Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"That One": Virtual Racism and Premediation

Evil Tongue has a scathing indictment of McCain for calling Obama "That One" in last night's debate.  ET contextualizes the remark in the context of John and Cindy McCain's adopted daughter Bridget, who was herself used by the Bush team as an object of attack against McCain in the 2000 campaign. Check it out.

What struck me as also offensive about the phrase, including McCain's affective intonation and embodiment, was its "virtual racism," the way in which it offered a not-so-distant echo of the gestural expression one might hear from a slave buyer at an auction.  In the context of the thinly veiled racism of Sarah Palin's current stump speech, which abjects Obama as a terrorist sympathizer who is not one of us, McCain's performative remediation of the slave-owner is aimed at fostering or producing racist fears in voters, not only at the present moment but, for the McCain campaign more importantly, in the voting booths on November 4.  

This "virtual racism" deploys a deliberate strategy of premediation.  Neither Palin or McCain is making particular charges about Obama's racial make-up (though McCain's "That One" nearly crosses the line). In fact there is no coherent narrative about Obama at all. Instead the McCain campaign tries to throw out into the mainstream and informal media-spheres hundreds of potential irritants that might produce in voters different forms of negative racist affect towards the idea of a President Obama.   

Palin's current stump speech in particular sets out to proliferate potential racist affects so that undecided voters, or even weak Obama supporters, might find themselves turning away from Obama as they went to the polls. McCain-Palin's power to prompt powerful racial affects is evidenced in the outbursts provoked from Palin supporters at recent campaign events, including calling "the real Barack Obama" a "terrorist," screaming "treason" and "kill him," and telling an African-American sound man to "Sit down, boy." The campaign strives to maintain deniability, but importantly has yet to denounce or even to address these remarks.  

To underscore the strategies of premediation and virtuality at work in these racist attacks is not, as I hope is clear, to minimize or to dismiss them. Indeed, precisely to the contrary, I call attention to these strategies because they are among the most powerful ways in which mediality works at the present historical moment to mobilize the collective affective intensities of citizens, consumers, media audiences, and other multitudes or assemblages. It is important to identify these strategies if we are to successfully resist or oppose them.  

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