We present to you “Russian Apologist Bingo!” Apologists for Russian aggression, lies and even lunatic screeds are everywhere. They’ll do about anything to defend Kremlin propaganda. From the infamous “Whataboutism” to “change the subject” or claiming that Ukraine tried to shoot down Putin’s plane and hit MH 17 (never mind Putin was in South America) — all their greatest hits are here. Play, won’t you?
Acolytes In Media
Events in Boston last week illustrate how technology shapes our personal identity. And how little we understand the process. Boston shows us a foretaste of the new tribalism that relies on ephemeral situations and adrenalin to create a sense of belonging. It will change what it means to be an American.
First, the definitions. We’ll start with new tribalism is an individual’s sense of self, belonging and loyalty. That sense of self is defined by participating in communal activity responding to an ad hoc event or crisis. Here, it’s a new tribe following a terrorist bombing. This new ‘tribe’ is interesting because its values can supplement traditional ones, at least temporarily.
Doubtlessly you are already asking, ‘So is it really new’? In the past, rallies and concerts might be seen as the forerunners to today’s phenomenon. Certainly true of the Party rallies in the 1930s, for example. And the various ideologies of the now trite ‘happenings’ and ‘sit ins’ in the 1960s, as well as mass spectacles of Woodstock, etc.
Pop culture fascination with the covert continues to crest. Under Bush besides the torture porn of ’24’, NCIS began its long run exalting ‘warfighters’ and hierarchical obediance. We endured the Bournes’ editing and celebrated a more brutal Bond.
And it continues. “Homeland” has become a ‘Starbuckian’ touchstone. “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” pull crowds. Even lighter, sillier cable fare like the CW’s “Nikita” and USA’s “Burn Notice” name check espionage argot.
So what to make of FX’s new series, “The Americans”? Larval CIA employee Joseph Weisberg (1990-94, no overseas) launched it all. He runs with the 2010 ‘Anna Chapman Spy Ring’ sensationalism but places his ostensibly married Soviet ‘illegal’ couple in Reagan’s 1981 America. The producers add some “Californication”-esque gestures; within the pilot’s first hour the female Soviet spy fellates a hapless presidential confidante, ostentatiously wiping her mouth afterwards and is later shown raped brutally. She also asks said confidante, supra, if he liked her finger up his ass. Quelle shock!
But is it any good?
When credits rolled, we asked “What did we just see?” It’s all preposterous, of course, as it must be. A show survives if it entertains. Here, the team generously drops gratuitous and titillating details to provide a modicum of verisimilitude – beyond say, “Burn Notice”. Yet for all that “The Americans” likely will be a soap opera.
The Soviet husband likes American malls and wants to defect. The wife is fiercely opposed, clinging to a memory of Moscow in 1962. And their kids! Already their young boy seems to have the hots for the next door neighbor’s daughter. Her dad’s an FBI counter-intelligence agent (yes, really). Oh, and there’s a KGB general. He pops up somehow at the end in D.C. to tell the female spy he’s fighting off extremists in Moscow while defending the motherland.
The atmosphere is the show’s real star and asset. Like Miami Vice, the show wants us to notice the music, style and set decorating. The clothes accurately are post 70s muted browns and not the much later, stereotypical big hair, neon and mullets. (Watch for Members Only jackets in future eps). They’ve gone the extra mile recreating 1981 on a basic cable budget. The music from Phil Collins to Pat Benatar is true to that year’s charts. (The only bum note was using The Who’s ‘Eminence Front’ as the FX TV ad campaign, which was from 1982).
Still, atmosphere can carry only so far. A soap opera requires caricatures acting broadly. The show’s premise and conceit point the other way. And nothing suggests ambition to deconstruct the American self-image through the eyes of its Soviet protagonists. Leaving us with what, precisely?
We doubt we’ll stick around after initial novelty dissipates. Aside from name-check fan service, it feels like Oakland, no there, there. (For that matter, we’ve never been able to sit through a re-watching of the recent “Tinker, Tailor” remake; the original BBC show remains sublime). Many pulp series have overcome inauspicious pilots. Will be interesting to see if we’re given a reason to care in time.
Striking how today’s Washington deficit and debt debates echo Continental arguments and policies in the 1920s and 1930s. As before, Malthusian linear extrapolation of today’s circumstances leads to a cataclysmic future. Ideology and epistemology fuel and derive sustenance from that apocalypse.
While E.J. Dionne is not often cited here in the bunker, he did sum up the Malthus Cheerleaders well:
The moment’s highest priority should be speeding economic growth and ending the waste, human and economic, left by the Great Recession. But you would never know this because the conversation in our nation’s capital is being held hostage by a ludicrous cycle of phony fiscal deadlines driven by a misplaced belief that the only thing we have to fear is the budget deficit.
