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Outburst 27: New Year’s Eve, High Holy Day of Capitalism

There is often great power invested in the mundane. In unremarkable moments few suspect that ideology is at work. New Year’s Eve, with its routine and hackneyed qualities, can readily permit the penetration of ruling discourses. Like most holidays celebrated in late-capitalist spheres, New Year’s Eve usually works to commemorate and celebrate the powers-that-be. Indeed, the bland qualities of the “New Year” allow for seamless governmentality, and casual-yet ritualized-cultural prostration to the principle discourses of our day, including consumerism, globalization, and the “War on Terror.”

New Year’s Eve is capitalism’s ritualized orgy of re-newal. In one night the past is magically absolved, and the new is ceremoniously ushered in. Capitalists gather around a giant bonfire of old products, and warm themselves by the inferno. It is a sacred day for the fashion industry, electronics makers, and politicians: once again, everything is made outdated. The New Year is the glorification of ‘fresh’ scents, new flavors, and the dictator of the month. Were it not for the New Year, we might settle for old cars and that function, and we might recall whose policies got us into yet another crisis. This New Year’s, as always, the consumer is always behind and never satisfied, hopelessly behind the times before she had a chance to catch up. And s/he is the consumer-citizen who votes to protect consumerism and “our way of life” from the latest menacing threat.

It hasn’t always been this way. New year’s rituals in earlier times and in other places simply mark the completion of one cycle and the beginning of another similar one. The new year can connect people to the past and celebrate harmony. Gone are the days of farmers watching the seasons rotate. Ours in not a New Year’s of reflection and remembering. Another ancient ritual is stolen and made to feed the insatiable ideological hunger of capital. New Year’s has become a ritual absolution from the past and worship at the altar of the New. It is the perpetual incantation of freshness. Lemony Freshness, that is.

It was Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who first incarnated this finance-capitalist Future. Like tour guides at Universal Pictures, Reagan and Thatcher herded us through the dioramas, pointing out all of things marvel at. Some exhibits showed the quaint earnestness of the Frontier family, while other displays froze working-class movements and counter-cultures in a bygone teleological past. Thanks to past struggles for “freedom” the Kingdom of the Commodity is within reach. At the last stop on this great chain of being, Reagan congratulated us all for patriotically embracing the rule of corporations and the arrival of the Future. Surely only a “communist” would complain.

Each New Year the Future not only arrives, is ritually fêted. The day is a day of mass conversion. Like a thousand Moonies married at once, we are to be wed to the Future. The hypnotic spell, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…” is followed by the Auld Lang Syne song. Champagne corks pop and the hypnotist whispers, “And when you wake up, you will remember nothing.” In a brief and ecstatic liminality, the contradictions and false promises of the commodity are absolved.

This New Year everything will be fast and good and will usher in a Future that is Wrinkle-Free, Instant, New, and Improved. For a brief drunken moment The Future and the New Year obliquely explain one another and merge. The liturgy of the New Year is preached on teevee, in movies, and in books in which white-toothed White people (and White-toothed Colorized people) wallow in an orgasmic cornucopia of commodities. Technology, bosom-buddy of capitalism, is going to bring us peace, prosperity, and community. The Future (delivered C.O.D. by the commodity) is free from racial strife, since capitalism will immanently bring its fruits to all, and free from sexual conflict, since women will eagerly lay down for men who drive the latest Ford. Class conflict, it seems, disappears with freedom from want. In the Future, we’re just one big, happy, monocultural family with a “multicultural” face. The Future is just around the temporal corner. Surely only a “terrorist” would disagree.

The 21st century promises to enlarge upon this staggering historical amnesia. As the 19—prefix slips away, socialism, the women’s movement, colonialism, and the Cold War become things of a bygone past. The new millennium leaves behind our roots and branches, preserving only the profitable fruit. It brands and blands history into a creamy vanilla swirl.

The New Year conceals the fact that once again, the income gap is widening, and that once again the Earth’s resources are being depleted. Once more, the poor of the planet are swelling in ranks and discontent, and as usual women everywhere have far less than men. Yet again, slavery, hunger, AIDS, war, and fear ravage humanity, and yet again military spending is in vogue around the globe. New Year’s Eve, the most unremarkable of holidays, disguises the fact that every year is the commodity, the rich, the man, and the White. Under the corporate-capitalist hegemony, this year, like last year, belongs to the New: every year is New’s year. Almost unconsciously: you quaff their champagne: you drink their boring elixir of amnesia: you drink their potion laced with ideological Rohypnol.

But just as surely as banal moments of everyday life can (re)produce fealty to power, situations can carve out autonomous time, practice, and subjectivity. Remembering, recycling, reusing, rediscovering, and rebuilding: these designs run counter to the tyranny of the New. The mundane life participates in routinized, cyclical obeisance to hegemonic Newness. The ordinary life is boring and forgettable-and it is a life lived in service to someone’s profit margins. The situated and situational being crafts a life, the very breath of which mocks capitalism’s prescribed subjectivities, commodities, and holy-days.

Author: Dr. Dylan Clark is a Rogue Scholar who is currently Co-Director of Peace & Conflict Studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Published inOutbursts
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