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Popular culture is an informal type of public opinion. In its best instances, popular culture is a powerful lens into our collective fears, hopes, and anxieties. I was rewatching David Mamet's Edmond, a great film which explores questions of existential angst, a man's descent into madness (or sanity depending on one's point of view), and his subsequent imprisonment. The final scenes of the film are challenging and provocative; they are a great example of how the "popular" and "political" can intersect in some surprising ways.

While it is little discussed in the mainstream press, or among the pundit classes, I would argue that the New Right and the Tea Party GOP's anti-Obamamania is driven by a sense of imperiled white masculinity. The "angry white man" has been a part of our political and cultural vocabulary for several decades. He ultimately found a home and a political party in the Tea Party GOP. Although white men are the single most powerful and wealthy group of people in this country, the Right has been able to successfully  manipulate a sense of grievance, anxiety, and fears of a lost future where "the blacks," "the minorities," "the women," and "the gays" have taken over.

This is a shrewd political strategy that plays on the relationship between psychology and politics. The petit authoritarianism that is contemporary conservatism fears nothing more than a loss of control. As such, what better way to advance one's political goals than to create a narrative of white victimology?

Ultimately, the fears of the New Right, the Tea Party GOP, and the aggrieved, imperiled white masculinity that Mitt Romney and other Republican elites pander to, are responses to a collective nightmare, what is a waking dream where they are being metaphorically raped and dominated by Barack Obama and people of color.

During Bush 2's rule, Republicans were obsessed with how the American public, as well as the Democratic Party, should "respect" the Office of the President of the United States. Curiously, a few years later the Tea Party GOP has shown nothing but utter disrespect for President Obama since he won the office in 2008.

There are many examples of this paranoid and conspiratorial behavior.

The State of the Union Speech was interrupted in an unprecedented fashion by a Republican who yelled "you lie" at the President. Major political figures on the Right and in the mass media have alternatively suggested that President Obama is not a United States citizen, is a closet Muslim, takes orders from his dead father's African ghost, and is an "affirmative action" hire who sneaked his way through Columbia and Harvard. Obama has also been faced with threats of violence, mass rebellion, secession, and naked racism. The Tea Party GOP was willing to risk economic Armageddon during the debt-ceiling crisis in order to embarrass Barack Obama.

These conspiratorial fantasies are ultimately about respect, authority, and legitimacy. Partisanship, and an extremely polarized public that has been subjected to Right-wing propagandists who are deeply invested in crisis and rumor mongering, are central to this story too. But, "normal" politics cannot be decoupled from the symbolic politics that are necessarily embodied--quite literally--in Barack Obama, the country's first black president. For many conservatives, and especially aggrieved whites who are made insecure by the United States' changing demographics and a sense that America is not "their country" anymore, Obama is seen as pure evil--he is their anti-Christ.

In the conservative political imagination, people who look like him, his family, and those other black and brown folk with some degree of political and/or economic power, do not belong in or near the White House. White reactionary conservatives may not state the following as plainly as I am willing to: The United States has long been the white man's country; the Tea Party GOP, as a White Party, are willing to do almost anything to regain this true lie and fictive past.

As I have written about numerous times, Mitt Romney is a sociopathic racist. His campaign ads have recycled naked and racist stereotypes about Barack Obama--and by implication black Americans. Moreover, Romney's use of both naked racial appeals and dog whistle politics represent one of the most sophisticated uses of racial animus in recent American political history. As the election approaches, Romney and Ryan are going to go places that McCain never would have dared. White racial resentment, and manipulating white racial anxiety in order to win over white voters, is one of the few remaining weapons (along with voter suppression) that Romney and the Tea Party GOP have left in their arsenal given the unpopularity of their proposed policies.

I am not suggesting that Mitt Romney is experiencing, nor that he is moved by, the same racial fears and white anxieties which motivate the Tea Party GOP base. Romney and his backers are billionaires. They fear nothing. But, Mitt Romney is willing to use the petty fears of reactionary white conservatives and right-leaning independents in order to further his political and economic goals.

In these conversations about President Obama, legitimacy, white voters, and the Tea Party GOP, one variable has been consistently ignored by most pundits and analysts. The Tea Party GOP is a Southern, White political party. Its leaders made a bargain decades ago to absorb the Southern racists, the Dixiecrats, into their fold. By doing so, they flipped the South "red." This choice also meant that the Republican Party was now the party of Jim and Jane Crow, the slaveocracy, and all of the other assorted political, racial, and cultural baggage that comes with it.

