The Exceptionalism of Nothing

In 1988, some guy from the Midwest dressed up in a tux, brought along a mic and a camera, and conned his way into the Oscars. It appears that this blog has done something similar. Remember that weird Zizek post I wrote? Who cares. Either way, we’ve managed to hoodwink PBS, and I guess they featured it in one of their YouTube videos (around the 10:30 mark).

Before anyone gets too excited, remember that President Trump will soon be defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, so ultimately this is a meaningless accolade. It’s like someone saying that they used to play quarterback in the XFL.

Jokes aside, many thanks to the PBS Idea Channel and Shane Tilton for the praise. It is not unappreciated.

Slavoj Žižek Reviews Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa

I can’t imagine Slavoj Žižek, the frenetic philosopher and sex symbol, has many occasions to eat Taco Bell. This means that it’s safe to say we won’t be reading his thoughts on their new Naked Chicken Chalupa anytime soon. I think that’s a shame, because it is actually a pretty interesting chalupa, and Žižek is renowned for his outside-the-box analysis and eclectic writing style. So here’s how I imagine his ideas about the Naked Chicken Chalupa might read, should he ever get stoned past midnight and realize he forgot his credit card in Slovenia and that he only has three dollars and some loose Parliaments on him. When else do you eat Taco Bell?

We can see that Taco Bell, in spite of their globalist wisdom, has misnamed this so-called “naked chalupa.” It is like the art critic John Berger once said, “To be naked is to be oneself.” Yet the nakedness of this chalupa does not come from its status as a pure being, a sublime entity; in other words, the perfectly Real chalupa, as Lacan would say. Instead, it is only born bare in the sense that we are fetishizing its inversion, the chicken itself as the shell, the fetus turned womb, and so on and so on. You can only be nude if you are clothed because the clothes obscure the objects of desire. We then see that nudity is the symbolic object elevated and misrecognized by the observer. In this way, we should instead be discussing Taco Bell’s new “Nude Chicken Chalupa.”

I am reminded here of course of the old Soviet joke about the peasant and the grain collector: The Soviet grain collector, you know, is traveling in the countryside, making sure harvests are as they should be. He is talking with one particular peasant about his yield when the peasant complains that they are giving so much grain to the State that they have to make their bread partially with dirt. The collector replies, “I assure you it still tastes better than the bread in the Gulag!” This nude chalupa is how I imagine that Gulag bread must have tasted.

As we have already mentioned, the novelty of this chalupa is in its inversion, the fake and unnaturally shaped chicken on the outside rather than in. It is one of the great powers of capitalism that it can convince people that misshapen meat paste is somehow desirable. In reality, it tastes like stale saltine crackers. Beyond the chicken, we have to endure that which it contains: vegetables that still taste of the exploitative wages used to harvest them, cheese that is a condiment, not a culture, and so on. I guess the avocado ranch is a highlight, though. I suggest, then, that the only way to find real pleasure in eating this chalupa is to hope, at least, that the hot sauce packet you use to numb your taste buds has one of the funny messages on it.

If transference is the apriorism that behind the absurdity of the Law there is some sort of Truth, then so too is it the belief that behind a chalupa that costs $2.99 and smells of urine there could be some sort of Taste. I mean, seriously! If you tried to give these things to Napoleon’s soldiers in the dead of the winter of 1812, they would call you a monster!

Would you be surprised if I told you that eating at Taco Bell captures perfectly our perverse ideology? Nobody in their right mind sets out to consciously indulge in a shitty culinary experience. That would be sadistic. Rather, they have been induced by ideology to find, in some sense, enjoyment through the disappointment of eating shitty food. It is a reminder that we only exist through our false consciousness, not that we ate Taco Bell because we thought it might be good, but that we only ate Taco Bell because we knew deep down that it never could be good; in other words, we can have expectations, as well as have them thoroughly shattered by underpriced fast food. In the case of the Nude Chicken Chalupa, it is appropriate then to use Marx’s famous phrase, ‘Sie wissen das nichts, aber Sie tun es’ – ‘They don’t know it, but they are doing it.’ When we go to Taco Bell, we don’t know that we’re condemning ourselves to several hours on the toilet, but we are doing it nonetheless.

