I’ve never seen the “No spoilers!” ethic at work so thoroughly as for Star Wars, which I went to see this weekend. In international relations speak, this behavior could be seen as Gramscian, a universal acceptance of a cultural norm which functions as the enforcing mechanism of an ideology. Gramsci was an Italian neo-Markist who Mussolini tossed into jail, whose prison writings are some of the most commonly cited Marxist scholarship today.
So basically, according to Gramscian theory, we all accessed The Force by refusing, voluntarily, to reveal any details about the new Star Wars Movie, and also acted to enforce this norm, by shushing the whole Christmas break at people we really ought not shush at in public. And it was all very American, very Christmasy, very voluntary, very like…The Light Side.
There was no law telling us to act this way, no actor forcing us to. As a Marxist, Gramsci saw this acquiesence by a population to an idea as the mechanism by which capitalism enforces itself. We believe an idea so completely, and are invested in it so thoroughly, we enforce it ourselves. When capitalism is enforced in the same way as we enforced the “No Spoilers!” ethic, we are, according to Gramsci, turning to the Dark Side.
One scholar I cited this past semester in a paper on the IMF’s evolution into a capitalist vampire squid zombie undead, notes that Gramsci’s idea of capitalist hegemony relies on a Dark Side trick…a sort of buy-in from the whole of society, not into something nice like a “No Spoilers!” rule, but the ideas of the bourgeoisie, the familiar “we’re all just temporarily embarrassed millionaires” myth, a buy-in which gives those ideas their persistent power.
“Because their hegemony was firmly entrenched in civil society, the bourgeoisie often did not need to run the state themselves…Coercion is always latent but is only applied in marginal, deviant cases. Hegemony is enough to ensure conformity of behavior in most people most of the time…these institutions and ideologies will be universal in form, i.e., they will not appear as those of a particular class, and will give some satisfaction to the subordinate groups while not undermining the leadership or vital interests of the hegemonic class” (Gill, 1993)
Gramsci himself would argue that the shushing ethic was a Dark Side trick getting us to enforce capitalism, namely, the profit of the movie’s capitalist owners. But the shushing was for our benefit as well, a societal norm we ourselves bought into; the idea that we should all see this movie cold. Therein lies the battle of Star Wars, between the Light and the Dark Sides, within ourselves.
It’s hard to overcome this persistent Gramscian power. No one likes realizing they’ve bought into, and enforce themselves daily, an idea that exploits them. It’s embarrassing, for one. Humiliating. My own journey from Clintonista New Democrat, Blairite New Labour establishment tool to Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn revolutionary took a very long time. The Gramscian spell finally broke for good this past spring, when I realized my work on the inaugural London mayoral campaign in 2000, something I’ve been very proud of, turned out to be Exhibit A of yours truly bending over for capital’s game rigging hegemony. Wrote a paper about that too.
Then Jeremy Corbyn happened in the Labour party, which you could watch happen all summer via the internet in real time. It did not matter who Corbyn was, an idea had formed outside of his own personal story; Corbyn was merely a vessel. Similarly, the internet created the Star Wars shushing hegemony, then empowered us to see Gramsci’s Light Side form, coalesce, grow, and indeed even enforce itself, in real time, with our own hands. The shushing was very insistent and powerful, it leapt from the intenet to the real world (like Corbyn) and it worked when deployed. I wielded the shush on occasion, we all did, no?
Up next is Bernie Sanders. Perhaps The Force has been afoot for some time now, and Gramsci’s hegemonic Dark Side is cracking under the pressure of a new consensus forming to replace it, a new hegemony forming within us, which we enforce ourselves. If so, woe unto anyone standing in the way. You’re about to be shushed.
(and there were no spoilers in this blog post, btw)