PRIDE COMES AFTER THE FALL
The capitalist spectacle of Pride is the death cry of radical politics.
You couldn’t have asked for a better, more hi-res snapshot of the state of supposedly radical politics. It was last Saturday, the sun was out, and two very different political gatherings were taking place. In the North, there was the annual Durham Miners’ Gala, which has been going since 1871. Former miners, brass bands, trade unionists and working-class families gathered to celebrate — or more accurately, commemorate — the labour movement and its many achievements. In London, at the same time, Pride was sprawling through the streets. Gay-rights activists and their ‘allies’ gathered to celebrate themselves. In an orgy of colour and noise, they advertised not so much their achievements as their characteristics; not their work, but their play; not what they do — which won’t be digging for coal — but who they are. The difference between Durham and Pride tells us an incredibly important story about the fall of radical politics.
Pride is an increasingly bizarre spectacle of self-regard. It started life, in 1972, as a very positive cry for gay liberation. It was a gathering of gay men and lesbians demanding greater autonomy and the dismantling of laws that still punished certain forms of gay sex even following the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. But in recent years it has become more about identity than autonomy; more a therapeutic demand for validation than a political cry for liberation; more an exercise in collective narcissism than collective agitation. And it’s one the bourgeoisie has completely fallen in love with. This year’s Pride was awash with capitalist cash. Sponsors included Barclays, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Starbucks, Tesco, Virgin, Vodafone and NBC Universal. Corporations fall over each other to pump the money they make on the backs of the working class into this gathering of largely middle-class identitarians. The same capitalist class that contributed to the crushing of the mining industry in places like Durham now throws its filthy lucre at Pride in London.
Some older gay-rights activists, including the legendary Peter Tatchell, have criticised the corporatisation of Pride. This year Tatchell complained that ‘the ideals of LGBT equality are barely visible’ anymore, and instead we have a party-like event that ‘big corporations see as a PR opportunity to fete LGBT consumers’. But these criticisms miss the mark somewhat. It’s not that Pride has been hijacked by big business keen to tap into the Pink Pound. It’s that in playing a key role in institutionalising the politics of self-regard, in assisting with the shifting of the radical political focus from the economy to identity, from questions of power to issues of esteem, Pride lends itself beautifully to the reorganisation of 21st-century capitalist society in a way that benefits those in power. Pride and its participants haven’t simply become the targets of capitalism; Pride is capitalism. Pride is the new face of capitalism, a glossy, pink manifestation of a new bourgeois ideology that seeks to pacify the populous through depoliticising the economy and politicising lifestyle and culture.