Caligula for President, Or, Your Misanthropy Makes Me Hot

As a populace, you are immature and emotionally retarded. Your crazy-dreamer-style political decision making is based on a totally optimistic disregard for actual politics, the learning process and logic in general.
— Caligula

As I stood in line at 5:30 AM to get the bullshit voting process out of the way by offering myself to the abstract intellectual space of free-play that leads to wise political judgment which we Americans locate in the voting booth (now replaced by the small “voting table” and the unwieldy “privacy card”), I took note of the smugness of my fellow voters. As one woman haughtily emerged from behind her voting box to announce that she had spoiled her ballot and needed another one, I was counseled to be patient by the Church volunteer who sat there handing out pens. I snapped at her, “I am being patient!” Earlier, I gave her my voter registration card. “Don’t you want to see my ID?” “That’s not really necessary,” she said. “Yes it is,” I ordered. “My vote isn’t getting disqualified on any grounds.” I couldn’t believe these people taking their vote for granted. Yuppies. These days you have to kick some ass to make sure they process your vote.

Another overly caffeinated woman kept discussing her volunteer work for Obama while rapping a copy of The New Yorker against her knuckles. I looked around wondering, “how many of these assholes have subscriptions to The New Yorker? Jesus Christ, what a racket. They really are cleaning up.” Everyone around me felt good. Even though I was the best looking person in the polling station, they all looked good, as if they felt clean. They felt optimistic. Our nation is ready to optimistically suffer itself back into economic prosperity for the next few years, and we will feel morally cleansed as we pull out of Iraq and remain militarily ensconced only in Afghanistan.

When I heard Obama claim that our troops only belong in Afghanistan looking for the perpetrators of 9/11, I felt the bottom fall out of my stomach. What is the point of war if we are not cynically seeking an extension of our vital resources? While George Bush’s attack on Iraq was blatant, Straussian, imperialism, it had a clear goal: If our military is not going to be trolling for oil, then really what is the fucking point?! And Obama considers himself leadership material?

“Only the Intelligent Vote Obama” stickers, “A vote for McCain/Palin is evil blog posts” and other examples of moral and cognitive self-righteousness mixed in with election time platitudes have been torture to sit through. The willingness to lie, cheat, and steal — the sheer ruthlessness of the rule by might of the past eight years — has been refreshing, if not a tad depressing, in its openness about the true nature of power in this society. The Republicans used the Strauss chapbook. They channeled Machiavelli and Stalin, instead of Lenin. Since my academic interest is largely in the history of ruthlessness and paranoia, I found the past decade educational. As obviously as the moral (does anyone care about morals anymore) of Antigone is don’t fuck around with nut-jobs, the (im)moral of the Republican party’s exploits as the ruling party is that viciousness in politics pays. I don’t need my Vice-President to believe the earth is round! Obama’s speeches could pass for a high school civics class lecture. The next four years promise to be boring with the ethical platitudes and veiled corruption.

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I also found Cintra Wilson’s Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny, to be incredibly educational. The premise is that Caligula has returned from the dead and the book constitutes his campaign for the American presidency. “America is thisssclose–right on the front-yard line–of having a real, live, old-fashioned, dynastic totalitarian monarchy-cum-military dictatorship. And I intend to drop-kick America orgasmically through this goalpost.” Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, like presidents from the Bush family, the Clinton family the Gore/Kennedy family, and all the other incestuous oligarchies that have ruled America (see The House of Yes), was born into the dynastic line of power. As with their administrations, insanity and sexual perversity and poor government went together. The book gives not only a history lesson on Caligula’s rise to power, the smotherings and political assassinations, the debauchery and the rape of state, the ascension into godhood and the free for all (or, rather, free for him) of his reign, but also shows how it applies to America today. Chapters range from a discussion of dynasty in politics to domestic propaganda, perception management, state religion (monumentality), political depression, Theft (tax give-aways; bribery), “security,” and builds up to chapters like “A Hello to Arms; Or, Eternal War for Eternal War; Or, Catching Your Dick in the Zipper of Imperial Overreach,” and “The Political Animal Must Eat Itself: Paranoia, Cannibalism and Existential Angst.”

When discussing perception management, Wilson employs the anthropological concept of “interpretive drift,” the theory of how “rational thinking can gradually become irrational. It’s the way normal people become cult members, for example, or free Americans become slave labor for a totalitarian military dictatorship.” This leads her into an explanation of how Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric (and owner of NBC) used his corporate interest to manipulate NBC news’ election coverage so as to have Bush called as winner of Florida the unforgettable night of the 2000 election. While Welch’s involvement was investigated, it was hardly reported upon. And even if it had made the front pages, Caligula rejoices in the knowledge that

PR agencies like Burson-Marsteller can literally fix any reputation. You can go down to Bhopal and spray oven cleaner into the eyes of orphans for six months, just for fun, and they’ll make it look like you were trying to correct their astigmatism.

How does the drift take place? During the past eight years, every major story about the current administration’s corruptions and manipulations (when reported) has been sidelined by conveniently breaking stories about Britney Spears, Anna Nicole Smith and Lindsay Lohan. “Lindsay Lohan’s personal issues considerably helped to eclipse the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys controversy,” claims Wilson, as she tracks the news cycle on July 24 and 25, 2007. After asking “Did Betsy Ross do more for her country than Lindsay?” and “Which story do you remember happening?” Wilson cum Caligula proclaims that Lohan is a small potatoes distraction:

Paris Hilton is, in fact, a Warholian genius of media manipulation. If Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana were “candles in the wind,” and Anna Nicole Smith was a bonfire in a hailstorm, and Lindsay Lohan is an electric toaster oven thrown intentionally into a Jacuzzi, then Paris Hilton is a strobe light in an epilepsy ward.

