Category Archives: Death of Truth

Black Lives Matter Insurrection or not?

 

I want to talk a little about the Black Lives Matter movement.  Perhaps because the right-wing and the left in America get their information from completely different sources, Fox News and the Internet on one side, and CNN, the Internet, and traditional news media on the other. Even on the Internet both sides go to different sources that are polar opposites. The two movements (left and right) have completely opposite views of what happened in Minneapolis, or on Capitol Hill on January 6th,  and other parts of the US.  The right-wing saw insurrection in Minneapolis Portland, and other places, but not at the Capitol. The left wing saw insurrection at the Capitol.

I really think it is a matter of what images the media of choice has chosen to emphasize. Fox News likes to put the emphasis on black rebellion and CNN emphasizes right wing rebellion. This is a key source of division.

In Minneapolis, for example, the media showed graphic images of protesters, many of them, not insignificantly black, ignoring police and laws to burn down businesses, some of which are even owned by blacks. To many white Americans this is proof of the anarchy at the root of the protests against the current regime.

African-Americans and their allies on the left see a white privileged state supported and protected by police that will use all of its powers to tamp down non-white rebellion while doing nothing to protect innocent children of African-Americans.

Neither side is able to see any truth to the side of the other. The other side ignores truth in favor of its own self-serving ideology. The two sides are unable to agree on basic facts so are unable to reach any agreement about what the problem is and how it should be solved. each side is mystified by the apparent blindness of the other to obvious truths.

White spectators at a BLM rally in St. Louis brought out automatic weapons to protect their property. White vigilantes were seen bearing arms in cities to protect white businesses from perceived ruin. This is what the left saw from its media sources. Meanwhile peaceful white and black protestors fear for their lives on the streets of American cities.

It is very difficult for Americans to deal with domestic terrorism  when they cannot agree on what the basic facts are. In the “good old days,” where most news came from 3 television networks that had no strong ideological differences between them, there were no such disagreements about basic facts. As a result, there was not such strong polarization as there is now. As a result of all this the middle is being hollowed out. The extremes are growing, on both sides. I don’t know what we can do about it.

This does not augur well for America. It suggests, to me at least, ruin to come. I hope I am wrong.

A Covid Booster for Extremism

 

Ware and Hoffman continued their very interesting talk talk to us via Arizona State University in a talk entitled “Guns God and Sedition.”

They pointed out, that then  in the 2020s there was not just a booster for Covid, there was a Covid Booster for radical right-wing violent extremism. As Hoffman and Ware say in their book, and Ware repeated to us in his lecture, “pandemics are basically tailor-made for conspiracy theorists.” A pandemic provides fertile soil for crazies to plant the wildest conspiracy theories. Such as a theory that a presidential election was stolen, even no evidence has been provided for that theory.

 

Pandemics, like conspiracy theories are bred and hatched in secret and then explode into public view catching nearly everyone by surprise. It is almost natural to look for secretive causes for such disturbing events.

 

As Ware said, “2020 ends up becoming this tremendously tumultuous year with covid pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and this very contentious political moment leading up to an election in which we have 2 candidates both claiming victory in that election which leads up to January 6th which is the most important moment in our book.”   Ware says that the riot on January 6th 2021is the most serious threat to American democracy that he and Hoffman catalogued in their book. It is the first breach of the capitol since 1814 when the British and their rough and tough Canadian allies stormed the Capitol.

 

Of all the incidents described in their book and the many they mentioned to us in their talk the event on January 6th 2021 was the most significant. It was an American game changer, though now in the US only one side recognizes that. On that day American democracy nearly died. And many now many fear in 2024 we are headed for another such momentous event. Many in America believe that if Donald Trump loses the election in 2024, though that does not yet seem likely but certainly is conceivable, Trump will raise his forces of rebellion and this time it will be worse. Much worse.

 

Barbie

 

In the film Barbie the wall between the “real world” and the “fantasy world” has been rubbed thin. Not only that, but in an absurd way, it as if the fantasy world is seen through a Fun House mirror. The “real world” is Los Angeles, which as we all know is the original fantasyland. In this film L.A.  is the gritty grim reality. The other direction is the “perfect” Barbie Land.  As we know the original Fantasy Land was invented in Los Angeles by Walt Disney.  And all you need to do to travel from one of those worlds to the other, is turn around your pink sports car and head in the opposite direction. Simple. Not?

