June 7, 2012

The End of Holographic Politics as We Know It - Masahide T. Kato

                             “Don’t support the phony; support the real.”
                                                           – Tupac Amaru Shakur       


On April 15th, 2012, Tupac Shakur resurrected himself at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, and performed two songs with Snoop Dogg.  Or did he?  As it turns out, it was Dr. Dre who “genetically” engineered the return of Shakur as a hologram,working closely with the Hollywood digital media companies. Dre’s association with Tupac goes back to the time when he was a cofounder of Death Row Records that bailed Tupac out of jail for 1.4 million dollars in 1995.  Though Dre pulled himself out of Death Records shortly before the untimely death of Shakur, this holographic reunion of Snoop, Dre, and Pac was a reminiscence of the “gangsta rap” culture that Dre has projected as his public image since his days with N.W.A.  The holographic representation of their reunion, therefore, is a perfect tribute not so much to Tupac Shakur as to Dr. Dre’s image commodity or his “intellectual property rights,” which lacks real life experience of being a “gangsta” or “thug.” 
Upon viewing the holographic Tupac, I was reminded of Jean Baudrillard’s concept of “simulacra.”  In his book entitled Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard analyzes the social construction of “reality” in the age of global capitalism where “reality” as such is taken over by the power of simulation.  What I gleaned from Baudrillard’s work is that the relationship between our existence or being and our perception is increasingly destabilized by the corporate mediation of reality through manufactured imagery.  Consequently, our experience of the reality becomes less autonomous or less “sovereign” in the sense that it is largely structured by the consumption of simulacra as a commodity.

During the first war on Iraq in 1991, Baudrillard stirred up a controversy by publishing three part short essays entitled the “The Gulf War will not take place,” “The Gulf War is not taking place,” and “The Gulf War did not take place” in Libération, a daily French newspaper.  In the age of globalization, war as such gets detached from the realm of our experience as an “event” or “truth.”  War has become an act of mindless observation.  This was so both for those who observed the war at home through the mass media’s representation of war as a “surgical operation” and those who actually participated in the war as a soldier.  The latter’s perspective was captured in the film called Jarhead (2006) directed by ex-marine Sam Mendez.  In this testimonial film of the Gulf War, there is no combat in a classic sense of the term.  The combat is replaced by the massive aerial bombardment that incinerates all matters, organic or otherwise.  The only trace of combat is the film (within a film), Apocalypse Now, which marines watch festively at the base immediately preceding their deployment to Kuwait.  

            The dominance of simulacra in the age of globalization emanates from the heart of its engine, the global economy.  The impetus that drove the global financial market in the early 2000s and landed on a catastrophic global meltdown in 2008 was “sub prime mortgages.”  The banks and mortgage companies aggressively marketed loans to those who couldn’t normally afford homes.  The massive debts with limited prospects of redemption were then bundled together as “securities” to be traded on the Wall Street and global financial markets.  The “toxic” products have eventually induced a global financial haemorrhage in 2008.  Just recently, one of the largest global banks , J. P. Morgan declared that it lost $2 billion in the first quarter forinvesting in its “synthetic credit portfolio,” a complex financial product based on the bond investment and default insurance.  

Both “sub prime mortgages” and “synthetic credit portfolio” are essentially marketing “debt.”  Similar to carbon trading, global financial institutions have been marketing hazards.  Whereas carbon trading still has pollution as its substance, marketing debt doesn’t have a substance until there is redemption: It is a pure simulacrum or theoretical existence, and hence, ontologically deficient.  Even though the privatized central bank could pump up the currency to reconstitute an appearance of substance, the trillions dollars in bail out and the quantitative easing (i.e., debt monetization) have completely wiped out the last vestige of ontology and sovereignty from the global currency; the global currency has thus become holographic.

While global financial institutions have been engaged in trading phantoms, millions have lost their jobs and homes and the manufacturing of actual goods and substances have moved to sweat shops and prisons.  The factory-prison system in turn has decimated the basis of nature and sustenance economies.  In the light of this catastrophe created by the global holographic economy, the rise of popular sovereignty in Europe, Middle East, Asia and the US is not simply about the economic disparity but also about the demise of the “real.”  “How do you live in a hologram?”  “How can you eat simulacra?”

