Big structural Bailey. Over the last few days, these words have come to haunt me. The phrase tolls in my head, an incantation that conjures no spell but my own bafflement. It’s ingenious in its complete vacuity. Big. Structural. Bailey. Big. Structural. Bailey. A crowd of Warren supporters chants it limply. Bailey himself is a giant inflatable golden retriever—Warren’s pet, who already has a Twitter of his own. Two pennies that are supposed to be attached to its collar instead appear stamped right into its chest, looking more than anything like two pancaked copper breasts. Warren strides towards the Bailey superstructure, coursing with power, arms raised as if summoning a demon. Bailey towers over his master like a golden calf built in effigy of some eldritch god. Big. Structural. Baal.
The structural Bailey comes on the heels of Warren’s Meme Team, whose immediately suspect stated mission is to “save the nation with selfies and memes.” I would have taken this as a little tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, but further research indicates that for the Warren campaign, technocratic memery is a serious strategy. They have internalized the narrative that Donald Trump’s ascent was in part fueled by the 4chan set’s penchant for manically generating absurd image macros. The strategy that they’ve derived from that analysis, evidently, is to beat the trolls at their own game. Anyone familiar with 4chan would deem that highly inadvisable.
Yet the big balloon dog might have faded out of my consciousness a lot more quickly were it not part of a larger memetic full-court-press on behalf of Warren. The Twitter consecration of the Superstructural Bailey was accompanied by the Meme Team’s justifications for their new offensive, which were replete with laughably unconvincing marketing pablum.
The origin of all this Game Theory can be traced to Misha Leybovich, current orchestrator of the Meme Team. After a quick search, I confirmed what I already in my heart of hearts knew to be true: his LinkedIn lists his past employment at McKinsey & Company. Something about this whole affair was just too redolent of that particular McKinseyan odor of pseudointellectual public relations tripe. (Everything about Pete Buttigieg is another noxious manifestation of the same). On video, Leybovich says, “I love capitalism, but… I believe in real capitalism, with real competition and real accountability.” Our society is utterly floundering in a landscape strewn with neoliberal detritus because we simply have yet to, as he puts it, “update the rules to account for modern network effects.” His Twitter account was locked after he was promptly and rightly ratioed, but fortunately, I found a screenshot cached in a Discord chat.
In tandem with the memetic marketing blitz, Leybovich tweeted a spreadsheet manifesto, wherein he outlines a comically sophistic theory of historical change. In it, presidents push the country through a series of Transformative Eras (Founding, Populist, Realignment, Progressive, whatever), presumably with the power that only Great Men can wield. Their sheer force of personality turned the wheel of the epochs! Following the beacon of their visionary leadership, America progressed teleologically through a series of discrete chapters into which each presidency can be neatly sorted. Tragically, the tides of history have washed up on the polluted shores of the Individualist Trump era. But this nadir is destined to be erased as the Humanists are swept back into power, led, of course, by Elizabeth Warren and her memes.
Maybe it’s to be expected that a presidential campaigner ascribe so much narcissistic self-importance to his job. But Leybovich’s precisely color-coded chart (I would expect nothing less from a McKinseyite than a reverent attitude towards Microsoft Excel) resembles nothing so much as the widely mocked Strauss-Howe generational theory, in which history tumbles endlessly through four “turnings”: a High, an Awakening, an Unraveling, and a Crisis. It’s analogous to the quote from pulpy sci-fi author G. Michael Hopf that’s become something of a reactionary meme in its own right: “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.” That is to say, it’s hacky nonsense. Anyone with the most passing familiarity with history, materialist analysis, and the process of confirmation bias can see the yawning holes in this particular superstructure. Almost as if Leybovich’s Big Structural Theory, like his thirty-foot mascot, is hollow and full of stale air.
Out of all the facets of this barrage of postmodern anti-symbolism, the most infuriating might be the appropriation of ‘structural.’ Why is the Bailey blimp structural? It’s a balloon. It’s the least structural thing possible. (And what is it with liberals and giant inflatables?) The only logic I can ascribe to this fact is that Warren and her Meme Team, consciously or not, are trading on the connotation of ‘structural’ and its association with leftist critique in order to confer Warren, undeservedly, with radical bona fides. This is a former corporate bankruptcy lawyer who was a Republican until she was forty-seven. Forgive me if I’m not taken in by her cagey assurances that she now supports Medicare For All, long after popular opinion shifted in favor of it. She certainly said something different in 2012.
The big ol’ Bailey is a lot like a Macy’s Day Parade balloon: unwieldy, corporate, and deeply boring. In this way he perfectly resembles the Warren candidacy and its assembled Meme Team of PR flacks and marketing goons. I’d say the same about Warren’s “two cents” slogan, which is intended to evoke her proposed 2% wealth tax—what Bailey’s two unfortunate Lincoln-penny boobs are supposed to represent. Warren desperately wants to associate her public image with sweeping structural reform (as evidenced by her marketing push regarding her “plans,” many of which Bernie did first and did better). But the invocation of such a paltry sum, along with the idiom of “just offering my two cents!” does not exactly connote radical change. Warren can inflate all the balloons and claims that she wants. An insipid, astroturfed, app-based Meme Team is not going to lift her to power. ♦
Tyler Walicek is the co-editor-in-chief of Protean Magazine.