In writing this column over lo these many months, I’ve heard from lots of people that “Alt-Left” is a lousy formulation for this collation of progressive pieties, liberal licentiousness, bohemian bric-a-brac and Bolshevik bossiness. The common complaint is that there is nothing “alt” about the beliefs and behavior it documents. Having sex with shrubbery, whining about “white people shampoo” or casting black magic spells on Donald Trump -- it’s all the stuff of the lefty mainstream.
I was reluctant to agree. There must still be some quiet majority that roll their eyes at the word “privilege,” yet pull the lever for Big Government. Surely, rank-and-file Democrats just nod politely and slowly inch away when some green-haired apparition at the DNC fundraiser starts detailing the finer distinctions between genderfluid and genderqueer.
Well, I was wrong. The last month has shown that the left has congealed into one giant shrieking mass of resentment and dysfunction. The only thing that separates Senate Democrats from the pussy-hatted “Believe All Women” screechers is the cynicism of the former. (Cynicism is a relative quality, though. Dick Durbin is positively an idealist compared to his enablers at CNN, NBC, The Washington Post et al. To listen to five minutes of Pat Leahey is to come away feeling the need for a shower. Watching a few seconds of Brian Stelter is to beg for the water cannon and the delousing powder.)
The left -- all of it, not just the usual suspects (don’t they have jobs?) is in a petulant frenzy. (“A petulant frenzy! I’m petulant, and I’m having a frenzy!” Name that tune ...) Half the body politic is having violent seizures because it defines its politics based on its body -- abortion über alles and to hell with due process. Any appointment that would change the balance of the court, especially where Roe V. Wade is concerned, was going to be tempestuous. But it would not -- could not -- play out as depressingly as it has absent a stark, frightening fact: half of us no longer think they're bound by the norms of civil society.
The turning point for me was hearing Corey “Please, Please, Please Make Me President” Booker turn on the smarm and thank Christina Ford for sharing “her truth.” It encapsulated the entire awful historical moment. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the confirmation of an associate justice to the Supreme Court of the United States, a senator rejected Truth. Booker -- and I fear half the country -- has accepted (at least for the sake of expedience) that truth is subject to all the modifiers identity politics can lard on it. There’s women’s truth, black truth, gay truth, trans truth, sex workers’ truth, one-eyed Turkish customer service reps’ truth … even, if they're feeling really, really generous, white guys’ truth. Everything but Truth.
So anyone who ever complained about the title of this column, allow yourself an “I told you so.” In the meantime, there’s been no shortage of bizarre moonbattery from outside the Senate.
Yeah, but you’ll never stop Daffy! Most people who had co-written a book in the early 1970s that “denounced Walt Disney as an agent of American cultural imperialism, incarnated in the life, adventures and misdeeds of Donald Duck” would eventually realize their crime and have the decency to go the grave without ever mentioning it again. Ariel Dorfman has no such decency.
In fact, the Chilean American novelist and playwright seems downright proud of his glory days taking on Big Cartoons. He tells us so in “How we roasted Donald Duck, Disney's agent of imperialism,” in The Guardian, the U.K.’s premier socialist rag.
At the time How to Read Donald Duck was published, Dorfman was part of the Allende government, trying to build a Workers’ Paradise™ in Chile. When Pinochet’s coup happened, he was exiled and experienced what all lefties dream of, but few ever get to enjoy: the thrill of watching right-wingers burn his book.
But why pick on Donald Duck? (I mean, I’m a Loonie Tunes partisan myself, and not above taking shots at The House of Mouse. But I draw the line at book-length excoriations of cartoon characters.)
“We wanted Chilean readers to realise they were being fed values that were inimical to a revolution that sought to unshackle them from centuries-old exploitation,” Dorfman explains.
It was not enough, we felt, to change the economic and social structures that benefited a rich minority and their international corporate allies. It was also imperative to understand how the previous rulers of our land had presented this subjugation as normal, natural and benign; how they had been covertly selling us an American model of success and consumer affluence as the false solution to poverty and misdevelopment.
Just as copper and other resources usurped by foreign hands needed to be recovered for the nation, so too did our dreams and desires … Our book was meant to contest the authoritarian plots imported from the US, to open spaces for stories of our own making.
Oh, let’s not jump to conclusions. “Described in this summary fashion,” Dorfman writes,” How to Read Donald Duck might seem like another dreary academic, jargon-filled leftwing semiotic exercise condemning the bourgeois, capitalist, neocolonial cultural impositions.”
