George Bush and Superman: Naked and Powerless?


Powerful people are not powerful: they are fumblers and jivers as we used to call them back in the day. I say this after two events: George Bush’s antics during the G8 and the latest Superman movie.

Consider this slice of the off-the-cuff conversation between Bush and Blair in Russia:

Bush: I think Condi [US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] is going to go pretty soon.

Blair: But that’s, that’s, that’s all that matters. But if you… you see it will take some time to get that together.

Bush: Yeah, yeah.

Blair: But at least it gives people…

Bush: It’s a process, I agree. I told her your offer to…

Blair: Well… it’s only if I mean… you know. If she’s got a…, or if she needs the ground prepared as it were… Because obviously if she goes out she’s got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk.

Blair’s words cut to the core of Britain’s role in the world: his desire now is only to present Downing Street as a relevant force, as ‘powerful’. Yet all he can do is ‘speak’ as he runs ahead of actors so that he can seem to have an impact on events – to be part of the doing in the Middle East and elsewhere, . How helpless, how sad that this man who occupies such a supremely self-conceited office should be revealed to be so…irrelevant. This is a truth that the world is catching on fast. In Kenya for example, the British diplomatic effort is sputtering. No longer can the ambassador stroll into State House as he wishes. The impulse at home is to deal with those with the best power PR machines, those who retain some ability to act decisively. But that too is where the rubber gets off the road because even the ‘powerful’ ones engage in conversations like this:

(Since the camera is not focused on him, it is not clear whom Bush is talking to, but possibly Chinese President Hu Jintao, a guest at the G8 summit.)

Bush: “Gotta go home. Got something to do tonight. Go to the airport, get on the airplane and go home. How about you? Where are you going? Home?

Bush: “This is your neighborhood. It doesn’t take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home?”

(Reply is inaudible.)

Bush: “Eight hours? Me too. Russia’s a big country and you’re a big country.”

(At this point, the president seems to bring someone else into the conversation.)

Bush: “It takes him eight hours to fly home.”

(He turns his attention to a server.)

Bush: “No, Diet Coke, Diet Coke.”

(He turns back to whomever he was talking with.)

Bush: “It takes him eight hours to fly home. Eight hours. Russia’s big and so is China.”

That’s what power does when it is not posturing before the microphones. Its use of violence is really just an attempt to hide its confusion, its fear of having been told that it is in control when all it really wants is a diet coke and to get home in time for bed.

The age of kings, at least due to the divine link it claimed for its highest, could make a PR stab at claiming supernatural control of events. But in this secular age, where the pressure on leaders is to remain ‘in control’, they must manage the image of control more than controlling events themselves which they know is beyond them. It is this PR aspect of leadership that leads to the greatest use of violence and oppression because the one thing you can at least appear to control is taking aim at a body, pulling a trigger or imposing some draconian measure on it. So just watch out when you demand that your leaders ‘do something’ about a major crisis. Violence often follows.

Power: do you think Superman the son of Krypton had it? Having just watched Superman Returns, the atrociously boring latest chapter, I am ashamed to say that as a kid I used to love the dude. He was all that was right with the world: justice and the victory of supermen over ordinary men which for some reason as kids in Kenya we really went in for. Perhaps this was because, as I have come to reluctantly suspect, deep inside the Kenyan middle class breast burns a secret, little colonial fire of white love and an unacknowledged hatred of the underdog despite being constantly told that you are one. How could I have ever related to Superman? He was invulnerable to everything except Kryptonite; could fly ‘faster than a speeding bullet’; leap over tall buildings; and even turn back time. So what did he choose to do with these powers? He ignored all that was going wrong in the world except for small-time crooks mugging little old ladies who he punched out or wrapped in a light pole to my great delight. I cannot now understand why I considered him a hero when in fact nothing could physically hurt him. This echoes my curiosity about how exactly is America so often able to think itself a victim of bullies when it is the most militarily and economically powerful country on earth. True Americans have been hurt by outsiders in the past, but I am increasingly astonished by this ability of the powerful to claim perpetual victimhood and the mantle of heroism when they react against the ‘bully’. It seems to me that most atrocities – whether in Haifa or Beirut for example – are always committed by ‘victims’. Even Superman becomes a victim of Lex Luther whose great crime is his madness in refusing to lie down and accept that the Man of Steel is his and humanity’s natural master.

Victim. The competition to append to yourself this word, and therefore own justifications for your actions, is the stuff of every strain of politics and ideology. From progressive to reactionary, democrat to republican, the search for victimhood is on. The winner gets to kill and maim with impunity.

From comments page:

alexcia: When bushie first came to power, there was alot of concern about whether and how his low regard for intellectual rigour would impact the US.
No one is concerned anymore, no they are numbed with shock from the realization that with him, and indeed most of america, Intelligence, low or otherwise does not matter. Who needs all that when you have WILL power, when you can read souls and when god speaks to you directly.

