On the most recent episode of one Disney’s cruelest monuments to capitalism Bachelor in Paradise a man named Grocery Joe confronts a couple about whether they were on the show for the right reasons or not. The heavily edited four minute exchange was infinitely more interesting and ripe for political analysis than anything to do with AOC’s dress at the Met Gala. Despite this, the tax the rich dress is still dominating the discourse. Paraphrasing Che when the Congolese revolution became stalled, there’s simply nothing to do, and that lack of any meaningful, widely accessible anti-capitalist political program has resulted in a flattening of every issue into equal importance.
Thinking about all the indignities that even those in the imperial core have to endure, it’s understandable that anyone who is even marginally aware of the systemic failures of capitalism feels like they must do anything to rebel against it, even if just to achieve an amount of catharsis. Without a place to put that energy though, it really just ends up being a slew of atomized individuals and esoteric programs that can offer commentary and in some cases maybe even localized services, but no mechanism towards systemic change.
This would be an understandable and maybe frustrating phenomenon on its own, but what makes it especially unbearable is the on going meta conversations, particularly those framed around the left “eating itself” or someone like AOC “leading people astray.” Eating what? Leading astray from what? There’s nothing to eat, nor is there anywhere for people to go. The same people who continually hold up AOC and defend her as an example of the left infiltrating the existing political infrastructure also have to continually justify her inability to make any headway politically, labeling it as a structural inability. If AOC is structurally unable to make change, why is she something worth protecting or holding up as an exemplar for a long term program?
Conversely, the people who accuse AOC of redirecting people away from something meaningful, what exactly else are they proposing? It’s not as if there’s a leftist political party and AOC is steering those towards the democrats and taking votes away. It’s not as if there’s some sort of national project advocating labor strikes or direct action. It’s not as if the spontaneous protests are in any way discourage by AOC. What exactly is she preventing? The framing is inherently contradictory: AOC is powerful enough to move people in the wrong direction, but not powerful enough that she’s capable of building even a higher level of awareness towards anti-capitalism.
AOC and those like her at the federal, state, and even local level are better understood as a reflection of people’s growing awareness of the contradictions of capitalism, even within the imperial core. She is best understood on these terms, rather than evaluated in any way beyond. Until a tipping point is reached in which a massive political project is possible, which will likely be driven by people’s material conditions rather than any single political figure, group, or policy, everything else is just discourse fodder.