Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
Last week, the American military unleashed a new weapon in the war on terror: vindictive pettiness. After Abu Musab al-Zarqawi released one of his propaganda videos, the Americans shot back with a counterpunch that would make Pixar proud: a blooper reel. The outtakes from Zarqawi's video showed the mastermind mishandling the machine gun he convincingly fires in the director's cut and provides a glimpse of the New Balances he was sporting beneath his black guerilla gear.
A gloating Major General Rick Lynch, the military spokesman who explained the outtakes to the world, had Zarqawi right where he wanted him: in the crosshairs of a few zingers, courtesy of the U.S. of A.
"What you saw on the Internet was what he wanted the world to see. 'Look at me, I'm a capable leader of a capable organization, and we are indeed declaring war against democracy inside of Iraq, and we're going to establish an Islamic caliphate.' What he didn't show you were the clips that I showed, wearing New Balance sneakers with his uniform, surrounded by supposedly competent subordinates who grab the hot barrel of a just-fired machine gun."
It's been too long since an American general impersonated his enemies, literally using the adolescent "Look at me" pre-amble.
Surely there is much about Zarqawi that is false. After all, he has carefully cultivated an image of himself But if ever there was a tactic that stank of desperation and the defensive, it is pointing at the man who our own military has built up as the great leader
of the Iraqi resistance -- without much evidence that the insurgency is at all that centralized -- and crying foul. Not authentic enough! We were promised real Islamic madmen, not shrewd political guerillas!
of these video clips puts the American military into the business of validating Zarqawi's bizarre value system. Again, General Lynch: "We have a warrior leader, Zarqawi, who doesn't understand how to operate his weapon system and has to rely on his subordinates to clear a weapon stoppage. It makes you wonder." It does indeed. America apparently agrees with Zarqawi's media strategists that only those capable of firing a machine gun ought to lay claim to political power in Iraq.
Interestingly, ridiculing Zarqawi on his own terms reveals how closely he actually resembles an American politician. He has carefully selected an identity he believes will go over well with his constituency and he cultivates that identity with intricately produced video spots. In fact, the last time the release of outtakes was used to rattle a carefully built political fašade was in the opening credits of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911
There is something disingenuous in the official way in which these videos were released. If it were meant to undermine Zarqawi and counteract the Internet release of his own video, why not leak it
? Let it take on its own meaning and life, let it reach the Middle Eastern community without the taint of American prejudice. If the video is as damming as General Lynch implies, it should be able to sustain itself, just as Zarqawi Productions do.
Al-Jazeera didn't air the outtakes last week but it got plenty of play back home, in the American media. After months of building him up as the outsider driving the insurgency, the United States is now revealing, to eager viewers of the evening news, what a stooge Zarqawi really is.
More than anything, this response to Zarqawi's latest video seems to elevate the propaganda efforts of the insurgents. If these outtakes had not surfaced, well, what's the implication then? The Joint Chiefs would be sitting around the Pentagon shaking their heads at images of Zarqawi in the desert. "Look at him, he can really handle that gun
. And no Western clothing.... We're screwed."
Almost a decade ago, when Wag the Dog
came out, critics tripped over themselves to call it prophetic and brilliant. (The film may have been overrated, but it does get some credit for being one of the last in which Robert DeNiro at least pretended to give a damn.) But the prophecy was off by a matter of degrees. The United States has become involved in a video war but it does not need to green screen in the violence, and it is the stripped bare production values of a video camera in the desert dictating the tone.
The day after the outtakes were released, the New York Times
implied that the move was part of a new strategy stemming from a paper making the rounds at the Pentagon. Written by a professor at the Institute of World Politics, the monograph advocates using shame to discredit insurgents. Perhaps there is some merit to that theory, and any American attempt to focus on some of the sociological reasons why things have gone so poorly in Iraq would be welcome. But there may be better ways to discredit Zarqawi than lifting up his skirts and laughing at his shoes. Offering a viable alternative to his carefully cultivated veneer of insurgency could be as damning as anything. The Provisional Authority could start with something as basic as firing a machine gun, like getting Iraqi utilities back up to pre-invasion levels.
A few weeks ago, the official Major League Baseball podcast (produced daily), featured an interview with country musician Trace Adkins. Before the interview could begin, one of the hosts felt the need to thank Mr. Adkins for making the video for something called, "The Honkey Tonk Badonkadonk." From the tone of the speaker and the name of the song, I gathered that the video featured sexy women in revealing outfits; possibly the women were riding violent mechanical bulls and dumping liquids on one another. I found this expression of gratitude a bit awkward.
Mr. Adkins had nothing interesting to say about baseball. He was there to promote a new song, called "Swing." He said it was important for him to record the song, because he liked so very much the idea of baseball as a metaphor for sex. The metaphor was attributed to the songwriters, Chris Stapleton and Frank Rogers. It was not acknowledged that all school children consider kissing "first base." Still, the whole thing wasn't quite idiotic enough to kill my curiosity.
After the interview, the song began to play. It was terrible. A repetitive beat bounced and a whiny fiddle (?) screeched. Then a man's voice came on and repeated the phrase, "Swing battah, battah/ Swing battah, battah," several, several times. Then the music stopped. Another man's voice told me that I could buy the album to hear the rest of the song.
I tried to forget about the whole thing. Over the weekend, though, I visited the MLB homepage and found an advertisement announcing, "An MLB.com World Premiere." There he was. Big picture of smiling Trace Adkins. I've hence read the lyrics
I don't object to capitalism and I don't object to advertisement. I don't even object to increasingly bizarre media tie-ins in advertising soaked arenas like sports. But I do object to ugly noises, chauvinistic attitudes, and the notion that "everybody strikes out nine times out of ten" (tell that to Albert Pujols... and George Clooney). Baseball, no longer secure as the national pastime, would be better off without associating itself with this terrible song.