgy career history explains this. Why are the countless dissenting doctors and respected researchers ignored? The only answer I have is that visibility on the screens of mass media amounts to a kind of Fuhrer stature. Like Max Headroom Fuhrers. There is an inherent authority in the close up, (Godard may have said that) and that is what TV and its extension to laptop and tablet screens achieves. The public is in thrall to figures of authority, even if entirely artificial. Or, rather, they are in thrall to ‘their’ screen images. The ones they identify with and feel they own. Politics is expressed much as shopping is expressed. The identification in the political sphere (and with history) is identical to how this public identifies with Hollywood’s protagonists.

Just as people do not believe deep down in their hearts that Jews are the devil, they do not fully believe in the leader. They do not really identify with him but act on this identification, represent their own enthusiasm, and thus participate in the leader’s performance. It is through this representation that they find a balance between their instinctual urges continually mobilized and the historical stage of enlightenment which they have attained and which can not be arbitrarily revoked. It is probably the distrust of the fiction of his own ‘group psychology’ that makes the fascist masses so merciless and unshakable.
— Theodor Adorno, Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda, 1951

This is an important observation of Adorno. The bad faith that resonates throughout the U.S. public discourse is an engine for resentment and rage. And everything has come to feel like a fiction. There is also a strange merging of several tributaries of social movements. One is the Green New Deal (and just read Cory Morningstar on this) and another is the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lockdowns, and then the Klaus Schwab (and Bill Gates and friends) so called Great Reset.

These are the privatised corporate movements that are passed off (on screens) as social reform. Now, the same can be said of Black Lives Matter but to a far less degree because that movement is far less unified. And Defunding the Police even more so, and this because much of that is driven by the formerly incarcerated. But the principle remains.

The Covid phenomenon, however, stands apart as the most drastic and grotesque manufacturing of crisis perhaps ever. Maybe in human history, actually. There is no crisis. The flu has similar numbers for fatalities and for infection. And now much state policy is attached to positive test results for a test nobody (even the manufacturers) really trusts. So who is driving this hysteria? Almost nobody can argue the lockdowns will cause more death, and more suffering. Already there are acute spikes in suicide, and drug overdose, as well as domestic abuse and depression and homelessness. The answer to who constitutes the engine behind this hysteria is likely the same people, by and large, who are driving the above mentioned attempts to rescue Capitalism. Or rather, to control the demolition of capitalism and the transition into a new feudalism.

World systems theorists like Wallerstein and Amin had been since the destruction of the USSR chronicling an unprecedented ruling class offensive to push forward a transformation out of an obsolescent form of competitive capitalism to the next shape of class rule; popular dissident economists and social theorists like Robin Blackburn, Michael Hudson, Naomi Klein, and Robert Brenner had simultaneously been tracking the increasing precariousness of the financialized post-Bretton Woods arrangements. Indeed Klein had recently published an enormous bestseller The Shock Doctrine which, for all its many flaws, provided a neologism for ruling class praxis that vividly conveyed its premeditated malice, violence and cunning, and which was well suited to advance conversations across social strata and diverse communities about the events unfolding in 2008.
— Alponse van Worden (Ibid.)

Van Worden’s critique is actually about Slavoj Zizek, and it is worth noting the malevolent influence of ersatz Marxists like Zizek (and Jacobin magazine and Bhaskar Sunkara, and these days even Counterpunch, sadly, and Chris Hedges, and many crypto LaRouchites, etc.) who are all now actively aligned with U.S. Imperialist interests. And all of whom have embraced a faux green ‘woke’ subject position that is merely more mystification and obscuring of genuine class analysis. For the real barometer for genuine opposition has become the ‘drama of the mask’. Where only recently it was the thermometer, the 1 degree or 2 degrees or whatever, that anchored most climate discourse, today there is the mask. There is ‘herd immunity’ (called mass murder by the folks at Counterpunch). There is the same guilt tripping, the same virtue signalling, and the same bad faith. And the bad faith is palpable, for when expressing ‘concern’ for victims of the pandemic, one can hear the echoes of the same concern many expressed for the victims of child abuse during the recovered memories trials, or of late, too, the overpopulation proponents — like Prince William and Bill Gates. They do not care about victims, they care about saving themselves — but that can only reach their conscious mind by first saving capitalism.

The current bad faith can also be linked to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. The emotional and psychic vacuum, even if largely unconscious for many, left by the fall of Soviet communism, was (and is) enormous. And out of this vacuum came the front edges of the new woke fascism.

Today, social conditions have produced uncritical acceptance of authority among large parts of the population. Among others, even those one might expect to criticise the status quo, we see only despair. The upsurge in interest in deterministic utopian or pessimistic thinking, influenced by the rapid technological change speaks volumes about the powerlessness felt even by those least susceptible to fascist propaganda.
— Max L. Feldman, Seductive Fascist Style, Verso blog, September 2019

And the style coordinates for concern invariably enclose rank sentimentalism. For as James Baldwin noted sentimentality is The Mask of Cruelty. This public bathos has multiplied across all areas of discussion, and it points back to just how harmful the erosion of education has been, and maybe in particular the loss of arts education. For the American public today is both tone deaf and stunningly deficient in aesthetic understanding. They have gone from bad taste to no taste.

Not that long ago, Hollywood was still capable of making meaningful movies.

