The Obama Administration and the Rule of 'Opposite Day!'
by Zack Furness
Back in the second grade, most kids I knew were completely preoccupied, if not irritatingly obsessed, with playing a game called ‘Opposite Day’. Since I’m currently trying to wean myself off the habit of searching everything imaginable into Google (the information-giving/imagination-crushing machine), I have no way of knowing whether Opposite Day was unique to my elementary school in Michigan, a global occurrence, or one of those strange practices that kids of my generation seemed to have shared across geographical boundaries and time zones...something akin to playing ‘Ice Cream Man’ with an overturned Big Wheel. Thus, a brief explanation is in order. So-called 'Opposite Day' is precisely what the name entails: it is a day when one’s statements are meant to be construed in completely opposite terms. Mind you, an entire day is actually quite a long event for a little kid, so Opposite Day can sometimes last for just a few hours, or even a few minutes. Indeed, a child simply has to declare "Opposite Day" and then all bets are off! Up is down, black is white, hate is love, war is peace, and so on. One can just tack the words onto any statement and instantaneously undermine English semiotics for the sake of entertaining other 7-8 year olds. It is like the verbal version of Bakhtin’s carnival or the TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone), though instead of briefly toying with social norms or one's class position, the main purpose is for sugar-saturated American children to fuck with each other, as in “You look pretty and I really like you...Opposite Day!” Translation: “You’re ugly and I hate your face.”
I call attention to the yet-to-be fully appreciated phenomenon of Opposite Day because I clearly missed out when someone...maybe a drunk guy at the bar, or young boy in earnest...recently declared Opposite Day with such vigor, or at such a prodigious moment, that it tore a hole in the Chantilly lace of the space/time continuum and allowed for the seemingly Newtonian manifestation of this principle in the United States. Far fetched? Perhaps. But how else does one explain the unexplainable series of events whereby an ostensibly good man (Barack Obama) ran for president, filled a lot of people with Hope (see the prescient Bad Subjects #78), swore to uphold droves of important laws, won the election, and then ultimately proceeded in the exact opposite direction of said agenda??
Like plenty of other Lefties, I was neither smitten with President Obama’s campaign platform nor was I entirely cynical about the prospects of having a smart, capable person in the proverbial throne. In fact, I was actually impressed by him on several occasions, particularly when he delivered his Structural Racism 101 speech to the nation in March, 2008. It was one of the few things that made it easier to swallow the bitter pill of another 18th century style election in which ‘Mericans shun direct democracy in order to put their faith in arbitrarily selected delegates who have no legal obligation to vote in accordance with the wishes of their constituents. Thus, when Obama won the election, I was confident that he would initiate some of the few pseudo-progressive (though far from Leftist) reforms he laid out on the campaign trail, namely ending the war in Iraq. Yet in early 2010, rhetorical gymnastics and hollow gestures toward ‘change’ are the calling cards of a PR-based administration that continues to legitimize illegal wars, preemptive military strikes, corporate tyranny, and the suppression of facts pertaining to U.S. war crimes. For example, putting an end to the ‘war on terror’ is supposed to mean something more than just getting rid of the phrase the ‘war on terror’. But then again, it's difficult to think in such pragmatic (some would say 'sane') terms when the following truisms are currently being (re)defined by the Obama administration:
‘Green Energy' = Coal and nuclear power.
‘Progress in Iraq’ = Continuing the privatization of Iraq's oil supply and adding to the pile of roughly 1.2 million dead Iraqis.
'Non-combat roles' = The positions that will be taken up by roughly 50,000-75,000 armed corporate mercenaries following the so-called 'pullout' of US soldiers from Iraq (if and when the latter action is taken).
‘Defending the Rule of Law’ = Ignoring habeas corpus when it suits our interests, supporting the biggest prison system in the history of history, and continuing a long tradition of violating Native American treaties, thwarting reparations to African Americans, harassing brown people everywhere, and ignoring any pesky national or international laws we don’t like.
'Improving K-12 schooling' = Promoting the union-busting rhetoric of 'merit-based' performance and hiring former Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan as the United States Secretary of Education. Duncan, who never attended Chicago Public Schools despite being born and raised in the city, has zero credentials as a teacher and has never worked in a classroom. Indeed, his only 'successes' stem from a track record of privatizing public schools and developing the most militarized public school system in the United States.
'Health Care Reform' = Fortifying a broken, cruel system in which human health is a commodity, and profits are accrued by a handful of corporations who ironically deny people the very medical services they need the most.
And the list could go on (and on)...
Given the fact that Obama and his cabinet of war hawks and derivatives traders have set the bar several notches below mediocrity in their brief tenure, my only wish is for them to at least be forthcoming with their Reaganite agenda instead of forcing everyone to sit through more speeches in which Opposite Day functions as the governing paradigm. That is to say, it would be far more honest at this stage in the game for White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, to start shadowing Obama at every public appearance like the ever-present ‘hype man’ in 80s hip-hop. From this vantage point, Gibbs could make it much easier for viewers and listeners to truly understand the President by loudly uttering the phrase ‘Opposite Day!’ after each one of Obama’s eloquent statements, whether on the subject of closing Guantanamo, changing ‘politics as usual’, or helping out the folks on ‘Main Street’: the utopian non-place that rarely exists outside of Disney World or the scotch and pill-induced dreams of doughy white politicians who yearn for a ‘simpler’ time, i.e. a time when people who look like the President donned white gloves and catering trays, and ended all of their overly-polite sentences with the phrase "Yes, Sir". Indeed, the recent rhetorical battles between Republicans and Democrats over ‘Main Street USA’ is a fitting metaphor for the vapid sloganeering that currently (and historically) passes for political dialogue in this supposedly ever-changing state of changeable change. That is to say, the core issue of capitalism’s abject failure is so far removed from analysis that few politicians or TV talking heads have even bothered to notice that the only thing left on ‘Main Street’ in most towns are boarded up storefronts, a few dilapidated convenience stores, and the stripes on the blacktop leading to the local Wal-Mart Supercenter.
The dream-filled anarchist in me longs to see the Obama administration take up this straightforward and decidedly more entertaining vision of tag-team public address, but the realist in me scoffs at the very idea of turning this sad state of affairs into a joke. These days, I'm sure I'm not the only one with such schizophrenic inklings. Because while humor is a completely appropriate response to a political context in which unfettered support for free-market capitalism (and Wall Street in particular) is equated with 'change', there's also something terribly tragic about being able to draw any analogy (even in jest) between the antics of children and the modus operandi of a presidential administration. The brute realities of poverty, racism, injustice, and staggering levels of inequality certainly demand more than sarcasm, satire, or playful pieces posted on the Internet. But then again, it's pretty damn hard to keep a straight face when the 'leader of the free world' simply makes things up and pretends they’re actually true.
Zack Furness is a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team and a professor at Columbia College Chicago. He is thrilled that the Dooger is crushing leukemia and getting on with his business of fighting fires, writing sugary sweet pop punk tunes, and being a dad, a husband, and general pain in the ass.
*The images above are modified from a print published on the Daily Mirror website in January 2009.