Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 17, 2008

The Real McCain

Filed under: Film,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 9:31 pm

Robert Greenwald wants us to vote against McCain

As a member of New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO), I get lots of screeners sent to me even when I don’t request them, including Robert Greenwald’s 60 minute documentary “The Real McCain”. This can be ordered from the ironically named Disinformation Company Ltd. Disinformation also includes 9/11 “truth” movies in its inventory that I have received but not reviewed. That’s because I said everything I wanted to say on the topic after watching “Loose Change“.

Since Greenwald is responsible for “Iraq for Sale“, one of the better documentaries that Disinformation puts out, I was curious to see what he had to say about McCain. The documentary can best be described as a kind of infomercial for Greenwald’s “viral videos” attacking the Republican candidate. The DVD contains 10 of Greenwald’s videos that he hopes will attract as many viewers as “Leave Brittainy Alone” and other such classics. In between each video, you can see Greenwald or other McCain haters explaining how important his work is. I suppose they should know.

Made explicitly for venues like Huffington Post and Youtube, the videos attempt to show McCain as a bumbling, lying, reactionary slug. This is like breaking down an open door. The technique often involves showing McCain in John Kerry type “flip-flops” like opposing offshore drilling and then supporting it. Obviously this particular exposé was rendered toothless after the Democrats’ latest reversal.

I should mention that Greenwald is not related to Glen Greenwald, the salon.com columnist and constitutional lawyer who has written some rather trenchant attacks on the Bush administration, especially around issues such as Guantanamo. Robert Greenwald got started as a producer and director of what the N.Y. Times called “commercially respectable B-list movies”.

Since 2004 Greenwald has worked almost exclusively on political documentaries such as “The Real McCain”. His film company is called Brave New Films and the website contains a number of “viral videos” of the type that show up in “The Real McCain”, including “How to Stop the Smears Against Obama“. Not that I want to discourage the good folks at Brave New Films, but one really has to wonder about the effectiveness of a video that in answering Sean Hannity’s accusation that Obama never says that America is great quotes Obama saying: “But America is a great nation…” as a lead-in to talking about its productive work force, etc.

For all of Greenwald’s rhetoric about new media in the documentary, his videos are essentially the same thing as “negative ads” that cost millions of dollars to air on television. The novelty with Youtube, etc. is that it is essentially free to show a 10 minute attack on McCain. What is missing in either case is a careful consideration of the issues, which given Obama’s relentless drive to the “center” is almost an exercise in futility.

The issue of our day is wage slavery just as chattel slavery was in the 1840s and 50s. Of course, it is a lot harder to focus on wage slavery since most Americans, including those in thrall, accept it as normal. Unlike feudalism or chattel slavery, workers tend to see themselves as economic actors on the same level as the boss. A slave does not have the freedom to pick up and move to another plantation to work, but a worker has such freedom. In Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me”, there is a memorable moment when an unemployed auto worker informs Moore that he is leaving Flint to go to Houston where there are supposedly lots of jobs. It never occurred to that worker that General Motors had no right to throw him to the wolves.

Back in 1858, they did not have television nor did they have Youtube. All they had was newspapers. That’s the downside. On the upside they had politicians like Abe Lincoln who did not mince words in his debates with Douglas over slavery:

That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles-right and wrong-throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.


  1. Yeah, there are people who cut lawns for a living and they think because they cut a millionaire’s lawn they are in the same class and on the same team. They drive around town in their oversized pick-up truck with a trailer getting 10 MPG. It’s this type of “do-it-yourself” American that hopefully Robert Greenwald can reach and get them to not vote for McSame.

    Comment by dougsmiley — August 17, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

  2. Here is a updated version of a Lincoln quote:

    “As I would not be a wage-slave so I would not be a boss. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.” (A. LINCOLN, 1858, revised and updated).

    I commend the sentiment to all, for like many over the years, it seems to me that the struggle for the abolition of wage-slavery is a right and proper extension of the struggle for the abolition of slavery.