Based on what little reliable information has been published about the CIA and Hollywood, the agency’s covert manipulation of the entertainment industry appears to have markedly decreased during the next two decades. In the 1970s, following the Watergate scandal and shocking congressional revelations about the CIA, a Hollywood backlash against the spy agency even took shape. A series of anti-authority thrillers, including classic conspiracy films like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View (both released in 1974) and Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (1975), depicted the national security state as a malevolent force, with Condor, starring Robert Redford as a CIA whistle-blower, taking specific aim at the agency as an institution capable of killing anyone who gets in its way, even its own agents.
— Nicholas Schou,  Spooked, 2016

The shift began in the late 70s. And it escalated profoundly in the 90s under Bill Clinton. For the Clintons saw the importance of Hollywood. A huge number of former Clinton interns are now Hollywood producers. (interesting aside, Clinton screened the 1998 Ed Zwick film The Siege in the White House — a story of terrorists attacking NYC leading to martial law).

Today, however, there are fewer people actually going to the cinema. People watch at home, on laptops and stream from a myriad of platforms. This is the Netflix era. Something else has changed, too. Hollywood has actually stopped being a source of entertainment. I mean it “is” still that, but it is more a sort of religious domain and something like a companion. This is an atomized and lonely society. Electronic devices are left on in many homes 24/7. It is the background white noise of daily life. There are TVs in most restaurants now. There are TVs in doctor’s offices and in all manner of waiting rooms. I saw wide screen monitors at the unemployment office. I saw them at the DMV. Life is chronicled on screens, and I suspect Jonathan Beller is right that our unconscious is now a film strip.

The new woke fascism is, however, much like all fascist movements. I sense too much is made of the technological revolution (sic). Even critics of the fourth industrial revolution are besotted by AI and the fantasies of mass surveillance and facial recognition and the like. The truth is, of course, it doesn’t really have to work, people only have to believe it does. But technology is now a form of mystification. The woke fascism is, like earlier forms, attached to ideas of not just obedience, but duty to obey. And in this sense Americans have always been prime targets for fascism. They see life as a struggle and a conquest. Today the duty to the state is camouflaged to a degree, the state has as a stand-in varieties of environmental constructs (Gaia, etc). The overpopulation eugenicists constantly reiterate their love of nature, of the “planet”. But this is a planet for ‘them’, not for you. And the fascist system is always, to a large extent, petit-bourgeois. So, into this Hollywood has increasingly created stories of technological heroism, and of duty to the authority of those who create and operate that technology. And to valorize the white middle class (Spielberg is the avatar for suburban heroic) As I have written before, Terminator 2 was the story of androids as better parents than humans.

What I am trying to point out is that the CIA is trying to circulate whitewashed images of itself through popular media. Further, it is trying to weave those images into the fabric of society in such a way that viewers see them as a “natural” reflection of the Agency, rather than one that is partially constructed and manipulated by the government.
— Tricia Jenkins (Ibid.)

And it is Trump who is, maybe, the ultimate expression of this decline into ‘no taste’. Trump can’t be understood. He speaks in gibberish. Biden is only very slightly better in terms of speaking English. His clear early stage dementia is maybe the perfect sound track for the Covid experiment. And yet, the petit-bourgeoisie applaud him (and Kamala Harris) as if an exorcism has been completed and the Virgin Spring is born.

And lest anyone have doubts about the underlying agenda(s) of the Covid lockdowns, and in particular Bill Gates… read Jacob Levich.

Here are just a few of Gates’ suggestions..(found in his op ed in the NY Times, and one in the New England Journal of Medicine) which I take from the Levich article…

Work closely with Western military forces, specifically NATO, in operations targeting the developing world. (Planning “should include military alliances such as NATO”; “in a severe epidemic, the military forces of many or all middle- and high-income countries might have to work together.”)

Suspend constitutional guarantees in sovereign nations affected by epidemics. (“Because democratic countries try to avoid abridging individuals’ rights to travel and free assembly, they might be too slow to restrict activities that help spread disease.”)

Create worldwide surveillance networks, presumably free of privacy protections, that would make information about people in developing countries instantly available to the imperial core.  (“Access to satellite photography and cell-phone data” would permit tracking “the movement of populations and individuals in the affected region.”)

The drama of the mask is one of transitioning into full tilt fascism. And instead of black shirts, we have black (and blue and rainbow) masks. But there are already police in most European countries, and in the U.S. (in places) enforcing lockdown restrictions and punishing those who literally and figuratively refuse the mask. Businesses are aligned with their new duty to the state. To the system. Those businesses that are still open, that is.

Homelessness is reaching proportions never even dreamed of even by dystopian Sci Fi writers. And with this is coming a new criminalizing of poverty. The poor were always resented in America, but now those who do the resenting are feeling emboldened by a new religious fervor. And the empire of screens is there to validate that fervor. A patriotic fervor for some, a new woke ‘concern’ for others. Put on the mask because you CARE about people. And nothing is too severe for those who refuse. There is an overwhelming self righteousness in American society today. The next stage will be mandatory vaccination. And with that we will have arrived at an existence of pure symbolism, disconnected from reality. It is fascist Kabuki, a political drama of stylized symbolic gestures and mime, all performed behind a mask.

John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. Plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. Taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. His collection of essays on aesthetics: Aesthetic Resistance and Disinterest was published by Mimesis Press in 2016. He writes a blog and hosts a podcast. Read other articles by John.