The HasanAbi Porsche drama is much more complicated than it seems – The Brock Press
Socialist Twitch streamer Hasan Piker, who goes by HasanAbi on the platform, recently bought a 2022 Porsche Taycan Turbo S worth $200,000 and it sparked outrage online which, despite looking unproductive, opened the dialogue on difficult issues on the left.
HasanAbi is a former co-host of the progressive YouTube channel The Young Turks (TYT). Since leaving TYT, he’s become one of the biggest names on Twitch, where he makes political commentary, plays video games, and chats with guests.
The streamer faced some backlash a few months before this controversy when he bought a fairly upscale home in the Hollywood Hills. The move shocked viewers and caused his political opponents to point out the hypocrisy of someone advocating socialist policies using their Twitch earnings to buy a fancy home.
The same pattern of criticism emerged with Piker’s recent luxury purchase; right-wingers claim he is a hypocrite, but unlike the case of his house, there are also a significant number of socialists and his supporters also condemn him for not practicing his principles. In a recent direct, a bristling Piker addressed the drama, arguing with disappointed fans while justifying his purchase. At one point in the aforementioned stream, he states that if, “you’re a normal working-class person who sees this and gets mad and angry, from a place of…again, always envious; I understand perfectly.”
If that statement sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Piker tries to be empathetic, but he also scapegoats some viewers’ disappointments rooted in envy, which naturally seems to move the goalpost.
As a casual viewer of Hasan, I must mention that he always advocated for policies advocating free education, social housing, wage increases and taxation aimed at the higher income brackets he would fall into. most likely at this point. I don’t think Hasan is secretly corrupt or slowly changing his mind due to his upward economic mobility. It is, however, faced with the struggle to exist aesthetically and spatially in a different class structure while holding broadly critical views of the systems that propagate and maintain that same class structure and its markers of legitimacy, say a car luxury.
It is precisely on this question that many major thinkers from the Marxist tradition of the last five decades have focused (Fredric Jameson, Jean Baudrillard, Slavoj Žižek, etc.). The main site of investigation being the blending of postmodernism and communication technology as the dominant cultural forces and mediators of our identities, alongside global capitalism as the dominant economic force of our times.
Truly, the two form a perfect marriage: postmodernism and its insistence on the death of all universal truth, its empty solipsism as well as its irony, cynicism and irreverence blend perfectly with an economic system that reduces culture and history to the logics of commodity exchange. Žižek uses the psychoanalytical ideas of Jacques Lacan to deal with the problems of current capitalism; one of Lacan’s well-known maxims, “the only thing one can be guilty of is giving reasons relative to one’s desire”, sums up well Piker’s irreconcilable position and much of the biting agreement of the two sides of the political divide.
Moreover, cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard has pointed out how cars function primarily as signs of exchange in the semiotic plane of postmodern capitalism. Baudrillard referred to this semiotic space of exchange and simulation in postmodern society as hyperreality. Nobody ever really claims, at least not in good faith, that high-end luxury vehicles are practical because of safety and so on. If you’re not a professional racer, after a number of zeros on a price tag, it becomes difficult to argue that the luxury automobile isn’t a flex; a sign of prestige linked to a certain art of living and a certain taste.
Overall, I think Fredric Jameson’s work is particularly important not only in diagnosing but also potentially in unraveling this problem. A staunch Marxist, Jameson’s work has been admired for decades for the way it addresses the intersection of postmodern culture with capitalism. A central idea stemming from his thinking that is useful in this particular case is that we all “soak up” postmodern capitalism. That is to say, there is no being completely outside of the way in which current cultural forms reproduce the effective reign of capital as hegemonic ideology.
Capitalism’s blind absorption of all cultural expression is instilled in the population through the exchange of commodities. This leads to what Guy Debord called “the society of the spectacle”: mere representation and appearance (entertainment media) as supplanting the original beingswhich Baudrillard would say are completely lost and replaced by a simulacrum of the original (*ahem* NFT *ahem*) which constitutes a hyperreality. This means that there is no escaping the fact that we are all participating capitalists, and to some extent we must take at least some awareness responsibility if we are to avoid doubling and increasing the slowness of the violence that is perpetuated all the time on a global scale.
Going back to Hasan’s situation, his efforts to get his cake and eat it too made the situation worse than it otherwise would have been. Because he attempts to sympathize with the disappointment of a working-class follower, but also casts it as envy, he does not admit the obvious and rather inconsequential hypocrisy of his purchase.
Moreover, this situation is similar to how many green talk attempts to blame consumer actions for global warming, while it is no secret that this is a problem that can only be solved at the geopolitical level. Demanding full compliance with its ideals and principles in every action it takes is extremely helpful for capitalism, in which you are expected to adopt views that consider your best interests, and those interests being intimately linked to your material assets.
A 2016 study by the Small Business Administration found that Republicans are 24% more likely than Democrats to be business owners. Republican politicians have historically run on the promise of lower taxes and regulation for business owners, and what a small business owner is essentially told is “more money in your pocket”. On top of that, the unrealistic idea that his company could ever become General Motors or Amazon helps fuel widespread suspicion of heavy regulation or taxation on all businesses. Meanwhile, corporate lobbying brings Democrats and Republicans to power, in large part, to facilitate and protect this myth of expediency and self-interest that is so essential to maintaining the status quo, where you don’t vote only with your material best interests in mind, which relates to your structural identity (as middle class, business owner, parent, black/white, etc.).
Claim that African Americans still face the consequences of historic legislative apartheid to dispel the myth of an inherently violent and abject African American culture, and you opened up to George W. Bush Jr.’s misleading phrase, “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” which captures the “up to your boots” logic and its intended limits to understanding the degree of agency accorded to individuals.
The point is, the more aggressively you micro-manage and control what makes someone an ally, the more you run the risk of replicating the will of capital to place all of our buy actions, and the characteristics of that buy , in categories that need be commensurate with our performative and structural identities; a notion that accords with the contingency and reproducibility of the self in a postmodern advertising culture.
As for thinking about HasanAbi’s situation, that goes for both disappointed viewers and Piker himself, I’m just thinking of the simple but meaningful mission statement of the late YouTube political activist Michael Brooks of The Majority Report: “Be hard on systems, but kind to people.