Fantasy and Disappointment: In Defense of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Recently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made some ambivalent remarks regarding her position on the Israel-Palestine situation. After being pressed for clarification about her initial remarks, she admitted that she was a bit outside of her wheelhouse on this topic and that she'd need to spend some time in the future working through this issue. Seeking to settle back into her comfort zone, she replied that she may not be using the appropriate terminology and that what she does know is that she approaches all situations as an activist, a community organizer, and a humanitarian.  

Leftist Twitter was not pleased. "What the shit!" and "I am so disappointed" were constant themes that accompanied quote-retweets of her PBS interview. What has become quite commonplace among very online leftists is an impatience with anything that is deemed outside the scope of the canon. And this sentiment is exacerbated when attached to the perceived failings of a public persona. In a sense, there is a logic that needs to be sensitively addressed here. There is a lot of felt momentum within burgeoning leftist communities in the United States and elsewhere, and so there will be growing pains as such groups figure out which hills to die on and which issues to grasp lightly. 

However, with that said, there is a current among leftists that needs to be recognized for what it is. This is the sentiment that responded to AOC with disappointment. And this sentiment is essentially counter-revolutionary. I say this not to simply incite. But rather, I say this because there is a logic that is being reproduced among communities that claim to want to build alternatives to this very logic. And if this desire is authentic (and it surely is), then we must be aware of the contaminations that would stifle such a project. This contaminating logic is the logic of capitalism. 

Capitalist logic breeds excessive and hastily deployed disappointment; one that does not allow for failure, incompleteness, development – in short, the dialectic. Everything must be purely positive. It must fit within the logic that capital itself establishes by immediately providing us with a modicum of enjoyment. When it does not, it is a disappointment. This is because capitalism requires that things do not disappoint. They must always measure a quantifiable amount of pleasure. Even when things do disappoint (England lost in the World Cup semis; your phone crashed; this beer tastes bad; etc) this is only so our desiring capacities will be directed towards another commodity to consume, which holds out the promise of satisfaction. And even when something does bring enjoyment, it is a fleeting enjoyment that does not satisfy but that merely increases the tempo of our need for further enjoyment through consumption. 

This process is precisely what is endemic in the disappointment surrounding AOC. She has been erected as a fantasy that promises to usher in a modicum of satisfaction for leftist consumption – through social media consumption (liking/retweeting/building followers/contributing to the online community/etc); joy shared over beers at the bar; or just the private 'way to go' within one's inner thoughts. Of course, being excited about what AOC and her team have accomplished is something worthy of joy. This is not to denigrate the value of being joyous over victories. Rather, it is to recognize the conditions under which joy emerges. 

And this is my primary concern. The disappointment directed towards AOC comes at the felt loss of enjoyment that her fantasy previously gave to the consumer. In this way, she has been commodified. Her image has become the object of consumption that is valued insofar as it is able to sustain a measure of social value. But is not the very language of disappointment here itself more a commentary on oneself than on the thing supposedly objected to? That is, is not disappointment an expression of one's feelings about oneself's feelings? Thus, disappoint with AOC is really a disappointment in the fantasy that one had projected into the political landscape; and this only because the projected fantasy has been revealed to be what it actually is – a real, human person in the process of becoming. And when the latter occurs, what we are faced with is Otherness – the Otherness of human subjectivity that is not merely an embodiment of a canonized political program; the Otherness that is not some ROI; the Otherness that is not a feedback of the same that we have come to expect because this is what capitalism perpetually gives us in a world of commodified media images.

So, yes, AOC will disappoint. She will grow and make mistakes and provide joy and falter and learn and improve and alienate and bounce back and smile and cry, and it will all be on display as her life is becoming more and more positivized for our viewing and social media sharing pleasure. But let us not forget that she is a human and that humanity is wrought with negativity, the hidden, the excess, the real. Let us not be so hasty in our need for enjoyment that we stifle process. Let us learn to be patient with our fellow travelers. And let us construct political communities governed by this alternative logic.