The disrespect and hostility demonstrated by the Tea Party GOP and the (white) New Right is a manifestation of a deeply aggrieved sense of order and place. Black and brown people are supposed to be subservient to white authority. As I wrote about here, the necessity of white male control over women's bodies is part of the same ideological and political cosmology. In all, Whiteness, especially as manifested by White Conservatism, is rooted in a deep fear of white oppression by black and brown people. This is their doomsday and nightmare scenario. Southern Confederates feared it; bloviators such as Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and others give voice to it almost every day with their fixations on how Obama hates white people and that agitprop fools like the New Black Panther Party are coming to kill white good white folks.

The ending of the film Edmond is a graphic and disturbing representation of these anxieties about white male authority and black domination. The main character played by white every man William H. Macy has been sent to prison for life. His cellmate is the black actor Bokeem Woodbine. Macy is prey; Bokeem is the predator. Macy will be forced into submission--one way or another.

This narrative is ideologically rich, potent with questions about race, representation, masculinity, authority, sex, and power. As we work through how race and popular culture intersect here, there are three elements of particular importance in this scene that I would like to highlight:

First. The conservative white masculinity channeled by the New Right and the Tea Party GOP conceptualizes Macy as a liberal punk, he is aggrieved with liberal white guilt, and wants to confront Woodbine, the violent, hyper-thug, black-beast rapist, with words and reason. Macy eventually surrenders to Bokeem's advances. For the Right-wing conservative gaze, he is the ultimate embodiment of "cowardly" "feminine" "liberalism" and "progressivism," because Macy eventually learns to accept his "relationship" with his abuser. "Real men" (read: conservatives) would never submit to such an arrangement. They would rather die.

Second. Macy's character represents the deep fears of white oppression that drive the Right-wing imagination in the Age of Obama. In this framing, they have already lost their country. The United States' demographics are changing. White men are scared and worried about their futures. The Great Recession has been emasculating, and in many ways economically castrating, for white "working class" men who fear being obsolete and unnecessary in this "new" America. The Angry White Men who comprise the base of the Tea Party GOP are symbolically represented by William H. Macy's character.

On some deep psychological level, or perhaps even on the near-surface, they are moved by a profound vulnerability, that one mistake, one bit of misfortune, could literally or metaphorically emasculate them. Thus, putting them at the mercy of a black man or other person of color. Whiteness is about authority and "normal" arrangements of power; Whiteness, and white masculinity in particular, fears nothing more than being usurped.

Three. Bokeem's black-rapist beast inmate character is what The White Gaze imagines all black men to potentially be. In popular culture, as well as the collective popular imagination, hyper-thug black masculinity is one of the dominant tropes and ways of representing black manhood. Here, despite our levels of education, refinement, or success, all black men are somehow a second away from becoming violent, impulsive, or dangerous.

Consider: much of commercial hip hop plays off of this age old cultural trope. The dream merchants on Wall Street have perfected marketing "blackness" and "black masculinity" in ways that fulfill the fantasies of the mass public: there is a tension which is skillfully sold, where black men are simultaneously the most envied and despised people in the world.

Barack Obama, as a black man, is also burdened by these representations. The Right plays with these deep fears and anxieties to cause fear in white voters. Conservatives have argued that the President has been called lazy, irresponsible, and more interested in hip hop barbecues at the White House than in being an effective leader. Romney has based his political campaign on painting the president as a permanent Other, "niggerizing" him as a lazy, angry, hostile black man.

In reality, Barack Obama is refined, intelligent, accomplished, and has an effortless sort of "cool pose" about him.

Individuals immersed in white racial resentment, and plain old fashioned white racism, are incapable of seeing these aspects of Obama's humanity.

The conservative white racial frame sees Barack Obama as Bokeem Woodbine's character in Edmond. He is a thug, a violent rapist thug, who enjoys dominating white people (read: men) just like them. Conservative pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have even used the explicit language of rape to describe how Barack Obama, and the federal government under his leadership, has sexually violated the American people.

This view is generalizable. Many of the same white folks also see black men, all of us, in the same light.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Conspiratorial fantasises ... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jfromga, OldDragon, semiot

    The last Democratic president was Bill Clinton.

    Is this attack on Obama “simply nuts?” Actually, yes—it is, quite sadly. But the last time a Democrat went to the White House, the following beliefs were widely asserted—and those beliefs were clinically crazy too ...:

    •    As governor, Bill Clinton murdered many rivals. Hillary Clinton was involved.
    •    As first lady, Hillary Clinton was involved in Vince Foster’s death.
    •    As governor, Bill Clinton trafficked drugs through Mena, Arkansas.
    •    Bill Clinton was himself a major coke user. This explains why his nose is so red.
    •    As a graduate student, Bill Clinton visited Moscow because he was a Soviet agent (or something).
    •    The Clintons decorated the White House Christmas tree with condoms and drug paraphernalia.

    http://www.dailyhowler.com/...