Not a bit of it! I, for one, would love to strap in and go along for Dorfman’s thrill-a-minute joy ride. So let’s sample some of the nefarious water fowl’s perfidy:
We used the Disney cartoons to suggest the aseptic, oppressive sexuality in the Duck family, the way third-world natives were depicted as savages and idiots, the way riches were never produced by workers but always by investors, and how villains were portrayed with racial bias. In this realm, female Ducks are flirtatiously worried about their beauty, yet strangely asexual (Daisy: “If you teach me to skate this afternoon, I will give you something you always wanted.” Donald: “You mean …?” Daisy: “Yes … my 1872 coin.”) And the model jobs for the Duck nephews when playing a game at school about the adults they want to become: “I’d like to be a banker!” says Dewey, echoed by Huey: “I’ll pretend I’m a big landlord with lots of land to sell.” Or take the witch doctor who brags about his nation being modern because “Gottee telephone. Only trouble is only one has wires. It’s a hot line to the World Loan Bank.”
[Gasp!] Bankers! Landlords! The horror. Yes, some of this wouldn’t fly today, but Disney would never, ever print it today. And today is what this is all about. Dorfman writes, the book – which is now being published for the first time in the US and handsomely reprinted in the UK – may yet prove to be relevant in the pre-fascist era of Trump, Brexit and resurgent nationalisms all too reminiscent of the post-coup Chile of General Augusto Pinochet.”
Yep. Pre-fascist and post-coup. Look, book burning is bad. Military coups are often bad. Forcing people into hiding and exile is bad, whether the left or the right does it. But exposing the colonialist crimes of a cartoon character was stupid in the 1970s and it is now. And scaring people into buying your book with vague warnings about creeping fascism is cynical and dishonest.
But what if you’re a bullfighter? It’s about time choosing lipstick took its place in the pantheon of important political statements, alongside such iconic moments as buying fairtrade chocolate or knitting your first pussy hat. Doubly so for Hispanic women and bright red lipstick.
At Teen Vogue (motto: “Come for the Karl Marx Tributes, Stay for Anal Sex Tutorials”) Marilyn La Jeunesse wants Latinas and Latinos (together making Latinx) to rock the ruby pucker. It’s is, you see, liberating and political and empowering and …
Best of all, it’s honoring the history of chicks who hung out with violent Latino street gangs! “Through their style choices,” La Jeuness explains, “cholas were making a cultural statement on who they were as Mexican American women in a world that wanted to mute their existence.”
The world tried to mute the existence of women who consorted with petty criminals, drug traffickers and murderers? Would that the world still did. But La Jeunesse tells readers that “being chola isn’t something that should be considered negative “ Indeed. One girl’s violent street thug is another’s Prince Charming.
Anyway, sporting the crimson-painted lips of the chola helps you combat the “outdated stereotype” of the chola. One devotee told La Jeunesse, “they typically associate it with characteristics such as ‘spicy’ and combative personality traits which falsely subjects them to stereotypes that aren’t always true.”
And yet elsewhere La Jeunesse says red lipstick is “fierce and unstoppable.” It “can be intimidating.” It “can make you feel fierce.” And “red lipstick and strength are synonymous.”
Which is it you ask? Does red lipstick break the stereotypes or enforce them? Shut up. The important thing is that it feeds your sense of group identity. La Jeuness says “Red lipstick helps me connect with my Chicana roots.” And, of course, it helps others connect to roots that aren’t really Chicana but not really Chicano. What identity group article would be complete without a trannie?
Red lipstick is just one of the ways Fran Tirado is able to express himself and pay homage to those that came before him. “My style is boring, but still relatively genderfluid, and lips are usually my best means of asserting my place as a gender nonconforming dresser in this world. I love that red makeup — whether its red lipstick, red nails, or red eyeliner — has a sociocultural taboo attached to it,” he tells Teen Vogue. “Red lipstick, in my memory, reminds me of the chonga archetype. Growing up, red lipstick symbolized an agnosticism toward the otherwise buttoned-up environment they were in, or even, an irreverence toward it. And that's why I love it. A chonga doesn't lose sleep over the opinions of people who exclude her. I honor a long line chongas in my own way, by my refutation of gender norms (complete with masculine expression and a mustache).”
[sigh] Red lipstick, is there anything it can’t do?