- A Grim Present
Brad Evans & Henry A. Giroux
City Lights Books
280 Pages; Print, $
Brad Evans and Henry Giroux’s Disposable Futures is an insightful meditation on the role of violence in modern American society. In eight well-conceived and thoughtfully argued chapters, Evans and Giroux present readers with a damning critique of neoliberalism. Contemporary American society is a culturally superficial, economically corrupt, and politically ineffectual place in which spectacles of violence and pathology become fixtures in an increasingly dystopian present. What’s more, the neoliberal state works overtime to present Americans with a façade of freedom while simultaneously curtailing, intruding, and containing freedom of movement, thought, and political expression.
Evans and Giroux see a grim present and an even darker future for the United States if we continue on this path. Their concern is not misplaced. From our political and corporate elites to the harbingers of news and popular culture, American neoliberalism has, in our time, become a tool of oppression and exploitation. The evidence, Evans and Giroux contend, surrounds us. In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, the neoliberal state devised a plan to ensure that capital continued to flow to the financial sector—the very same financial sector that brought the economy to its knees. In contrast, individuals—the poor, women, immigrants, African Americans, the young, the list goes on and on—continue to be pathologized and demonized by right-wing political leaders, reactionary news media organizations, and Hollywood filmmakers. The result is a steady media diet of violence—a “carnival of cruelty”—and a public discourse that’s more interested in seeking out scapegoats than it is with critiquing the structural issues that plague the American economy and politics. In short, this is a culture with few redeeming qualities.
Indeed, television and Internet news outlets have only added to the different forms of violence—from police violence to public policies that perpetuate intergenerational poverty. But in neoliberal America, violence plays an important role. It shifts our focus away from the political and economic structures that foster feelings of anxiety and alienation and instead fetishizes individual shortcomings. Thus, individual pathology seemingly pervades American society. It’s true, as Evans and Giroux suggest, that social media outlets open new opportunities for social and political protest, but these new mediums of political disobedience can just as easily be co-opted by the state to deflect attention back away from the structural inadequacies of the neoliberal state and refocus attention on the purported individual failings/pathological behavior of individuals.
Well, might the neoliberal state and their Wall Street allies continue to coopt the images we all see on television, at the movies, and on the Internet? Over the past generation, a massive redistribution of wealth and concentration of political power has flowed upward to a very small and increasingly wealthy segment of the American population. The rise of the so-called one percent has been coupled with “the ongoing militarization of all aspects of society, and the relentless, aggressive depoliticization of the citizenry.” The neoliberal nation-state has ceased to serve its citizens and has instead become a tool for “protecting and servicing a handful of billionaires.” As Evans and Giroux explain, as “nihilistic tendencies permeate all modes of governance and public policy, any semblance of social justice withers.”
In modern America, the social good is being forfeited for a short-sighted and unsustainable quest for profits and “progress.” Evans and Giroux are rightly critical of this. They observe that we are in the midst of a second “Gilded Age,” an apt reference to the late-nineteenth-century period in American history that was defined by economic corruption and political graft. The second Gilded Age that we are now in the midst of has resulted in “zones of social abandonment,” something most evident in the neoliberal state’s disinvestment in America’s youth. Foolish and ineffective educational efforts to expose public school students to a bombardment of standardized tests and a “common core” of knowledge are...