What the CIA’s ‘Intersectional’ Recruiting Ad Says About the Aesthetic of Empire

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) this past week integrated identity politics themes into those of American military conquest.

“I am a woman of color. I am a Mom. I am a cisgender millennial who has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder,” says one agent. “I am intersectional… I refuse to internalize patriarchal ideas of what a woman can and should be.”

“I am proud of me. Full stop,” continues our protagonist in a t-shirt bearing the closed fist of liberation historically associated with Marxism.

The ad presents a paradox of subversion: Who is conquering who through this messaging? Is “wokeness” and its associated ideologies like intersectionality and gender performativity conquering the CIA, or is the military industrial complex subverting these ideologies for marketing purposes and weakening them in the process?

Republican political actors are likely to side with the first interpretation. Senator Ted Cruz wrote on Twitter that “CIA agents should be bad-asses, not woke, fragile flowers needing safe spaces.” The ideologies in this context manifest as threats to the prevailing order rather than products of it.

True leftists, meanwhile, likely view this ad as an indicator that capitalist interests won out in the fight for social justice. Author David Rieff tweeted, “The job for the US & UK intelligence services, and, indeed, for other centers of establishment power, is to transform the Woke wolf into a domesticated Woke dog. I’m betting they succeed.” By integrating within the prevailing order, the ideologies reinforce its foundation; as the late Kurt Cobain realized, which theorist Mark Fisher noted in Capitalist Realism, “nothing runs better on MTV than a protest against MTV.”

The paradox is the way forward: Wokeness and its umbrella of ideologies are intellectual products of Empire, a framework preserved by an entity like the CIA. They are intended for global distribution in the vein of the Democratic tradition, Coca Cola, and Disney films.

Ideology is one of the most effective products a country can export to cement its place in the world order. The United States has exported ideology since its founding (in 1776 for adherents of the older ideology, in 1619 for followers of the new one), initially throughout the Southern Hemisphere during the Latin American Wars of Independence, most recently through the neoconservative movement in the Middle East continued by neoliberal and nationalist successors. In the aftermath of World War II and America’s rise as the dominant superpower, the CIA was the force allowing American ideology to expand and take hold in various parts of the world.

Like the American model for Democracy, wokeness and its associated ideologies are American products influenced by French intellectuals. Intellectual movements like intersectionality and understanding gender as a social construct were developed by academics and legal scholars in American universities during the late 80s and early 90s, later transformed into cognitive weapons by political actors to mobilize followers to a cause during the Trump years. Structural and systemic problems as the basis for every symptom of injustice is a narrative easily understood by the masses regardless of whether they’ve read Judith Butler or Kimberlé Crenshaw; the most successful American products and exports, from the Apple iPhone to the Marvel cinematic universe, operate in structures of totality, and are easily accessible and spread.

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Although the CIA and “wokeness” appear as a power structure and an ideology at odds with the power structure, the two more closely resemble diametrically opposed forces working in tandem to spread Empire. Wokeness may have risen from opposition to Empire, colonization, and capitalist frameworks, but the ideology is inevitably spread through these forces, revealing the ideology as a product for consumption, branding, and integration alongside other products for consumption, branding, and integration and so the cycle goes.

There will be no structural reckoning: The new aesthetic of the American Empire is “a cisgender millennial” who refuses to “internalize patriarchal ideas of what a woman can and should be.”

Full stop.

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