NOTE TO READERS: This is Part 1 of a two-part series, “The Indispensable Movement Can Revolutionize Political Discourse.” Part 1 introduces and explains Swampzilla, our movement’s crucial meme vilifying our slimy and dangerous “Republocrat” duopoly. Part 2, titled “Indispensable Chic: The Hip Lingo of Grassroots Revolution,” provides a sampler of the cool, catchy verbal weapons we’ve forged to discredit our “Republocrat” enemies and foster solidarity among the politically “woke.”
Introduction: Meet Swampzilla
Don’t think of an elephant. Don’t even think of a donkey. When voters enter the polls in 2018 and 2020, they need to be thinking of Swampzilla.
But what the hell is Swampzilla? As the name strongly hints, he’s certainly not Barney the friendly dinosaur. With donkey and elephant heads – and none-too-friendly ones at that – firmly affixed to Godzilla’s hulking reptilian body, he’s a frightful monster to behold. And just try to drain his beloved swamp – the money-filled political morass he tyrannizes over – and you’ll draw down upon yourself the full horror of his resistance and ferocity. “You’ll drain this swamp,” he fulminates, “over my dead body.”
But oddly, Swampzilla leads a double life. Strange to fathom, Swampzilla is also someone’s fiercely loyal pet – one who would never think of biting the hand that feeds him. And for his two imposing masters – the Indispensable Movement calls them “Wall Street” and “War Street” – Swampzilla indeed might as well be Barney. You all know how the song goes: “I love you. You love me. Feed me more po-lit-i-cal mon-ey.” With a vested interested in keeping Swampzilla robust, loyal – and forbiddingly unapproachable for average citizens (as I find “my” U.S. Senator, Chuck Schumer) – Wall Street and War Street are always glad to oblige. As Swampzilla, miraculously prostrate and supine at once, exposes his belly to be rubbed.
The Swampzilla meme as “cathedral window”
Vibrant mass movements thrive on catchy ideas and slogans. Often, the catchy ideas and slogan are concise, shorthand words or phrases to pinpoint and vilify political enemies. Like, say, Indispensable’s coinage “War Street,” mined to parallel “Wall Street” and identify the war interest, alongside the corporate/economic one, as the other major corrupting influence on our government. In other cases, the special movement lingo may serve to build solidarity – based on a shared sense of being savvy and “hip” – among movement members, perhaps highlighting some key movement strategy or tactic in the process. Such is the coinage “cathedral window” used here.
A “cathedral window,” as the phrase is used here, is a somewhat elaborate meme or political cartoon, perhaps introduced in simple form but then elaborated upon after viewers have become well acquainted with the basic concept. The name originates from an expert-guided tour I once followed of the deservedly far-famed Chartres Cathedral. As our expert guide repeatedly stressed, the cathedral windows and statuary, apart from their aesthetic aims, served the practical purpose of teaching the basics of Catholic Christianity to a largely illiterate population. If sufficiently largely and detailed, a cathedral window, viewed again and again, could teach a rather elaborate religious narrative. In like fashion, an Indispensable “cathedral window” like the Swampzilla meme is designed to teach political truth to the politically illiterate – meaning not just those too busy, cynical, or distracted by economic anxiety to follow politics, but those rendered functionally illiterate politically by too much (perhaps even incessant) attention to nonstop propaganda of both Republican- and Democrat-leaning corporate media. Rush or Rachel, their political fix is rotting their citizen minds.
Like a Gothic cathedral window, an Indispensable “cathedral window” like Swampzilla is meant, as a viral meme, to be viewed again and again. But unlike a Gothic cathedral window, ours is not required to tell its whole elaborate story all at once or all in one place. Instead, we can introduce the basic Swampzilla meme (as done above) and then, once readers have grasped the basic concept, introduce more complicated memes (or cartoons) illustrating the corrupt relationship between our “Swampzilla” duopoly and its Wall Street and War Street masters.