  •  I found the diary interesting... (0+ / 0-)

    ... but the title is a little over the top.

    I haven't been here long enough to be considered a Kossack, does that mean that I'm just a sack?

    by Hey338Too on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 10:10:27 AM PDT

  •  As the good book says... (0+ / 0-)

    There is nothing new under the sun...

    ACT I
    SCENE I. Venice. A street.

    Enter RODERIGO and IAGO
    RODERIGO
    Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly
    That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse
    As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.

    IAGO
    'Sblood, but you will not hear me:
    If ever I did dream of such a matter, Abhor me.

    RODERIGO
    Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.

    IAGO
    Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city,
    In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
    Off-capp'd to him: and, by the faith of man,
    I know my price, I am worth no worse a place:
    But he; as loving his own pride and purposes,
    Evades them, with a bombast circumstance
    Horribly stuff'd with epithets of war;
    And, in conclusion,
    Nonsuits my mediators; for, 'Certes,' says he,
    'I have already chose my officer.'
    And what was he?
    Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
    One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,
    A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife;
    That never set a squadron in the field,
    Nor the division of a battle knows
    More than a spinster; unless the bookish theoric,
    Wherein the toged consuls can propose
    As masterly as he: mere prattle, without practise,
    Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had the election:
    And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
    At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds
    Christian and heathen, must be be-lee'd and calm'd
    By debitor and creditor: this counter-caster,
    He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,
    And I--God bless the mark!--his Moorship's ancient.

    RODERIGO
    By heaven, I rather would have been his hangman.

    IAGO
    Why, there's no remedy; 'tis the curse of service,
    Preferment goes by letter and affection,
    And not by old gradation, where each second
    Stood heir to the first. Now, sir, be judge yourself,
    Whether I in any just term am affined
    To love the Moor.

    RODERIGO
    I would not follow him then.

    IAGO
    O, sir, content you;
    I follow him to serve my turn upon him:
    We cannot all be masters, nor all masters
    Cannot be truly follow'd. You shall mark
    Many a duteous and knee-crooking knave,
    That, doting on his own obsequious bondage,
    Wears out his time, much like his master's ass,
    For nought but provender, and when he's old, cashier'd:
    Whip me such honest knaves. Others there are
    Who, trimm'd in forms and visages of duty,
    Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,
    And, throwing but shows of service on their lords,
    Do well thrive by them and when they have lined
    their coats
    Do themselves homage: these fellows have some soul;
    And such a one do I profess myself. For, sir,
    It is as sure as you are Roderigo,
    Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago:
    In following him, I follow but myself;
    Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
    But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
    For when my outward action doth demonstrate
    The native act and figure of my heart
    In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
    But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
    For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.

    RODERIGO
    What a full fortune does the thicklips owe
    If he can carry't thus!

    IAGO
    Call up her father,
    Rouse him: make after him, poison his delight,
    Proclaim him in the streets; incense her kinsmen,
    And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,
    Plague him with flies: though that his joy be joy,
    Yet throw such changes of vexation on't,
    As it may lose some colour.

    RODERIGO
    Here is her father's house; I'll call aloud.

    IAGO
    Do, with like timorous accent and dire yell
    As when, by night and negligence, the fire
    Is spied in populous cities.

    RODERIGO
    What, ho, Brabantio! Signior Brabantio, ho!

    IAGO
    Awake! what, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves!
    Look to your house, your daughter and your bags!
    Thieves! thieves!

    BRABANTIO appears above, at a window

    BRABANTIO
    What is the reason of this terrible summons?
    What is the matter there?

    RODERIGO
    Signior, is all your family within?

    IAGO
    Are your doors lock'd?

    BRABANTIO
    Why, wherefore ask you this?

    IAGO
    'Zounds, sir, you're robb'd; for shame, put on
    your gown;
    Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;
    Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
    Is topping your white ewe. Arise, arise;
    Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
    Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you:
    Arise, I say.

    BRABANTIO
    What, have you lost your wits?

    RODERIGO
    Most reverend signior, do you know my voice?

    BRABANTIO
    Not I what are you?

    RODERIGO
    My name is Roderigo.

    BRABANTIO
    The worser welcome:
    I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors:
    In honest plainness thou hast heard me say
    My daughter is not for thee; and now, in madness,
    Being full of supper and distempering draughts,
    Upon malicious bravery, dost thou come
    To start my quiet.

