Corruption

The final Lemony Snicket book is, so far (we’re on chapter 10), kind of a disappointment, mostly because of its not-so-veiled personification of the Bushits and their political failings. Like Unemployed Negativity, I’m tired of pop-cult works that poke fun at the current U.S. administration, especially when the critiques amount to raising hot-button issues without doing any actual critique or placing the Bush administration in a larger political-economic background. Apparently it’s enough to merely raise the names torture, surveillance, etc. Politics by keyword.

The End‘s keyword is corruption. In the book, the Baudelaire children become shipwrecked on an island populated by a community whose leader prohibits the inhabitants from keeping any of the items that wash ashore, many of which would make the islanders lives easier and/or more pleasurable. The leader does this, he says, to protect them from the evil that inheres in these objects and the horror they bring. (I’m actually liking this aspect of the book, as it reminds me of Monster House‘s portrayal of security-state paternalism.) Turns out though that the leader is secretly using these things and selfishly gaining from them: reading banned books, eating prohibited food, using outlawed mechanical devices.

Get it? The leader represents the two wings of the Bush camp: The fundamentalists who want to deny material, pleasurable things, even though many of them hypocritically use them themselves (see Mark Foley and young men’s bodies), and the Cheney faction, which crassly creates policies that its friends can profit from.

That the Bush administration’s primary sin during its reign has been its ceaseless corruption is a tenet of much liberal-progressive criticism over the last five years. Corruption also acts as catchall explanation for its policies: The Iraq war, for example, was all about enriching their buddies in the oil and reconstruction businesses. Undoubtedly it is a corrupt administration, but seeing in corruption the ghost in the machine behind all its actions marks a retreat from politics. Though it allows for some righteous feelings and nice rhetoric — “most corrupt administration in US history” is a phrase that gets used a lot — these charges are apolitical. Accusations of corruption are about morality, not politics.

Next post, I’ll try to say something more interesting on this (perhaps maddeningly obvious) point by bringing in Badiou on corruption.

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