The Chosen People
Identity politics in brevis: Penny Arcade, John Rawls, Richard Rorty and the WB's Roswell.
Wednesday, 2004-11-24 | Classic Gin, Philosophy, Politics, Social Studies, Television
Penny Arcade's Tycho often writes about the attributes, travails and other assorted particulars of who he likes to call our people.
To him, our people is gamers. When he writes about us, he talks about the values and experiences we share, how we define ourselves in relation to the world and the Protean mediums of gaming and what this we do that are not like the things that other people do.
I recall one time, shortly after the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) if memory serves, that he wrote about a sight that he found chilling because of what it implied about our people. It was during a performance by a rock group called The Minibosses (who play videogame music) at the PAX that audience members began to hold up LCD screens during a particularly moving song. Our people, he noticed, had a unique way of expressing their solidarity that he found touching; they held up GBA's, cellphones and PDA's the way that other people
hold up lighters.
Another time he wrote a bit about how our people are able to play videogames to the exclusion of everything else in the world. He was talking about PopCap Games and how he had become obsessed with one of their titles when he noticed that our people can sit and play videogames for eight, ten
even 16 to 20 hours at a time and experience nary a contrary stirring. Our people, he had observed, have this ability that is unique to us.
He has described the habits and abilities of our people on more than two occasions, but those two stick out in my memory. Maybe it's because I can imagine hundreds of LCD screens held up by concert-goers in response to a particularly moving rendition of the theme from The Legend of Zelda. Perhaps it's because I too frequently realize that I haven't even so much as gotten up to go to relieve myself for close to nine hours because I've been wholly absorbed by a particular game.
This lengthy encomium has a point (which I shall come to directly); solidarity is everything. I've spent the last two days writing, and this is no exaggeration, thousands of words about the Old Testament per day. I dropped close to four grand on Tuesday and another four or five today. While I've been embroiled in hermeneutic and theological conflicts and attempting to craft a poignant and instructive exegesis of Exodus 32, I've had a lot of time to think about solidarity.
More specifically, I've been reflecting on the so-called Liberal Ironists with whom I spent the first semester of my Junior year of college. Richard Rorty's blithe countenance has been coming to me in my sleep; I've found myself chuckling about the hilarious PLU injunctions against John Rawls on more than one occasion. I've even gone so far as to browse my old class notes and look through some old, unpublished work of Stanley Fish.
Whether you're Richard Rorty and you can't conceive of an unimpeachable a priori synthetic argument that requires us to value liberalism or democracy or you're John Rawls and the history of Constitutional law seems like the Cliff's Notes version of the messy and sad evolution of human discourse, you can agree on solidarity. Even if you're Fish, a critic notorious for his rigid syllogisms and scathing critical rebukes, you'll be willing to agree that there's at least something there, even if you can't or won't say what because you're at open war with Relativism and a number of forms of anti-foundationalism.
So I've been writing about the travails of Israel and thinking about solidarity. I simply haven't got the time or the energy to describe how exactly the various figures of the OT express or define solidarity, so it will have to suffice for me to say that solidarity is a part of every social exchange; where two men meet they will always be capable of having it, even if they're incapable of expressing or conceiving of it.
I've also been watching Roswell, a serial (but still mostly modular) television drama that was canceled some years ago. The premise is that there are these three aliens concealing their identity from local authorities with the help of local high school students who, through a series of events, learn of their hidden identities and eventually befriend them. There is a character, his name is Michael, who yearns (with all the attendant feelings of self-destruction that that verb implies) to learn of his past, his history of his people.
His ardent desire to learn about his extra-terrestrial forebears is meant to draw our attention to the inescapably of solidarity; he quests for his 'true identity' even as those around him, those who have participated in every moment of his conscious life with him, affirm his quest and support his efforts in its service.
The character of Michael is thus steeped in irony.
I have only seen eight episodes of the show (which lasted, I am told, a total of three seasons before it got the axe). Currently, Michael is beginning to realize the irony of his situation; he is beginning to realize that his 'true identity' has nothing to do with the circumstances of his birth or some alien civilization millions of miles away.
He speaks often of his people. He speaks often of his people to the only people who he is capable of speaking about his people to (lest he betray his identity).
It's a dizzying situation--the writers of the show work in irony the way that other artists work in oils or clay or profanity--but it demonstrates this principle of solidarity in a manner that I find congenial.
There is identity and there is solidarity. When we are alone we have only the one. When we are in numbers, we have both. There is no escaping either; a person without an identity is a person without memories and a person with no claim to some kind of solidarity (with another person) is an impossible situation.