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Pop Social Darwinism in Contemporary American Capitalist Society: the Marketization of Che as Individualist Symbol

I. INTRODUCTION

In what way is the selling of Che Guevara a negation of Che and an assertion of the Hobbesian ideology of rugged individualism and Social

Darwinism in US society? This is the central question that this essay will discuss.

II. NEO CONSERVATISM AT HOME, GLOBALIZATION ABROAD AND THE NECESSITY OF POP SOCIAL DARWINIST IDEOLOGY

1) In the last 20 years American capitalism has changed drastically due to the computerization of society, politics, economics and finance. For the first time globalization make a practical reality

2) The Soviet challenge to American capital ended and with it the terms under which American economic and political power functioned in the world

3) The alternative socioeconomic, political and ideological challenge of socialism as a practical day to day challenge came to an end, at least in the short term. Thus it became possible for the US capitalist class to dismantle the power that the state had in limiting the operations of private capital – in other words, begin a process of dismantling that sector of the state that hindered the operations of capital (welfare state, redistribution, taxation, regulation, et al) In order to do all these things it was necessary to sell an ideological message that made acceptable an ideology that was pre-welfare state, that is, a return to the period from 1898 to the 1920s in the US. That meant a return to Social Darwinism – the American ideology of unfettered capitalist enterprise (robber barons and all). But to do that it was necessary to dismantle the regulations requiring fairness in the media and consolidating ownership. The centralization of media ownership is now accomplished. The AM message has been neo conservative and fascist. The same has taken place, but at a different level and scale in the television networks.

III THE CREATION OF ‘REALITY SHOWS’ or POP SOCIAL DARWINISM

The Context

Regardless of what the world may think it is imperative that Americans be duly socialized into the Hobbesian frame of mind if the United States is to get rid of the welfare state at home and engage in the brutal imposition of American power abroad. American culture has to move from the “social contract” world of liberal thought into the Hobbesian framework that claims that the world is mean, nasty, brutish, vile and violent and only the strongest and fittest survive.

It is not surprising that this is happening just now in the United States. The post-Soviet globalization of the world requires and necessitates that Social Darwinist ideology – with deep roots in American history and culture become once again a fundamental part of contemporary popular thought. But the Social Darwinism espoused by William Graham Sumner in the early 20oth century of unencumbered laissez faire now married to sociobiology and narcissistic individualist ideology in order to promote a survival of the “fittest” attitude that the majority of the population identifies with because it applies to the other person, besides it is fun as well as profitable. That cultural work is the bread and butter of the television networks. For wealth accumulation is the goal of existence, in order to have “fun.”

If AM radio engages in neo fascist ideological warfare, American television is to teach friendly fascism as a form of entertainment. American television has come up with the survival of the fittest entertainment – or cut throat competition. You win by defeating the others. The text found in every TV shows follows the views of Andrew Carnegie, “the law of competition, be it benign or not, is here; we cannot evade it; no substitutes for it have been found; and while the law may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.” (Hsü, Kenneth. 1986. The Great Dying: Cosmic Catastrophe, Dinosaurs and the Theory of Evolution. NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. 1986, p. 10).

“Naturally, such political values don’t flourish in a vacuum, and it’s no surprise that today’s most memorable TV shows are reality programs such as Joe Millionaire, The Bachelor and, of course, the aptly named Survivor, all of which are essentially Darwinian games of selection, extinction and survival.” [John Powers, George of the Jungle, LA Weekly, May 9-15, 2003]

B. Types of Social Darwinist TV Shows

1) Social Darwinism inside the corporation: corporate board room with the overpowering magnate where one has to sacrifice others to survive -but this is the text in hyper urbanized Manhattan, [Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, The rebel billionaire] then

