Henry A. Giroux: Pedagogy of the depressed: Beyond the new politics of cynicism

Henry A. Giroux: Pedagogy of the depressed: Beyond the new politics of cynicism

At the present moment in American history, there appears to be a developing hostility, if not cynicism, towards addressing the basic problems of society ( Goldfarb 1991, Capella 1997,Jacoby 1999, Chaloupka 1999, Bauman 1999, Boggs 2000). The absence of a widespread public debate or even substantive resistance over issues such as racial injustice, the dismantling of social welfare programs, the alarming incarceration rates among youth of color in the inner cities, the full-scale attack on the public schools, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, along with the refusal on the part of many people to participate meaningfully in political elections indicate a far reaching public cynicism and indifference to the world of public politics (Bauman 1999, Giroux 2000). As freedom is defined increasingly through the logic of consumerism, the dynamics of self-interest, an e-commerce investment culture, and all things private, there seems to be a growing disinterest on the part of the general population in such non commercial values as empathy, compassion, loyalty, caring, trust, and solidarity that bridge the private and the public and give substance to the meaning of citizenship, democracy, and public life (Putnam 2000, Chaloupka 1999). New York Times columnist, Frank Rich, captured the mood of such cynicism in his claim that "more Americans care about who is going to be voted off the island on 'Survivor' than who will be the next vice president"(2000, A27; see also Giroux 2000, Bauman 1999). As the state is increasingly stripped of its public functions, it is defined less through its efforts to invest in the public good than through the exercise of its police and surveillance functions in order to contain those groups deemed a threat to social order. As the obligations of citizenship are narrowly defined through the imperatives of consumption and the dynamics of the market place, commercial space replaces noncommodified public spheres and the first casualty is a language of social responsibility capable of defending those vital public spheres that provide education, health care, housing, and other services crucial to a healthy democracy) Instead of celebrating the historical struggle to advance public life, the media now largely celebrate financial markets. Models of leadership are no longer drawn from the ranks of those heroic individuals who, in connection with social movements, have struggled to expand civil rights, individual liberties, and relations of democracy. On the contrary, political leadership has now given way to celebrity, representatives of whom are drawn from Hollywood film studios and the ranks of corporate culture. Narcissistic behavior now generates media attention as never before, while admiration for private success turns people like Bill Gates into cultural icons. Collapsing intellectual ambition and social vision are matched by a mounting disdain towards matters of equality justice, and politics. (Sigue)

College Literature, Fall 2001