A surge in lunacy

We are in the culture of “non-binding decisions”. What I mean by that is that, at this moment, you can measure the hallucinatory experience of living in the United States according to a range of decisions that don’t matter. For example, who is the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby? Who will win American Idol? How high will the sea level rise if global warming sets in? And what is going to win best picture at the Oscars?

Anything else you can think of? Oh yes, do we support the “surge” in Iraq, or not? Don’t worry over your answers; we don’t worry any more. It’s more than anyone in US can endure, to ask the people to live in real doubt or agony. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were ruined by leading in war, you could see it and feel it. Bush is still a kid, riding high on his own “non- binding decisions”.

It’s not that the questions I have listed are without resonance. If you are Anna Nicole’s child you are going to care, and there are lawyers who will care for you in advance with more than $400-million at issue. You can say, seriously, that there wasn’t a movie this year worthy of best picture — apart from the German film, The Lives of Others. And, yes, you can say that Iraq matters a lot, as well as global warming.

But this is a culture where the media shows the inordinate amount of money being spent to praise this movie or that performance. The language offered by the House and Senate on Iraq — the decision to make their votes “non-binding” — is part of the pusillanimous fear over all decisions. One way of measuring a nation or culture in decline is to point to its preference for frivolous decisions over important ones, and to its degrading of its own important choices.

You see, it doesn’t matter whether Peter O’Toole or Forest Whitaker won best actor. I’m a film critic and I think that O’Toole’s old man in Venus means more to more of us than Whitaker’s clever but somehow irrelevant Idi Amin. I am fond of O’Toole and could bear to see his decrepit elegance hanging on a stick as he utters words of thanks. O’Toole might be magnificent. But it doesn’t matter. He could as easily die with eight rejections as seven.

It matters that we got into Iraq, all of us. It matters that our “intelligence” led us there, and in any rational society there would have been firings and resignations in those areas to make the troops shudder. It matters that we sent troops in without language, a plan, local knowledge or body armour. It matters that our leader said, let’s have a war over the most serious issue of our time but don’t let’s act serious about it — don’t let us tax ourselves more gravely, don’t let us have a draft, don’t let us ask for universal service.

Let’s “surge” instead of think — 3 000 US troops have been killed, 20 000 maimed and unknown numbers of bystanders wiped out, but let’s act as if it’s a game show. Don’t upset the American public.

It is an embarrassment that we pause for the Oscars, as well as an anachronism — the great majority of the public gave up the habit of movie-going a long time ago. And it is monstrous and disastrous that we play footsie with non-binding decisions. — Â

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Making movies

By the mid-1960s, John Boorman was a young prospect being watched in the new British film industry. Boorman didn't go to university, or was ever apprenticed in the theatre. But his work in television had shown an ability to transform routine magazine programmes with the fresh air of real, awkward lives, writes David Thomson.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday