Magical Mediocrity Tour

Can you imagine—the whole country wired to Terry Gross's bourgeois ass?

The dialectical tug-of-cultural-war between the Schwarzeneggerites and the Adornoheads comes down to a taffy pull between High and Low Mediocrity: competing fantasies of utopia (each as the other's dystopia), rival irrationalizations, dueling Neverlands, Hail to the Thief vs. the déclassé-warfare of Twisted Sister's"We're Not Gonna Take It." The great joke of a dumb capitalist stooge like Arnold is that he instinctively understands the politics of class in America better than hackademic aristocrats who rail against privilege even as they marinate in it. The people who elected Schwarzenegger made a sucker's bet on the future, yet on some hilarious level he has more to offer them—mediocre fellow-feeling if nothing else—than the assumed superiority of a shadow ruling class whose compassionate motto is "Let them eat metaphysics." Reified catchphrases such as "the Adolescent Abyss" and "the Middle Mind" itself are hardly less vacuous than "I"ll be back," "Game over," and "Hasta la vista, baby." White may exhort his imaginary shock troops to believe "Change is real," but such inspirational platitudes have the unmistakable ring of Spielberg Envy: pining for a false optimism and smug innocence to call his very own. And if a bitter underclass ever did organize and start looking for some heads to roll, such armchair radicals would be the most surprised people on the block. "You aren't looking for us," they'd impatiently lecture the torch-wielding mob. "You want the nasty Republicans next door. We voted for Nader."

Howard Hampton is a freelance writer who is working on Badlands: A Psychogeography of the Reagan Era for Harvard University Press.

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