A major reason Malthus walks among us again is so few American policy makers are economically literate. And shrink from basic maths. Economists aren’t much better. Consider how ideology as ‘free trade’ ignored mercantilist manipulation from Tokyo, Taipei, Singapore, Seoul and Beijing because ‘consumer welfare’ was the immutable barometer. (Lawyers, too – remember the Chicago School (law and economics) influenced decision that Japan couldn’t dump TVs in America because Japan was a capitalist country and firms don’t do unprofitable things).
Adding to difficulties? The federal budget’s opacity and arcana induces a particularly sudden coma. Only the most fanatical (masochistic) dive in. Thus, Paul Ryan’s outsized public presence. And David Walker’s. Who, you ask? A previously obscure U.S. Controller General, he launched his Comeback America Initiative to sound the alarm of budgetary doom without massive and immediate cuts. Omnipresent in D.C. and its Acela Mid Town adjunct, Walker comes perilously close to demanding an emergency government of national deficit reduction act. If you wonder where Joe Scarborough got his talking points (and Mika, too) look no further.
What Ryan and Walker (and les autres) provide are essentially crib sheets for how to sound informed while not really understanding the math, economics or actual budget mechanics. They dodge questions by barraging arcane factoids and posing existential act or die false binaries. They’s also spent years building to this moment. Even if their public notoriety seems overnight. It’s that trifecta – seeming expertise, simple solutions (draconian budget cuts) that people can analogize to their home cheque book, and relentless Malthus meme promotion.
There’re no corresponding figures promoting growth engaged across this full spectrum engagement. Who can and will feed the sound bite news entertainment machines. And walk the halls of Congress, lobbying with hard simplicities. Or taking years to build national grass roots movements.
Bruce Bartlett, for example, as a Republican budget and fiscal analyst long argued for spending restraints under Bush. And was fired for his troubles. He also understands that growth is the solution to debt and deficit constraints. Still, he’s an outlier in most Movement/Republican circles and by temperament and training more wonky than meme political. (Meant as a compliment, Bruce). Krugman has similar but even more profound limits. And so on.
To see E.J. Dionne above write a column is nice. Or the Daily Beast writing that E.J. Dionne wrote that column (albeit showing pretty shoddy understanding of macro-economics 101). This highlights our point. When columns are themselves noteworthy, it underscores the vacancy on the actual political playing field.
Are we wrong? Who’s the champion for a growth-led strategy?
71 people shot at the Aurora, Colorado midnight show of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Almost instantly, right wing defensive posturing over gun control hijacked a tragedy for squalid politics.
A single reporter on Good Morning America said the shooter belonged to the Tea Party (and quickly corrected). That lone report by a not very credible reporter was all the victim bandwagon needed. The Fox crew energetically speculated without reporting that it all might be related to OWS. Most of the cable teams we glimpsed, especially CNN, appeared almost but not quite celebratory. It is because they have a new cash cow narrative for ratings? Or it’s a temporary reprieve from the bleak and small presidential race? Unknown.
It’ll be a long time coming before we get reliable information about the shooter and his avowed motives. Pundits laugh at waiting and scramble to tell us what it all means. Most of those writers are clueless about pop culture, movies and genres but are oddly obsessed by them. Much like El Rushbo:
This evil villain in the new Batman movie is named Bane. And there’s now a discussion out there as to whether or not this is purposeful and whether or not it will influence voters. It’s gonna have a lot of people. This movie, the audience is gonna be huge. A lot of people are gonna see the movie, and it’s a lot of brain-dead people, entertainment, the pop culture crowd, and they’re gonna hear Bane in the movie and they’re gonna associate Bain. The thought is that when they start paying attention to the campaign later in the year, and Obama and the Democrats keep talking about Bain, Romney and Bain, that these people will think back to the Batman movie, ‘Oh, yeah, I know who that is.’ There are some people who think it’ll work. Others think you’re really underestimating the American people to think that will work.
“You may think it’s ridiculous, I’m just telling you this is the kind of stuff the Obama team is lining up. The kind of people who would draw this comparison are the kind of people that they are campaigning to. These are the kind of people that they are attempting to appeal to.
This tragedy reminds one of other incidents and losses. We’d like to close by remembering the sacrifice of Officer Johns. You may recall he gave his life to defend Holocaust Museum visitors. And there are others. Does this incident prompt memories for you?
How does a nation in economic disarray and extricating itself from two military misadventures find itself being goaded by senior officials, presidential candidates and media to start two new wars in Syria and Iran? A key remains the Neocon AgitProp engine and their internal views on American relative and objective power in today’s world. Contrary to popular belief, they didn’t go away.