Repulsed by the holographic Tupac, I was compelled to revisit his real life history as a second generation descendant of the Black Panther Party.  In the process, I bumped into a manifesto entitled “Code’s [sic] of the Thug Life,” which Tupac wrote with Mutulu Shakur in 1992.  It cautions how the thug life that can be the basis of autonomous economy and politics has turned into the very tool of auto-genocide:
The thug life is a tool of the enemy as it exists today, it must change.  Outside forces and methods whose interests are being served by the hustlers, the crews have no dignity, they have no honor – and this must be corrected.  A counsel must be called put a code to the thug life.
We accept that the game will go on until our liberation.  What we won’t accept is that the game will destroy us from within before we get another chance and rebuild.  We will not allow ourselves to be played by the covert operations, cointelpro, and law intensity warfare waged by the United States government.[1]
Particularly towards the end of his life after his release from the prison, Shakur has taken on a more politically strategic path as his alias Makaveli (he named himself after Niccolo Machiavelli during his imprisonment) might suggest.  In the above manifesto, Shakur is giving a new meaning to the “thug life” as an alternative to the polis.  In lieu of the modern polis as a gated community for the 1%, the “thug life” posits a communal alternative for the ghetto masses.  
Tupac’s Black Panther genealogy, real life experiences of poverty, street, and thug, and his artistic talent were all about to coalesce into a political platform to organize the downtrodden youth in the ghetto.  Fred Hampton organized the gangs in Chicago into a revolutionary force until his assassination.  Hip Hop transformed the gang rivalry in the Bronx into a sustainable force of creativity, artistic innovation, and conviviality.  Accordingly, Tupac was about to launch an organizing effort to turn the ghetto existential condition into a positive force for social change with global outreach potential.  Perhaps the time wasn't ripe yet for the politicization of “thug life” in the middle of 1990s when a big wave of globalization started to engulf the world with the power of simulation.  But now the global masses are getting mobilized for the real, for the global “thug life.”  In that sense, the apparition of holographic Tupac in 2012 may be a sign that the simulated reality that has colonized our perception since the advent of post-industrialism is coming to its logical end.
Tupac Shakur at the '94 House of Blues Show (later recreated for Coachella)

- Masahide T. Kato is a Lecturer and Researcher at the University of Hawai'i Manoa and author of Kung Fu to Hip Hop: Globalization, Revolution, and Popular Culture (State Univ. of New York Press, 2007)

Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Glaser (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1994). 

---, “Les cibles de Baudrillard dans Libération,” Libération, March 7th, 2007.
[1] Tupac Shakur, Tupac: Resurrection, 1971 – 1996, eds. Jacob Hoye and Karolyn Ali (New York: Arita Books, 2003), pp. 16 – 17.

May 24, 2012

It's About to Explode: an LoF Summer

LoF has been pretty quiet lately, with the free time of the summer we plan on fixing that (hopefully), for now though some cool updates:

1. Big congratulations to LoF writers Adam & Max who both got accepted to UT in the fall (<3 yall).

2. To start the summer off rightWe are all extremely excited to have the one-and-only Masahide T. Kato (University of Hawaii, author of From Kung Fu to Hip Hop: Globalization, Revolution, and Popular Culture) do a guest post for us that you can expect real soon.

February 25, 2012

Hephaestus' Golem

Is the title of my first journal publication (well...for visual art, still counts right? ) that is appearing in UT's Literary and Arts journal Analecta 38 (www.analectajournal.com) . 

For those who (justifiably) do not want to pay $15 for the journal here is the picture being published:

November 28, 2011

An Idiot's Tale

William Shakespeare. Someone I am particularly not enjoying right now in high school English. Regardless, the man had a way with words. I have thought a lot about what to write and I came up with a concept several weeks ago, I have just had trouble putting it down. I think in Macbeth Shakespeare captures how I feel on the issue of death pretty well.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
 And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
 Signifying nothing
Macbeth- Act V, Scene V, Lines 17-28

What is death? What does it mean? Is it the opposite of life? Is it the absence of life? Growing up I always thought it was just a biological function, but does that even make sense? How can biology explain the complex phenomenon of life and death? I feel like this post will be a lot of questions. I will be short and just my thoughts.

In the attempt to understand death, or try and grasp it I have asked myself several questions over and over. They usually mirror something along these lines: What do I experience in death? Do any memories go with me? Does this very moment of thought matter, will it be remembered or have significance once I have passed?

After I toy with those questions another one usually hits me. Why do I want to know? Why do all of my questions assume death in a negative sense, defined only as the inverse of life. It brings me to an interesting point, does life give value to itself, or does death give life value and also does life give death value.  Why have I for so long believed that death is an experience to be avoided?

