Thursday, February 14, 2008

Crying "CULT!" in a Crowded Theater 

Beware: The Great Cult Scare of 2008!

Sara at Orcinus:
Every political news outlet, from the networks to the blogs, is abuzz today with the question: Is the Obama phenomenon a cult?

People -- particularly Hillary partisans -- are eagerly putting this idea out there. I want to make it very clear before I get started that I'm not a partisan of either candidate: there are things about them both that have my skepticism pegged to the limit. Personally, I'm for the Democrat. But when it comes to the topic of what is or ain't a cult -- that's something I know something about. Or, at least, I seem to understand it a bit better than most of the people who are bandying the term around today.


There is no evidence anywhere that Obama is running front groups, using his campaign to enrich himself, sexually manipulating his followers, censoring anyone, or insisting that people isolate themselves from the larger society. There are no draconian efforts at dropout control. Nobody's arming up out of paranoia. And "grimness" is about the last word you'd use to describe an Obama event.


This misguided "cult" talk not only misunderstands how social change occurs; it's also giving the GOP a weapon it will use to the hilt if Obama is the candidate in the general election. They're going to demonize those energetic kids as the re-animated zombie ghosts of the dirty fucking hippies of the 60s. And, in a historic sense, they are. They're our own children, emerging to finish the work that their parents got too tired and too disillusioned to finish. For us old Boomers, they're our very last shot at the dream.


Please - Go read the whole post.

In other news:

Worst Person in the World honors for Feb. 14, 2008 go to some extremity named Tom Sullivan of FoxNoise Radio -- Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
Feb. 14: Worst person: When a caller suggested to Tom Sullivan of Fox News Radio that Sen. Barack Obama’s speeches reminded him of Adolf Hitler, Sullivan took the time to alternate clips from Hitler and Obama speeches.

Full text/transcript of Sullivan show segment can be found at Media Matters:
He was just talking about how Hitler got the crowd all excited, and Barack Obama got the crowd all excited." Sullivan then stated that he would do a "side-by-side comparison" of a Hitler speech and an Obama speech. Sullivan then introduced the "comparison" by stating: "So, ladies and gentlemen, from the past, a little archive, a little walk down Der Fuehrer's memory lane. Here he is, the one, the only, Adolf Hitler!" Sullivan proceeded to play a clip of a Hitler speech, followed by Obama's February 9 speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Richmond, Virginia. Sullivan mimicked the crowd during both speeches, yelling, "Yay! Yay!"

And on and on it goes... much more at the Media Matters link.

See, it's "dangerously close" to being just like the most infamous "personality cult" in history! (oh yeah shoor...)

Thanks Paul!


TPM Cafe - Cultus, not Cult: Obama and the Rationality of Civic Religion

By David Headman - February 14, 2008, 7:35PM
I'm a grad student studying Philosophy of Religion, and I had to write about the "cult" meme which is bouncing around lately.

This meme, started largely by Paul Krugman suggests that Obama's movement is a cult. There may be a grain of truth to this, but its a gross distortion. What Obama's huge crowds represent is not a cult, but a group of people engaging in the practice of cultus.

"Cult" in our current parlance, is used to refer to groups like the Branch Davidians, the Heaven's Gate folks, and Scientology, in which members are manipulated, controlled, and intimidated by an individual or small group of individuals. Cultus by contrast, is a term used in the study of religion to denote those ritual practices in which a community comes together to establish a collective picture of the world, themselves, and their place in it.

What ritual practice achieves is not, as some would have, a blind submission to authority or adherence to rigid and inflexible dogma. Rather, it is a collaborative process in which the community re-affirms the cultural values and ideals that they hold and the foundational narratives which help them to understand who they are as people. More importantly, ritual praxis involves creatively adapting those ideals to new circumstances and re-telling the narratives in such a way that they remain relevant. And perhaps most crucially, it is a process in which even apparently passive observers are crucial participants.


Certainly, there are geniuses who have a unique talent for re-telling the American story in such a way that it can captivate and enthrall the nation. JFK was one. Regan, unfortunately, was another - and each is still practically deified within their party. These individuals often do aquire an almost religious following - because what they are doing is functioning as the high-priests of American Civic religion. But there is nothing irrational about that. People respond to them not merely because of their personality; rather, people voluntarily participate in the ritual and theater of the political process because they make the rational (if sometimes unconscious) judgment that the narrative which these leaders construct is uniquely fitting to the needs of the historical moment, and because it helps people to answer the fundamental existential question of who we are as a people, and what that means for how we conduct ourselves as a nation.


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