“I Ain’t Gonna Be Part of Your System!”
Lonely Island, Bernie Sanders, and Faux-Revolutionaries
By Matthew William Brake
This has been a wild election season. The Republican Party has allowed the worst caricature of its own populist impulses to become its nominee. And for its part, the Democratic Party has chosen Hillary Clinton—an establishment, left-leaning, and hawkish candidate—as its nominee. Many people were disappointed that Bernie Sanders wasn’t nominated, particularly in light of the role Democratic superdelegates, the media, and apparently the DNC itself played in making sure the “safer” candidate was selected. Senator Sanders promised his followers a political revolution. In the end, however, he lost.
Now, many of his former supporters, along with Bernie himself, have declared their intent to stand behind Hillary Clinton, although this decision has not been unanimous. Some have chosen to support a third party candidate like Jill Stein who they believe represents their progressive values better than Clinton. This has created a backlash from former Bernie supporters who now support Clinton. They argue that voting for a third party candidate is a wasted vote, and given that Trump is the Republican nominee, many of them argue that voting for Hillary is a moral imperative whose pragmatic effects (i.e., Trump won’t get elected) outweigh any idealized notions of voting according to one’s conscience. Given this reality, I’m not quite sure that we know what a “political revolution” really is.
Enter Lonely Island: a comedy troupe consisting of Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone. The group used to feature different comedy and music video shorts on Saturday Night Live. In the music video for their song “Threw It On The Ground,” Andy Samberg plays a millennial-ish, hipster-ish, and possibly-Bernie-supporter-ish type of character who refuses to be a part of anyone’s ‘system.’ A number of people have unfortunate run-ins with Samberg. His first victim is a man giving away energy drink samples. Samberg, in a fit of indignation, declares, “Man, I’m not gonna let you poison me!” and promptly proceeds to throw it…well, on the ground. What follows, however, is an increasingly absurd string of incidents in which Samberg throws numerous things people hand him on the ground, all the while shouting, “I ain’t gonna be part of your system!” For me, the ridiculousness reaches its height when Samberg is handed a piece of cake at a birthday party, about which he states, “Some poser hands me cake at a birthday party. Whatcha want me to do with this? Eat it? Happy birthday to the ground! I threw the rest of the cake, too! Welcome to the real word, jackass!”
There may be few things more obnoxious than a revolutionary millennial who doesn’t know what a true revolution looks like. Many have a revolutionary passion to change their world, but they don’t know where to begin.
Herbert Marcuse in his One-Dimensional Man argues that the current state of neoliberal global capitalism is such that enough comfort has been created in modern Western society such that Business and Labor are no longer in opposition to each other, as they were in the 19th century. The opposition has effectively been absorbed into ‘the system,’ which maintains the status quo under the auspices of “National Purpose” or “bipartisan policy” (xlii-xliii). In this ‘system,’ any analysis that reveals the possibility of the creation of qualitatively more just institutions seems like “unrealistic speculation” (xliii). To say this another way, don’t vote for an ideal third-party candidate who doesn’t stand a chance when there are “real,” material circumstances on the ground that require joining with a more realistic “lesser of two evils.” This seems to be the mentality behind many of those Bernie supporters who have switched their allegiance to Clinton. This mentality seems to be that pointed out by Marcuse whereby “[u]nder the conditions of a rising standard of living, non-conformity with the system itself appears to be socially useless, and the more so when it entails tangible economic and political disadvantages and threatens the smooth operation of the whole” (4). We have become comfortable enough so that we no longer want people to rock the boat and throw our crap on the ground…not really anyway.
However, in the larger scheme of things, the system of neoliberal global capitalism itself persists in causing injustice across the globe while seemingly defanging its opposition by appropriating and co-opting that opposition. For all of their passionate proclamations of political revolution and not being a part of ‘the system,’ those Bernie supporters now backing Hillary seem blissfully unaware that she is no enemy of this system, but is in fact, its defender. As a member of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group consisting of so-called “New Democrats” (Democrats who “act like Republicans”), she has historically aligned herself with the interests of global capitalism. (Slavoj Zizek and Cornel West have received some flak for criticizing Clinton on this front. I have included their articles in the references for those who are interested). In terms of being revolutionary, supporting Hillary for pragmatic reasons is like Samberg throwing a hot dog on the ground. The system itself remains unaffected, and the people suffering from the injustices of global capitalism still think you’re an ignorant jerk.
According to Marcuse, one must recognize that “‘totalitarian’ is not only a terroristic political coordination of society, but also a non-terroristic economic-technical coordination” that can look free and pluralistic but has in actuality simply precluded “the emergence of an effective opposition” (5). The nature of neoliberal global capitalism is such that “liberty can be made into a powerful instrument of domination” (9). Marcuse writes, “The range of choice open to the individual is not the decisive factor in determining the degree of human freedom, but what can be chosen and what is chosen by the individual” (9-10). Having a choice between Trump and Hillary doesn’t matter so much if both serve the system of neoliberal global capitalism, which will continue to perpetuate its injustices. Again, Marcuse states, “Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves. Free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil and fear” (10). Per Samberg, “The moral of the story is…YOU CAN’T TRUST THE SYSTEM…MAAAAANNN!!”
This blog is certainly not an advertisement for Trump, but it is a critique of those who thought they were joining a political revolution against ‘the system’ by supporting Bernie Sanders.
Whatever revolution looks like, it doesn’t look like a retreat to the establishment.
Don’t be silly.
Admit you’re a part of the system.
Admit that you never really left it.
Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. New York. Routledge. 2007.
Robert Hennelly, “Cornel West: Trump Will Be a Neofascist Catastrophe and Clinton a Neoliberal Disaster.” AlterNet. http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/cornel-west-trump-will-be-neofascist-catastrophe-and-clinton-neoliberal-disaster. (accessed August 17, 2016).
Slavoj Zizek, “Slavoj Zizek: The Hillary Clinton Consensus is Damaging Democracy.” Newsweek. http://www.newsweek.com/slavoj-zizek-hillary-clinton-donald-trump-us-presidential-election-bernie-489993?rx=us. (accessed August 17, 2016).
Matthew William Brake is a dual masters student in Interdisciplinary Studies and Philosophy at George Mason University. He has a very love/hate relationship with politics.