And yes, Virginia, I am back on a regular schedule. Hal-lay-loo.
Glenn Greenwald has been on a roll pointing out revisionism and hypocrisy (not to mention complicity) among the big media commentariat on subjects like the War on (t)Error, Iraq, imperialism and torture and detainment. Joe Klein and Tom Friedman have distinguished themselves as happy-talking fools in defense of the most egregious actions of state power and utter disregard for human rights. Greenwald’s posts are long, but worth reading at least for the twists and turns these “hired pens” (as the ultimate statist Lenin once put it) take in their efforts to justify the abuses of the war-mongering powers. All of which lays the foundation for future wars waged with the kind of ahistorical blindness that made the current mess in Iraq conceivable in the first place:
For a short while, it appeared that the one silver lining in the carnage and devastation wreaked by the U.S. attack on Iraq would be a palliative effect on the war-loving pathology among our political establishment. As Vietnam did for some short period of time, Iraq could have re-taught both the evil and stupidity of commencing optional wars against countries that haven’t attacked us and couldn’t do so, and more generally, could have underscored the grave error in viewing the battle against Muslim extremism through the glorious prism of “War.”
But with this intense Friedmanesque revisionism well underway — whereby war cheerleaders like Friedman were Right and Good all along and it was only the incompetent Bush and Rumsfeld who ruined everything with their “bumbling” — it seems increasingly likely that the opposite lesson will be learned. Attacking, invading and occupying other countries in order to change their governments to ones we prefer is the smart, wise and just thing to do. Friedman’s term for it today is “collaborating with them to build progressive politics.” Especially if there is another terrorist attack on U.S. soil — but even if there isn’t — the only lesson being drawn from the Iraq debacle in these precincts is that from now on, we just need to plan and execute it better, so that the Good and Just people who cheer these wars on have their noble schemes vindicated a lot sooner and a lot more proficiently.
I will not be the first nor the last person to observe this: the Black Friday stampede at a Long Island Wal-Mart that killed Jdimytai Damour suggests our culture is sick. It represents just about everything that is wrong with our economy: the big box store, the exploitation of low-paid seasonal hires, hyped-up materialism, desperation and greed for “bargains” and a “tradition” of post-Thanksgiving shopping, disregard for workplace safety standards — as a friend of mine observed before Damour’s identity was known, “the poor guy was probably an undocumented worker.” He wasn’t, but given past practices by Wal-Mart and other global corporations, my friend’s suspicion was not without reason.
That said, I won’t martyrize Damour; he didn’t “die for our sins.” He died because people — the bargain-obsessed shoppers and the big box operators who whipped them into a frenzy — value things over people, “getting ahead” over courtesy. The store owners could not be bothered to provide adequate security; the shoppers could not be bothered to wait another five minutes for opening time or walk casually to make their purchases. Push down the pregnant woman! What do you mean we have to leave? I’ve been waiting since 9 o’clock last night!
In the wake of this awful event, consider the reported response by the Toy Industry Association to a letter-writing campaign launched by parents demanding fewer advertisements aimed at their children:
“If children are not aware of what is new and available, how will they be able to tell their families what their preferences are?” an industry statement said. “While there is certainly greater economic disturbance going on now, families have always faced different levels of economic well-being and have managed to tailor their spending to their means.”
The full AP article deserves reading. It reports a sociologist and a social worker discussing desperate parents straining their budgets to meet the demands of their kids, despite facing unemployment and homelessness.
And while it is all well and good to counsel such parents on the virtues of saying “no” (with practice, I have become pretty good at it; but then, I’m a dick), the working poor have few other outlets for entertainment than television, where the psychological warfare is waged.
Yesterday — to take a random personal example — my four-year-old son vegged out in front of a full day “Sponge Bob Square Pants” marathon on Nickelodeon. How nice of those programmers at Nick to create 12 hours of non-stop Sponge Bob. They must have done it outta the goodness of their hearts, yes? Uh, no. Sponge Bob sells toys.
“I want that,” my son would say on seeing a much hyped toy. Then another commercial. “I want that.” And another commercial. “I want that.” And so on. All day. Of course, we employed the usual parent artillery: uncommitted speculation (“We’ll see….”), disbelief (“You don’t even know what THAT is!”), outright rejection (“Not in my house”) and sarcasm (“Of course you want that, honey. You want everything.”)
