As a form of closure on this whole 8 year debacle– to recap, reboot, and move on– last month i picked up and read Frank Rich’s 2006 book The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth. Boston University Film Professor Ray Carney gave this appraisal which made me go to the library the next day to borrow it:
I just stumbled on a copy of Frank Rich’s The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth. Read it and weep. What a deeply perceptive, wonderful, and sad book about the culture we live in, the politicians who govern us, and the journalists who (cravenly, callowly, shoddily, exploitatively) report on it all. Go to a public library and take it out. You can read it in a night or two. Ponder the consequences of postmodernism triumphant, and realize that its moral and intellectual abdications are not confined to works of art or criticism. Frank Rich shows that Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld were living postmodern possibilities that Jean Baudrillard only theorized about. They transformed the campy, cute postmodern dream into a real world nightmare — so that torture and waterboarding and suspensions of habeas corpus, in their world of style-surfing, become “expressions of the Geneva Convention.” Anything can mean anything if you only master the form of the presentation and the right tone of voice as you pronounce it. Rich’s America is a country where the ad campaign has replaced reality, a culture where the flash and dazzle of style and spin and appearance have replaced pathetically old-fashioned concepts like truth and reality. Thank you, postmodern artists and critics. This is your work. This is the world you celebrate. Welcome to the future. Orwell and Huxley had nightmares about this world, but they were unable to delay its appearance– the appearance of the there where there is no there there. And it’s no surprise that it took a drama critic (not a political reporter) to understand the Bush White House. Being President and conducting a war is all just a performance. It’s all theater. Who says it has anything to do with bodies and blood and death? How old-fashioned. Thank you, Frank Rich. What an amazingly sad and revealing book you’ve written about ourselves and our world.
Extra points to Carney for taking to task artists and their critics who actively promote and elevate detached irony and cleverness over real experience and truth. It’s the perfect parallel… Bush and crew were, as he says, “living postmodern possibilities.” They mastered the manipulation of language, the embedding of subtext, the crafting of images. Once their version of a truth was successfully fashioned, when they acted they in effect created their own reality. Perception became a game of data contortion, and up until Katrina it was an entirely one-sided match. And how sad it took the establishment media even that long to figure out these hucksters. Four years too late at least.
I have to say though, there’s a strange part of me that is going to sort of miss this abhorrent cabal of people. Like anything we grow to build an intimate and familiar relationship with, good or bad (or in this case, straight up evil), when it ends there’s inevitably still some sense of loss of the known. The known here just happens to be acts of lies, deception, and propaganda.
And boy what a number they pulled too. Humbling in both its efficiency and effectiveness, the level of unreality they successfully pushed upon the American public is a thought not to be taken lightly. Though the War on Terrorism may have been the definitive ad slogan of the decade, but one which will recede and disappear into the nexus of its own absurdity, the real world consequences left in its wake are tragic… two active wars with soldiers and civilians STILL dying, the biggest budget deficit in history– just as our economy goes off a cliff, and probably most devastating, a crippled international humanitarian image.
The title for Will Ferrell’s upcoming George W. Bush one man show, “You’re Welcome America,” about sums it up.
Thankfully, the lasting effect of all this will be a whole generation of (voting) young people who grew up on the Bush years and won’t be able to recall one single honest or sincere moment. From “dead or alive” to “uranium tubes from Africa” to “slam dunk” to “shock and awe” to “Mission Accomplished” to “last throes” to “we don’t torture” to “heckuva job Brownie” to “I don’t think anyone could have imagined…” to “I don’t recall” to every doublespeak ever uttered by any White House official the last 8 years… they failed to communicate one breadth of truth to the impressionable Americans.
For Obama, all I can say is don’t f–k this goodwill up.