Friday, 10 September 2010

Playing What We Want


The fury, rhetoric, and indignation coming out of all corners over this idiot "pastor"'s plans to burn the Qu'ran in Florida is a striking example of many things. The inability of the status-quo defending North American leadership to have any priorities that matter, the glee with which the North American media stokes the sterile and futile class of civilizations debate, and the unfailing ability of a "critical mass"-level North American audience to be captivated by utter stupidity instead of asking simple questions that would immediately turn their minds to more important things.

The first question I want to ask is if there is anything, anywhere, that has got the attention of the President of the United States and the head of its army to react so boldly, so strongly, so decisively, and as quickly as this. The underlying assumption about men in such positions is that they are extremely busy, extremely important, and wouldn't have got to where they were today without extreme shrewdness and intelligence (though I personally have long ceased to believe in this hero-worshipping ideal). Yet they are literally brought to their knees, reduced to begging this man to not go through with his plans, and in doing so raising his profile to the highest possible level and giving him more power over them than anybody else on Earth dares to claim to wield. How could men of such sharp political acumen, such supposedly strategic thinkers, allow themselves to be manipulated and drawn into the games of some two-bit snake-oil huckster nobody instead of making the no-brainer decision of, well, ignorning him and leaving him in the obscurity of Gainesville, Florida to remain, well, a two-bit snake-oil huckster nobody for the rest of his days? I am just beside myself.

In many ways that have been outlined in innumerable previous columns by me and countless others, America is rotting on the inside and living off borrowed money and borrowed time. And yes, while that somewhat abstract declaration may not succeed in precipitating any sense of urgency to take meaningful stabs at slow-killing status quo cancer like cheap oil, trade deficits, obesity and wars, I would really hope that leaders would at least have some real crises in mind that they would be too busy attacking to think about Terry Jones for two seconds, let alone schedule a press conference devoted to this loser.

But they do, and what happens? Notables from all over the world line up to greet the impassioned-pleas-to-reason-and-tolerance express, from the Danish head of NATO to the Canadian Prime Minister with stops at every editorial board on the way. The learned and savvy international elite, who we respect so much for becoming elite and presiding over us in their infinite wisdom, unite their voices in one incredibly smart and meaningful statement: "Don't Burn the Book. It will encourage our enemies. Don't do it. (Cue Slow motion voice effect) NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO."

Some years ago, a radio station somewhere I lived (I think it was Ottawa) called Jack FM had a slogan – "playing what we want". They played a lot of hits, oldies, top 40, seventies, eighties, and nineties pop. It was a real mixed bag of inoffensive background music that was guaranteed to please no-one except people who listen to the radio without paying attention to the music – just to distract them from their thoughts or provide background noise or whatever. I know such people exist (I sit by one), and as a music lover have never understood them –but to that radio station the slogan made sense to go after their bottom line with. They were not playing what the royal "we" wanted but rather what they thought their target audience wanted. This is why commercial radio is redundant and fading; it sacrifices all risks and originality in its dogged pursuit of the aging "I like everything" middle aged office worker or assembly line operator, even though all stations are going after this tiny sliver of their potential audience at the same time. It is difficult to find a station that plays anything anyone would want to listen to or plays anything you haven't already heard ad nauseum. Yet, there are some people who do actually want to hear that and for whom that is an exact reflection of what they can relate to and enjoy.

That is why, whether you are disgusted by Jones or by the growing amount of mosques, hijabs, and halal butchers serving the Muslims of North America and their place in the discourse, the whole spectacle is so hot, the top news story for three days now, because it is what people want to hear about and talk about. The developments are the top headline every hour, the articles are the most popular and most shared, and the comment boards are afire into the four figures. What nerve has been struck in the collective consciousness?

I am of the opinion that the evolution of popular culture has conditioned us to crave and demand extremes. Nothing else gets us excited anymore. So we have showered a man practicing the worst kind of anti-intellectualism, the burning of a book, the repudiation of the amendment guaranteeing free speech, with attention because he has gone straight for the throat of islam, something conservative commentators with all their bravado have yet to do to this extreme. On the other hand, we have a relatively insignificant and pointless act, if we look at the act in and of itself, that has caused the holder of the highest office in the nation to, today, pick up the phone. There is a lot better stuff that this guy could be picking up a phone over. You light a book on fire, its pages burn, and a few minutes later it's black flakes. I was burning old catalogues and readers digest in a campfire last weekend. Who gives a shit what book I burn, if it is my property? How does this infringe on the rights of anybody else? If you burned my copy of The Trial or The Stranger, which are the two books that might mean a thousandth of what the Qu'ran means to these shouting mobs to me, I might be annoyed. But I wouldn't despair – material objects are not that important, you cannot take them with you, and I'm pretty sure I could find other copies, if I wanted to read either again which is unlikely as I've read them both twice. And there is a type of man in Islam (of course, Muslims don't consider women smart enough to do this, although I'm not saying none have) who can recite the whole book by heart. So even if all the Qu'rans in the world were burnt, these guys could have new ones in circulation in a couple of days. So let Jones and Co burn the Qu'ran. In fact, I have a copy of the Qu'ran in my house right now. I also have matches and lighters. I could go burn it, on my back porch, right now, and no-one would ever know. The only other person who lives here would probably never notice. The text of the Qu'ran and the language in which it is published are in no danger, and it probably is in the top ten with Agatha Christie and the Bible for copies in print. So there's no musuem curator-conservator argument against it. We have determined the physical and cultural value of the book or these books that Mr Jones is in possession of is practically nil.

But it is not the Qu'rans themselves, you tell me. It is what the act symbolizes. It is a symbolic act that creates tension because it shows people in America hate Islam. Well, is that really such a bad thing to show when many of them do because they're racist and they're totally down with what this guy is doing? And I understand symbolism very well; it's what these throngs of illiterate peasants shouting "Death to America" and burning effigies and flags and stomping on them are in the business of. They are trying to symbolize their anger and frustration, and they end up looking look like a raving bunch of fucking idiots, which is why they're weird and entertaining to our "extreme-conscious sensibilities, and why these images have been diffused in North America, which is how I'm describing to you right now what you've already seen.

To say this "puts troops in danger" is even more ludicrous. Of course they're in danger. That's the job they signed up for. And don't you think some of the people in the countries that they're in or that feel threatened by their presence will understand that there is one wackjob in America whose lunacy matches that of their shouting mobs? When one man can get the world's attention to this laserlike of a focus over something this ridiculous, when all we talk about is precisely how the total lack of a collective attention span is one of our major liabilities in changing anything for the better, you know we got problems. And it's because in the macho man, UFC, sides taking world, we really do want to see this provocation and pig-headedness.

Whatever floats your religious boat and whatever you think of Islam, there has not exactly been a shortage of men who have not hesitated to pillior the Islamic faith on a regular basis in the North American media. For regular verbal craps on the religion, google the websites of Daniel Pipes, Michael Savage, and Mark Steyn. These guys are the "fringe" figures that the leadership is now so desperately trying to paint this Jones joker as, raising his profile and giving him more power with each passing day. I find the whole spectacle so disheartening that I haven't even bothered to read the analysis from columnists I usually read and respect. For a nobody like me to rant about this is one thing. For the media and political structure of a continent to waste the last three days on this is a travesty. But I should know by now; those channels abandonned their duty to the public they serve long ago, and now they do the easy thing: just play what people want.

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