Thursday, June 06, 2013

“The bullshit part of it, isn’t that part of the story too?”

“Billy wonders if Norm will run for office someday.  He’s as polished a public speaker as any of the politicians Bravo has encountered over the past two weeks.  He has the presence, the werds, plus he’s mastered the wounded, vaguely petulant tone that is the style of political speech these days.  If there’s a grating artificiality in the performance - Norm’s awareness of himself as performer, sneaking peeks at a mental mirror off to the side - it’s no worse than any other fixture of the public realm.  Billy has noticed that audiences don’t seem to mind anymore.  All the fakeness just rolls right off them, maybe because the nonstop sales job of American life has instilled in them exceptionally high thresholds for sham, puff, spin, bullshit, and outright lies, in other words for advertising in all its forms.  Billy himself never noticed how fake it all is until he’d done time in a combat zone."  (p. 131)

That's Norman  Oglesby, President of the Dallas Cowboys.  To catch you up, Bravo Squad, media heroes because an embedded Fox news crew captured their victorious counterattack of insurgents, are on a two week war publicity tour across the US, before finishing their tour of duty in Iraq.  They are now at a Dallas Cowboys game, the guests of Cowboys president Norman Oglesby. Norm is talking to the press about the exploits of the Bravo Company.  Billy, the title's hero, whose voice we hear alongside that of the narrator, is constantly thinking.

I’m still reading Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a novel, by Benjamin Fountain.  Almost done though.  He’s carefully pulling the facade off everything, trying to expose what he can find of 'truth.' 

Later Billy’s thoughts turn to the media.
“Norm merely smiles for the cameras, which click away like parakeets cracking seeds.  A few of the medias keep on about the stadium, but Norm ignores them.  Billy begins to get a sense of the dynamic here, a power equation along the lines of the CEO of a giant corporation vis-á-vis the urinal puck he so thoughtfully studies as it’s drenched with his mighty personal stream.  It is Norm’s job to maximize the value of the Cowboys brand, and it is the job of the media to soak up every drop, dab, and dribble of PR he sends their way.  As sentient human beings endowed with reason and free will they naturally resent such treatment;  perhaps this explains their sourpuss attitude, the karmic dampness that breathes off them like the towel hamper at a gym.  Tomorrow he’ll read the newspaper and wonder why this, too, isn’t part of the story:  that the press, however grudgingly, gathered as instructed to record in its stenographic capacity Norm’s presentation of Bravo Squad, a blatantly formulaic marketing event that enlightened no one, revealed nothing, and served no tangible purpose other than to big-up awareness of the Cowboys brand.

The bullshit part of it, isn’t that part of the story too?  But not a word, not a murmur, not a peep from the press about how thoroughly they’ve been used, and no hint of their personal feelings toward Norm, which, as Billy infers from the body language, consist in roughly equal measure of resentment and fear.  If he so wished, Norm could probably get any one of them fired.  .   .” (pp. 144-145) [emphasis added]

I try here, as best I can, when in situations like that, to report the bullshit and not ignore it.  Or sometimes I just lay it out there with the assumption that it's so obvious that readers will figure it out. 

The previous post on the book is here. 

[UPDATE Nov 4, 2015:  A report requested by US Senators McCain and Flake:
"Americans deserve the ability to assume that tributes for our men and women in military uniform are genuine displays of national pride, which many are, rather than taxpayer-funded DOD marketing gimmicks," Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, the report's co-authors, wrote.
 Also, I see a movie of the book is due out in 2016.]

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