2) Social Darwinism between groups: shift to Amazing Race or Survivor Vanuatu – the survival of the fittest again, who are willing to create coalitions to get rid of the “weakest links” in a sort of “salami tactics” approach until you get rid of everyone by means of numerous coalitions against just one (The coalition of the willing, a la Irak) or 3) Social Darwinism among individuals: “trading spouses” of the “The Bachelor” (after all they are commodities with use value)

IV POP SOCIAL DARWINISM AND THE MARKETIZATION OF CHE

The life and work of Che Guevara challenges Social Darwinist ideology. Neither Marx nor Engels nor Trostky, Stalin, Fidel or Mao seems to hold sway for the new consumerist generations worldwide. But Che, contrary to Fidel or Mao, died young. Marx, Engels and Trotsky are unavailable to people who are barely able to speak fluently in any language and are captured by image. And Korda, among others, without intending it – have provided images of Che that have found resonance among the youth of the world. So Che the image-product has been sold.

But Che, the historical, the real, the revolutionary man has to be denied, aborted, erased from the world of the young. Why? Because Che is actually the real negation as symbol, theory and practice of ruthless capitalist globalization.

This leads to two different reactions. One is rejection, thus:

“I believe that Social Darwinism coincides with the rules of nature whereas universalism is merely idealism at its worst. Socialists are just capitalists who do not have the ability to be successful. So fuck your Che Guevara t-shirts!”

The other is to rob Che of any real meaning and to appropriate his image in such a manner that it becomes a product, one more item to sell and at the same time an emblem of POP SOCIAL DARWINISM.

Hence, the corporate version of Che is a distorted one – on purpose. He has to be transformed from historical figure in order to transform him into an individualist, in search of adventure for its own sake – so that Che merely “tests himself” against the world. So we will be provided with images of him crossing the Andes, or as guerrilla in Cuba, the Congo or Bolivia. The message is clear Che the adventurer, and then the next step is you conquering nature, becoming “rugged” while defeating your competitors. Finally you as triumphant American individualist, giving orders to the small man from little dark corner of the world to hurry up driving you to your destination, then you have triumphed and you will be a millionaire.

What are the qualities that are considered positive in this survivalist shows? Selfishness, deviousness, treachery, secret deals, two faced behavior, manipulation, betrayal, absence of responsibility, sacrifice and toss away the other [a form of downsizing]. And, of course, democracy is the process by which alliances are created to get rid of those considered redundant.

V. SOCIAL DARWINISM CONFRONTS CHE AS HIDDEN “SOCIAL GOSPEL”

The fascination with Che Guevara and even with Fidel Castro is not because of their ideologies seeking social justice, participatory societies and a high degree of community. Rather, American capitalist ideology requires that they be seen as survivors, who – one might detest because of what they stand for – but the capitalist ideology envies them because of their ability to have iron discipline and manage to survive against all odds.

Indeed, the succession question – what will happen after FC died – was the question that revealed American ideology in its ultimate essence. For the capitalist wanted Fidel Castro to die and come to an end because he was NOT one of them, for he was the anti-capitalist, the very negation of the Hobbesian paradigm. Yet, he was also the survivor that Americans project as a sort of radical-Social Darwinist that has endured despite all odds.

And that they envied. They wanted Fidel to die – just as it happened with Che, but they were afraid that in dying there will be no more symbols of their rugged individualism (as they conceive of it).

But Che, like Fidel Castro – among others – were symbols and actors and leaders of mass social struggles and of social organizations and social theories and ideologies that knew that a different world is possible and necessary.

Bibliography

1. Derek Alger, “Game Show Darwinism,” AlterNet, Posted February 19, 2001.

2. Beverly Lucey, The Social Darwinism Thing, Ethical Oasis, 06/23/2002.

3. Jenifer Johnston, “Small, ugly, evil: welcome to Big Brother 5, ” The Sunday Herald, 23 May 2004

4. Leilla Matsui and Seth Sandronsky, ” The Passion of the Donald: Getting in Touch With Your Inner Psychopath, ” www.dissidentvoice.org.

More articles by:

Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.

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