I never seem to have an answer to these questions. I have read plenty of authors and have a plethora of literature I could quote to try and understand these questions, but what purpose does that serve. None of these people have experienced death. Now I like living, right now things are going great and I don’t plan to hit up the death thing for a LONG time, but I am still curious, what is it?

I know this post is brief and rambly but I find it hard to capture my thoughts in writing. Please feel free to share your opinions. I know writing may be hard so feel free to discuss this with me in person, I know many of our readers personally and I hope this leads for some interesting dialogue.

I will write about different scholars on death during the winter break. Until then have fun reading my rambles. 

November 1, 2011

What is Left for the Marxists?

After writing my Occupy Wall Street post I have put a great deal of consideration into their motives and goals. Upon my first thoughts I began to regret labeling them as an Anti-Capitalist movement. I felt like they are not a marxist struggle, however, after a few weeks of reflection I agree with my initial categorization. I intend now to explain ,y justification for labeling them a Marxist protest and why I believe that is now a hollow branding. 

My was first step was re-reading the demands of the Occupy Wall Street movement (available online at http://occupywallst.org/forum/first-official-release-from-occupy-wall-street/)
It was my initial re-reading that first prompted my belief that I had essentialized the participants of Occupy Wall Street. Upon second reading and some historical analysis I determined my categorization was spot on.  As the Occupy Movement states in their demands:

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one's skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. 

While on face these demands may not seem to be a scathing critique of the capitalist system, it is in fact the epitome of a modern Marxist revolution. If we may let us travel back in time to a few earlier marxist movement. Let us begin with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The Marxist portion of the Russian Revolution, while initially criticizing socio-economic disparities and barrier devolved into a criticism of all things government and all things societal. The true marxists stuck to their goals and attempted to change the economic conditions but the movement acquired free-riders who attached their criticisms of government, foreign policy and societal norms. The Bolsheviks instead of achieving their marxist heaven were left with a plethora of demands and issues and an overthrown government. It was theses side issues that doomed the marxist movements potential and lead to the totalitarian state that came to epitomize marxism for years. 

Fast forward in history fifty-one years and move west towards Paris. May of '68 bears a shocking resemblance to those occupying Zuccotti park. They were young and they wanted the government to stop dabbling in individual affairs. They wanted to stop Laissez-Faire economics from influencing the educational system and the government structure. 

If the October Revolution and Sixty-Eight both fit the categorization as being a Marxist revolution. I will venture to say so does Occupy Wall Street, in all its themes and locations it is the closest we have to a modern marxist movement. If Occupy Wall Street is the best crack current society can take at revolution and Marxist/ Anti-Capitalist uprising then I can only ask, what hope is there for Marxism now and in the future. 

The designation as a Marxist movement rather then being the catalyst for anti-capitalist action seems to be a death knell to the fight against capitalism. The categorization of social movements now as Marxist is a signal for co-option or free-riders. Marxist movements now seem to be a vehicle for carrying all other social movements, it is this reason that they lose all effectiveness at attempting to bring down global capitalist systems. We see these free-riders in Occupy Wall Street. The movement has shifted from a reaction to corporate influence and economic corruption to a movement focused on the idea of a movement. I recently saw a photo of an Occupy Wall Street protester holding a sign that read "Do Not Confuse the Importance of This Movement With Chaos." My question to them is why not? Does Occupy Wall Street care anymore about corporate greed and economic influences on politics? I personally believe the answer to be no. I believe Occupy Wall Street has now only become a movement to gain the right or emphasize the importance of carrying out movements. Like all other "Marxist" protests Occupy Wall Street has lost its Anti-Capitalist fervor and devolved into an amalgam of individuals spouting their own demands, destroying the central focus of the movement. Every time I listen to a member of Occupy Wall Street speak on T.V. News it seems each one has a different goal or notion of what to achieve from the protest, often not benefiting the initial trajectory of the movement. 

So what is left for the Marxists today? I believe the answer is still revolution but not the revolution we have seen. What is needed is a new conception of revolution that breaks with all of our preconceived notions of protest and uprising. Sylvere Lotringer writes in the introduction to Forget Foucault:

No wonder French post-'68 thinkers, Baudrillard included,
looked somewhere else for revolutionary alternatives. Failing to enlist their allies, they resolved to sleep with the enemy. It was a bold theoretical move, outdoing Marx in his analysis of capital. All of the "children of May," revolutionaries bereft of a revolution, turned to capitalism, eager to extract its subversive energy they no longer found in traditional class struggles. Updating the theory of power and the fluctuations ofsubjectivity to the erratic shifts ofthe semiotic code, they assumed that they could redirect its flos and release in their wake new "deterritorialized" figures-psychotic cre­ ativity, desire, nomadism, becoming revolutionary-in spite of the abrupt "reterritorializations" that the system was bound to impose in order to insure its own survival. (Deterritorializations result from the absolute decodification of capital).

