Saturday, January 30, 2010

Looking Isn't Seeing

Pundits and the news media often see many current events through the lens of how it will affect the presidency. Living in such a narcissistic culture such as ours that’s to be expected. This adds a weird perspective to the news which seems designed to divert attention from the events themselves. In effect it seems to reduce the impact. If violence in one of our far-flung imperial wars escalates inevitably the story will be framed in terms of can Obama (or whoever happens to be prez) keep support or achieve more support more than it is about the tragedy of so much death.

I see today’s NYT headlines are all about Haiti. Truly this is great, I’m glad to see Americans so adamantly committed to saving Haiti even if we aren’t sure if we are saving it or occupying it which for Americans is often the same thing. I’m deeply touched by the graphic photos of people suffering and it all makes me want to vomit. All this hype isn’t about Haiti the way it purports to be, it’s about Americans and how wonderfully special we are, tripping lightly about the globe spreading fairy dust and goodness. Again it’s that tendency towards narcissism that colors our world view turning a tragedy into a self-promotion contest.

You want to save somebody? Great, how about saving the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen (to name only a few) from Americans? Americans saving people from Americans, I like that, it makes you proud to be a narcissist. In the end we can’t even seem to save ourselves from ourselves if it comes to that. The strange disparity between our heartfelt love for all things Haitian and the millions of destroyed lives scattered about the earth like so many shards of broken glass left in the wake of our bloody and murderous rampage through the Middle East following 9/11 is nothing less than mind boggling. But that’s what narcissism is about, what’s on the surface, never the roiling insanity lurking just beneath.

I’ve read that polls show a majority of Americans believed the underwear bomber should be tortured for information that he has already given and that he should be tried in a military court rather than a civilian. The twisted logic behind this thinking is that because Americans are so special, so unique, so much more marvelous than any others, that it is a duty to our wonderfulness to torture people so that we can maintain our high moral standards, after all, what would the universe do without us?

I just saw a clip of Tony Blair testifying about his role in the Iraq War and I’m pretty sure Blair actually believes his rationalizations that removing Saddam Hussein has helped the people of Iraq and made the world a safer place. Tony Blair is good, England is good, and they have helped make the world a safer place. So we see that the Brits are no better than Americans when it comes to narcissistic tendencies. Iraq is, of course, a total disaster now saddled with one of the most corrupt governments in the world where high unemployment and high levels of violence are the norm. Yet it is important for Blair to believe what he believes for how else could he live with himself after leading England into disaster by following an idiot madman, Bush II, on such an insane endeavor. The millions of murdered Iraqi citizens, the millions more who were swept into exile, not to mention the maimed and the wounded don’t even enter into the pretty picture that Blair and Americans alike have created in their minds. The Iraq landscape itself is peppered with unexploded cluster bombs and depleted uranium that will be killing for long years to come. Babies will be born with horrible defects like the victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam yet none of this registers in many American minds. We can make all the movies we want where Americans are portrayed as just so cutesy wootsey and ever so clever but it won’t change the reality of what we are and do.-RP

see pt 2, below-JV


At January 31, 2010 1:19 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

If you tell small children to forget about something awful, do they forget? I don't know. But US popular media often seems like it's a "forgetting machine" that, besides infantilizing its audience, teaches them to forget the bad things our government does.

How effective is it? Who knows. Earlier I started an essay that I tentatively titled "Do you believe what you think you believe?" because I tend to think a lot of American attitudes are based on an underlying, only partially-processed assumption that we have to pretend to believe the things we believe, otherwise our way of life(or if you prefer, Our Way Of Life) will come crashing down around us.

I wonder, for example, how belief that then-senator Obama voted for the October '08 bank bailout correlates with peoples' general attitude towards him, and if the more positively you view him the less likely you are to believe he voted for the bailout bill. (I imagine the same thing is true of peoples' attitudes towards McCain.)

And how many people who voted in 2008 for one of these would express disbelief if you told them both of these guys voted for it?

At January 31, 2010 5:48 AM, Blogger Mimi said...

"’s about Americans and how wonderfully special we are, tripping lightly about the globe spreading fairy dust and goodness. Again it’s that tendency towards narcissism that colors our world view turning a tragedy into a self-promotion contest."
You hit the nail on the head with that one, Rob.

At January 31, 2010 5:14 PM, Blogger rob payne said...


Yes, it infantilizes the audience, that’s a great observation. That’s also what commercials on the radio (I don’t have a TV) tend to do as well. I keep hearing one ad by Chevron where the guy speaks as if he is talking to a child that just got its first booboo. “We came to California looking for [money] and we found people, hard working, inventive, rugged, intelligent people and together we did something or other.” What a lot of dribble.

The other day I was driving through one of the more expensive parts of town and watching all the wealthy well dressed people walking around and enjoying their expensive life-style it struck me that I’ll bet these people never think about how their wealthy life-style depends on the destruction and rape of third world nations. In fact I’m quite sure it never really occurs to them to think about all the little brown people they crush the life out of from Mexico to Yemen.

Perhaps it’s that they’re afraid as things will fall apart as you say and maybe that’s because once you really admit to yourself what is going on you just can’t fool yourself like you used to. Not you personally, I mean people in general.


Hey thanks Mimi. It is getting to be a bit much, where’s the Pepto Bismol? I can never find it when I need it, damn.


Post a Comment

<< Home