Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

“Boredom is the threshold to great deeds”

As the audience for a high-school comedy that presents detailed debates within Marxism is probably limited to, well, me, I guess The Trotsky is the closest we’re likely to get. And it’s a pretty good film, although of course I am disappointed by the limited engagement with the details of Bolshevik theory within the film. The biggest limitation is that no-one in the film seems to have any conception of anything left of liberalism, union representation and some kind of fuzzy humanitarian conception of “social justice.” Nonetheless, the adding of even the trappings of socialist politics to a high-school film is entertaining, and there are various minor moments in the film that are interesting. Read more↴

Defending the right to mediocrity

As many of the people involved in the inspiring protests in Wisconsin are teachers, and as teachers’ unions are the right-wing’s favorite target for union-bashing, the protests have inevitably brought attention to the increasingly toxic American discussion of education. A number of protesters and spokespeople have made arguments rooted in praise of teachers, focusing on their hard work and dedication to students. While this looks like an argument that would have popular appeal, I think  in the long term this kind of argument has had perverse and damaging effects. The more that teachers defend their profession with descriptions of noble self-sacrifice, the more people seem to believe that teachers’ self-sacrifice is a necessary condition of quality of children’s education; and then, of course, the way to improve education is to increase the suffering of teachers. This is, I think, part of the explanation of why, whenever politicians praise teachers, what they are actually saying is “let’s fire all the teachers and pay them less.”

On a slightly more general level, the moral defense of teachers is appealing because it fits with the model of education as salvation which is so popular in America (and increasingly so in the UK). This also probably means that it ends up reinforcing this model, which is unfortunate, because the model is damagingly individualist, in two ways. Read more↴

Bicurious cheerleaders: vanguard of neoliberalism

Hellcats is no Gossip Girl, but it’s quite an entertaining show; its also a troubling one, in a way which I think may be revealing. The show is basically a TV version of Bring it On, portraying the world of competitive college cheerleading, but the main attraction is the adorably subtext-y relationship between the two main characters, Marti, a law student who would probably be described as “feisty,” and Savannah, head cheerleader and lapsed (or lapsing) Christian fundamentalist. This may have reached its high point in the recent episode in which the two settle a disagreement with a pillow fight, the classic nudge-wink signifier of lesbian eroticism (though unusually played here as sweet, rather than titillating).

What’s not so good about the show is the weirdly excessive individualism. Read more↴

I should know better than to read Dissent Magazine

I should certainly know better than to read Dissent late at night, as I did yesterday with this article on the supposedly recent “politicization” of theory, because it’s hard to go to sleep when you’re really pissed off. The article starts off with the smug, incurious moralism that is characteristic of the magazine, with the author, Kevin Mattson reporting his response to Joan Scott:

She questioned Thompson’s faith in “rational” politics and the “abstract individual, the bearer of rights.” … And I remember thinking to myself: aren’t rational arguments in favor of rights a good thing? And especially for anyone who claims to be on the Left, seeing that universal rights are the basis of…well, just about everything?

Well, yes, those are questions you might ask yourself. Read more↴