|This world is hard to recognize, let alone place as a dream, a nightmare or a cursed reality. And, to think of it, this is a beginning of a new Century.
If we were to dream this, we must pause and remind ourselves that it would be over in the morning. But that looks unlikely. The night appears to be too long.
Sometime, this world looks so bizarre that is hard to laugh and even harder to think about it. But here it is. It is here to be with us.
Just when we were done with the old forms of colonialism, new forms have appeared. True, the dictator was defeated and thankfully his ugly statues were destroyed. There are many other dictators around the world and it would be great if they were toppled too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Iraqi Freedom sonowballed and every authoritarian regime in the world collapsed? Sort of post Gorbachov era in Europe. But that is not happening. The world is apprehensive about the United States, often compared to the totally domineering imperial power of Rome, toppling anything in its path.
We hope democracy will prevail.
We mean real democracy. Not the one triggered by the hanging chads and plane loads of campaign cash.
But that seems remote.
Will there be democracy in Iraq? Didn’t we learn about planting a foreign seed in a native land some 50 years ago in the Green Revolution? Why should there be democracy? Is there democracy in any oil-rich nation? In Nigeria, Venezuela Saudi Arabia or anyplace else? Will Iraq have a democracy? Perhaps, but it will be funded by foreign capital, which is returning to the country in the form of huge aid, which it hopes to extract in the converted currency of oil. What is about to happen in Iraq and for that matter in that part of the world is too gloomy to be thinking of. We have not seen a powder keg. We have not seen a powder keg so close to the fuse either. If the great imperial power of the new century can handle it, and handle it without loss of life and dignity of its people, then perhaps we need this kind of imperialism.
But what we have is imperial democracy, here and abroad.
The days of real democracy are gone. The idea that we could express ourselves freely and vote with our thought and build consensus for public opinion is as remote as hope in this dark world. The democrats, not the party poopers we know, but the hopeful and hard working idealists amongst us, are wandering around in wilderness, because what they have is this slick spectacle that reduces democracy to an imperial dismissal. Let us put it this way. The real democracy has no guts to stand up. It cannot serve the will of the imperialists. Like the United Nations, it is merely a maidservant that needs to stand up to the will of the master. Like United Nations, democracy is nothing but a topic in the school lesson. It is a mock experiment pretty soon to be ensconced in a museum.
If the faith is so gloomy, then why is everyone smiling? Why is everyone having a ball as the economy reels with each dollar you spend? Why is everyone so cheerful about the power of the smart bombs and computers that manage the logistics of killing and destruction? Because of television, dummy!
Since the world we inhabit has become so unreal and gloomy, the real world has moved to television.
We mean the real, real world. It is the world where reality unfolds. It does so with real people, not actors. In fact, actors threatened to go on a strike once and television invented reality. A reality without actors, with real people.
If the first Gulf War (how many more are there?) was a video game war, where we saw the whole enterprise of killing on our video screens, just smart bombs destroying on a screen, then this Gulf War was about the reality show.
The dream is so pervasive, it has taken over reality. And, reality is so pervasive, it has taken over itself. Figure that one out.
As the drumbeats to war were reaching a high pitch, before the ultimatums and before the U.N resolutions, television was fashioning a war of its own. For real! We saw fashion parades on the morning shows (all of them) about what the marines and army soldiers would wear, and what gear they would carry in the battlefield. The local shopping flyers showed military fatigues as new emerging fashion trends. But to top it all, we heard on NPR and on Good Morning America news stories about operation baby wipes. True to the spirit of the Fear Factor, we heard how soldiers and the marines needed baby wipes to keep themselves clean in the dryness of the desert and in the middle of combat. And if this were not enough, the day the news broke about a nationwide operation baby wipes, two of the contestants (?) on the Fear Factor were wearing army fatigues. That, we suppose was to show solidarity with the troops, but it ended up establishing continuity between the real and the reality.