I think his words are wise. In order to avoid co-option and acquiring strange bedfellows, the Marxists must learn from their past failures and create a movement that breaks with the old notions of protest and sticks steadfast to its goal. A movement that is unwavering in its desires whole heartily pursues them without accepting tag alongs or free-riders. Only in this pursuit and in this new to take Zizek's term "leap of faith" can the Marxists create a movement capable of producing true resonance and political efficacy.  

October 10, 2011

Revolution 101: How Occupy Wall Street is Failing to Fight Global Capital

They are saying we are all losers, but the true losers are down there on Wall Street. They were bailed out by billions of our money. We are called socialists, but here there is always socialism for the rich. They say we don’t respect private property, but in the 2008 financial crash-down more hard-earned private property was destroyed than if all of us here were to be destroying it night and day for weeks. They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are the awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare.”—Slavoj Zizek, October 9th 2011.


The fact that prominent Slovenian cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek came to speak at Occupy Wall Street is no surprise, in fact I was surprised he had not come out to Zuccoti Park earlier. Zizek and the Occupy Wall Street movement share a defining character trait, they have both been commodified. Zizek is right, we are all losers in the system of global capital however, him and the members of Occupy Wall Street are the true losers in the system for when they awaken to the nightmare they simply do nothing.

Zizek is a prolific author well known as an eminent Lacanian scholar and revolutionary extraordinaire, the problem is Zizek has lost his revolutionary zest. His academic stance within the university has only allowed him to become a pawn within the system of global capital, he too with Occupy Wall Street is a failure at leftist revolution. The countless books on revolution and the crisis of modern capitalism written by Zizek is the exact same as the thousands of scantily clad people yelling in Zuccoti Park, they are examples of co-opted dissent. Since the 1970’s the political right has deployed cultural hegemony to establish conservative think tanks and institutions that privilege and preserve  conservative beliefs, these institutions have also allowed open public protest. During Vietnam the Nixon administration chose to allow the protests to continue and to affirm that those protests were examples of democratic deliberation that this country was founded on, turning those movements into mere support blocks for the system they so desperately wished to oppose. Occupy Wall Street finds itself in the same place today, a movement co-opted and commodified. The dissent of Occupy Wall Street only affirms the system of globalization and capital that it opposes. Capital takes the very protest and glamorizes it, creating T-Shirts, Bandannas and Ipod accessories all fitting the theme of revolution. We see the protesters of Zuccoti park heading towards the same direction as Che Guevara, merely a face on a T-Shirt, no longer a revolutionary but a material object for every hipster to go out and buy. THAT is the trick of global capital, it commodifies the aesthetics of dissent by allowing to occur, destroying all political efficacy of the movement. So how does Occupy Wall Street fix their paradox of dissent? They pick up bricks.


Instead of becoming Facebook statuses with a million “likes” the protesters need to end this allegiance toward civil disobedience and take over the system by force. In the May ’68 protests the city of Paris was turned upside down, streets were blockaded and protesters were seen writing Graffiti one very corner, but this too was co-opted. Those who stick to civil disobedience when given lip service by the elites in power accept even the slightest hint of reform and go home thinking they have brought down capitalism, waking up the next morning to the same nightmare. As Zizek says :

What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.”

No statement could be more true on how the revolution should be carried out.


So my message to the people of Occupy Wall Street who sit daily in Zuccoti Park, start the revolution. Grab a brick and throw it through the window of the first Taco Bell you see. Storm Wall Street and tear down the stick exchange monitors, take control of the levers of power by eliminating those levers. The task at hand is to do wake up tomorrow not to a nightmare but to a new world, one without a blueprint but one free from corporate domination. Occupy Wall Street must do what they say they will do, that is Occupy Wall Street, and not leave or take no for answer. If this means violence, so be it, bullets change governments far surer then votes do. The people of Occupy Wall Street have to be willing to get their hands dirty in order to fight global capitalism and it’s influence on politics. The expansion of capital to every aspect of our lives was not clean so neither must the revolution be. 

To effectively carry out their movement Occupy Wall Street must not take the reforms that doomed ’68. It is time for people to stand up and say no, not with their voices with their actions. The people of Occupy Wall Street must be ready for political insurgency or they should stay at home and let real revolutionaries fight their battle.