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ISSUE 116 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/11/2002

'Theater of War' depicts power of politicians

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer


Friday, October 11, 2002

Four years ago the absurd comedy "Wag the Dog" was released nationwide as former President Clinton, redeeming himself from the Monica Lewinsky scandal, sent missiles to Afghanistan and Sudan. The movie's ingenious plot revolves around a president's sexual misconduct before reelection and the subsequent Hollywood-staged war against Albania in order to win him public favor. “Harper's Magazine” editor Lewis Lapham captures the same absurd qualities of "Wag the Dog" in his newest release “Theater of War.” The characters, however, are real this time. For the educated public, Lapham cleverly borrows W.H. Auden's sentiment that "The Real is what will strike you as really absurd" in American politics. While the public would expect ethical behavior from political leaders, Lapham considers this idea impossible in a country dominated by capitalism and consumerism. Lapham's discourse is especially relevant today because he fiercely connects President George Bush's warring stance after 9/11 with the imperialism of past generations. The excesses of our current leaders are nothing short of Roman gluttonous, according to Lapham. Lapham criticizes rhetoric tainted with references to God because they contradict a separation of church and state. Before shipping troops to Somalia in 1992, President Bush Sr., harkened the mission as "doing God's work." The current President Bush is heavily armed with religious jargon as well, as Lapham sharply points out, to confuse the public and operate a personal power agenda based on capitalism. Lapham stated: "The Bush Administration asks to be judged not on the proofs of what it says and does but on the assertions and purity of heart." If any profession, however, were renown for corruption and lies — not purity of heart – it would be the sphere of politics. An important note is that Lapham does not demean faith in his book, only the politicians who use faith as an excuse for public favor and economic interest. After learning about the saturation of faith-based rhetoric in politics, one will yearn for a speech void of black and white terminology. Just imagine the public discourse that could ensue if Bush got beyond "Either you are with us [in war], or you're with the terrorists." Peace is just not an option for him, just as in the days of Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and many other presidents that Lapham singles out. Because politicians tout themselves as trusted and honorable keepers of peace, Lapham unravels their seamy side by discussing the re-counting of the Florida ballots and, striking a humorous note, recommending a new uniform for politicians: canvas jumpsuits just like the ones racecar drivers wear that are plastered with sponsors and commercial logos. Lapham discusses how politically and socially the glory of consumerism often is confused with the glory of liberty. What does our country represent? he seems to ask. Do we represent McDonald's cheeseburgers, "Baywatch," F-16s or public virtue? What are we protecting through war? he asks. Are we protecting "The miracle of the world's capital markets" or human rights and personal safety? Lapham's book is rampant with sarcasm and cynicism. One interesting chapter focuses on former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani's hypocrisy toward personal expression and corporate expression. Guiliani criticized the Brooklyn Museum of Art for displaying a "disgusting" image of a nude black woman posed as Christ at the Last Supper, even though he neglected to comment on an earlier exhibit of the Virgin Mary coated with elephant dung. Later, Lapham sarcastically comments that people can smoke only in designated areas; industrial companies, however, can "paint the sky" with pollution. While many people are supportive of restricted smoking in public areas, the larger issue described by Lapham is that corporations are given more freedom than people. Corporations are valued in politics, not its citizens or the welfare of the nation. “Theater of War” is an enlightening book because Lapham is a fierce critic of politicians who protects economic interest and personal power over public interest and ethics. Lapham's touch of sarcasm adds humor and enjoyment to the reading experience, but on occasion it deters from his credibility because of a lack of factual evidence. Some of the issues seem trite because they were exhausted in the media, but the representation of political absurdity does provoke thought and can be entertaining.





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