June 24, 2004

Bob's Her Uncle

WE WOULD SUBMIT, only somewhat in jest, that the above rationale could be a plausible explanation for how Ms Jackie Ashley managed to get a writing job with The Guardian.

Ms Ashley, you see, has written an amazingly daft essay in today's edition of that newspaper. She takes the plot summaries of a particular American television show, and projects them onto American foreign policy and how Americans view the world. As if this wasn't bad enough, Ms Ashley then has the gall to compare the United States to Britain when the latter nation was at the height of its power. The argument here was clear: we shall suffer the same fate as Old Blighty, and find ourselves with all the troubles that once faced Callaghan.

Now the television show Ms Ashley mentions is "24," which we understand is a popular thriller on the Fox television network. We do not watch it, but we learn from Ms Ashley's column that it focuses on counter-terrorism personnel in the employ of the American Government. Each episode appears to have thrills and chills in plenty, but the end result is the same: we win, and the America-hating Forces of International Terrorism lose. It is at this point when Ms Ashley's argument goes off the deep end:

This is close enough to the political fantasy underlying the "war on terror" to be worrying. Bush presents himself as a moral leader on a different plane from the "evil-doers" around the world, and plenty of Americans seem to buy it. The use of brilliant technology is constantly held up as a kind of magical answer to global threats - somehow "our" computers and hardware are clever enough to fend the dangers away.

Yet we know it's not true. We know that the wretched of the earth, angry with American arrogance and the brutalities of local US-supported rulers, cannot always be beaten at the last minute, by gun-toting agents or clever computer systems. In the latest episode, the villain (an English one - some things don't change) seems to be threatening to kill millions of Americans because he is appalled by US foreign policies around the world. I assume that in the end he will be found and killed, and the United States will be saved: to have a discussion about the politics of the demon poisoner is simply not on the agenda.

People will say, come on, it's just entertainment: Americans get their wider perspective in the real world, from newspapers and TV news and websites and even from books. But we know the power of popular culture, and the depth of US ignorance about the outside world; and that the vivid subliminal messages from a well-crafted popular drama can have more effect than hundreds of editorials. Perhaps it's pure escapism. Perhaps it makes those of a nervous disposition feel better. But the worry is that this is isolationist, fear-stoking drama which sits easily alongside Fox News, and the prejudiced rantings of the radio shock-jocks.

A century ago, a friendly critic of the British empire would have been entitled to look at its popular imperialist culture - the children's tales of English pluck, and the patriotic-sentimental poems, and the paranoid warnings about the Hun and the Musselman - and ask whether this was a sign of confidence or weakness. And a true observer would surely have said it showed a country too incurious about the rest of the world to keep its global domination. In the brilliantly written and crafted television fantasies of 24, we can see a parallel American ignorance which is just as important. Now just be quiet while I settle down to this week's episode ...

No, quite sorry, we shan't be quiet about this, Ms Ashley. You have thrown the gauntlet in our face, and as such we shall take you up on your impetuous challenge to America and its people. It is for your own good, really.

We would note, as a matter of course, that many Americans are divided on what the proper course of action against the Forces of International Terrorism ought to be. That said, we would also note -- as others have -- that one cannot seriously draw moral equivalency between the President of the United States and those involved with terror networks. It is a stupid and facile argument to make, as well as being insulting to both the office of the Presidency and the American nation.

Further, as many other reasonable people have pointed out, it is one thing not to like the President and not to like his decisions, and to have different ideas of how to solve certain problems; it is another thing entirely to say the Leader of the Free World is no different than The Men Who Flew Passenger Planes into Office Buildings. We would suggest, Ms Ashley, that you confine your argument to the former proposition, for making the latter case would lead one to think you are mad as a March hare.

But then, we do not know what to think about Ms Ashley's amazing suggestion that Americans would seriously discuss the politics of terrorists who were planning to unleash a genocidal attack upon America. It is so asinine that it beggars belief. We can only assume that Ms Ashley leads a charmed life, and as such feels safe from terror attacks and other assorted nastiness because she is Caring and Compassionate and Supports Registered Charities. We admit that may be a bit far-fetched, but we cannot come up with any other reasonable explanation for her bizarre reasoning in this regard.

Speaking of bizarre, we are similarly confounded that Ms Ashley is afraid of isolationism breaking out among the American people. We thought she and many other non-Americans would welcome such trends. On the other hand, if that did happen, the rest of the world would have no one to blame when it inevitably sunk into war and economic malaise. That would ruin Ms Ashley's world view something fierce, wouldn't it? Even worse than the knowledge that we, an American, regularly read newspapers from all over the English-speaking world, keep up with foreign affairs, and even have a collection of some 600 books in our two-bedroom apartment. (Most, by the by, are non-fiction).

But the true measure of Ms Ashley's idiocy is presented in her last paragraph, when she examines historical Britain and feebly attempts to draw parallels with modern America. Let's look at it again:

A century ago, a friendly critic of the British empire would have been entitled to look at its popular imperialist culture - the children's tales of English pluck, and the patriotic-sentimental poems, and the paranoid warnings about the Hun and the Musselman - and ask whether this was a sign of confidence or weakness. And a true observer would surely have said it showed a country too incurious about the rest of the world to keep its global domination.

We don't know about you, but if Britons were issuing warnings about the Hun in 1904, they were neither confident or weak -- they were prescient. After all, last time we checked, the Germans DID start two rather prominent conflicts, the first of which ended up killing 22m people and the second roughly 50m people. Out of those, more than one million died fighting for or living in Britain. Here's the list, Ms Ashley. It should make fascinating reading.

That said, we do not get Ms Ashley's point about the Moslems either. The average American can in fact easily distinguish between their fellow Americans living here like everyone else, and the very tiny percentage of Moslems based overseas who have vowed to destroy us. And if there are a lot of Americans who don't know as much as one might hope about the rest of the world, that really doesn't matter either. There are plenty of other Americans, Ms Ashley, who make a point of doing so.

(link via Emily Jones).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 24, 2004 11:47 PM | TrackBack