Charlottesville Ain’t The Sharks And The Jets

Leonard Bernstein wrote the music to West Side Story in the 1950’s. The story was based on the template of Romeo and Juliet, only instead of Shakespeare’s rivalry of the Montague’s and Capulet’s, Bernstein considered that of the Jets and the Sharks. Ethnographers are likely to point out that this template is somewhat universal with actual examples from America’s own history, like the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s. Indeed, West Side Story could also be staged as a sports rivalry (the Jets and the Dolphins), or an intrigue between two college basketball or NASCAR dynasties. However, Analysis finds it a bit disconcerting when the apprentice president of the United States appropriates this same template to address the ongoing tragedy which happened in Charlottesville Virginia this past week. Nazi’s and their opponents are not like the Montagues and Capulets. There is a difference, both in the engagement as well as the correct use of the cultural template. Suffice to say it is not a sporting event, nor a literary play. Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel and the future apprentice president’s mentor, Roy Cohn, may have mastered the insinuation of equivocation for purposes of disparagement during the McCarthy “Communist investigations” but the real politic of this methodology ultimately failed America. This tactic relies on eliminating difference in favor of the cultural template utilized in story telling. Successful, it absolves one of the “rivals” of guilt, while assigning guilt to the other (a perverse interpretation of “equal justice for all”). The apprentice president has utilized this argument form many times as a “real estate” tycoon as well as in his primary/general election run. He continues with it now during his Charlottesville “do overs”. Analysis shows he will likely call for another “do over” explanation (and probably many more). In the case of Charlottesville, the template as explanation is totally inadequate. It is very, very convenient for quick, deadline oriented media. Nazi and KKK ideology has history, actions and deeds which cleave to a rigid perspective and interpretation. The opposition is diverse, even disparate. Much as the folks who run in the various races-for-the-cure fund raisers, the opponents of Nazi’s are unified by a determination to stop the spread of a known carcinogen. The inevitability of confrontation and clashes leads folks like the apprentice president to simplify and equivocate the “rivalry” in terms of the cultural literary template. Cohn’s ghost calls out “they’re both the same, equally bad.” However, there is a deafening silence when it comes to defining or narrating the “other side’s” history and continuum, word and deed, position and ideology. To do so would be to speak of anarchists, something that folks like McCarthy made sure would not see the light of day, let alone media presence. Professor David Graeber was fired by Yale University for having done anthropological field work with various anarchist groups and actions in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. You remember the various world bank, international monetary fund forums disrupted by anarchists in cities like Seattle, Washington, Quebec and numerous overseas occurrences? Gonzo journalism it wasn’t but his involvement and study resulted in an excellent academic anthropological book entitled Direct Action: an ethnography. Recommended reading if one would like to understand the antifa which operate on the principle of the black block (which also requires a bit of understanding as it is not just folks with tiki torches chanting anti-semitic babble). Folks like Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover would prefer Americans associate anarchism with bomb throwing and Sacco and Vanzetti. Events like Standing Rock present more current incarnations of “anarchy”. As Graeber pointed out, anarchists are primarily interested in local governance issues. They eschew oppression of any kind and prefer local governance to be resolved within a framework of consensus – so that each represents themselves and all feel they have been heard, all feel the resolution is not at their expense (no 50 senators and the vice president to produce a majority, in order that majority rules). The rest flows from that (their disregard for national government, for multi national capitalism, etc.). Charlottesville ain’t the Sharks and the Jets.

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One Response to “Charlottesville Ain’t The Sharks And The Jets”

  1. Lizz Says:

    I think that the “Sharks and Jets” analogy makes clear why 45’s comments are problematic. It’s interesting also to have the historical perspective of how this “equalizing” tactic was employed, ultimately unsuccessfully, in the McCarthy era. I wonder if it will have more success now – it seems that the current context (i.e. deadline-oriented journalism as well as the fact that we are all getting our news from different sources, typically(?) those that serve as echo chambers of our own perspectives) might make this more likely to stick. The developing story that forms about the antifa seems to be the key – as you point out, it’s quite nebulous right now, but if that “side’s” identity can be fixed as something that frightens the average un-informed person, then it seems like this situation can be presented like West Side Story, but this time with more success.

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