Thursday, September 4, 2008


The Big Mc may not be as banal a menu item as we suspect he is. You may have heard that he's been downsized not only by his competition, but that he has very recently been consumed by his companion menu item, the female apple pie.

How does one fight the one billion already served?

John McCain lives an extended metaphor. He's the Big Mac, something that's been around so long that you tend to forget about it. When you bother to eat one, you find out that it's half as large as it used to be and that the bun is seriously larger than the meat. John McCain would like to remind you that this bun--the white stuff--is ultimately what matters.

Shades of former glory prefaced McCain's speech. Because this is modern America, these glories included the bombed-out Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and the towers of the World Trade Center. Nothing, it seems, is free from craven exploitation, and we would have it no other way. We saw it with Sarah Palin's handicapped child and we saw it tonight; we are a country built on tragedy.

This is our strongest bargaining point. Without these catastrophic events, we might still be a country defined by cows and corn and waving fields of wheat. Instead, we have death and destruction at the hands of our enemies, whether these be foreign, domestic, or wrought at the random hand of Mother Nature.

The Republicans seem to think that we have, insultingly, forgotten about these devastating events. That's what this convention was for, to appropriate cataclysm as a vehicle for political coup.

Here is McCain himself, in an opening sequence that shows him trussed up and courageous--Profiles in Courage courageous to continue the hostage takeover of JFK from the Obama campaign--in the aftermath of his stint in a POW camp. Note how a 9-11 propaganda video speaks of taking hostages and compare that to McCain's stint as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. This is clever stuff; it's basic reinforcement by repetition. The linguistic constellation of the evening's presentation involves gut-level language and supersized phraseology: Fight! Believe! Stand up! (So what if this last mostly recalls a purposeful cancer commercial?)

This is strong and persuasive stuff. If nothing else, it operates on basic principles of psychology and perhaps even a little bit of Beat poetry and simple brainwashing language: What action verb will you remember tomorrow? Fight? Fight's a fun word. It's both affirming and hostile. You can have fun with fight, because it offers immediate empowerment and pride. According to McCain, you have a right to fight, and since we've recently turned into an aggressive bunch of shits anyway, here's a guy who is telling you that it is not only okay to fight, it is desirable. John McCain will fight right alongside you, on your ratty, fuzz-covered sofa. Of course he will. He will work two jobs and have his phone shut off anyway. And then what?

What's America's biggest beef right now? It's not the war in Iraq. It's the economy, primarily in the insult of the minimum wage, and it's the outsourcing of jobs to Indian help desks. Think about it: This practice hits harder and more universally than the war ever will. Who hasn't called the Microsoft help line and been unable to distinguish between the foreign representative's "A" and "8"? Letter or numeral? Sorry, Charlie. This involves cognitive abstraction. You might have to speak the language to make the distinction.

It's the nebulous "bad teachers," who are responsible for the breakdown of the educational system. That's right, it's the teachers' fault, not the Internet, which is the real culprit, or the failure of parents to control a child's access to the home computer. These children then graduate as valedictorians of their high school classes, only to find out that they cannot pass a basic English competency class at a state university and must be remanded to a community college. Confused? Throw out your computer and with it the pwnt, the GTG, the BCNUL8TR and the PAH.

The big question of the evening was: Who hasn't been shot down? Whether by the North Vietnamese, the big boss, or the girl at the takeout window, we've all been shot down and taken prisoner by someone. They have not returned our change. They owed us a dollar and we got a crummy dime. We went home and vowed to hold them to accounts the next time. In whatever way, we've all been held captive. We've been tied to Wal-Mart, minimum-wage jobs, illiteracy, and hunger. But let's own up to the sad fact that others have it worse. This was the second ploy of the McCain campaign: Recognize that misfortune is bottomless and revel in it. No matter how far down you go, you can always go farther. Don't you feel better? While it has always been perverse to comparatively measure misfortune, this is the junk food we've been eating since the 1970s.

McCain's speech is being called solid and a bit dull. That's what the white stuff is all about. Everyone knows it's full of empty calories that cause Type II diabetes in formerly healthy adults. We prefer not language but visuals, because we are unable to process more. With their coliseums and scandals and cradles, Obama and Palin are hard acts to follow. They are the gourmet items on the national menu and McCain is the junk, so there was nothing left to do but to revert to a super-sized chant that a child could remember, served up on a sesame-seed bun. When there is nothing left to say, there is always the fast-food jingle:

"Fight for what's right for our country.

"Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.

"Fight for our children's future.

Fight for justice and opportunity for all."


enc said...

Do you think McCain is writing his own speeches?

I'm such a Luddite/technogeek: I use AP style when I'm texting.

KATLIN said...

You break it down so well! And I agree about the education part. I think that what students experience in HS is also true for college. Last school year I was on exchange in Oregon and I felt like my classes were challenging, but I still wanted to learn more from my teacher's own personal experiences. For the most part, they taught stuff right out of the book and rarely veered off what the course was about. Then, I come back to Hawai'i and my classes are even less challenging! Most of my teachers are from the Mainland, so maybe the laid back attitude we have here dumbs down their lesson plan. Or maybe it's because I read a lot of stuff and keep myself educated through the internet... but I feel like the stuff they talk about are stuff that I can pull up on the Internet! Your content is far more stimulating and thought provoking than any of the lectures I've had in school today (and there were five)!

Suzanna Mars said...

Thanks, Katlin, we are fighting the good fight. Your perspective is very valuable, since you are still in the system. Yet I am not surprised; our group of blogging friends is always the best and brightest.

ENC, AP is a dying style. You come by it honestly and should use it with pride.

Does anyone write his own speeches these days? Last I heard this was one of the last non-minimum-wage jobs out there, if you can snag one.

K.Line said...

It would be a very interesting world if politicians did write their own speeches! BTW, did anyone else feel serious anger about Bush videoconferencing into the RNC using the brand (and budget) of the White House. Where I live, you are not allowed to use the taxpayers dime to support political campaigning - even if you come from the party in power. Is there a different rule in the US?