Thursday, September 29, 2011


I've got a long post on Facebook that should be up by the end of the weekend, but I thought I'd take a minute to comment on Radiohead's appearance on The Colbert Report. In the lead up to the event, Colbert had said "I look forward to meeting the Radioheads and leveraging their anti-corporate indie cred to raise brand awareness for my sponsors," which is in many ways a more interesting statement than it initially appears. Stripped of the perfunctory and surface-level irony that it relies on as a gag*--famously anti-corporate rock band appears on TV show put on and supported by corporations--this statement seems to me to be a particularly good example of anti-capitalism as one of the primary guises of contemporary capitalism. In his take on WALL-E, Mark Fisher points out that:
[T]he ideology of capitalism is now "anti-capitalist." . . . Initially, it might seem subversive and ironic that a film made by a massive corporation should have such an anti-consumerist and anti-corporate message . . . Yet it is capital which is the great ironist, easily able to metabolise anti-corporate rhetoric by selling it back to an audience as entertainment. 
Colbert's statement is essentially a reformulation of this point, making explicit how capital-as-ironist functions with regard to anti-capitalism. His interview with the band goes a step further and continually puts this concept in tension with the band's statements regarding their anti-corporate stance--there is a delicious and palpable dissonance at play because, in a lot of ways, Colbert "wins" the debate: capital succeeds as an ironist (and the band appears to be as humourless as their detractors would have them be).

While some of Colbert's persona's more exaggerated characteristics are starting to wear thin--in much the same way that Jon Stewart's attempts to maintain both his "objectivity" and his status as "just a guy on a comedy show" can make his commentary infuriatingly impotent and toothless--the interviews, especially the one with just Thom Yorke and Ed O'Brien, are most interesting when that persona allows him to be punishingly blunt. Until the joke about clean coal, the end of that second interview is almost unbearably pointed. If policies from the left--and political statements made by artists--are to move beyond comfy neoliberalism and the easily consumed anti-capitalism that goes with it, take downs of easy positions like those mocked by Colbert in these two interviews need to continue.

*A gag that was already boring when it featured in every review of Rage Against the Machine in the 90s and is now beyond tired.

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