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Reality Alert - Code Red

By Lynne Glasner  Posted by Rob Kall (about the submitter)     Permalink
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The lines between reality and delusion get blurred further everyday. In the political arena, Bush uses perfect 1984 language to frame his policies, creating a confused public that can 't distinguish between truth and fiction.

Though we 've always had politicians who veer from the truth and wrap their periodic candidacy into a pretty package, Bush has upped the ante bringing the art of politics to a new level of self-promotion. This phenomenon is reflected in the fuzzy politics that parallels our 21st century fuzzy culture, from real-life video games to reality-based TV shows. In the former the players get starring roles in their own immorality play in which there are no consequences for whatever they do; in fact immoral behavior is often rewarded. In the latter, we get to play voyeur in someone else 's troubles leaving a boring reality on the kitchen table while we feed our fantasies. Then, using someone else 's immoral behavior dished up as humor, we emulate it as if Hollywood were calling with a contract for a new life. In this safe context it 's perceived as funny to be fired; to be a nasty, obnoxious boss; to be an unhappy suburban housewife whose only moments of joy are getting it on with the 20-year-old gardener.

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As the public walls itself off from ugly realities, our President wraps himself up in the American flag and stands behind a wall of ad hominems to shield the truth from the public. When more people are being shot up in Iraq he says "things are getting better "; when the average American has less earning power now than 8-10 years ago, he says "the economy is on the rise and getting better "; when asked about global warming and its consequences, he says, "the evidence isn 't in yet. " When things start to unravel, he turns up the PR machine. When the polls slip, he goes on national TV and cranks out the old saw that ties 9-11 to Iraq. Bush has adopted the stance of the stereotypical ugly American on a junket who repeats himself more and more loudly in an attempt to make himself understood by the non-English speaking bourgeoisie. "Our strategy to defend ourselves and spread freedom is working, " he tells a public eager to hear something new and optimistic. Discerning reality isn 't his strong suit or maybe it 's just that lying is.

In the 'good ole days ' of the 50s, the role models of the American post-war dream family were woven into the unattainable personas of Jim Anderson and June Cleaver. In those versions of family fantasy, the morals were out-of-reach ideals, not amoral humor. The rebellion against that stereotypical ideal that everyone knew was a fraud but was afraid to ask helped pave the way for the 60s rebellion that really scared off the right wingers who were happy in their paternal dominance that maintained family unity. By the time the Birchers and Goldwaters regrouped in the early 70s a new conservative movement was hatching. Back to the 50s was what they wanted.

It was a slow process, but one that has now started to mature into adulthood. It 's not a pretty picture: our obsession with the lives of others, which are apparently eminently more interesting and exciting than our own, is confirmed by the popularity of reality TV. This is what 's reflected in a Middle America on the march in the show of shows. In fact the 'stars ' are not just like their viewer-audience counterparts, they are one and the same. The 'actors ' are supposed to be typical Middle Americans, everyone 's neighbor young twenty somethings who think that winning is everything, or sports moms who need to relive their adolescence through their children because their own adult lives are so boring that anything is better than reality. Is life in America so insufferable and barren that voyeurism is the best entertainment we can find? Is this why conservatives are so obsessed with the personal issues of others? Or are our ideals so stunted that we are actually entertained by watching others compromise any semblance of morality? Do we really have to look that far to find other people whose problems are worse than our own to make us feel OK? Won 't the local homeless shelter provide that reality bite? Or is that reality too real and scary for comfort?

The Moral Majority has morphed into an Immoral Minority who dominate the cultural landscape by grabbing the bully horn to pronounce themselves the majority. When viewers watch Bush fend off negative questions with his own grand illusions, it 's like seeing one of the reality TV shows in which a player can do or say anything to stay in the game. In fact, the more outrageous, the better. Truth is not part of the game the game is in the gaming. Lying is built into the system. Has our culture been reduced to a series of games people play in which reality and delusion are merged? Are we a nation of liars who like watching others lie because it vindicates our own behavior and confirms the lie we tell ourselves --that we 're just like everyone else?

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In the 50s we aspired to be the Cleavers; now we all want to be Hollywood squares. If everyone lies and cheats to get ahead, it must be OK. The moral high-ground of "Father Knows Best " has been replaced by the last man standing on "Fear Factor " where any behavior is justifiable as long as you win.

Our winning President is the last man standing in a nation controlled by the fear factor. In the mirror of the executive office, there 's no there there. But we have a public who believes in the lottery of politics where sales trump salesmanship and power trumps responsibility. In this political pool money buys the get-out-of-jail-free card; everything is stage-managed to appear like chance even though nothing is left to chance.

Which came first? Did the 'red ' voters choose a President who reflects their own mixture of reality with a dose of fantasy - lies in place of truth? Or is the President so taken with himself that he believes he can say anything and call it truth, no matter how outrageous, and the red voters will accept his reality? Does that mean that because Middle Americans lie and are deluded that the US should be led by someone who does the same? Is this leadership or PR that passes for entertainment?

In the 70s when "All in the Family " was the big hit show, some people identified with Archie; he was just like them. They didn 't get the humor - what 's so funny about picking on Archie? Now we 've got Hollywood wannabes play acting Archie 's 21st century counterpart and the not-so-silent majority Middle Americans still don 't get it. They see Bush as the anti-hero and ask why everyone picks on him. We don 't need professional actors to play Archie and Edith; the real Archies and Ediths star in their own psycho-babble 15-minute slot. But this time around, professional actors using a script have been replaced by ordinary, talentless Middle Americans competing for their 15 minutes of fame with only their own fantasy as script. The cast has gone from smart people play-acting stupid to stupid people play-acting what they think is smart because their goals involve winning and wealth the lottery jackpot. In the updated script the fantasy is the reality of the TV show, which is a fiction created to make us believe in the possibility of an alternative reality to our own.

When Jon Stewart points out the disconnect between reality and Bush-speak, if we understand the reality we think it 's funny. If our version of reality meshes with the Bush lottery, we think "The Apprentice " is funny.

So the question is which came first did our schizoid society create the monster Bush or is he the reflection of a schizoid society that can 't tell the difference between truth and fiction? We need a color-coded reality check so we know when to panic.

©Lynne Glasner 2005
Lynne Glasner lyngla@rcn.com is an editor and writer in NYC. Her latest editing is on a book by Danny Schechter, When News Lies, to be published in early fall by SelectBooks.
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