m@ (archas) wrote,

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The Girl from Ipanema Takes On Health-Care Reform

Is there any music more democratically egalitarian than elevator music? It seems to me that any other form of music privileges some at the expense of others--classical music, rap, rock'n'roll, even pop or "top 40," each of these has its demographic, its fan base, to whom it will appeal. The playing of such musics in any space will, then, bring more enjoyment to this demographic, while bringing no pleasure--or even displeasure--to the rest. It would seem that the only way to be genuinely egalitarian, then, would be to play elevator music: the only genre of music that has no demographic, that offends everyone, that is guaranteed to bring no more pleasure to your neighbor than it does to you.

In How to Read Lacan, Slavoj Zizek writes:
Lacan shares with Nietzsche and Freud the idea that justice as equality is founded on envy: our envy of the other who has what we do not have, and who enjoys it. The demand for justice is ultimately the demand that the excessive enjoyment of the other should be curtailed, so that everyone's access to enjoyment will be equal. The necessary outcome of this demand, of course, is asceticism: since it is not possible to impose equal enjoyment, what one can impose is an equally shared prohibition. (37)
Zizek goes on to make a point about our "permissive" postmodern societies, and the forced enjoyment of substances deprived of their true danger--decaf coffee, sugar-free desserts, etc. But this leaves the original point standing: that "justice" is only realizeable under current conditions through the universal prohibition on enjoyment--In other words, that the only truly egalitarian situation would be one in which nobody gets any enjoyment.

...But would this not make our current political system the "best of all possible worlds" after all? The two positions available in American politics today, after all, are partisan deadlock, and bipartisan compromise. Either everyone insists on getting what they want, and nobody gets anything; or everyone makes compromises, and we all get what nobody really wants...Is this not the truest democracy available to us, then? The inverse of Habermas's "consensus politics," this dissensus politics would seem to tuly make all equal in their utter disappointment...

The problem, it seems to me, comes in the way we have implicitly accepted the idea of politics as consumption: just as the passive listener "consumes" the elevator music, we all too often conceive of the political subject as a passive subject, "consuming" politics. And as long as such is the case, then the "real-world compromises" that comprise representational democratic politics are indeed about as "egalitarian" as we're going to get. But we must not lose sight of the fact that this is an illusory egalitarianism, presented as a spectacle for the passive spectator's consumption. To appropriate a phrase, "Politics is not a banana." Democracy is not simply a matter of walking through a salad bar, saying "yes" and "no" to the various, presented options.
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