King George, Queen Blair & New York Whores
Hi folks, happy Autumn (UK), Fall (US) – or whatever season you and yours are currently celebrating. A lot has certainly happened since I last tweaked these keys for your Textualities. I am thinking about a photo of a bus in the Hurricane Rita evacuation, and the group of 25 geriatric evacuees who were incinerated when their state-of-the-art coach suddenly caught fire. I’ve decided to watch as little television news as possible. Why? Because I am simply confused. I find it hard to differentiate between footage of burning buses from the US, Israel, Iraq and Palestine. It is difficult to determine if the images of hoards of starving, dying black people are from Africa or New Orleans. Increasingly, I am unable to identify whether the armed, paramilitary anarchists on the screen are in London, Bhagdad, Kabul or Gary, Indiana. So, I’ve chosen to avoid projected imagery in order to maintain a sense of clarity and sanity. You see, if I didn’t have the likes of Tony Blair and George Bush telling me over and over that things were swell in the world, I might be troubled. I think we in the western world should be happy we have a certain puppet and a certain war criminal to reassure us that everything is peachy-keen. With the exceptions of moveon.org, Gore Vidal, Wesley Clark with votetoimpeach.org, and scoundrels like George Galloway, the voices of dissent still seem to be scrambling for their microphones. (But really, we should be most worried about Kate Moss’s coke habit and the fate of the fashion industry, shouldn’t we?)
Recently, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I sat and listened to Galloway. OK, fine, so he’s a ‘character’. And OK still, he’s probably ‘shady’ and had some dodgy dealings with all sorts of creeps around the world. I’d like for anyone to explain to me how this makes him unique. Didn’t Bush’s grandfather trade with Nazis, as did some members of the British monarchy? Scoundrel, scoundrel, scoundrel? The thing I’ll give Galloway, without getting cozy, is that he is willing to engage in straightforward debate. Will we ever see such temerity from King George and Queen Tony?
At the book festival, Galloway took on the obvious issues with the Iraq war and defended his two meetings with Saddam Hussein. Fine. But when he opened the floor to questions, one of the first men to jump from his black-plastic rental chair was a Scottish Nationalist. He had blood in his eyes as he assailed Galloway with questions on why he would not support Scottish nationalism. Galloway responded by pointing out the irrational levels of manpower and expense it would take for Scotland to open new embassies around the world, open new government offices and manage its affairs sans London. As the debate ensued, I experienced an all-too familiar nausea passing through my bowels. It wasn’t until later, sitting outside in a group of friends, that I realized why.
Surrounded by some heavyweights on the literary scene, I was outwitted, out-experienced and out-numbered. In turn, I opted to be seen and not heard; however, during a lull in the patter about Galloway, a female voice rang from across the wooden decking: ‘Martin, what do you think about Scottish Nationalism?’ Stunned, I took a breath, hoping someone, anyone, would chime in and let me off the hook. Silence filled the air. The nausea returneth. I lacked the words to express my colic. On the other hand, I couldn’t fumble in front of these titans of discourse, so I trusted my gut and went with what I had: ‘I think the same about Scottish Nationalism as I do about Southern-American Dixieland Nationalism – it’s ridiculous, the war is over.’ I received nods from around the group, and that was that.
I mention this little scene not because I find my reply incredibly original or learned, but rather because of how obviously simple and common it is – and because, like with images on television, I believe we, as a western people, are missing the point entirely. Rome, the world, is burning and we are fiddling on about who we are, and what we believe and stand for. Bush manipulates this phenomenon regularly its products were paraded for the world to see in the form of his criminal, oil-cartel presidency and the Third World Opera we saw unfold with hurricane Katrina. I think the Katrina aftermath should be a warning for nationalists around the globe. Sorry, I am skeptical when a flag-waving patriot exclaims ‘everything is under control’.
Question: What do separatism, ego-driven heritage and nationalism bring you? Answer: If the US is any indication, radical religious extremism, crumbling infrastructures and an enormous disparity between the rich and poor. Now, nationalism doesn’t automatically bring these things, but I think I see a connection between these products and the current culture industry: ‘yob’ culture (UK), ‘redneck’ culture (US). You see folks, I can say this because I was born in the south, and I’ve watched the south deteriorate from what was once a delicate indigenous culture, with faults and troubles – granted – to a culture of carpet-bagging, gun-toting, drunkard charlatans, complete with phony cowboy hats (in places that never had cowboys) and pickup trucks (that are never used to ‘pick up’ anything). Now, we get one of these rednecks, who speaks with the linguistic prowess of a five-year old, as leader of the richest country on the planet. This, after years of battles in the south over racist flags and something known as heritage.
The ‘heritage’ couldn’t have been any more apparent on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain, after Katrina: the richest country in the world left its poor niggers to drown. And niggers could be anybody these days Blacks, Gays, Jews or Neds which is what I think happens in the current culture climate of the west when nationalism rears its head and the media struggles to define it: the culture of us and them. I tend to look to the here and now, but, those who wish to steal tomorrow are blinding us with yesterday.