    (Note: the original had “slave” instead of “wage-slave” and “master” rather than “boss”.)

    Comment by Feeder of Felines — August 18, 2008 @ 4:29 am

  3. I think people watch these allegedly political videos for the same reason they are fascinated by lolcat humor. It is the obscene pleasure of witnessing the triumph of life, of its overwhelming flow that tears down all the barriers. In one of them, common human stupidity prevails over the nature by zealously reflecting its symptoms to another living thing. In the other, disturbing contradictions human dimension invades the social order: people sometimes get confused, yes, although McCain is a politician, he can get confused too. Terry Eagleton is right to say that in satire and irony the hero is inferior to the rest of us, but I think, we should add that, in comedy the hero is inferior to each of us individually, but replicates our common weakness and confusion against our environment. I think this is the elemental trap of comedy: We typically get the inferior impersonal frame without the individual picture. Here what we got, I mean, with the sarcastic McClain movies, jokes, etc. is an empty frame of standard human stupidity, without the original, individual political picture of McCain. This is why, although it seems extremely critical to the state of affairs, comedy, parody, etc. in fact, often radically reproduces the conditions of the unpleasant individual situation.

    It is amazing even if the sense of humor is one of the most exceptional qualities among humanity, modern dominance of white collar narcissism and the Internet machine remarkably decreases the expenses of its reproduction and increases the productivity of banality. At first it seems contradictory to spot pathological narcissism in conjunction with the sense of humor, but, considering the performative capability of narcissism to observe and act according to what people laugh at, along with the fact that comedy is the shortest way to objectify people, to reduce individuals to empty frames, it is understandable that the widespread shortage of creative humor itself produces infinite amount of homogeneous jokes. Now, we have countless Holden Caulfields everywhere supposedly surrounded by numerous stereotypes, stupid girls, perverts, Yale-looking guys, lazy bastards, dirty bastards, nosy bastards, phony bastard, etc. etc. they obsessively point out each other, seemingly expose their bullshit, but for what motivation? To demonstrate that I’m the the only NORMAL bastard: “I was probably the only normal bastard in the whole place–and that isn’t saying much. I damn near sent a telegram to old Stradlater telling him to take the first train to New York. He’d have been the king of the hotel.” (The Catcher in the Rye). In a paradoxical fashion, the misleading element in the pretentious sense of humor of modern narcissism is its illusory radical aggressivity. As Zizek puts, the pathological narcissist “is a radical conformist who paradoxically experiences himself as an outlaw”.

    I’m too fed up with this tedious lolcat style political humor.

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — August 18, 2008 @ 8:18 am

  4. Good post.

    On elections, for American leftists must be a pretty depressing time as issues are shunted aside in favour of personal attacks and super dumbed-down soundbites.

    Comment by a very public sociologist — August 18, 2008 @ 1:48 pm

  5. Started voting in 1968, and so far, I haven’t gotten around to voting “against” anyone — I simply vote for a candidate I want to see in office, based on their record and positions. Naturally, this means I usually don’t waste my vote on a Democrat or Republican nominee for prez; only done that once, in at fit of delusion in ’72 (McGovern). Other than that, there hasn’t been a DP or RP nominee in the last century that I would have voted for.

    Comment by nasrudin — August 19, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  6. Lolcat political humour is the bridge between the common man who doesn’t immerse himself high brow observation of political events and he who does and can without getting lost. It brings politics to a whole other previously neglected audience and in its own way chips away at the blinkers. Without these dumbed down satires the majority would never know either side because they lack the interest in heavy reading for its own sake or direct purpose.

    I can barely follow what is being said in the first comment but even if the jokes and the humour are lacking in substance there is something to be said for simplified messages if activists want to reach the largest group.

    Otherwise the likely reaction is boredom, confusion, or out right apathy

    Comment by Rob — February 16, 2014 @ 11:35 pm

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