Popular sentiment attributed to social media and existing strains of humanitarian interventionism ideology propel Obama’s policy as well, notably in Libya and now Syria.
But the Neocons – however diminished – agitate for two new major wars on Middle Eastern littoral. As before, Neocons today are as comfortable as Newt in dismissing the military’s considered opinion when it suits their purpose.
So what do they actually say? And how does it impact current events? Our friend at Global Paradigms examines Robert Kagan’s “The World American Made”. As you’ll see, Neocon infatuation with abstract symbology remains, as does the profound contempt for meaningful empirical analysis:
‘You are not sick,’ is the kind of reassuring message that Robert Kagan is sending to the nation’s foreign policy hypochondriacs aka ‘declinists’ in his new non-fiction book The World America Made, contending that America is in tip-top military and economic health and ready to take care of the rest of the world. He recalls that the same kind of hypochondriacs had complained that America was really, really in decline in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
Kagan, as Global Paradigms notes, is a senior advisor to the Romney campaign. But the important take away is that Kagan and many Neocon’s simply don’t believe that the American strategic position has fundamentally changed since 2003. It can get frustrating, as this graph shows:
Indeed, there is an element of the theatre of the absurd in the spectacle of Kagan, the geo-strategist who was the leading intellectual cheer-leader for the decisions to invade Iraq and launch the Freedom Agenda in the Middle East that were so central to the erosion of US global position. He is now lashing out at others for their lack of faith in American power that he had so helped to diminish so much.
The Three Amigos in the Senate, Lieberman, McCain and Graham are pushing for language that some see as trying to force Obama into war with Iran. How much easier to pursue if one believes the U.S. remains a healthy and wealthy unipolar military. Perhaps the Neocons’ greatest success is to convince people they’re not around anymore.
We all know the merely ‘great’ moments of 2011. Everyone has their own list.
To wit, the usual suspects: the Kardashian wedding, Weiner’s Tweets, the movie ‘Cowboys and Aliens’, Glenn Beck ‘parting ways’ with Fox, the Beatles’ song ‘In My Life’ used to sell mattresses by Sleepy’s, and so on. Toss in various pedantic finger jabs at the camera by Laurence (‘I was Chief of Staff to the Senate Finance Committee!’) O’Donnell or Rachel (‘Check this out, it is sooo cool. In the 1970s, they actually had LED wristwatches!’) Maddow.
Life defining moments all, surely.
Still, we can sift through the cacophony and seek greater refinement. To kickstart conversation, here’s one stab at a Top Ten:
10. Michele Bachmann
9. ‘Teh Gays’ Invading C-PAC, causing a Counter-Revolution and Coup
8. Khadaffi’s PG-Rated Cher Condi Photo Book
7. Season 2 of ‘Walking Dead’
5. Herman Caine’s Smoking Commercial
4. The Republican Debates (pick your moment)
3. Boehner/Cantor Road Show
2. US/ISI Divorce (and drone war migrating to Africa)
1. The U.S. Default/Debt Debacle/People Realizing Goldilocks Doesn’t Work
Submit your suggestions. Anything missing? What should be here?
The Drudge Report is hyping Uncle Pat’s latest Spenglerian opus, “End Of An Era: When MTV Began To Play Michael Jackson,” or some such. According to the Drudge summary, it looks like Pat went back to his studio with his producer with one goal: to recapture the punch and power from his halcyon days. Some chapters, like Crisis of the Catholic Church, are particularly riff heavy, recalling the pyrotechnics of his epic Houston 1992 stage show. Perhaps it’s akin to his last will and testament to posterity?
Dan Simmons latest, “Flashback”, reviewed in mid Summer by the WaPo was declared a Tea Party manifesto. The plot occurs in a fallen U.S. some 30 years in the future, with Mexico occupying the Southwest, Japan in Hawaii directly and ruling the West and Midwest indirectly via zaibatsu viceroys. Israel is nuked out existence, and the Global Caliphate expands in Europe, Canada and even the remaining 44 1/2 U.S. states by Sharia Law.
The future U.S. is a broke, neo-totalitarian State, with cities and roads lawless. It rents out its poorly trained and equipped army as fodder to Japan and India to fight their wars. People deal with the catastrophes by abusing a drug called ‘Flashback’ that allows one to memory dive and relieve a past moment as new again.
All of the decline, this ‘appeasement’ occurred because of a man elected president in November 2008. His policies like ObamaCare, his speech in Cairo, it all started with one community organizer.
The lone, shining hold out of integrity and self-esteem? Why, the Republic of Texas, naturally.