America–the Picture Show

In the midst of war and rumors of war, the ongoing soap opera of "The Sussexes" seems hardly worth mentioning, but if--like some future archeologist, holding his nose and sifting through the middens of a 21st century city--we sift through some of the rubbish, we might find clues to the "primitive mentality"* of 21st century postChristians.

Case in point:  the argument breaking out over the tearful trailers for the B-list couple's latest foray into self-glorification, their Netflix series Harry and Meghan.  Critics-mainly supporters of the Royal family--claim that some of the scenes showing Meghan getting harassed by photographers are fake, that in fact they are photographs of a Harry Potter premiere.

Supporters of the soon-to-be non-royal couple retort that the use of stock footages is standard practice.  The intent was simply to tell the story of Harry and Meghan, more or less as Harry and Meghan see it.  Remember that in Meghan's mind, she is an only child brought up in dire poverty, rather than a middle-class girl with two half-siblings, a graduate of a Catholic girl's school who went on to attend the elite Northwestern University.  When challenged, the duchess explained that she had simply told her story as she sees it.

Let us take the unadorable Sussexes out of the story and suppose Netflix was making a series about Donald Trump and the "insurrection" of January 6.  Suppose stock pictures of an Antifa riot were put forth as part of the visual story.  What would be the response?  The phrase that comes to mind is a favorite with Donald Trump:  Fake News.

Not that Trump himself is not a creative genius when it comes to generating  fake news.  Everything in human history seems to depend on how it fits in with Donald's Horatio Alger account of his own career.  And anyone who does not back each new reconstruction of reality all the way, becomes an enemy.  Like the Sussexes, the Bidens, and the Obamas, Trump is the star of a morality play that he has scripted and will continue directing until the press learns to ignore him.

If Our Lord was correct, when he proclaimed, "You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free," what can we say of the obsessive lying that seems to characterize all public discourse in the United States?  We were told that President Obama was a brilliant student, but we were not permitted to see his transcripts--a ploy previously used by the Clintons.  Even the petty scandals starring Hunter Biden have been manipulated and suppressed by current and former members of the FBI.  To answer my question, which needs no answer:  Those who reject the truth--a word, which in Greek refers to reality rather than to the sincerity of the speaker--are therefore slaves.

When Andrei Navrozov wrote an amusing column about the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard suits, one or two friends asked me if the subject was not, well, beneath the level on which we normally operate.  "It's just Hollywood gossip, right?"  Right.  Except all the news today is Hollywood gossip:  Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter, Joe Biden's mental health, Gavin Newsom's proposed subsidies to  descendants of slaves, and the heroic exploits of the fine comic actor who has put his talents to use as president of Ukraine.

It's almost as if I can feel the ghost of Sam Francis, standing behind me and muttering.  "Godamighty, we might as well be living in  Moon Over Parador."  In case you don't remember that unmemorable film, Richard Dreyfus plays a second rate actor hired to play a South American dictator who speaks only English but in a bad stagey Sponish accent.

If we follow this scenario to its only logical conclusion, we are a short step away from MikedJudge's prophetic film, Idiocracy.  His President Macho Camacho is a cross between Trump and Biden, though Kamala would, even in the dystopian world of the future, seems too dumb to be believable. .  Maybe the Democrats will finally have their dream presidential candidate--Warren Beatty.  Or Robert Redford.  Or, if they're too old, Tom Cruise.

"See, we'll have Tom fly his jet into DC for the inauguration, and he'll land on the White House lawn.... What do you mean, we can't do that?  We've got stock footage."


*The phrase "primitive mentality" is a tip of the hat to the French anthropological tradition, especially to the great Lucien Levy-Bruhl, who showed decisively (if over-statedly) that primitive men and women do not think like civilized people.  If only he had lived into the 21st century, he could have studied the primitive mind just by switching on the television.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

4 Responses

  1. Michael Strenk says:

    The best bit of Moon Over Parador, if I am remembering the correct movie, was Jonathan Winters as an overweight CIA agent whose digestive system is not handling the local food and water very well. May it be so always and everywhere for the functionaries of the CIA, with a double dose at the top.

  2. Vince Cornell says:

    Maybe for next season, they’ll bring in Brittney Griner as the new Secretary of Defense! But then, in a sudden twist, Elon Musk buys the WNBA!!

  3. andrei navrozov says:

    Tom, thank you for the nice compliment.

    As for Levy-Bruhl, “if he had lived into the 21st century,” he’d be in jail for extremism, racism, hate crime, and probably Holocaust denial for good measure like the unfortunate David Irving.

    Imagine publishing in 2022 a book entitled “Les fonctions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures”! (Even in tame English translation the title – “How Natives Think” – would probably upset the Sussexes.)

  4. Robert Reavis says:

    Yes I think Mr Navrozov is correct and spot on, I would only add that even for the primitive mentality, life had meaning. I am not sure about the litany of lessers listed by Tom. It might possibly mean simply admiring the shadows of their own godlike images, polling larger or smaller, year by year, week by week, day by day, on a perpetual entertainment screen where Peter Pan remains young while the individual “stock footage” grows old quickly.