Tuesday, July 17, 2007



Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy (Paperback)
Stephen Duncombe

"A twenty-first-century manifesto for the left—how we can draw upon popular fantasies to create an alternative politics through imagination and spectacle."

BuzzFlash found "Dream" one of those indispensible "overview" books that progressives who are interested in strategies to achieve political power and goals must read.

In a nutshell, "Dream" argues that we avoid popular culture, fantasy and dreams at our peril. Liberals tend to believe that reason and persuasive argument will carry the day. But, the Republicans have been appealing to emotion and cultural archetypes, all along packaging themselves as the "common American."

Furthermore, the Republicans embrace their energized base, while the DLC types try to keep their energized base -- us -- at arm's length. This is because, the DLC believes in some mythical "rational, moderate" appeal to a centrist America that doesn't exist, as the Republicans seduce a lot of the working class white vote through the exploitation of cultural symbolism.

Television, in particular, conveys symbolism more effectively than public policy debates, and the Republicans understand this in a profound way.

From the Introduction to "Dreams":

The problem comes down to reality. Progressives believe in it, Bush’s people believe in creating it. The ideological inheritors of the May ’68 protest slogan “Take your desires for reality” are now counseling its reversal: take reality for your desires. Conservatives are the ones proclaiming “I have a dream.”

From a profile of Duncombe in the Village Voice:

"The idea, which Duncombe dubs "dreampolitik," is that progressives, armed with strategies derived from sources as vast as advertisements, celebrity-gossip magazines, and the casinos on the Las Vegas strip, would then be able to enact a politics that enthralls a broader sweep of Americans. The left needs to start appealing to people's hunger for hope and attraction to fantasy life. What's more, Duncombe said, they have to let go of the belief—"naive at best, arrogant at worst"—that intellectual arguments should be enough to win people over, and that spectacle, as the Bush administration employs it, is something to which they shouldn't have to resort, a tawdry means to an end. "It's a pathos of the left," he said. "We're worried about selling out, but no one's buying." Besides, the point isn't that liberals move towards conservatism; it's that they become savvier and, ironically, more realistic about what it takes to win.

Though midterm elections have restored the Democrats to congressional power in the months since Duncombe completed Dream, its argument remains potent. After all, the Democrats didn't win because they presented a well-articulated narrative or identity—they won because they were able to position themselves as anti-Bush. They should stand for something, Duncombe said, and that something should provide people with a blockbuster sense of hope. (It's no accident that Barack Obama's book, number one on this week's New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, is called The Audacity of Hope.) "The Democrats are going to lose unless they figure out a way of imagining the world," Duncombe concluded. "They need to figure out what utopia they want to sell.""

From the publisher, the New Press:

"What practical political lessons can we learn from corporate theme parks, ad campaigns, video games like Grand Theft Auto, celebrity culture, and Las Vegas? Stephen Duncombe proposes that such examples of popular fantasy can help us define and make possible a new political future.

Dream makes the case for a progressive political strategy that embraces a new set of tools. Although fantasy and spectacle have become the lingua franca of our time, Duncombe points out that liberals continue to depend upon sober reason to guide them. Instead, they need to learn how to communicate in today’s spectacular vernacular—not merely as a tactic but as a new way of thinking about and acting out politics. Learning from Las Vegas, however, does not mean adopting its values, as Duncombe demonstrates in laying out plans for what he calls “ethical spectacle.”

An electrifying new vision of progressive politics by a lifelong political activist and thinker, Dream is a twenty-first-century manifesto for the left, reclaiming the tools of hidden persuaders in the name of spectacular change."

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