It’s Sunday morning and I just read two pieces by Douglas Rushkoff (I’ll get to the Times later). In Riding out the Credit Collapse, Rushkoff suggests that we make friends and participate in our local communities as an antidote to buying things on credit. In Beyond Brand Obama, he claims that “we’d be mistaken to consider his politics a complete break from the past, a renaissance in participatory government, or the realization of an Internet-enabled ‘open source’ democracy.”
Rushkoff will vote for Obama and he sees much to appreciate in him, but the thing that scares him is the overt sense of branding Obama embodies.
Brands were invented primarily to replace local commerce and social activity with mass produced goods and corporate-provided services. Brand mythologies alienate people from one another and insert themselves in the place of real relationships. Instead of buying meat, corn, drugs, or soap from local producers, we buy them from A&P, Green Giant, Wal-Mart or P&G. These national brands have great mythologies, but serve to disconnect us from one another, and distribute power to those with capital and away from people who actually do work.
Those of us hoping to build communities, improve our schools, invigorate our local economies, restructure our land use, or reduce our energy dependence mustn’t equate a presidential campaign with substantive change. Obama may be a convenient conceptual placeholder for these concerns, as well as a person capable of dismantling a good amount of America’s more fascistic and militaristic infrastructure. But the only way he’ll even have the latitude to behave in a slightly more enlightened manner than his predecessors will be if we, the actual people on the ground, have chosen to live more consistently with those goals. If he’s president of a nation of fast-food-eating, bigoted, and selfish SUV drivers, he’ll prove as powerless as Cheney was malicious. And the results will be the same.
Amen to that brother Rushkoff.
To Obama’s credit, he does say his message of change is bigger than him or his campaign. That “we the people” must change with him if we want to see change in our lives. But Obama doesn’t make the point as clearly or effectively as Rushkoff does.