Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Fear

The Fear. That's all the administration has to sell at this point.

Education plans? Ha. No Child Left Behind was the Hurricane Katrina of education.

The economy? Bully Boy was the Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma all rolled up into one when it came to the economy.

Six years occupying the Oval Office (three years occupying Iraq) and what does he have to sell? Nothing but fear.

It's election time so, like the tired hooker, Bully Boy gets pushed out on the street corner by Karl Rove with cries of, "Sell it, baby, sell it big."

And fortunately Bully Boy is prepared to do just that. There's talk, a bit, of another 9-11. But the real talk is a worse-than 9-11. That did it with Iraq as well. Couldn't just go with "another 9-11" had to toss in "mushroom cloud" and offer bits of worry over "mobile planes" come to anthrax dust America. And maybe you heard that mobile planes garbage and went to the scene in North By Nothwest where Cary Grant's running from the crop duster, through the cornfields?

That's the thing that we think Tom Engelhardt doesn't underscore in "9/11 in a Movie-Made World" (The Nation) when he focuses on the movies. As any good director of a horror film can tell you, it's not what you see, it's what you don't see that hooks the audience.

We enjoyed Engelhardt's article but we did wonder about the emphasis on what films have shown. For one thing, "War of the Worlds," as a radio broadcast, is the only entertainment scare we're aware of this in the country. (Well, that and Patricia Heaton's hair.) It's always what you don't see that scares, what you can't see.

And that's what the administration plays on. You can see that in their response to the non-existant WMDs. They present it as a what-if. As a, "Anyone could have made that call." Why? Because we couldn't know (couldn't "see"). Of course they lied the nation into war.

But there's this belief that they used links to create weasel room. They used linkage to have a pass. While that's probably true, there may be something else at work. Linkage allows people to "see." It allows them to fill in their own pictures.

A concrete example doesn't do that. (Think of metaphors as boats, if you're lost.)

Over two years ago, at a film festival, someone who had worked on the Bully Boy's 2000 campaign made some statements in a semi-public setting that we wished the press had followed up on. (A few seemed to pay attention, but no stories ran.) He spoke of the linkage in those ads, and no, he wasn't just focused on the infamous DEMOCRATS ad campaign. Now you may think the orders came from Karl Rove. According to him, that wasn't the case. (Which fits with our understanding -- Rove gets far too much credit. Those dismissing 'conspiracy theorists' might want to examine the creation of 'genius' Rove whom, if anyone's forgotten, Bully Boy dubbed "Turd Blossom.")

According to him, the one screaming for the linkage was Big Babs herself. That may be a bit shocking but, outside of Phil Hartman, who seriously questioned the Big Babs myth when she was First Lady? (Even The Simpsons caved and turned Big Babs into Martha from Dennis the Menace -- the woman who thought evacuees from Hurricane Katrina benefitted from the hurricane, the woman who pondered why her "beautiful mind" should be bothered with the deaths of Americans in Iraq, the woman who called Geraldine Ferraro a bitch and then tried to back pedal on it, the woman who publicly loathed Nancy Reagan, the woman . . .) Hey, if a non-reader can peddle herself as someone dedicated to reading, who knows what else she could do?

(And, for the record, the linkage reportedly included audio as well.)

Whether true or not (and of course it must be untrue since no one ever wrote it up, in a roomful of reporters, right? -- because only the truth makes it into print), the technique the Bully Boy's always used: linkage.

He's suggestive more often than explicit because someone grasped (some time ago) that what can't you see is more frightening than what you can see. It's why someone too scared to sleep at night can doze off when the sun comes up. As though the mere absence of darkness turns an area into a secure panic room.

With Iran, Bully Boy's making noises again. He's doing the linkage. Why tell the people, for instance, that Iran just has a gun, when you can allow someone picture an Uzi?

What he specializes in is creating impressions and he does that through suggestion. It's part of the reason his core can stick with him. It's not just that they're blind, it's that he suggested and they filled in the blanks. He suggested "mushroom cloud," he didn't say it would happen.

Like any playground Bully, he uses the linkage to create The Fear. Is a playground bully really as tough as you think, or is that the fear coming through from what you've heard?

Again, we enjoyed Englehart's article and found it thought provoking. We'll agree that films can create a point of reference (as novels did in prior times and other art forms did as well). But that's the starting point.

Well before 9-11, Independence Day was already seen as old hat. It was as though it was a film from the fifites. (It's also true that special effects have made tremendous strides yearly in the last few years.) The film that scared you when you saw it years ago at the theater now may make you laugh at how hokey the monster looks or how the models being used are so obviously models and not real spaceships, skyscrapers or waht have you.

Our own imaginations have always been (and probably always will be -- or will be if we're lucky as a civilization) more powerful than anything that could fit on the screen or page.

