American Unawareness

Is America’s folk image of itself derived from a cinematic narrative that defines its national character as one representing a ‘can-do-force’ fostering trade in the world for the common good? To date, American settler culture has tried to mould the rest of the world — unsuccessfully — into this ‘productive’ image of itself via hard power. The more the American Empire Enterprise garrisons the globe with military bases, the more skeptical the world community becomes. The time has come, it seems, for the spirit and energy of the American people to address itself more diplomatically to the world community. The task of creating a whole new soft power for the purpose of defining its relationship with the rest of the world is long overdue. The tertiary educated servants administering the status quo have let the system down by being merely compliant. Their focus, and that of the nation, has been too narcissistic for too long.

Perhaps the Hollywood Wax Museum is the real church of the American imagination, personifying the nation’s pioneering achievements in ways that aggrandize the power of individual identity and wealth, a value system John Wayne personified, a whole way of thinking about America. American cinema, in true Hollywood fashion, quickly applied itself to the task of crafting an ideological pedigree based on hard-power.

John Wayne was called “The American”. His style was muscular can-do, cold, calculated and macho in a way that stated what his fans would want America to be. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Dick Chaney and Barack Obama were some who recalibrated their cultural stem cells to produce a working image of themselves that was compatible with America’s no nonsense unilateralism. Hubristic masculinity  became necessary in order to maintain a metaphoric bridge between the oval office and  America-The-Movieland — currently morphing into a video game. For historians, the realisation  that we can change the script-writer, but the folk context remains the same, is academic. We all star in the same movie, but for most of us, it is merely a bit-part or nothing at all. In cinematic parlance, America floats all boats…or so was the case until billionaire capitalism sucked the marrow out of the system.

Who, then, are the heroes who make it to folk status by virtue of their ability to mesmerise an audience by tapping into the desires and expectations inherent in this shared narrative?

The protagonist-hero, in the American folk milieu has a God-given right to traverse any boundary, disregard the sovereignty of any state, in his or her fortune-hunter’s self-righteous commitment to profiteer in the name of enterprise. This cinematic logic was developed in the twentieth century in America as a means of capturing the populist heartbeat and steroiding the national character into achieving fighting-fitness for the purpose of establishing Mr. Joe Sixpack as action hero with appeal for every Dirty Tom, Dick and Harry.

The seeds of American exceptionalism were sown in a technological medium that projected the message of super celebrity status and action-hero mythology via the silver screen to Mr. Joe Sixpack and Miss Plain Jane.  Later, when corporate America came along to introduce the expert as hero, the narrative went into free-fall.  The individual was abstracted, the “expert” became the medium within the message, a moving-finger-that-wrote the prescription that would separate the ‘folk’ from the shared narrative.  Thus a new alienated world came into being for the masses.

As the 20th century developed, John Wayne’s — “Talk low, talk slow and don’t say too much” — remained ‘par for the course’, at a time when boots-on-the-ground meant swaggering into town with two Colt 45’s at the ready and justice in the eye of the beholder. But along the way, American hard-wear became airborne and boots-on-the-ground gave way to a cock-pitted John Wayne version of sheriff America as lawman. Replete with aerial steed and super-duper-fast-action Hellfire Missile Colt replacements, the sheriffs of the sky were soon targeting civilians in the bad-lands that hadn’t as yet come under American control. Muslim and Asian populations were targeted in order to loosen their hold on assets that were potentially available to the American behemoth.

Come 1979, the cinematic narrative that mesmerised America, gave us Francis Ford Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW, starring Marlon Brando. John Wayne turned sociopath — to great acclaim. That it was applauded as a seminal moment in America’s introverted love of self via cinema and deemed culturally, historically or aesthetically significant, is significant in itself. No insights into why America was bombing the shit out of a military and political movement supported by the majority of the South Vietnamese peasantry, were ever offered. The mesmerised American public, comfortable on their couches in the stalls, and agog at the actions on the big silver screen, remained ignorant of what was happening off-screen.

Over time, the actions of the covert intelligence agencies, PR machines, cankerous lobbyist groups and other forms of institutional borse-creep became harbingers of secrecy, thus keeping classified information hobbled to the expert’s need for control in the elite echelons. The sense of centre that the silver screen had evoked, soon fell foul to the bunkered paranoia mentality of the Military Industrial Complex, a ‘big brother’ controlling the imaginative energy of a people through surveillance, meant that the ‘folk’ were pushed off the page.

Intelligence agencies alone now cost the American tax-payer in excess of $60 billion a year. Obama’s drone program is something else again and done in the name of cross-border security. From his oval hole, the peace laureate acts in secret, dispensing and remitting extrajudicial killings with a lurid contempt for accountability, while slaughtering innocents in far away places in order to make the homeland safer ..and like an institutional Wayne, comes across as self-contained and a big man doing a big man’s job.