In the world of fantasy everything from the real world is reversed. America, as we all know, has been in FantasyLand since its founding. One of those fantasies has been the fantasies of young girls. That of course, is the fantasy  that they are or can be Barbie.  The doll with the perfect life. The doll from Barbieland.

The film Barbie tackles that phenomenon with glitz, glamour, and stars from Hollywood—another land of fantasy of course. Reality’s doppelganger,  Barbieland is a matriarchal society filled with many versions of Barbie.  Each of the Barbies hold prestigious jobs such as scientists, political leaders, and professionals.  Obviously, absurd fantasies. The Kens, from Ken Land on the other hand spend their time playing at the beach. In fact, playing at the beach is their job. A nice job if you can get it. Yet Beach Ken (“Ken”) played by Ryan Gosling is only happy when he is with Barbie  or, as she is sometimes called, “Stereotypical Barbie” (Margot Robbie). In fact, Ken is not real unless she is looking at him. And he knows it.  But Barbie is constantly playing hard to get and frustrates Ken to no end. She makes life impossible for him. Though is life has always been impossible.

But one day reality intrudes and that changes everything. All of a sudden Barbie worries about death. How can that intrude into the perfect Barbie Land? At the same time, Barbie has bad breath, cellulite, and flat feet. Horrors. Why doesn’t reality stay where it belongs? On the outside! Barbie seeks out help from Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon)  a badly disfigured doll.  Far from the  perfection of Barbie. Weird Barbie tells Barbie she must find the real child who plays with her in the real world. Eventually, she does find that child Sasha (‘Ariana Greenblatt’), but it is her mother Gloria (America Ferrara), who really transforms the Barbies with a stirring speech about how impossible it is to be a woman in the real world. Here is part of what she says:

 

It is literally impossible to be a woman! You are so beautiful and so smart and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like we have to always be extraordinary and somehow we’re always doing it wrong. You’re supposed to be THIN but not TOO THIN and you can never say you want to be THIN you have to say you want to be HEALTHY but you also have to BE thin. You have to have money but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss but you can’t be mean. You’re supposed to lead but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to LOVE being a mother but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You’re supposed to be a career woman but always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is INSANE, but if you point that out then you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to be pretty for men but not SO pretty that you tempt them too much or threaten other women. You’re supposed to be part of the sisterhood but also stand out but also always be grateful. You have to never get old never be rude never show off never be selfish never fall down never fail never also always be grateful. You have to never get old never be rude never show off never be selfish never fall down never fail never show fear never get out of line It’s too hard, it’s too contradictory and no one says thank you or gives you a medal, and in fact, it turns out, somehow, that not only are you doing it all wrong but that everything is also YOUR fault. I’m just so damn tired of watching myself and every single other women tie ourselves in knots so that people will like us. And if all that is also true for a doll just representing a woman then I don’t even know!

 

How will all of this end?  Yet we have to live through the battle between the Kens and the Barbies and frankly it is not a fair fight. The Kens hardly have a chance. As Barbie says, “You play on their egos and their petty jealousies and you turn them against each other. While they’re fighting, we take back Barbie Land.” And it is amazing how shockingly easy it is to get the Kens to fight each other and make themselves easy pickings for the takeover by Barbies. that turns out.  They are just like real men in other words. The Kens look at each other suspiciously. No Ken can be trusted!

But there is another fight and that is the fight between everyone and the corporate intellectual pygmies at Mattel who own and control the Barbie franchise. This one is a fairer fight. Although the Mattel executives have power,  they lack brains. They are basically idiots. Take Mattel executive Aaron Dinks who asks a wonderful question: “Um, I’m a man with no power, does that make me a woman?”  Maybe he is not an idiot after all. The executives try to get Barbie who drove to Los Angeles to agree to get back into the box in which she had been marketed, but Barbie escapes. Amazingly, she prefers the imperfect to the perfection in Barbie Land. FantasyLand has its limitations she learns. So she bolts for freedom and we get the revolt of the dolls! And the executives chase her to get back in the box where they can sell her.

