Philosopher Boots Riley’s latest work of absurdist cinema isn’t a movie at all, but rather a TV show, which is great because this means we get over five hours of Boots exfoliating his brain of a new, wacky alternate universe version of Oakland that pushes back against the propaganda while offering a tender vision of ways systemic oppression, policing, and the artificial scarcities of capitalism mess with our consciousness. This show is laced with symbolism (the good stuff) and as you watch it, you might ask yourself how each magical problem, ghost, or superpower is a parable for how the shit that goes down in Oakland (and everywhere) impacts the way we perceive ourselves and others. For example, how might being sheltered from systemic oppression cause us to act larger than life? How might exposure to it shrink us? Do we become ghosts when we are denied access to care?
This show urges us to dig deep and to fight systemic oppression at every level, all the way on down to the (sub)consciousness-rising that needs to happen so we can seize the means from our inner oppressors. This is to say, Boots really leans into that old skool New Left jazz that never fully got its day back in the late ‘70s, like for example, how Stuart Hall once wrote that race is “media, mediated.” How are our everyday lives shaped by the stories that others tell about us? How do those stories become congealed and reified onto arbitrary aspects of our bodies? How might we resist?
But make no mistake: Boots never lets go of the struggle on the streets in this show, a point emphasized by the way the character most skillful at de-programming oppressor-types is also the most active in on-the-ground resistance efforts. This is a party and Boots is the MC and he’s turning the Althusser down and cranking the Gramsci up, while Jungian freestyling. Is it just me, or are patchwork clothes about to become the next big thing?
I’m a Virgo urges us to forgive ourselves our eccentricities, and to laugh at the strange ways we sometimes must sell out if we want to eat and have money to take cuties on dates. We also get a near-future glimpse at what Oakland will be tomorrow (…or will it?) while asking some hard questions, like: What happens when our very heroes treat us as the enemy, and guide others to do the same? Is it time to retire the superhero archetype? Can we still dance in the revolution — and also have awkward, tender, amazing sex and honest relationships?
The only drawback to this show is it could have featured more worker co-ops. And housing co-ops. And union co-ops. Come on Boots, give us more media with co-ops!
Many mainstream reviewers have given this show five stars. Fuck stars. May 10,000 shows like this bloom.
Beyond sewing multiple clothes together to create bigger patchwork clothes, another great way to do a cosplay of I’m a Virgo is to take part in local mutual aid efforts—something that is sorely needed right now as neoliberalism’s corporate colonialism continues to strip the populace of the ability to care for each other while pandemic era social services are all being cut all at once. A wave of evictions and escalating local social tragedies are unfolding everywhere right now, and during this time, we are all going to have to make hard, fast decisions about where to direct our attention. I think Boots is giving us a subtle warning with this show to be weary of superhero thinking that can lead us down big, eco-driven, nonsensical revolution-like events that don’t really have much of an impact. Late capitalism has taught us to look away from our neighbors who are struggling, but what might happen if we look towards them and work together to build strategies to make sure everyone has their needs met in a way that centers solidarity, mutual aid, and “paying it forward”? As anarchists, many of us are interested in raising the net autonomy within our society, in making sure that everyone can be free, and I think Boots lays out a vision that engages with some of the harder questions we must grapple with when we do this kind of work, questions many of us have been struggling with since the Occupy Movement was pushed inside. What strange radical, new worlds might emerge if we get better at seeing and listening to the needs of our neighbors? Even if we can’t solve their problems at this moment, even just holding space for what your neighbors are going through can plant the seeds of something big…