Not pleasant, but not unendurable. I take it as part of the challenge of raising children in a crazed consumer culture. I won’t shelter my kids from the ugliness of capitalism; I would rather arm them with it. That said, I cannot endorse the trial-by-fire so casually described by a toy industry consultant:
Gottlieb also contends that it’s good for children to encounter toy ads — even in cases where products later turn out to be disappointments.
“It teaches, for very low stakes, how to navigate in our consumer culture,” he said.
“They are going to have to spend the rest of their lives listening to every kind of marketing approach, and childhood is where they will learn to cope with it.”
As for the economic pressure on parents, Gottlieb sounds a fatalistic note.
“Believe me, there are families with much bigger issues on their plates right now then worrying about whether their child will be unhappy because they did not get a particular toy,” Gottlieb wrote in his “Out of the Toy Box” blog. “Delivering disappointment goes with the job of parenting.”
Wow. That’s right. Why change the culture? Why exercise some of that “corporate responsibility” so often given a special bullet point in mission statements? Why look where you’re stepping when rampaging through the store to get that useless crap for 50% off!?
Why listen to parents (who, um, do the purchasing, hell-o!) when they ask you to target ads to them and not their children? Apparently that is too “nanny state” or “paternalistic” for champions of “free enterprise” like Gottlieb. Better to exploit a child’s natural greed and let him or her nag the parent. Corporations don’t want your input, silly consumer; they want your money. Prepare to get trampled.
Right, so I actually have a bunch of scripts written for cartoons. But the trick is to translate those scribbled words into polished drawings. And that requires a precious commodity we call “time”, of which I currently have a negative account balance, thanks to children home from school and this national past time of consuming giant portions of food in honor of treaties broken by European invaders of the North American continent.
So it looks like cartoons will appear in full force next week. Plenty of ’em! Shaking righteous fists of fury at the machine! Deconstructing our bourgeois constructs of normality! Lobbing gobs of epatiér at the dominant paradigm! And probably making snarky comments about shit that pisses me off. Ya know, the uszh.
BTW – “paradigm” should always be pronounced “para-diggum.” At least if you want to be taken seriously in polite company.
The NY Times reports that Alan Colmes will be leaving “Hannity & Colmes” to pursue other projects or spend time with his family or find his spine. That leaves open the fate of the show:
So what will happen to “Hannity & Colmes?” Sean Hannity, the popular conservative commentator, may become the sole host of the program….
In other words, nothing.
I love this anecdote:
In the interim the production crew called the show “Hannity and LTBD.” LTBD stood for “Liberal to Be Determined.” “It was fill in the blank,” said Mr. Colmes, who grew up in Lynbrook, New York loving all progressive causes. “I was the blank.”
He said it. Not me.
Josh Fruhlinger wants to know (and so do I):
I’m completely uninterested in discussing the didactic content of this cartoon, but it does bring up a question I’ve always found completely fascinating, which is: why are large, wooden barrels the Universal Comics Symbol For Poverty? I mean, I know I’m a decadent 21st century denizen who has grown accustomed to wearing garments that in relative terms cost very little, thanks to helpful Southeast Asian children with tiny, nimble fingers — certainly less than a finely crafted barrel. But is it possible that there was a time when a sturdy, wooden barrel with metal … circular dealies … that hold it together (boy, I hadn’t realized how weak a grasp I had of basic barrel vocabulary until just now) was actually cheaper than, you know, clothes? Did people really go into some kind of old-timey second-hand clothes store, sell all of their clothes (including the ones they were wearing), then walk, stark naked, up the street to the cooper (see, there’s a word that I know) to buy a barrel to wear, and have enough cash left over to afford life’s necessities? Did that happen? Because if not then, you know, barrels, what the hell?
Having recently drawn a cartoon employing this visual cliche (with some irony), I would really like to know the real answer to its origins. Which doesn’t mean that the possibilities — some plausible, others absurd — proposed on Josh’s discussion board aren’t incredibly amusing. Oddly, it may have something to do with Diogenes.
Also, Josh has written previously about this and other political cartoon cliches about poverty at Wonkette.