It's an important point as Bully Boy appears geared up for at least another war and as he continues to lie about Iraq. The fact checking alone won't help stop that. An understanding of how the linkage is working in the minds of people might.

We're seeing some ways of addressing Iran that were similar ways of addressing Iraq. Someone wants to prove that Bully Boy is lying. They write their piece and the awakened rejoice. It's great that number has increased since 2003; however, those pieces aren't always effective.

What they do is take statements by Bully Boy: A, B, C, D, and E.

They then refute in this manner:


. . . .

If you're trying to reach the awakened, great, you probably have. They were predisposed to disbelieve the Bully Boy from the beginning. But if you're trying to reach out to the ones he's working, the ones who will cheer him on, you might be better off grasping that when The Fear sets in, a litany of rebuttal sounds like this: "Blah Blah Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH blah blah . . ."

That's actually true of all the responses to the Bully Boy. It sometimes seems the left wants to demonstrate how much they paid attention in classes (look at the history lessons offered in the wake of the comparison of war critics to Nazi-appeasers). In all those history lessons, we're sure the writers were damn proud of the gold stars teacher was giving them. But their classmates?

What they needed was the message that was apparently too basic for many on the left: NO, WAR CRITICS ARE NOT NAZI APPEASERS. YES, THAT COMPARISON WAS WRONG.

When the points are made like that, those suffering from The Fear can take another breath and then begin to listen. But in the midst of The Fear a lesson or lecture is lost. A little less star turns, a little less desire to be too wonderful for words, and a little more basic communication would be more effective in the face of an attack like that then instead offering up "Well, in WWII the Nazis did this and the . . ."

Save the history lessons. Really, we're sure you're all very smart, very brilliant, wonderfully educated. But many aren't communicating. Maybe that's why they've latched on to the hula hoop of the decade, "framing." Framing's going to teach them (finally?) to communicate. That's the myth. Plain spoken won't do it, apparently. (Or is that so many have forgotten how to speak plainly?) But framing provides a little trick or device we can use.

The reality is that all the "How will we respond" is, more often than not, a mistake. Bully Boy graps that. He grasps that his blunders are rarely held against him by his core. They see the same blunders the rest of us see. But he never talks down to them (openly) as though he was going to help these poor lessers see what needs to be seen.

That's another reason he uses linkage. It allows people to feel they're on the same page with him. "He's just like us." If there's an issue that's come up, they want to know what it is. Not tomorrow or the day after when the "frame" has been figured out. And they don't want a history lesson.

When those facts come dog piling one on top of another, it's too much. The issue is "Is it true or is it false." On the issue of the Nazi appeasers, a large number of our 'best and brightest' saw that issue as the chance to dust off their college thesis. By the time they're lengthy monuments to self had been written, let alone read, those who were going to be taken in by the Bully Boy were already in his camp.

Currently, there's a spinach scare. Can't trust the spinach! Watch how the CDC handles it in public. They'll state this is where the problem is, this is where it isn't. They'll then give information. After they've clearly outlined reality, they'll provide information. They won't rush in with a history lesson on e-coli. The following will not occur:

Diane Sawyer: Joining us is Dr. Pepto from the CDC to talk about a topic that concerns many of us, spinach. Dr. Pepto, welcome to the show.

Dr. Pepto: Thank you, Diane. Let me start by explaining that the e-coli virus was first discovered by a scientist working on BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH. Now, we're up to ten years ago. And it should be noted that one of the curious aspects of e-coli that scientists have always found interesting is that it BLAH BLAH BLAH.

If you saw that, people would be flipping the channel. Dr. Pepto? They want one thing from her, they want to know what's what. Not a history, not a case history. They want to know if they should be worried or not. Dr. Pepto will stress the issue of to worry or not repeatedly throughout her remarks. She will grasp how The Fear works.

The CDC specializes in calming the public as much as it specializes in informing them. They never fail to tell you what you should be worried about and what you shouldn't. In a simple bit of television, they never have the need to go back ten or twenty or thirty or forty years. They deal with the issue at hand and offer the public assurances.

The Fear works on linkage. That's the Bully Boy's m.o. And all the graphs and charts and footnotes in the world are useless when you can't call it out and state clearly that the panic he is creating is a false one. (Or, for that matter, the dreamy fantasy he's portraying as reality is false.)

We really did love Englehart's article. We could sink our teeth into it. (Probably because he didn't try to overwhelm you with a star turn. He argued his point directly.) We'd love to see more like it. But the issue of the linkage and how it works with The Fear isn't that people are picturing what they've already seen and going, "Oh my God!" It's that they're picturing what they've seen and imaging worse. That's what the Bully Boy graps even if a great many of his critics still doesn't understand.

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