In case anyone is wondering, Swampzilla is not the only “cathedral window” our Indispensable Movement has in the works. Another – probably even more elaborate – one is “duopoly football,” based on Barack Obama’s utterly damning admission that our two major parties have so much in common that they play out their supposedly life-or-death political “struggle” “between the forty-yard lines.” I’ll elaborate the “duopoly football” concept in much greater detail in my Part 2 article. I will, however, treat it briefly in my next section, in relation to the “beauty” of the Swampzilla meme.
Swampzilla: The messaging beauty of an ugly meme
Swampzilla, then, is a “cathedral window” meme, designed to teach (and above all, emphasize) pictorially certain essential – and even somewhat complicated – truths about U.S. politics. Conceived as a weapon of peaceful political revolution, Swampzilla is meant to teach liberating, revolutionary truths – the type completely suppressed by the narrow, profit-making agenda of consolidated corporate media.
First and foremost among those truths is the intolerable corruption of both our major political parties. The intolerable nature of that corruption is probably best viewed through the twin lenses of nuclear and climate Armageddon: the fact that both major parties, swayed almost exclusively by “Wall Street and War Street” donors, currently pursue policies that virtually guarantee the extinction of human civilization (not to mention countless animal species). That’s precisely why my first essay announcing the Indispensable Movement referred to “party time on the Titanic.” To end that utterly decadent, utterly suicidal party, the vast majority of us who were never invited – Occupy’s “99%” – are “indispensable.”
To emphasize that intolerable bipartisan corruption, the Swampzilla meme cleverly piggybacks on the highly popular “drain the swamp” rhetoric (and that’s clearly all it was) cynically exploited by Donald Trump. But it turns that rhetoric against the leadership of both parties in a way neither Trump nor Clinton and her ilk could have imagined: the swamp lizard steeped to his neck in corrupting political ooze has both left (Democrat) and right (Republican) heads.
By that clever pictorial touch – two party-symbol heads on a single “monster lizard” body – the Swampzilla meme deftly dodges a charge Democrats, called out on their corruption, predictably level at critics: that we’re claiming Republicans and Democrats are the same. Well, emphatically not. Rather, by attaching two different (donkey and elephant) heads to the same slimy reptilian body, we’re simply making the same point Obama made with his football analogy about the two parties playing between the forty-yard lines. But unlike Obama, we’re exposing to public scrutiny the damning nature of that common turf: corruption by oligarchs’ money and the bipartisan policies dictated by that corruption. Namely, a devotion to endless war and a beefed-up domestic police state; a commitment (whatever Democrats’ pro-climate rhetoric) to prolonging the production and use of climate-disastrous fossil fuels; and in general, endless foot-dragging on any popular policies (like single-payer health insurance) that menace the interests of corporate oligarch donors. The fact of Swampzilla’s slimy, dangerous body being shared by the donkey and elephant heads forcefully symbolizes that common – and very swampy – turf
(Indispensable’s “duopoly football” meme – to be explained in detail in Part 2 – explores the nature of that “common turf” in ways the Swampzilla meme simply can’t, exploiting Obama’s “forty-yard lines” analogy in the same way Swampzilla exploits Trump’s “drain the swamp” one. While space limits discussion of “duopoly football” here, one hint is that whereas our regular-football end zones are marked “PEACE” and “PROSPERITY,” our duopoly-football ones [between the thirty- and forty-yard lines on both sides of the field] are blazoned “WAR” and “AUSTERITY.”)
Within the narrow confines of those forty-yard lines, both parties feign bitter rivalry, with Democrats especially frantically emphasizing the few real differences. What makes the insistence especially frantic is that the differences, while quite real, are vastly less significant than the lethal common ground the two parties share – and which corporate media and the themselves desperately seek to conceal. With both parties, due to their common corruption, hell-bent on policies that sound the death knell for human civilization, real differences on abortion or transgender bathroom usage hardly bear the weight “Republocrats” give them. Swampzilla’s monstrous body, shared by donkey and elephant heads, memorably emphasizes the slimy, lethal nature of the duopoly parties’ common ground.
At the same the two heads, appropriately placed to the left and right, acknowledge the fact of real differences between the two parties. But tellingly, those differences are based on the part of the body that talks, not the part that moves and acts. Which serves to acknowledge another fact: that much of the difference between the two parties is purely rhetorical, based on their appeal to different constituencies.