Can the Kens establish the patriarchy? Or will Barbie succeed in leading the Barbies in the pink revolution?  Barbie said, “I want to be part of the people that make meaning, not the thing that’s made. I want to be the one imagining, not the idea itself. Does that make sense?”  Her friend Ruth (Rhea Perlman) said, “I always knew that Barbie would surprise me.” She was right about that.  Whoever thought a movie about a doll would make sense?

 And I don’t want to give the results away. You have to watch the film to find out.

Surging Domestic Terrorism

 

The American criminal investigation by the FBI into what happened on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 6 2021 is the largest investigation it has ever undertaken. More than 1,200 people have already been charged with more than 900 of those convicted by courts of law. Republicans and many other Americans don’t seem to grasp this. These are 900 people who have already either admitted their guilt or been found guilty by a court of law.  And it is expected that hundreds of more charges will be laid. Yet many of them believe this is not true. Because that is what Fox News and their spiritual leader tell them.

There are so many investigations that the FBI basically acknowledges that it will not be able to complete all of the investigations before the Statute of Limitations expires!  That means many people who should be charged won’t be charged because it will be too late. Many domestic terrorists will be released or not even charged because the FBI is overwhelmed.

This is not fake news. This is fact. In fact, it is a brutal fact. These are Americans who were incited to appear at the Capitol on that day because Donald Trump said, “it’s going to be crazy.”  And “It will be wild.” And for once Trump was exactly right. It was crazy and it was wild.

I watched it unfold on television for hours that day, and to me it was completely unbelievable. Yet there it was right before my eyes. I saw much of it. And it was a riot. It was not a bunch of overly enthusiastic tourists as many Republicans alleged. Those were not crisis actors. This was a riot and for hours the president of the United States did nothing to stop it. Instead, he poured gasoline on the flames. Trump told his followers that day, “We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

 One of the interesting things about this riot is the varied reactions from Americans. Many on the American right have pooh-poohed it. American House Republican Representative Matt Gaetz said the rioters who breached the Capitol that day were not Trump supporters but were members of the violent left-wing terrorist group known as Antifa, masquerading as Trump supporters.  In effect, he said, it may look like a duck, walk like duck and quack like a duck, but still not be a duck.  And of course, all of this he claimed without any evidence whatsoever.

Many of the rioters violently tried to throttle the police and Capitol security forces. Many of those officers feared for their lives.  Many of the rioters were chanting “Hang Mike Pence” over and over again, because they were disappointed that he did not support Trump’s attempt to steal the election by subverting the electoral count  in the House of Representatives that day. Some of them even carried gallows to the event ready for use when needed!  Many of them were hunting for Senator Barbara Pelosi, likely for a similar purpose.

It was indeed crazy!

 

The scam at the heart of society

 

Scammers and rogues are everywhere.

Naomi Fry a commentator on the podcast Critics at Large, caught on to the essence of the lure of the scam when she asked,

“Isn’t this the promise of the American Dream where you are able to scale these new heights…It’s like to take a bite of American pie you have to spill some of the milk? To climb to the next level in this country, which we all want, you have to be a bit of a rogue. And the rogue and the scammer aren’t so far apart.”

This doesn’t apply only to George Santos. No one has demonstrated this more effectively than the former president Donald Trump. Of course, in his case perhaps we should drop the phrase “a bit of a” before the word “rogue.”

And we see ourselves in both scammers and suckers. And we see this characteristic in the scammers, because we see it in ourselves.

We saw a classic example of this in the film, The Postman Always Rings Twice, where the beautiful woman persuades her boyfriend to kill her husband so they can live happily ever after together. In films there was of course a Code which required that the film makers could not let the criminal “get away with it.”  So instead of giving people the thrill of seeing the scammer escape, it would give us the thrill of watching the rogue get caught and punished. That was also thrilling to us. We love to moralize and wag our fingers at miscreants.

Somehow, “we root for the protagonist” as Alexandra Schwarz says.  We cheer for them even as we know they won’t get away. We love living in FantasyLand, which is the point Kurt Anderson made in his book by that name.

Then in 2008 came an abrupt disruption of the model. That was the financial crisis, where according to Schwarz “we came to realize that the entire culture was built on a scam.” The poor got screwed while the rich, who caused the financial collapse in the first place were protected against their losses by payments made by the government. The poor paid the rich for their sins. How did that happen? It happened by a scam of course. Schwarz called it “the scam at the heart of society.”