    RODERIGO
    Sir, sir, sir,--

    BRABANTIO
    But thou must needs be sure
    My spirit and my place have in them power
    To make this bitter to thee.

    RODERIGO
    Patience, good sir.

    BRABANTIO
    What tell'st thou me of robbing? this is Venice;
    My house is not a grange.

    RODERIGO
    Most grave Brabantio,
    In simple and pure soul I come to you.

    IAGO
    'Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not
    serve God, if the devil bid you. Because we come to
    do you service and you think we are ruffians, you'll
    have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse;
    you'll have your nephews neigh to you; you'll have
    coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.

    BRABANTIO
    What profane wretch art thou?

    IAGO
    I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter
    and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.

    BRABANTIO
    Thou art a villain.

    IAGO
    You are--a senator.

    BRABANTIO
    This thou shalt answer; I know thee, Roderigo.

    RODERIGO
    Sir, I will answer any thing. But, I beseech you,
    If't be your pleasure and most wise consent,
    As partly I find it is, that your fair daughter,
    At this odd-even and dull watch o' the night,
    Transported, with no worse nor better guard
    But with a knave of common hire, a gondolier,
    To the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor--
    If this be known to you and your allowance,
    We then have done you bold and saucy wrongs;
    But if you know not this, my manners tell me
    We have your wrong rebuke. Do not believe
    That, from the sense of all civility,
    I thus would play and trifle with your reverence:
    Your daughter, if you have not given her leave,
    I say again, hath made a gross revolt;
    Tying her duty, beauty, wit and fortunes
    In an extravagant and wheeling stranger
    Of here and every where. Straight satisfy yourself:
    If she be in her chamber or your house,
    Let loose on me the justice of the state
    For thus deluding you.

    BRABANTIO
    Strike on the tinder, ho!
    Give me a taper! call up all my people!
    This accident is not unlike my dream:
    Belief of it oppresses me already.
    Light, I say! light!

    Exit above

    IAGO
    Farewell; for I must leave you:
    It seems not meet, nor wholesome to my place,
    To be produced--as, if I stay, I shall--
    Against the Moor: for, I do know, the state,
    However this may gall him with some cheque,
    Cannot with safety cast him, for he's embark'd
    With such loud reason to the Cyprus wars,
    Which even now stand in act, that, for their souls,
    Another of his fathom they have none,
    To lead their business: in which regard,
    Though I do hate him as I do hell-pains.
    Yet, for necessity of present life,
    I must show out a flag and sign of love,
    Which is indeed but sign. That you shall surely find him,
    Lead to the Sagittary the raised search;
    And there will I be with him. So, farewell.

    Exit

    Enter, below, BRABANTIO, and Servants with torches

    BRABANTIO
    It is too true an evil: gone she is;
    And what's to come of my despised time
    Is nought but bitterness. Now, Roderigo,
    Where didst thou see her? O unhappy girl!
    With the Moor, say'st thou? Who would be a father!
    How didst thou know 'twas she? O she deceives me
    Past thought! What said she to you? Get more tapers:
    Raise all my kindred. Are they married, think you?

    RODERIGO
    Truly, I think they are.

    BRABANTIO
    O heaven! How got she out? O treason of the blood!
    Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters' minds
    By what you see them act. Is there not charms
    By which the property of youth and maidhood
    May be abused? Have you not read, Roderigo,
    Of some such thing?

    RODERIGO
    Yes, sir, I have indeed.

    BRABANTIO
    Call up my brother. O, would you had had her!
    Some one way, some another. Do you know
    Where we may apprehend her and the Moor?

    RODERIGO
    I think I can discover him, if you please,
    To get good guard and go along with me.

    BRABANTIO
    Pray you, lead on. At every house I'll call;
    I may command at most. Get weapons, ho!
    And raise some special officers of night.
    On, good Roderigo: I'll deserve your pains.

    Exeunt

    Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

    by awesumtenor on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 10:29:38 AM PDT

  •  only white males should be President (5+ / 0-)

    I heard that when making calls for the Obama campaign in 2008.    

    Fear, hate and a sense of loss of control.  All very true.  "Take our country back".   The last gasp of white male elitism in the Tea Party, white hate groups, etc.

    I have also heard folks talk about the economy needs to continue to do poorly until November, people who need work, need jobs, whose small businesses are hurting, who have seen their incomes fall, but think if they just hold out until fall, to see the black guy lose, everything will be ok.   It is a derangement I didn't even see when Bill Clinton was president.  

