A friendly correspondent writes me to take issue with my flippant, blanket dismissal of the Occupy movement at the bottom of a rather lengthier post yesterday. Unfortunately it’s Monday morning and the workaday treadmill calls, but I will only note here my suspicion of all great mobs and mass movements, be they of the left or the right; even as a dramatist, I am more convinced of the necessity of the individual agent in changing the world, not the audience en masse. Something there is in any mob, whatever its intentions (and for more on this, see the index entry for “road to Hell, paving materials”), that scarifies the spirit. Yesterday, Todd Gitlin, one of the historians of the Occupy movement, linked on Facebook to this essay from Matthew Noah Smith, calling the essay the “most cogent critique I’ve seen of Occupy’s prime current direction”; it reads, in part:
Occupy is all play and no power. Substantive political action — and, in particular, the future of left resistance to inequality — remains in the hands of established movement organizations. …
All this fun does not take away from the fact that Occupy is, in the end, little more than theater. Theater is important. It can start a conversation. It can inspire those who have power to use it in certain ways. But theater can be distracting, and young activists could learn the wrong lessons from Occupy. People will come to believe that the theater that is Occupy is a substantive form of direct political power when in fact it is not. What happens when they become disillusioned when they discover that effective organizing means a lot of drudgery (like many other jobs)?
Perhaps the most succinct characterization of Occupy came quite early in the movement from an NPR commentator whose name unfortunately escapes me now, and as Smith suggests, what he said then is still true today. When the radical right wants to change the world, he said, it finds sources of revenue; it meets in each others’ houses; it organizes, taking names and numbers and email addresses; it develops a set of attractive and convincing (if mistaken and dishonest) pundits to spread its message in the media; it stages protests at specific events; it finds candidates to run for public office; and it then elects those candidates to those offices, local, state and national, where said individuals proceed to make life miserable for themselves and for the rest of us. This is the time-honored, tradition-bound process of American representative democracy.
When the radical left wants to change the world, he said, it takes over a park.
Hats off and bow your heads please, for yea, the television show House M.D. passes from its life on the Fox network for the last time tonight at 9.00pm Eastern, 8.00pm Central.
The show and its protagonist, perfectly embodied in the British actor Hugh Laurie, were a breath of fresh air when they first appeared on 16 November 2004; here we had for one of those rare occasions on network television a truly admirable American spirit. Misanthropic and individualistic, the cantankerous, brilliant, unshaven, pain-ridden, drug-addicted, womanizing Gregory House limped through the halls of New Jersey’s Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital for eight years, offending both power and convention, mumbling and grumbling and showing no sympathy for stupidity.
Over the last five seasons, alas, there have been too many attempts to humanize the son-of-a-bitch, and what was once a fine medical detective show deteriorated into a soap opera, sinking to depths of pathos and sentiment only accessible via bathysphere. Apart from the extraordinary Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard as his friend Dr. James Wilson (whose number will likely come up tonight) also exhibited delightfully surprising moments. It is only right and fitting that the creators and producers of House M.D. perform an act of compassionate euthanasia in concluding the series before it finally becomes too much of an embarrassment. I will be there to see it off.