As Schwarz also showed us, the scam shows us that  “the ground beneath our feet is not stable.” As many of us have learned, there is no security anymore! 

There is no security in FantasyLand. Except perhaps for the rich.

The Scammer as Celebrity

 

 

The George Santos cases like so many other modern scams reveal a new trend—making the scammer into a celebrity. This requires that the scammer go public. One would think that would kill the scam, but amazingly it doesn’t. This often does the scammer’s work for them. No one should be surprised that Santos did not tell the truth. That is what made him famous. So why was that fact not enough to stop the grift?

This made New Yorker writer Alexandra Schwarz ask, “Who do we empathize with? The scammer or the scammed? Why do we love the scam stories? Vinson Cunningham, also of the New Yorker suggested part of the answer was that we wanted someone to succeed spectacularly. We love to see a glorious success. We want to believe that the big win is really possible in the land of opportunity. If it can’t be us, at least let it be someone else. And someone on some level close to us.  And if it requires some chicanery, we hope we will have enough guts to pull it off when we get the opportunity. The scammer shows us that if only we had fewer scruples we would become winners.

Once again, the classic scammer is New York real estate baron Donald Trump. The trial by New York against Trump shows that banks were eager to deal with Trump. They considered him one of the rare “whales”.  In fact that was Trump’s entire defence in his recent law suit which he spectacularly lost. Trump might be right. Even bankers love the scammer. Scammers are in some way attractive that keeps the rest of us watching.

I think too this is part of Trump’s political attraction.  People know he is a scammer. After all his lies are so outrageous how could they be true?  Yet a lot of people love him. 68% of Republicans love Trump, sometimes with astonishing devotion.  Others, like me, ask how is that possible? How can so many voluntarily put their love and support behind an outrageous liar or scammer? Truth be damned; they just want Trump!

No wonder truth is dying.

Technological Boost for Scams


 

Alexandra Schwarz the third New Yorker writer on the Critics at Large podcast about George Santos made an important point about technology. Scams are given a golden opportunity by new technology like the rise of televangelists in the 1980s. The latest example is Crypto Currency where space for scams has skyrocketed and as P.T. Barnum said, suckers are born every minute. The Internet itself is a giant example. So is Go Fund Me. And of course, as a result scams abound

 

Closely related is the arrival of new immigrants to a new country. Mae West starred in the 1937 film Every Day’s a Holiday, written by and starring Mae West as Peaches O’Dea who sold the Brooklyn Bridge for $200 to greenhorns arriving straight off the boat to the land of opportunity. She assured buyers that if the bridge got run down she would send them another one. In the land of opportunity buyers were eager to buy because they were in the land of opportunity, not knowing that no one had a better opportunity than scam artists.

 

As Alexandra Schwarz said, “We are again in a golden age of scamming stories.” There is an IT fest of scams  happening in books and movies. Another example was Elizabeth Holmes who in January 2022, was found guilty on four charges of defrauding investors in the Theranos scandal where a young woman claimed to be doing complex chemical engineering with a mere high school degree. She claimed to be making health care accessible to everyone in the country by her revolutionary inventions related to blood analysis.

 

George Santos: The Fabulist

 

George Santos has become the subject of a tsunami of attention. People really are attracted to bullshitters. There is nothing wrong with that, unless they start to believe the bullshit.

Every one, it seems, wants a piece of George Santos now. Apparently, HBO wants to make an adaption of a new book about Santos perfectly named The Fabulist. In the book the point is made that we get the scammer we deserve. Like cheap politicians selling cheap beer.

According to Naomi Fry “the Trump era has opened the floodgates to politics as an out-and-out scam for those who wish to take advantage. I want to make it clear I do not think all politicians are scammers. That is not the case. I don’t want to be a part in shredding trust in politics. That is one of the things that is wrong with our current society. More and more people are losing that trust and that trust is vital for the survival of democracy.

America has had scammers in its history from day one. That is the point Kurt Anderson made in his book FantasyLand. Political scammers. Religious Scammers. Commercial scammers—you name it, they’re there.

