Have you, dear reader, seen the latest cinematic masterpiece making the rounds of YouTube channels, ‘Americans, Fuck Yeah‘? (I lie ever so slightly; the actual title is just ‘Americans’.) Directed by James Stafford and starring musical maestro Kid Rock and actor and director Sean Penn, it aims to bring Americans together, to bridge partisan divides, to heal rancor in these increasingly divisive times. Roughly: no matter if you think Dick Cheney is a bloviating war criminal, Rush Limbaugh is an idiotic windbag, or Paul Ryan is full of bean-induced flatulence, you are still an American, and you can do better than that. (I haven’t bothered to list insults from the other end of the political spectrum.) Namely, you can put down your political cudgels to embrace The Political Other.
Unfortunately Stafford’s Sermon loses considerable steam thanks to the manner of its execution. There are, to begin with, some rather mundane problems having to do with hokey acting and the unbearable preachiness of it all, nowhere better captured than in the two moments of supposed enlightenment that lead to political reconciliation: the lecture by the–I think–Caribbean waitress, who, in a terrible accent, reminds the two Americans of just how good they have it, and the televised reminder of a war that is claiming the lives of brave American troops.
But there is a more fundamental problem with this pulpit-pounding call to hit the political middle. Far more problematic than this video’s irredeemable sappiness, its invocation of the quiescence-preaching black female immigrant, is its basic premise: political conflict is a bad thing, one to be avoided, one that can be smoothed over. Unfortunately, politics is conflict; to be a political animal is to engage in disputation. There is an irreducible conflict at its core; banal smoothing over is nothing more than acceptance of the status quo. Which status quo? In Stafford’s Sermon, the one in which American troops go off to fight endless wars overseas. Thus: put aside your worries, swap NASCAR and ‘PETA Rocks!’ t-shirts, raise a toast to freedom, and keep sending troops overseas, those that have volunteered from the ranks of this country’s dispossessed, to die.
Political subjects, political participants of any ilk, should be wary about messages urging them to drop the fighting and come together. Those who claim they are apolitical and disdain political stances are full of it; for their stance is a political one too. Invariably, such a coming together can only take place on some other patch of political ground. There is no neutral ground in politics; whatever one must use to rest on in this turbulent ocean of conflict is a political raft. ‘Come together for the sake of the nation’ is a political appeal too, one that appeals to a very particularly framed national allegiance and patriotism. Stafford’s message is decidedly political; it comes down on one side, and one alone, of a live debate. Stafford isn’t splitting the difference; he is an ideologue himself. His political rafts are built out of unquestioning patriotism and subscriptions to militarism. No thanks.