Roughly speaking, Republicans appeal to a social Darwinist constituency: oligarchs feeling quite righteously they deserve their tyrannical spot at the top of the heap; affluent entrepreneurs hating taxes and social spending in their quest to become even more affluent; and a much more numerous base that, fixated and social and cultural issues, commits economic suicide by embracing the reigning social Darwinism. (Much as the last group tends to reject evolution, its social Darwinism is likely rooted in Christianity’s own social Darwinism: its radical cleft between the saved and damned, which the group applies to religious and cultural issues.)
Democrats, by contrast, find their fiercest loyalists among a different set of social Darwinists: the meritocratic professional class, so astutely sketched by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal, who find the key to salvation not in Jesus but in education – above all, education at elite colleges. But much of Democrats’ pure (meaning insincere) rhetoric is directed at their legacy base: the poor and working-class base the present party inherited because of its long-term (but now meaningless) association with the New Deal. If Democrats are to pay effective lip service to their New Deal heritage at all, it’s simply because Republicans, economic social Darwinists to the point of refusing lip service, are rightly shown as offering no alternative. But even Republicans, for the sake of serving the Wall Street and War Street donors who count are equally willing – as on the issue of gay marriage or Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” – to throw their populist base under the bus.
Ugly Swampzilla, by attaching the clearly different donkey and elephant heads to a common body of slimy, dangerous policy, summarizes the parties’ need to appeal (often deceitfully) to different constituencies beautifully. Different strokes for different folks. Different heads for different lies. The same planet-destroying social Darwinism for all.
Swampzilla: How Indispensable’s meme validates our movement
As I stressed in my “Titanic” piece cited earlier, our two corrupt major parties together are a cancer, of which Trump and Clinton – bad as both are – are merely symptomatic tumors. In fact, as readers will discover in Part 2 of this series the Indispensable Movement, plans to exploit the familiar basketball language of the “Twin Towers” by referring to them as the “Twin Tumors.” The Swampzilla meme – like the “Twin Tumors” epithet – strongly validates Indispensable as a mass political movement worth joining. Why? Because of two crucial elements: right message and right method.
As regards right message, a bit of common sense, backed by a convergence of astute academic and leftist political analysis, demonstrates that Indispensable’s message – the one conveyed by Swampzilla (and “duopoly football” and the “Twin Tumors”) – is precisely the one U.S. voters need. It’s simply common sense that if a two-party political system vomits up a president as repulsive and unqualified Trump – after offering a “choice” between the two most unpopular major-party candidates ever – there’s something profoundly wrong with both the system and the two parties that dominate at. As academic analysis, we can easily cite major studies showing either that most of us are unrepresented in U.S. government or the corrupting influence of political money on state governments. In terms of converging leftist analysis, we can cite a wide variety of critics of both duopoly parties, such as Naomi Klein, Andrew Levine, Paul Street, or Anthony Monteiro. While converging academic and leftist analysis tells us the corrupt duopoly is the source of our political woes, the mainstream media propaganda machine seeks to keep voters thinking this is still a “donkey vs. elephant” thing. Swampzilla is a powerful pictorial means to “take the bullshit by the horns.”
Which brings us to the question of right method. While there’s a convergence of serious academic and leftist analysis that our corrupt duopoly is the problem, that analysis is merely a rumor, perhaps a twinge of half-conscious disgruntlement, for mainstream voters. What it is not is a matter of active consciousness – the bringing to conscious awareness of the vote-influencing legitimacy crisis Monteiro rightly sees building. Of movement-building efforts I know of, only Indispensable has embraced the rhetorical problem of “meeting mainstream voters where they are,” thereby attempting to radicalize the mainstream. Consider, for example, how our Swampzilla meme embraces both the well-known Godzilla figure and Trump’s popular analogy of “draining the swamp.” Or how, rather than simply treating Americans’ addiction to sports as a depoliticizing distraction, our “duopoly football” and “Twin Tumors” memes exploit sports imagery as a weapon of political education.
If you agree we’re correct in our approach to both message and method, please Like and follow our Indispensable Movement Facebook page as we build our website and other channels to spread our revolutionary counter-propaganda. More on that subject in Part 2.