Wednesday, January 05, 2011

He was a gatekeeper

(FTR, the blog tittle should be sung to the Beattles' Daytripper)

New Left has an interesting little blurb up about gatekeeping in regards to college educations. Go read, I'll wait.

Gatekeeping serves a major purpose in entrenching the dominant paradigm and reinforcing cultural hegemony. If you can only get a a decent job through a college education, and you can only get a college education by subscribing to capitalism and free marketeering, then the only people who get good jobs are those who will support the current system. But that's just a small gate, there are much bigger gates to be guarded. Another small gate, say you are a lefty poly sci student. You can be as progressive as you want, but if you want to get a paying job doing what you spent years in school studying, you have to shelve those alternative ideas. Maybe occasionally someone (Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader) gets to be king of the ideal left, but you should note that they are usually white dudes who get to betray their elite status with radical ideas. If you have any kind of oppression points at all, that won't be possible.

Our election system is one grand example of gatekeeping. We only get 2 versions of what's possible, and strangely both those versions are business friendly. They may bicker over talking points, but at the end of the day real change and reform just isn't going to happen when both parties rely on massive corporate funding and the elimination of third parties. You can start out as Mr. Smith (or Mr. Alan Greyson) goes to Washington as you like, the reality is that you either work to keep the system intact or you get sent home.

But gatekeeping doesn't just happen in politics. This is where I may get into some trouble, so forgive me in advance. Take a look at Oprah Winfrey, undisputed media queen of the world. Oh yes, she is a dark skinned black woman. She is one hell of a business woman and talented too. All of that is true. Yet she wouldn't ever have gotten where she is today if she didn't repeat the false American dream ideas over and over and over. Your failures are individual failures. She pulled herself up by the bootstraps and look where she is. Anyone can do it if she did. All it takes is education and drive and hard work. Except that's not all it takes. It also takes a certain degree of luck and the willingness to ignore cognitive dissonance. Oprah works really hard everyday, but does she really work harder than a minimum wage hotel maid? If Oprah didn't repeat that hard work equals success narrative, if she started questioning the economic system that has made her so much money, would she still make so much money? Would she have been allowed to have a television show on networks whose job it is to sell ad space to companies that want to sell us on the American dream? No. (See also the new OWN network, if Oprah suddenly got all progressive her network would fail because major corporations wouldn't advertise with it).

That same thing works in small ways too. If the only employer in town is Walmart, you shut up about how Walmart closed down all the little stores and the factories that went overseas to make the products that Walmart sells. You shut up and hope that you can get a Walmart job. You spew the company line, because if you don't subscribe to it, you don't eat. You become the gatekeeper for mass consumerism.

But some of us can point out the gatekeeping. We can explain that freedom doesn't mean the choice between donkey flavored coke and elephant flavored pepsi. we can remind them that progressive economics are water for those dying of economic thirst.

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