New Useful Idiots: Thomas Frank, Financial Scams & Woke CIA Ads
Also, we semi mis-predict a patent waiver outcome, discuss a sex work ruling, and relive a beaver attack
Click here for the extended interview.
Useful Idiots returns with friend-of-show and the great not-fully-canceled political author of our time, Thomas Frank.
The author of books like Listen, Liberal and The People, No and What’s the Matter With Kansas in this episode had occasion to draw on the experience of one of his other words, The Conquest of Cool. The discussion started with the viral sensation of the week, the so-called “Woke CIA ad,” which featured a 36-year-old self-described “cisgender millennial who has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder” who is “intersectional” and wants you to join the drone-and-snoop crew at Langley. The CIA’s new mascot even worse a t-shirt with a raised fist, echoing Bob Beamon at the 1968 Olympics — joining the secret services is now an act of countercultural defiance.
Reactions to the ad have been hilarious in all directions, especially from self-serious media organizations who appeared wounded by the Internet’s swift collective ridicule of its tone (The Intercept even published a piece called, “Woke” CIA Ad Is No Reason to Throw Out the Language of Liberation). To Katie and me, it was funny first and foremost, but Tom saw in it a repeat of corporate America’s re-framing of the image of capitalism in the eighties and nineties. By marketing consumerism as a defiant, anti-conformist mode of personal expression, capitalist America surfed on the insouciance and cool of sixties liberation movements rather than being made the victim of them.
The “woke” CIA seems absurd on its face, but it’s the same kind of rebrand, with the agency responsible for droning, torture, and mass surveillance rebooting as an employer willing to speak the “Language of Liberation.” Moreover, it’s one more step in the overhaul of the meaning of “liberalism” that seems destined, as Tom says, to leave even him without a party, sooner or later.
Stand by for our extended conversation with Thomas, which includes a COVID-19 retrospective.