Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Getting it Down Pat: Right Wing Story Time

What would it take for someone on the right to say “whoop! Sorry ‘bout that”? Bush and company are, of course, totally incapable of saying mea culpa (and W, undoutably, can’t spell it). Made-up war-reasoning, continued oil obsession in light now self-evident global warming, mass murderer Bin-Ladin still on the loose, and a degree of insensitivity that blames a dead soldier’s mother for a fucked up vacation all add up to a pretty nifty tally.

Of course, Pat Robertson is not really, officially attached to the Bush administration. Not in any “according-to-Hoyle” sort of way. No, he is one of those figures who exist in the shadows, behind the curtains, doing the moral dirty work on the front lines of the screaming, lunatic fringe of the right. Just as Fox is not an “official” instrument of the right’s agenda, Pat Robertson and his ilk (Fallwell, Reed, take your pick) stand on the oblique sidelines of the political process, getting to act like maniacs for their cause, doing their damage, then slipping back under their veils of “private citizen.”

Meanwhile, actual private citizens like Cindy Sheehan are pilloried mercilessly as though they were some incorporated bulldozer ready to roll over unborn fetuses. The worst thing she did, of course, was to use the Christian cross in her protest. The right, as we know, has proprietary rights to the use of the symbol, therefore, it is not sacrilegious that some cowboy clown blazed over them in his massive, Saudi-oil powered SUV. Whoa to the feckless PETAphile who accidentally snags a Birkenstock on a similarly themed right wing sponsored vigil. There’d be no pitch too hot for little Moonglow.

The right’s great weapon of recent years has been a kind of “shock ‘n awe” kind of overreaction to anything that smacks of criticism of political status quo. If Bill Mahr questions why US Soldiers are ill-equipped in the theatre of war, then the right-wind congressman will simply label the comedian’s comments as treasonous. If Chris Mathews questions the whack-job senator (who happens to be some kind of democrat, evidently) as to whether accusations made against former Presidential hopeful John Kerry’s war record are true, that senator must then challenge Mr. Mathews to a duel… so he can kill him, obviously. Thus, when the grieving mother of a solider killed in Iraq decides to go to the vacation Shangri La of our poor, exhausted leader, to gain an audience, the thing for the right to do is to go ape-shit, organize, make tee-shirts, and assume Sheehan is the head of some neo-pagen, vegetarian conspiracy to make sure flags are burned at regular intervals and that Christian children are forcibly placed with lesbian parents.

My thought is that the right reacts this way not because they are particularly concerned about the specific event – Cindy Sheehan protesting the war, for example – but because they link the protest to a broader, more symbolic cultural conflict. Let’s face it, they do enjoy tarring the left with a fairly broad brush. You cannot, for example, be an anti-war supporter of the NRA. You cannot be pro-choice and pro-war, etc. The narrative is too difficult for the far-right. I am sure the left does the same thing to those on the right – all right wingers are anti-choice, pro-gun, know-nothings. That, in a nutshell, is the real problem with America: an inability to accept a more complicated, more nuanced narrative.

Of course, Pat Robertson is not really interested in a complex narrative, unless, of course, it is his own. After calling for the death of Chavez, he back pedals in a way that recalls Bill Clinton’s eroto-linguistic hair-splitting during the Lewinsky scandal (and aren’t you feeling a little bit nostalgic for that feel-good era?). The difference is that in the case of Robertson, we have a record of what he actually said because he said it on television in his own words. To quote today’s Washington Post:

[...] a video of Monday's telecast shows that Robertson's exact words were: "You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."
He continued: "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

I guess Pat is attempting to spin the word “it” as being taken “out of context”. I guess I don’t know too much about the way Southern Baptists use their pronouns but if it’s the same way we Hollywood Pagan Liberals use it then “it,” in this context, replaces the previous proper noun, and that is “the doctrine of assassination.”
Ok, Pat is a total idiot but that’s not what’s important here. What is important is some consideration of why the right would want this particular messenger out there running wild. Simple: Chavez is sitting on an oil reserve that might mean salvation in these post-Saudi-Oil-peak era. As Saudi Arabia starts down the road of reduced output (10-15 years?) and the trickle-spout that is the Anwar oil refuge is shown to be what it is (trickle-spout), then we need another oil sponge that we can push around or at least play nicely with. That would be Venezuela. Sadly, we don’t have a friendly on the ground there. Chavez is too social a democrat. He is too friendly with Castro (who, for some bizarre reason, we continue to have a hard-on for 40 years on. Pfizer and Glaxo should figure out how to bottle whatever is making this foreign policy so turgidly vertical), and he is too beloved of the poor (only in Caracas do anti-government protestors show up with manicures and leave in Jaguars). But, of course, the time is not right for a new demonization. We still have Iraq, we have Iran in our sites, and let’s not forget North Korea (but do forget about Bin Ladin. He’s not currently on the radar and his presence just complicates things). If Chavez’s policies continue into the next several years (provided he is still in power and some locally grown thug doesn’t return power to the 1% of the population who actually own land), then we might start considering how to best handle the situation in South America. Right now, Pat’s comments are seeds, or trial balloons, of what narrative might be forthcoming.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Current TV - Candy Everbody Wants

So New World International, the CBC's no-frills, no-nonsense, cable news channel, signed off forever at 9:00 PM PST or a little more than an hour ago. I wouldn’t say I “loved” NWI. In fact, I was often annoyed by its lack of content – flying in hours of programming from other channels rather than developing their own – but in the kingdom of the blind – the blind being the McNews hegemony represented by CNN-FOX, with their overheated news anchors, short-attention span blurbing, and celebrity-obsessed, USA-Is-Number-One propaganda – the 24 hour news channel without an annoying news ticker, is king.