Hilton “managed” to begin her jail sentence on the same day that Scooter Libby was sentenced. “Was this sheer luck? Pure coincidence? Or was it raw patriotism?” Hilton has been quoted in Glamour Magazine on the subject of Palin as saying “I think she’s hot and I think it’s great that a woman is running for office. … I don’t think she’s stupid – she wouldn’t be where she is today if she was stupid. I think she’s smart, and it’s just because she’s a woman people are saying she’s not.” Paris would know… or wouldn’t. I’m confused. As Caligula points out in his campaign speech, “tragedy comes from the Greek words tragos, meaning “Goat” … and odia, meaning “song.” It was basically an ancient Greek entertainment-industry term — tragoidia–meaning “goat men sacrifice song.”” Today, he points out, it has been replaced by “designated celebrity scapegoating.” It is

the prevailing cultural trope I whimsically like to call “Death to the Slut.” Admit it. America is really not so different from Somalia: You love to stone the adulteress just as much as anyone under sharia law. You just prefer to psychologically torture your fallen women to death because it takes longer. I understand… The yellow press will hound a blonde into an early grave every five years or so, and parade her bloody bedsheets through the streets, and oily black gushers of inexhaustible tabloid revenue will blast up out of supermarket lines everywhere and fall upon us all like a dirty mist.

One of the great devices of the book is the way in which Caligula constructs revenge fantasies against celebrity culture for its distracting tactics. “As punishment for cycling with members of the last administration, Lance Armstrong will be forced to wear a very tight stack of yellow rubber bracelets around his only remaining testicle for several months. For charity, of course.” Crime appropriate punishments are meted out against Tucker Carlson, Willie Geist, Bill Hemmer, Dana Perino, Ann Coulter, Ryan Seacrest (who a slut friend of mine, Meagan, once dated years ago. Yes, he is as miserable in bed as you’d expect), Jessica Alba, and more.

The scope of Cintra’s argument can be difficult to manage. She and Caligula weave through ancient Rome, back to the Clintons, the Bush family, the Sopranos and to the Hiltons. The book is a history lesson, a history of our present and its own social theory. “Realpolitik is not for the twee. If you really want to understand how worlds corrode, you have to look at the fragile web of interconnected personal relationships in top cabinet positions,” says Caligula before discussing his uncle Tiberius, as well as Bush’s recent self-awarding of classified Presidential powers, and the close proximity of Presidential statutes to actual law now that Congressional recognition has been granted to them. It’s truly refreshing, for once, to read a conspiracy theorist who writes from the point of view of the conspiracy! You really think Obama will agree to lessen his own power? If so, Caligula has an aqueduct he wants to sell you.

Anyone who’s been around the historical block a few times knows that democracies tend to mutate into either empires or anarchies, both of which tend to devolve quite handily into tyrannies, and all of which ultimately decompose into authoritarian military dictatorships. You may whine all you like, but I can’t guarantee your safety afterwards. I prefer to think that America is moving away from the stagnant democracy it has been mired in, according to stodgy, literal, Borkian interpretations of ancient documents like the Constitution (which is as risible as any literal interpretation of any document from the New Testament to The Hobbit), and moving into something truly exciting: a more Rabelaisian, “carnivalesque” democracy…

In fact, Obama may represent a considerably greater danger than McCain ever would have. The religious power Obama holds over people with the words “hope” and “change” is quite frightening. As I keep telling people, the optimism they feel when he speaks is pure ideology. Their viscera is enacted and their bodies become complicit in his (homophobic and misogynistic) opportunist political program. I am sure he will be less horrible a president than McCain (which was the only criteria I used in voting for him), however, there is something compelling about the Caligulan logic that says we should be choosing the more horrible candidate. It’s the logic of political obscenity (not political satire; there is a difference). It’s the logic that demands even greater feats of extravagant corruption to which no one will react just to see how far we can be tested. For, if Obama is our reaction, then we truly are incapable of considered reaction.

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After I voted, I trudged my way to Starbucks. I was informed that if I showed the barista my voter card, I’d get a free coffee. It’s one of the many “discounts”/bribes for voting available today. I ordered a blueberry muffin I didn’t really want along with my free grande, decaff, lotta room for cream, cafe Americano, because I felt bad just trotting in and getting only free stuff. Then I showed my proof of voting. The barista frowned and said in a baby voice, “oh, that’s only good for talls, not grandes.” I ended up spending $4.50 I never planned on spending. As I stood there, munching on my stale muffin, I felt all my hope for change slide away. It’s gonna be a long four years without you, Caligula.

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2 Responses to “Caligula for President, Or, Your Misanthropy Makes Me Hot”

  1. em Says:

    thanks for the c.w. recommendation — i will look for it at THE LIBRARY.also, i love polling places! here in my immigrant-went-trendy neighborhood, a woman in a cape in front of me berated the volunteers for “not having anyone in front to greet me.” Then she saw a “friend from work,” some tall, bug-eyed dishevelled guy in what looked to be Michael Jackson’s Thriller jacket dyed green. The aforementioned volunteers, I should note, looked like they were just dragged out of an all-night biker bar. The venue? The moldy basement of a senior center with the clocks showing the wrong time…

  2. darknessatnoon Says:

    Emily, I hope you like it. I also loved her book A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Reexamined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease and Other Cultural Revelations. See if that’s there as well. P.S.I’ll be in LA next week for a couple of days.

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