Politics and Culture in the Comic Zone

Daniel Rigney

Daniel Rigney
New Texas, USA
August 01
free-range writer
In this writing workshop and citizen's blog I'm exploring various short forms, often from a satiric angle. My interests include politics, culture and the human comedy; old and new media; social theory and urban life; the commercialization, corporatization and tabloidization of everything; sustainability; Unitarianism (UU); coffee; and writing (sorry, I mean providing content). Turtle stamp is from Tandy Leather. Interested in republishing a piece? Contact drigney3@gmail.com.


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SEPTEMBER 26, 2011 3:59PM

The Memestream Democrat

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By Daniel Rigney

When I semi-retired recently, I faced the usual questions about what to do with the rest of my life – questions that most of us ask ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, at every age.

I decided to take creative writing courses in the evenings as a way to explore my personal and writing interests. In the first of these  courses last winter, I somehow got the idea that it would be fun to start a blog to express views I had usually kept to myself in my previous job at a relatively conservative Catholic college somewhere in the Southwest. This blog became my “writing workshop,” where I’ve attempted a variety of short forms  (fiction, semi-fiction, non-fiction), usually dealing with comic aspects of politics and culture in the United States.

As the 2012 elections approach, I hope to use this space to contribute some fresh  --  and not too cynical --  perceptions of American electoral politics from a center-left perspective. This ideological region, in which I have lived nearly all my life, seems to include the majority of Democrats  and many independents as well. We are large. We contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman might say.

Yet despite our considerable numbers and talents, I am concerned that those of us whose hearts beat on the left have not been very effective lately in offering fresh and imaginative alternatives to the deeply-entrenched cliche systems of the conservative and libertarian right. We share core values of fairness and equity, but we haven't quite figured out how to articulate and communicate these persuasively in the hyper-segmented and everyone-for-himself "marketplaces" of 21st-century culture.

Progressives have never been more in need of fresh and creative political thinking than we are now. For years we’ve watched the Republican party meme machine flood the national memestream with terrifyingly effective slogans and messages promoting uncritical worship of the Market God, populist hostility towards academic knowledge (both scientific and humanist), the bashing of unionized and non-unionized employees, and the cynical use of both religious and patriotic symbols to herd frightened Americans into their voting pens. 

Bluntly, conservatarians in the last three decades have bullied  liberals, progressives and left-populists on the American political schoolyard, and they've eaten our lunch.  It’s time we were more effective in fighting back -- trading meme for meme, and parrying “compassionate conservative” with “cold-blooded conservative;” “fair tax” and “death tax” with “life-saving tax;” “liberalism as class warfare” with “employee bashing as class warfare.”

You get the idea: We need words and phrases that challenge the conservatarian cliche system in surprising, memorable and immediately graspable ways, and yet do not become instant cliches themselves.

I’m tempted to write here that as progressives, “our words are our guns” -- but that would be too 19th century.  How about “memes are our light sabers?” Too 20th century. What's needed now are succinct and powerful 21st-century progressive memes that express the core values of progressivism in an idiom that speaks to our changing times. 

I'd like to do my bit (or byte) in this tiny corner of the blogosphere to help create or promote a progressive vocabulary suited to our changing times, and to help circulate it  into the cultural memestream.

I’ll be writing  about other things besides politics in the coming months  from the political twilight zone that is Houston, Texas. But mostly I’ll be broadcasting or narrowcasting memes that may, in some small way, help Democrats win elective offices large and small in November of 2012. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions along the way.


Danagram  http://open.salon.com/blog/danagram

Readers who liked this post may also enjoy The Progressive Meme Shop and  Republican Anagrams.



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Probably the most frustrating thing for me about politics the last decade or so has been the ineffectiveness of the progressive message (or it's non-message-ness). We have such good ideas! That should appeal to anyone with a brain! Why don't they?!

Go for it, Dan! You can be a super-hero in this sphere if anyone can!
Kathy, superhero? Are you kidding? I feel like a minnow in the electronic ocean. But thanks for your vote of confidence. It may be that progressives are, as is often said of Obama, too "professorial" -- too well aware of the complexities and nuances of the world. We've got to learn to communicate our good ideas a lot better and more simply, that's for sure. I'm going to try to do my little part over the next 15 months. Are you in? You could use your space here to promote a few memes of your own!
It doesn't matter how you phrase it or say it. The problem is a disconnect between our representatives and us. Why? Because of big money campaign contributions. This problem works on both sides of the aisle. In England they don't allow campaign contributions and media coverage is free. That's what we need. So that someone can run without depending on big money, which will later be collected when it's time to carve out legislation. Obama is strangled by Wall Street, the Republicans are strangled by big oil. Obama is strangled by coal and nuclear. The Republicans are strangled by the N.R.A. Obama is strangled by the lawyers lobby. The Republicans are strangled by just about everyone with deep pockets. Thus we don't tax the rich. Thus we do nothing about climate control. Thus we do nothing about the banks. It's very frustrating, but I welcome your insights and blogs to come!
Pam, I'm thinking along similar lines. I'm thinking too that some of the memes we need are memes about political money. As the saying goes, "we have the best politicians and laws that money can buy." Maybe we need to put that very saying into wider circulation!