Der Bau der Mauer: Constructing an American Embarrassment

When the Berlin Wall was erected in the late summer of 1961, then Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt, called it die Schandmauer, the Wall of Shame. The East Germans preferred something more heavy-handed, referring to it as the “Anti-Fascist Protection Wall.” Clearly, they had not studied Bernays. As typical as this sort of semantic jockeying between East and West was, it revealed the true kernels of post-war ideology: fascism against liberal democracy, communism against capitalism, facelessness against humanity.

In building the Wall, Generalsekretär Walter Ulbricht and the rest of the East German regime offered the Allies the ultimate political device. How better to draw the line between good and evil than through a physical divide? In the West, the Berlin Wall came to be seen as a startling symbol of oppression, an embodiment of the enemy, and in the hearts and minds of those still free, a reminder of their fortune. However, what was it to the people of East Germany?

Less than three decades after its tireless effort to bring down the Wall, America is contemplating a Schandmauer of its own. Like its German predecessor, this wall, our wall, should it be built, will be the product of reactionary policy and populist dogma, a facile solution to the endlessly complex issue of illegal immigration. Rather than attacking the problem comprehensively, President Trump is bullishly standing by his border wall proposal, a directive that has been met with near universal derision from policy experts and politicians on both sides of the aisle. Yet as of the writing of this piece, Mr. Trump remains steadfast that approximately $21.6 billion of taxpayer money, more than the budgets of the EPA, NASA, and the entire Judicial Branch, will be allocated for his misguided pet project, and what’s more, that Mexico will pay for it. Imagine the scene if Brandt had received a bill for $200 million, courtesy of East Germany.

Much as the Berlin Wall was a physical embodiment of the Soviet system, so too is the border wall an embodiment of Trump’s opportunistic rhetoric. His campaign operated as a sort of unintelligible dialectic. He would make wildly absurd, potentially campaign-ending statements, on stage and on air, before offering pseudo clarifications of his “true” position a few days later. In between the ad-libbed oration and the curated responses, what we got was a sense that the man could not even keep track of what he himself believed. That was fine when he was seen as simply a spokesman for the naïve underbelly of American political thought. Now, though, he speaks for America itself, and we should not stand to settle for a mouthpiece that can conjure no more colorful adjectives than “big” and “huge.”

Two days after the election, the German newspaper Der Spiegel questioned whether or not the President-elect might prove to be the second “Unifier of Europe.” What the paper meant was that in Trump, as they once did with Stalin, continental governments might again find a common enemy dangerous enough to warrant genuine European solidarity. A friend of mine who lives in Germany recently expressed that much of the country, and the EU, feels America can no longer be relied upon, the betrayal of a relationship marked by such moments as the Berlin Airlift and President Kennedy’s infamous, “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. The Germans are a people in whose recent memory lives the specter of populism, and to who a wall, whatever one should choose to call it, can stand for so much more than just protecting a border.

President Trump, I ask you this: How will you react when foreign leaders implore you to “tear down this wall”? What will you tweet when it is you and Stephen Bannon whose likenesses are graffitied in a fraternal embrace? And most importantly, will you choose to call this wall an “Anti-Illegal Protection Wall,” or will you call it what it really is, a Wall of Shame?

To support the border wall is to support the inheritance of a legacy that is antithetical to everything Americans have fought for the past century to defend. It was not our past, and it cannot be our future. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of America, “the majority possesses a power which is physical and moral at the same time; it acts upon the will as well as upon the actions of men.” Let us exercise this power of the majority and assure President Trump that we do not consent to his error, lest we stand idly by and watch our moral demise as it is built, brick by brick, along the southern border.