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June 17, 2004

The language of torture and the torture of reality

This was going to be just a comment on David's post, but then I had an epiphany and decided it was a bigger point.

I think where we are at is really quite simple: any recourse to external facts is "political," and therefore inadmissable to what we might call the "Bushiverse." Anything that has not already appeared in minutes of the Politburo--whoops, I mean statements of the Press Office-- is simply delegitimized, scorned, and ignored. In the chilling phrase of the day, any threatening or inconvenient fact from outside the Green Zone on Pennsylvania Avenue that they don't want to acknowledge becomes a "ghost prisoner." Like those prisoners, the ideÚs fixes of the Administration are held indefinitely but never questioned.

I could get all media-philosophe about this (per Baudrillard's analysis of the simulacrum, Bush doesn't have to use force to enact this hegemony of thought because the masses have "pre-capitulated") but it's really more simple. "Think what we tell you to think, say what we tell you to say." This should be a familiar model to those who have followed the rise of the radical right. The White House is now just another station on your talk radio dial.

If Reagan was our first Actor-in-Chief, Bush seems to be our first Talkshow-Host-in-Chief. His butchered elocutions are on par with the staccato stranglings of the AM maniacs, and his ever-certain/over-certain "style" is stolen from Rush Limbaugh--when Rush was high, no doubt.

W (read: Cheney 'n' Rove) seeks to use "Presidential power at its absolute apex" to mold an electorate that merely repeats the words it hears repeated. W would lead us into Dittohead Nation.

Speaking of that "absolute apex," it's worth thinking about the effect of "Bushiversese" on those of us accustomed to the careful use of legitimate language towards the formation of thoughtful opinion and sensible policy. It feels like torture. I don't mean to demean the horrors recently wrought in our name in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. But we've all felt this way. Listening to Bush speak is almost physically painful. Hearing him praise Rumsfeld as "fabulous" today actually made my stomach churn. If one truly listens to what is said, and tries to reconcile it against any external reality, one begins to go mad. At times, I have actually suffered from aphasia--the inability to speak--while watching Bush speak. And those of you who know me know that I consider that, well, torture. In torturing the language, Bush tortures we who treasure it.

We are being robbed of the most important tool, perhaps the only tool, of civil society. Orwell fought against the corruption of language by demagogues his whole career, and summarized all we can ever know (and must never forget) on the topic here.

It must be bliss to be one of those Americans who can listen and nod and hear only the good words: "strong," "freedom," "victory." Eventually, if allowed, Bush and Co. will carry this trend to its logical conclusion: appearing at the podium only to deliver those achingly familiar slogans of Orwellian purity:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
And Goddammit if they are not close today.

And W won't even have to worry about shooting the rest of us. We will have either given ourselves over to the flood of useless syllables and pretty toys, fled the country, or fled inside ourselves--driven mad by the wily madness of the King George.

Posted by jay at June 17, 2004 06:53 PM | TrackBack
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