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Chauncey Gardner and George W.

Great critical essay by Carol Hamilton, Being Nothing, comparing the George W. Bush public persona with the Chauncy Gardner persona in Being There.

Rogin’s observations about Nicaragua are all too applicable to the two wars on Iraq. Iraqi casualties were not reported, and certainly not shown, so they seemed “unreal” to the American public. Spokespeople for the army and their right-wing supporters even objected to any specific information about dead American soldiers — formal photographs of their faces, even shots of flag-draped coffins — as if the connection between war and death, if represented to any degree, would demoralize American citizens and turn them against the enterprise. It was crucial to administrative policy that the war be linked only to a series of abstractions — freedom, democracy, counter-terrorism.

The actual death of Ronald Reagan was the occasion for another kind of spectacle. During the grand state funeral, media commentators lauded him in glowing terms, rarely so much as hinting at any downside to his policies — “trickle-down economics,” expelling the mentally ill onto the streets, the Iran-Contra affair, and an inflated national deficit. Furthermore, Reagan was given credit for superhuman, transhistorical feats, like single-handedly ending the Cold War. Death both inflated and proliferated Reagan’s image, which for a week was inescapable in the American media. The funeral, like one of Andy Warhol’s deliberately tedious movies, went on interminably. As FAIR complained in an email to its list of supporters:

Journalists seemed determined to show that any criticisms of Reagan could be turned upside down. As Dan Rather explained on CBS’s 60 Minutes (6/6/04), “The literal-minded were forever troubled by his tendency to sometimes confuse life with the movies. But he understood, like very few leaders before or since, the power of myth and storytelling. In his films and his political life, Ronald Reagan stood at the intersection where dreams and reality meet, and with a wink and a one-liner, always held out hope for a happy ending.”

Random thoughts. First, ctheory looks like a lovely ezine, although I am expasperated that it doesn’t give Ms. Hamilton’s email. More later.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Jim 9/15/2008, 6:37 am

    Bush is the inverse of Chauncy Gardner. He sounds like a simpleton but has real substance. The true Chauncy Gardner is Obama, who issues pronouncements that have the ring of profound wisdom, but in reality are nothing but inane platitudes.

  • Jamie 11/21/2008, 9:50 pm

    I have to respectfully disagree there, Jim- though you do raise a good point. Obama is like Chauncey Gardener in that other people tend to project their own ideas onto him. But despite the assumptions people make, I don’t feel Obama is truly a blank slate. He has a plan that is distinctly different from both Republican and standard Democrat views, and has shown a level of commitment beyond his own ambition (not that Chauncey ever had any of that). Certainly he is more verbose than Chauncey.

    A comparison between Bush and Chauncey is hard to formulate. Neither is particularly intelligent, and neither belongs in politics… of the two I would Chauncey is certainly the happier of the two, but Bush is most certainly more intelligent. The problem is that while Chauncey defers to the ideas of others for lack of his own ideas, Bush follows his own direction… despite not having a compass.

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