This baby wipe issue made what was once a minor operational detail in the armed forces a topic of national discussion. Surely the army that makes $10 million missiles can provide baby wipes. But we see people puking and bleeding on the reality shows, so why not see something similar about the troops too? What happened to the value of dignity in all of this?
But that is the charm. Dignity is a wasted virtue in reality shows. The whole purpose is to bring insults and injuries to others in public eye. As the drama of the Bachelor was unfolding, bombs were falling on Baghdad, that great city of Alibaba, not to speak of the 40 thieves. And, what a great spectacle it was. Here we are, watching the look-alikes of this and that bimbo vying for the man of her dreams and the sing-alikes of this and that has-been in the music business on the American Idol. There was Saddam, that greatest actor of them all, taking the reality show to another level of cleverness. There he was, presenting one of his many look-alikes, his many decoys to the radars and the satellites and the GPS systems. And, bombs were falling very smartly. The rest of us, whose are not tuned into the real stuff, still don’t know if the bombs got the real Saddam or one of his wannabes. We still don’t know if the one that Iraqi National Congress is hunting down is for real or he is the one with the make up on? What a great story line! For as long as we do not find the real Saddam, the reality show about finding him will continue.
The great drama in the reality show, we think, is the confusion about who is fooling whom. The participants are surely dressed up for acting in a reality show. They jump bungee chords, eat worms, get married in public, sleep with the prospects of desire, sing, mimic and ridicule each other, measure each other’s sexiness with a laser pointer and we sit at home, watching this reality because it is more real that our own. Life has become a series of possible adventures, which are easier only if we imagine that we are on a television show. One would not mind eating bugs if the camera was on us. Well, the easier way to think of this is to imagine the camera is always on us.
The looting and the pillage that went on in Baghdad, the great city of some of the grandest boulevards in the world, was also a reality show. We saw and the embedded journalists told us, that what was being stolen was both so miserly and so desired. On the one hand, there were bed pillows, couches without pillows, golf sticks, microwaves and on the other hand, some of the most valued treasures for the Western Civilizations. You cannot believe what is going on in front of your eyes. That is the premise of reality shows. Groucho Marx summarized well: “What are you going to believe, me or your eyes?”
There were some eerie nights when the reports of captured Americans came in as the Fear Factor proceeded with the real spectacles of acceptable torture. The strange aspect of all of this is that this new reality vets the appetite of American viewers. It has a powerful way of making acceptable what was once abhorrent or repulsive. The once ridiculed arranged marriage is now a rating show with presumptuous hunks and vapid bimbos on television parading as the bachelors and batchelorettes. It was once a matter of public protest, this objectification of women and now it is a ritual feast for the audiences as the All American Girl is chosen or The Hot Ones are picked with public degradation of their heavenly gifts.
If we understand the phenomenon of the embedded journalists, we probably have our hand on the pulse of the fuzy line between the so called real and the reality shows. Many are still touting the triumphs of these journalists as they brought the war close to us. The tragedies that took their lives were indeed mournful, because they did not have to die that way. Embedded within the units, they had a myopic view of the war. Sort of limited PR from within the company. That view was not exciting for the most part.
In fact, it is hard to decide what was exciting. That is why, we saw, David Bloom, God bless him, hour after hour describing the ordinary details of the march of the infantry division, because when the killing is not taking place, it is merely a game of The Survivor. And when the killing is taking place, the journalists cannot be close to the action. If they are escorted by the armed personnel, the idea is to protect them not to engage in action. And all of this, from within the unit, a narrow perspective on what was happening. Like the reality shows, the real war then became a show of shows, a mimicking of what could happen, what is permitted to happen and what is permitted to be seen.
Little do we see what happens to these contenstants on The Survivor, or the Batchelor or the Get Me Outta Here games behind the scenes. We see what is on the camera and what we see what is on the camera is what is happening. Why would embedding in the middle of the killing carnage any different?
No wonder the public conscience about the war is so absent. No wonder we cannot distinguish between the real and the reality and the reality shows. No wonder few policy makers have hijacked the history of the world and the plight of the powerless and we are wondering, is this the world we live in? Is it real?