The New Yorker podcast panel discussed a few famous American scammers in literature and real life. One of the panelists mentioned the Simpsons version of The Music Man, called “Marge vs. Zeller” (2020) where a travelling salesman Lyle Lanley and calls it a Shelbyville Idea. One of the townsfolk does not want to hear that. He says we are twice as smart as the people of Shelbyville. “Just tell us your idea and we’ll vote for it.” And what does he sell? He says Springfield needs a monorail. Even though Springfield doesn’t need a monorail. But Lanley seduces everyone. They beg for a monorail. That is what conmen do.

As Fry said, “The idea is that people will buy anything if you sell it to them in an attractive enough way. They want to believe. Whether it’s in religion or whether it’s in politics, or whether it’s in commerce, people just want to believe.”  That is exactly what the conmen do, and none has done it better than Donald Trump. He has sold his lie to millions and millions of people! That is what the 1980s televangelists did. As Fry said, “They said if you want your soul saved just send us money.” The key is usually the hyper desire of the scammed to believe the scam. When that is present anything is possible.

Scam as Nihilism

 

When I started listening to the podcast about George Santos I did so because I thought it would be funny with amusing stories of Santos’ scams.  Many of them were funny. In many cases the victim of the scam deserved to be duped. But there is also a dark side to the scamming. It is not all fun.

Naomi Fry made the point that the scams could be used to critique not just the scammer but even society. Yet, at the same time, “It also means that there is so little to enjoy in contemporary society that it’s almost as if we as audiences fully aware of being scammed are also begging please make this fun for us.

We love scams of course. We laugh at how George Santos gets away with outrageous scams. They are fun. But there is a dark side too. This is profoundly true. For example, one of Santos scams involved a dog who was owned by a poor homeless man. The dog was sick and Santos was to help him set up sort of a Go Fund Me plan to raise the money for the proper care of the dog. But according to Vinson Cunningham one of the panelists of the podcast he pocketed the money, did nothing for the dog, and left. The tumor kept growing and, in the end the dog died! That’s not fun.

Cunningham wanted to critique the scammer, but what was important was not the individual, “but the system in which they flourish.” The people are really mad at the system not just George Santos. According to Cunningham there is not a person bad enough to eclipse the context.” In fact, in a way Cunningham appreciates Santos, for “at least he has a figured out a way to expose the deeper nefariousness of the swamp from which emerges.”

Of course, once you are in this heart of darkness you will have people ask, as Cunningham suggests, “how different is George Santos from Marjorie Taylor Greene?” Or Donald Trump? The answer of course, is not at all. If scams are everywhere as many suggest, then all is permitted. Even if God is still alive, all is permitted. Dostoevsky got it wrong. As Naomi Fry added, “I think the obviousness is a relief too. The lies are so flagrant and the performance is so outrageous, and the shamelessness is so galling that there is a release and a relief that is associated with the relief.”

A scam such as the bailout of those who caused the financial crisis in 2008 while ordinary working people got screwed, “shows us,” the New Yorker’s Vinson Cunningham said, “the structure of the con.  Once you realized how powerless we are against the forces that create such scams, all you can do is watch it burn.” At that point you are in the heart of darkness which is the scam. And you can’t escape.

Call Time: As real as Chucky Cheese

 

It is noteworthy that George Santos with his scummy videos on Cameo is actually doing exactly what Congressmen in the United States do. I have been told that American Congressmen spend half their working time phoning people for money. An aide hands them a quick note about the person they are calling and the politician talks to the person, be it a potential voter or potential donor, and tells them what they want to hear. For a couple of minutes, the politician is real chummy with the listener based on information on the cheat sheet. The listener thinks he has a real friend in Washington. But that friend is as real as Chucky Cheese. That is the deal: listen to the politician for a few minutes and perhaps consider a donation. Then the listener can go to his buddies and brag about how he got a call from the Congressman.

 

Vinson Cunningham, a New Yorker writer and member of the podcast panel  on Critics at Large, said the politicians he worked with referred to this as “Call time.” Politicians did it nearly every day. Cameo is exactly that. As Naomi Fry said about George Santos: “Politics has prepared him perfectly for this.” I would say, life in America or Canada has prepared him pretty good for this too. Living in FantasyLand is the perfect training for Call Time. Begging people you don’t know for money. Sort of like those people who stand on street meridians by traffic lights with their hands out usually with a sign briefly describing their plight.

That is exactly what American Congressmen do every day during Call Time.  It is no more dignified. It is no more real.