  •  "...billionaires. They fear nothing." ...? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OldDragon, semiot

    While straight-forward avarice is unquestionably significant, I suspect that fear is at least as much a motivator among the 1% as it is among less affluent Angry White Men.

    Cheers...

  •  The formerly (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mooshter, myboo

    ascendent White Hegemony is seeing its own end, and like many a wounded animal, is lashing out without reason, regard or shame.

    They fear, not only the loss of their perennial power, but they are terrified that, once they've lost their advantage, after 400 years of blatant and/or tacit ritual humiliation, they will be called to account.  

    That our President is a poised, polished, graceful executive frightens and confuses them, because they have no traction to make him into a parody, with whom they would be comfortable.  That he has not, by action or speech, direct or implied, suggested that such a reckoning is at hand, infuriates them.

    They should have recalled, long before this, the words of one of our most controversial Founders:

    I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just.
    To be more colloquial, they are being chomped into dog food by their own guilty consciences.

    And frankly - I'm loving it.

    Don't practice. Train.--Brian Harvey

    by luvsathoroughbred on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 11:14:31 AM PDT

  •  Well written, well reasoned and dead on the money (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Captain Chaos

    Thank you CDV for, if I may, ripping the sheets off this issue. Doubters might like to review nearly any pre-sixties American film with a multi-racial story line, set in exotic locales, Tarzan is the perfect example. The overt projections of white male superiority and the subliminal (or not so) appeals to the fear of sexual domination of those oh so vulnerable lily white women at the hands of the darkies is a perfect mirror of the ideas addressed above.

    Whup the Google onto the phrase "White sexual anxiety and racism" and take a gander at some of the 2.5 million results. Your point is well made and timely and though not novel is supported by ample research and my own personal experience.

    Nominally I fit the old white working class male demographic. Philosophically, lets just say I'm deeply grateful I took a sharp left turn a long time ago. I blame Frank Zappa, among others. Since then, and from several varying distances, I've watched most of my classmates whittle various groups of people away from their acceptable universe until finally the acceptable ones consist almost exclusively of the four or five guys they've been drinking beer with every night for the last 40 years. Its a damn shame.

    Now they are utterly overwhelmed by the pace of change, and like the dinosaurs in their final days they know, in their quaking little tiny pea sized atrophied brains that their imaginary Dick and Jane Reader world is doomed, Drowning in the Tar Baby pit.

    Just getting a handle on the knobs and dials.... Hey, don't touch that!

    by Old Lefty on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 01:59:32 PM PDT

    •  as you hit on, this is an old old argument (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Old Lefty, Captain Chaos

      Fanon and others. Lacan too, I think. Dyer talks about it too.

      Got to love Zappa. They don't make them like him anymore, do they?

      •  An old timely argument that seems so irrational (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Captain Chaos

        but there ya go. These folks have spent a lifetime, generations even, burying their heads in the sand and the light burrrrnnnnnsssss.
        burrrnss

        Just getting a handle on the knobs and dials.... Hey, don't touch that!

        by Old Lefty on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 02:50:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I second your statements Old Lefty. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Old Lefty

      I have brought this up on a few occasions and people get mighty uncomfortable with it brought out in the open.

      Until people actually open their eyes to see the whole encompassing campaign against President Obama is not about policy, hell...he's the best moderate Republican that's ever been in office policy wise, but something to be used as a club for the Conservative base. The boogeyman underneath the bed.

      It also reminds me of this scene from Blazing Saddles...

      All philosophies have certain valid points. All philosophies followed to their logical conclusions is hazardous for mankind overall.

      by Captain Chaos on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 03:28:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  hehehehe Mel Brooks is deathless (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Captain Chaos

        I raised my daughters on the island of Kauai (Cow-eye-ee) and often there would be ten kids of, collectively at least 25 different races and permutations of combinations playing in the yard. When I sat down for a beer with my neighbors, their parents, it was common practice to do a couple rounds of black guy tells a white joke, Portuguese guy tells a Phillipino joke, and around the circle to establish everyone's acknowledgement that, yeah, there was that but lets move on now. Underneath the surface were all the wrongs of the past, and certain topics, especially Hawaiian Nationalism and the history if American Colonialism could spark fierce debate, but in the end it was about ideas and principles, not the race or character of the participants. Even an unfortunate choice of words or topics, as I should know, having made a few, can be forgiven if there is respect between all parties, and a good haole joke or two can come in handy as well.

        Just getting a handle on the knobs and dials.... Hey, don't touch that!

        by Old Lefty on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 05:57:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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