New York City, where I moved in 1989 to escape the cancer called radical conservatism, has fallen. It was over well before 9/11. Giuliani saw to it. The place is now in the hands of greedy landlords, real estate developers, corporations and a corrupt city government. If it hadn’t been for 9/11, Giuliani was destined to leave office one of the most hated mayors in NYC history. He deregulated and decommissioned the entire town to the point of indefensibility. The most puzzling thing to me about situations like this is, after the battles are lost and the spoils are divided, the losers act surprised – like they had no warning. Surprising. ‘America’s Mayor’ waved his flags with King George and helped rally the country to an unsubstantiated war. This, while failing to do his job and see to it that the 40 Billion dollars promised by King George made it to the victims and their families the money never has. ‘Let the private sector do it. The markets will take care of it!’
Another example of this modern Nero-Syndrome was brought to light in a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine. The ‘Talk of the Town’ piece outlined a problem in West Greenwich Village, stemming from throngs of tourists coming to have their photo taken in front of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Sex and the City apartment building. I think the situation helps illuminate how silly the idea of ownership is when blended with notions of identity, which fuels nationalism. Many of the West Village residents (who incidentally snatched up cheap apartments after the massive AIDS die-off of the late eighties and early nineties) are the very people who vote for a Giuliani. However, when he allows the corporate media free reign over their quaint urban-suburbia, they get upset. I attempted to characterize the specific events in a letter to the editor:
Dear Editor, Re: Talk of the Town, 29 August, Shakedown Street
Pimps on Perry Street First, let me admit that I detest Sex and the City, and the media conglomerates which have indefatigably proceeded to whore New York City out to the masses, and destroy its culture. That said, let me also admit that I detest the yuppies, and their suburban-stroller mentality, who refuse to accept New York City for the fine prostitute she is.
If ‘Greenwich Village residents want everything just-so’, they should move to Texas. I understand they would find a family there who share their ideals. The TV industry can pay for the tickets.
I didn’t get a response to my letter, but while working on this little essay, I had a chat with a friend – a lifelong member of the SNP. The debate was lively to say the least, but I have to clarify here that my observations surround what I heard at the book festival and nationalism as a concept, not the SNP. I am sure they have plenty of good ideas. One, which my friend expressed, was secession in order to make a more solid relationship between Scotland and continental Europe, and the European Union. This sounds more like Clinton-era bridge building to me than nationalism. Secession, hrmm. True progress without sabre rattling? Maybe I could become one class-’A’ hypocrite and support such an effort. That type of idea could possibly retain its progressive purity, but then again, look what the media and culture industry did to Bill Clinton.
What concerns me the most is that while the highbrow bickering never ends on either side of the Atlantic, the problems don’t either. Teen suicide, alcoholism, pregnancy and abuse are major problems right now in Scotland and the US. HIV/AIDS seroconversions are back to 1980s levels. It’s been reported that 1 in 10 will not complete their first year at Uni in Scotland; Mike Watson got 16 years for flicking a lighter at some curtains in a hotel; Craig Lang got 2 whole years after killing a war veteran while driving drunk. In the US violent Latino gangs have taken over parts of Queens, NY and we still have a criminal in the whitehouse (www.votetoimpech.org). Scotland was recently cited as the most violent society in the civilized world. Can anyone else see the disparity between the rhetoric and the street?
I wonder: Bands of marauding drug dealers, gangs and boozehounds claim the streets and motorways of both countries every weekend – and we want to whip these yobs/rednecks into a nationalism frenzy? I shudder to think. We see what happens: senseless Iraq war, brought to you by King George, Queen Tony, the Bible Belt and down-home red, white and blue nationalism. My advice: BAN THE COWBOYS.
Rhetoric watch: Last night the BBC reported that Her Majesty’s (Blair) government is now asserting that weapons used in Iraq against British forces were most certainly, probably, likely, assuredly, just-had-to-have come from Iran. Here we go…
I guess losing almost the same number of soldiers as people who died in 9/11, to date, isn’t enough. Want to see their faces?
© Martin Belk 2005
Martin Belk is a writer, performer and producer. He recently completed his master’s degree in creative writing. His credits include producer for Squeezebox!, the New York rock venue where Blondie reunited, Hedwig and the Angry Inch debuted and the first-ever live, global webcast - Live InConcert starring Deborah Harry took place. In addition, Belk is a Multimedia Application of the Year award winner from the ITCA for Will Europe Work? – the first live, global conference of the European Union. He is co-editor of One magazine.
Most recent credits include a guest appearance on BBC Radio, The Lesley Riddoch Show and his first bi-weekly, online column on textualities.net
He is in the process of completing his first novel.