Swans Commentary » swans.com January 16, 2006  



Fran Shor's Bush-League Spectacles


by Gilles d'Aymery


Book Review



Schor, Fran: Bush-League Spectacles: empire, politics, and culture in Bushwhacked America Factory School Public Intermedia, November 2005, ISBN 0-9711863-7-5, 129 pages, $13.00 (paperback)


(Swans - January 16, 2006)  With the main media distilling the news like the plat du jour at your favorite restaurant, one rapidly looses the thread of what one has ingurgitated over the past few months -- to say nothing of what one was served four or five years ago, repetitive pêchés mignons included. So, from time to time, the chef walks to the table and reminds the habitués of the changes, or evolution, that took place in the kitchen. An occasion not to be missed, especially if you get a free drink in the bargain. We all need refreshers of the not-so-distant past.

Give credit to Fran Shor, for this is exactly what he is providing with Bush-League Spectacles, a short collection of essays he has written for on-line publications such as Bad Subjects, Common Dreams, CounterPunch, and History News Network, in the last four years. The Bush Kitchen, however, has been serving quite a few unpalatable dishes with many poison pills to cure the country's (or part of it) indigestion. Shor chronicles the Bush administration recipes, a cookbook we all would be safer and saner to not emulate -- except if radioactivity is part of your culinary academy textbook. His central theme is that of the spectacle, which, according to Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle, "cannot be understood as a mere visual deception produced by mass-media technologies. It is a worldview that has actually been materialized."

Shor's discourse focuses on spectacles -- those of empire, of politics, and of culture -- used by the Bush administration to control the debate, fashion opinion (create new realities) with a messianic, evangelical mission of "civilizing" the world, class exploitation, political repression, and the hyper-militarization of US society. A professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where he teaches history and culture, he makes rigorous connections among disparate events such as sexploitation on TV (the "Boob Tube"), the commodification of sexuality, the super masculinity that reigns in the military with its accompanying culture of deadly violence at home and abroad, and the ever-present corporate profits. He shows the links between the military-industrial complex (e.g., Halliburton, Bechtel, the Carlyle Group) and the seemingly unquenchable drive to control natural resources worldwide -- a drive that "reaches back to the recesses of early nationhood" -- and the confluence of interests between political and corporate elites. He disassembles Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (the famous "War or Terror"), underscoring the deceptions, the fear racket, the marginalization and crushing of any dissent as being unpatriotic, and the corralling of a willing media and supine Congress.

While Shor's exposé may be well known to activists, this book has the merit of summarizing all the important events and actions taken by the Bush administration from 2001 onward. More importantly, a recurring theme permeates its pages, that of the ruthless violence of the American experiment. This theme comes to the surface again and again, quite possibly due to Shor's academic background -- history and culture. The raping, pillaging, killing, and torture of indigenous populations in the name of whatever mission civilisatrice, the latest being "freedom and democracy," goes back to the cradle of the USA and the genocide of the Indian Nations, and continues to this day. Fran Shor cites Senator Albert Beveridge at the time of the Spanish War and the invasion of the Philippines (p. 53). Beveridge:

God has not prepared the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation.... No! He has made us the master organizers to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among the savage and senile peoples of the earth.

Shor continues,

The evangelical mission articulated by Beveridge is also evident in the Bush Doctrine, a doctrine premised on Bush's sense that "Freedom is not America's gift to the world, but Providence's." In a more secular mode, the neo-conservatives (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, Feith, Rice, et al.) who formulated the policy to "liberate" Iraq and establish a beachhead of "democracy" in the Middle East have much in common with those who believed with President McKinley that the U.S. would be rescuing the savage Filipinos from barbarism. Of course, the arrogance endemic in both efforts to reshape a foreign culture in the image of the United States accounts for the moral blindness, a blindness that led to massive slaughtering of Filipinos and is on the same tragic trajectory in Iraq.

Mr. Bush recently estimated that 30,000 Iraqis had perished since the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, and this estimate, of course, does not include Afghan fatalities. According to Andrew Cockburn, a more precise figure should be, not 100,000, as the reputable study published in the British medical journal The Lancet showed, but closer to 180,000 ("How Many Iraqis Have Died Since the US Invasion in 2003?" by Andrew Cockburn, Counterpunch, January 9, 2006).

30,000? 100,000? 200,000? For what? To bring American values to Iraq and the Middle East? To the entire world? American values? About 4 percent of the world population consuming 20 or 25 percent of the world's total output, the largest environmental destroyer by far; a country financially bankrupt; with the highest rate of incarceration per capita, the highest rate of murder in the industrialized world; the most expansive healthcare system around rated at the bottom of the rich world; the most unequal nation in the world (with the exception of a few sheikdoms and other principalities); a country with a dilapidated infrastructure that cannot even take care of its own citizenry (cf. Katrina); and on, and on, and on.

On the subject of violence, Bush-League Spectacles makes for a frightening read but Shor subtly brings the readers to sense the urgent need for mobilizing forces for change. He ends with a call for a "radical imagination and existential practice" by exercising a "long dance through institutions." "Transcending national borders and institutional boundaries, let us dance together to the rhythms of a better world. In the face of an oppressive and self-destructive global order, we have nothing to lose but our outmoded dancing shoes," he concludes. This last part, "Countering Bush-League Spectacles," is less convincing -- a mixture of dreamland and idealism with few concrete steps. A veteran political and peace activist, Fran Shor worked in the 2000 Nader campaign in Michigan, asking "if not now and alternatives to politics as usual, when?" but in 2004 he jumped on the Anyone But Bush bandwagon, advocating like a majority of activists a politics of lesser-evilism, and I took him (and others) to task at the time. Notwithstanding this slight reservation and wherever Fran Shor stands in the future US elections, this little book is worthy of consideration for anyone who wishes to take a refresher course on the Bush Kitchen. This is a well-constructed discourse.


· · · · · ·
Schor, Fran: Bush-League Spectacles: empire, politics, and culture in Bushwhacked America Factory School Public Intermedia, November 2005, ISBN 0-9711863-7-5, 129 pages, $13.00 (paperback) -- Order directly from Factory School and pay $10.00 only.

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Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



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Published January 16, 2006