MMK: Intellectual rigour, the lack or presence of it, is the least of the problem. The real problem in my mind is with the issue of control: the attempt to present leadership as somehow a force that can control events and plot the future with unerring accuracy on the policy and moral front. Another word for what I am trying to point out is hubris. The US has steadily bowed to the dais of science and technology which in effect are about attempting to understand nature so as to control and direct it for human purposes. Its triumphs in this sphere have in the best enlightenment tradition been inferred to be relevant in political leadership and human management as well. The thinking being if you can create all those bits of tech and bio-tech and wealth built on science, then leadership too must bow to scientific exactitude and certainty.

Anonymous said…

Victimhood is the ultimate superiority. The victim is the moral superior, the victim is the superior when it comes to initiative- no one may question why they do something, after all they are victims.

Victimhood is the aspiration of all human beings, why else do we claim it was someone else’s fault each time we find ourselves in a bit of trouble.

Victimhood takes away responsibility. If someone did something bad to me, the the world is less shocked if my reaction to the act is brutal, callous and inhuman, after all, my victimisation made me vulnerable to such extremes.

Victimhood is a tool in politics as well as in personal relations. Women who stay in abusive relationships do so because, at a deeper psychological level, victimhood gives them a sense of moral superiority to the abuser. A sense of “see how courageous and loving I can be despite all the does to me, see how much I persevere!”

Victimhood is the ultimate symptom of the key malaise in human societies, a desire to avoid 100% responsibility over our actions, the consequences and the future.v

(Friday, August 18, 2006 2:58:39 PM)

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About bulletsandhoney
I read my first book when I was three, then my second one a few weeks later. It has carried on this way for decades with only temporary distractions of eating, fighting, loving, heartbreak and other such irrelevant biographical details.

6 Responses to George Bush and Superman: Naked and Powerless?

  1. Debt Hater says:

    This is my first time at this site and that was an interesting post. I wondered the same thing while watching the Superman. He can fly into space and hear every scream, every call for help, every rock about to crush a village, every woman about ot be beaten to death by her husband, but he rushes to stop a bank robbery and a women driving an out of control car… and all in ONE city — Metropolis… why?

  2. alexcia says:

    When bushie first came to power, there was alot of concern about whether and how his low regard for intellectual rigour would impact the US.
    No one is concerned anymore, no they are numbed with shock from the realization that with him, and indeed most of america, Intelligence, low or otherwise does not matter.
    Who needs all that when you have WILL power, when you can read souls and when god speaks to you directly.

  3. MMK says:

    alexcia – Intellectual rigor, the lack or presence of it, is the least of the problem. The real problem in my mind is with the issue of control: the attempt to present leadership as somehow a force that can control events and plot the future with unerring accuracy on the policy and moral front. Another word for what I am trying to point out is hubris. The US has steadily bowed to the dais of science and technology which in effect are about attempting to understand nature so as to control and direct it for human purposes. Its triumphs in this sphere have in the best enlightenment tradition been inferred to be relevant in political leadership and human management as well. The thinking being if you can create all those bits of tech and bio-tech and wealth built on science, then leadership too must bow to scientific exactitude and certainty.

    Debt Hater – Welcome to the blog!

    One thing Superman was never going to do was stop a colonial power from killing or the Vietnam War or genocide in Cambodia. Only muggings in one city.

  4. Always enjoy reading your posts, very interesting.
    I just wanted to go back to your point on Tony Blair and his irrelevance on the global scene.

    I think that when he says he is going to talk, he does it not only to raise his profile but also to act as part of a good cop-bad cop duo, to soften the blow of the hard line diplomacy of the UK’s big brother.
    Some might say more fool him.

    He has always been a concilliator, often when it is not his place and often as an apology for piggy backing others bad policies, however, I do think it has relevance in particularly heated debates.

    Of course it is right that the UK no longer has the diplomatic relevance it once had, and it is about time diplomats stopped throwing their arrogant weight around.

    On the power and victim think. I think that when a person has been brought up to believe in the supremacy of their way of life and ideals and it becomes such a part of them that the faculty for self-doubt does not exist, when challenged in anyway they instantly feel victimised because they see things in black and white, right and wrong. This is then reflected in the institutions and the “hubris” you speak of and a bunker mentally develops.

    My points are not entirely clear and simplified of course, the rambles of a newbie. Blogs are harder to write than I thought.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Victimhood is the ultimate superiority. The victim is the moral superior, the victim is the superior when it comes to initiative- no one may question why they do something, after all they are victims.

    Victimhood is the aspiration of all human beings, why else do we claim it was someone else’s fault each time we find ourselves in a bit of trouble.

    Victimhood takes away responsibility. If someone did something bad to me, the the world is less shocked if my reaction to the act is brutal, callous and inhuman, after all, my victimisation made me vulnerable to such extremes.

    Victimhood is a tool in politics as well as in personal relations. Women who stay in abusive relationships do so because, at a deeper psychological level, victimhood gives them a sense of moral superiority to the abuser. A sense of “see how courageous and loving I can be despite all the does to me, see how much I persevere!”

    Victimhood is the ultimate symptom of the key malaise in human societies, a desire to avoid 100% responsibility over our actions, the consequences and the future.v

  6. MMK says:

    Anonymous – I could not agree more. The world over, victimhood is the most sought after status. It allows you to decimate your enemies and to bear no moral responsibility for this or any other action that you might deem fit. I just have to add your comment to the post.

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