Wayne’s on-screen persona was always backed up by fire-power as has been the case with all recent Presidents who so freely deferred to the bloviated military to project law and order, American style, outside its own borders. Wayne…”The American” was both impregnable and intractable. He stood like a force of nature. He relied on brute strength to win the day, so he never softened or capitulated . He didn’t much believe in community sensitivities either.  Henry Kissinger must have had a ‘Wayne’ moment when he bombed the poor defenceless Cambodian peasants to smithereens?

Richard M. Nixon once said that Wayne’s “Chisum” was a model for law and order. Nixon didn’t stay around long enough to see a Day-of-The-Triffids surveillance culture impose blindness on all who were seduced by the security-experts-de-jure-machine. So then,what’s new in the new-fashioned Eastern-Midwestern-far-Western-Middle-East that can have any meaning to your average Joe or Jane when it comes to understanding humanitarian homicide as a means of achieving peace in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc?

Why does America continue to produce more than its fair share of wacky individuals? — piano-playing Condoleezza Rice, serendipity-painter George Bush, potty-mouth Dick Cheney — “Go f*ck yourself.” — to Sen. Patrick Leahy …and “There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Donald (15 watt globe) Rumsfeld, as well as wolf-in-sheep-clothing AIPAC the Zionist muse — we-advise-on-regime-change. and you better listen because we get to wreak havoc in the Middle East. were allowed to shock and awe the bejesus out of Muslim countries under the rubric of liberation, while underhandedly sequestering their oily assets with venomous stealth.

So what does it take to begin to extricate ourselves from “There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” To acknowledge that American soft-power, at home and abroad, is on life-support because of the failure of the mesmerised multitude to deal with hard-power, requires immediate attention. To go along with the notion that experts are in charge — of everything — telling us what economic system to accept, or what foreign policy we must support, is to miss the point. If we were to stop and think for a moment, we would find that most experts are deficient in imagination. They are there to defend the status quo that feeds them. They are generally found wanting because they are talking from that place where the sun never shines.

The above collection of buffoons and their scriptwriters would have been laughed out of town in Shakespeare’s time. It was common practice to attend Elizabethan Theatre with a stash of over-ripe fruit for the purpose of hurtling squishy tomatoes at those who appeared egregiously callow, vain, or just plain stupid. Neo-Con-American Foreign Policy and its enablers come to mind as a deserving target to receive the fruity defecations of an irate public trapped in their stalls and captive to a monochromatic screen that only runs the shibboleths of the war party. Maybe the lesson we can learn from all this is, if we can’t throw squishy tomatoes at these mediocre people, we can at least work to throw them out of office and into the dumpster where they belong.

What has become apparent over time, is that America has near zero understanding of what constitutes the Middle East. Dick Cheney is on record as saying “We go where the business is.” when alluding to Iraq and its oil.  What he didn’t say was — after we overcame their resistance. We cannot fathom why the Muslim world might hesitate to forfeit their customs for ours.

So John Wayne has left the building, but his folk-imprimatur is still at the heart of the American Empire. The spirit of John Wayne is currently in every cockpit now over Iraq and Syria, serendipitously bombing the shit out of everything that moves in the hope of vanquishing all resistance to American hegemony. We don’t really know who we are bombing, but quantitatively speaking, there’s a lot to bomb, because there’s a lot of oil down there.

So when did ‘expertise’ — as in leave it to the specialists — become antithetical to the voice of the people; how did the social glue that kept the narrative alive, so easily slip into a fascination for celebrity-observation that left the masses mesmerised by the life-styles of the rich and famous. With screens of one kind or another proliferating, the mesmerised multitude slid seamlessly into anonymity as they ogled off the vapid lives in the entertainment loop. Entertainment relieved boredom while commodified reality became mesmerizingly desirable.

Then finally, what is the value of this American-style democracy that is being touted across the world? If it works as badly as it seems to do on its home patch, why would the rest of the world want to experience the grave inequality that renders so many of its citizens irrelevant? In February of this year, $24 billion was cut from the food stamp programme while $67 billion was added to the military as a way to BOMB away the national treasure.

But a final thought: maybe there is an awareness of some kind stirring in our better selves? A new mood formulating a cinematic trailer for the national psyche. A new form of born-againness waiting in the wings to reclaim a common shareable speech that consensually recognises the need for a change of direction. After all, we are a people, not a machine, and along the way, we might just discover that Muslims are people too, not amorphous collateral.

Denis Conroy is a retired businessman and journalist and a voracious follower of matters political outside of the mainstream arena. Read other articles by Denis A..