Actually, I only really watched NWI because I could rely on it to give me seven-to-twelve minutes of headlines at the top of the hour (sorry for the “news-speak”). And the reason I went to Canada for my headlines rather than CNN’s Headline News Channel is because I knew that I wouldn’t have to listened to the thinly veiled sanctimony of some polished and primped American news reader who you know really wants to join the Ministry of Information so they can serve up the pabulum fresh from the source.

NWI tearfully went off the air without any real sincere hope of staging a comeback. The CBC doesn’t have the capital. I can only hope the BBC will make the World Service more widely available to American cable.

Al Gore’s Current TV took over at nine o’clock PM (midnight EST) with a rousing couple of verses from The Ramones version of What a Wonderful World. It didn’t matter that they had recorded it with un-ironic intent (Joey was dying and wanted to send out positive vibes), the new channel wanted to co-opt the song to make a very important statement about their relative hipness. Shortly, a flurry of text and images hurl out of the screen like some sort of amphetamine-induced psycho vomit, before dissolving into the dot-matrix retro-font declaring its name. For the next hour the channel throws down dozens of “pods” or mini-documentaries. Each segment ends with a return to the channel’s HQ, a swank techo-lodge of red paneling and 360 degree views above a city (sort of a way of saying “we’re COULD be watching you, but we’re having too much fun in here to care.”) where we are greeted by the same sort of folks who, twenty five years ago, would have been veejays on the fledgling MTV. From their Urban Outfitter/Tommy H. couture, to their slightly askew way of talking to the camera, to their “I don’t know what the fuck I’m saying, and I don’t care” prattle, they are “Cool” in the most trademarketable way. You half expect them to announce each segment with “NOW HERE’S MY BOY KINKO DA KLOWN WITH A REPORT ON PRISON LABOR IN CHINA… TO THE EXTREEEEME!!!!”

One segment that was of particular interest was the “pod” about youth culture in Iran. That is to say, the only youth culture worth talking about which is the western style of hyper-consumerism, loud music, sex, drugs, drink, and generalized debauchery. The reporter, either an American or a Canadian, interviewed a rather select group of Iranians including a bunch who had congressed at an upscale apartment for a house party. The music was blaring, the gals were scantly dressed, cigarettes, booze, “even Ecstasy!!!” were widely consumed. Reporter: “If I didn’t know any better, this could be a party in Brooklyn.” Except, these Iranian kids are, I surmise, less than “typical.” Later she interviews other young people and, I would say obsessively, inquires about whether they know any gay people. One group of girls needs this explained to them: “you know, girls with girls, boys with boys.” For some reason, these young women were less than forthcoming about admitting to anything so commonplace as being acquainted with someone who, in their country, could be executed for the crime of homosexuality.

The segment ends ( I am not going to call it a “pod” anymore. It demeans us all) and we return to the lounge. The camera whirls around the host in that way that is supposed to simulate the viewer’s perception (because, don’t you bob and weave with your interlocutor when having a conversation?). She introduces herself as “Amanda,” she looks a remarkable combination of bored and horny. Wet, sultry, pink-glossed lips manage to part with great effort. Surely she has something of value to say of merit. She is, after all, being beamed into pontentially millions of households” “wow… it’s a crime to be gay in Iran. Bummer.” Ok, she didn’t say “bummer” but I am trying to get across her general attitude, one of “I don’t really care, but I hope I look good.” This was followed by a segment by a fellow who had his cel phone number hacked off of Paris Hilton’s gizmotron and how its actually a good thing that his privacy was invade. “Its like hosting my own radio call-in show!” and “Maybe too much privacy is a bad thing.” I probably would have felt bad for him if he A) weren’t a friend of Paris Hilton’s, and B) if he weren’t driving around an expensive sports car.

Too much privacy? Ok, I’ll let your car insurance company know you are driving around the Bay area having endless chat-ups with your new cel-friends. Would you mind?

Connect TV, though still less than a day old, seems to already be the most annoying channel on television. Which is saying a lot considering how ESPN now offers competitive hot-dog eating as regular programming and Fox will soon launch a 24 hour reality TV channel. All that is crass and self-reflexive about what we used to call Gen X (and those little horny sluggers in Gen Y) comes to the surface in the most mundane and banal manner Connect. It all seems so desperate… and I mean that to the EXTREEMMMM!!!!