Posts Tagged ‘American Exceptionalism’

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By David William Pear

Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong have explored the albatross of myths, legends, lies and damn lies around America’s neck in their book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News—From the Revolutionary War to the “War on Terror.” They look into America’s closet of historical secrets and expose them. They knock down the stuff that is just made up. The authors explain why the US habitually denies its own bad behavior, and projects it onto others.

Over the centuries the US has developed an illusion of grandeur. It imagines itself as indispensable and exceptional, unlike any nation that has ever existed. Exceptionalism means not having to say you are sorry or pay for your mistakes. Being exceptional means you are the law. You are the policeman, the judge, the jury and the executioner.

To enforce its exceptionalism the US has built a mighty military. The price for its grandiose military has been the neglect of the American people. The US is addicted to militarism and violence. From its founding the US was a violent country. It used violence to acquire and occupy the land, and to gain independence from Great Britain. The US maintained that God was on its side, and it was innocence of any wrongdoing. The US just made it up that it was Manifest Destiny that it should become an empire. Americans saw themselves as being on a civilizing mission for God.

The Myth of Manifest Destiny

Movies glorifying and romanticizing the westward expansion of the US were an early theme of motion pictures. One of the first silent movies was a Western produced in 1903: “The Great Train Robbery”. Right from the beginning motion pictures created false narratives and myths.

Manifest Destiny was an expression of white supremacy. A 1915 silent move spectacle was The Birth of a Nation, which falsely recasts the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era. It portrays the South as a victim, depicts blacks as depraved, and the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic white protector of America’s virginity. After featuring the movie in the White House, President Woodrow Wilson said:

“It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

Hollywood perpetuates America’s spirit of exceptionalism, often in cahoots with the power elites of the ruling class. Up until the late 1960’s Western movies were a regular theme, which was later adapted to television too. Movies, radio and television were revolutionary forms of entertainment, information, advertising, and propaganda in the 20th century.

 

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by William Blum

The American people are very much like the children of a Mafia boss who do not know what their father does for a living, and don’t want to know, but then they wonder why someone just threw a firebomb through the living room window.

This basic belief in America’s good intentions is often linked to “American exceptionalism”. Let’s look at just how exceptional America has been. Since the end of World War 2, the United States has:

  1. Attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically-elected.
  2. Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.
  3. Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.
  4. Attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries.
  5. Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.
  6. Led the world in torture; not only the torture performed directly by Americans upon foreigners, but providing torture equipment, torture manuals, lists of people to be tortured, and in-person guidance by American teachers, especially in Latin America.

This is indeed exceptional. No other country in all of history comes anywhere close to such a record. But it certainly makes it very difficult to believe that America means well.

CONTINUE

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Robert Parry:

America’s Worldwide Impunity

If you were living in a truly democratic country with a truly professional news media, you would think that this evolution of the United States into a rogue superpower violating pretty much every international law and treaty of the post-World War II era would be a regular topic of debate and criticism.

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Turning the Planet Into Junkies
by PEPE ESCOBAR
 

Never underestimate American soft power.

What if the US government actually shut down to mourn the passing of Breaking Bad, arguably the most astonishing show in the history of television? It would be nothing short of poetic justice – as Breaking Bad is infinitely more pertinent for the American psyche than predictable cheap shots at Capitol Hill.

Walter White, aka Heisenberg, may have become the ultimate, larger than life hero of the Google/YouTube/Facebook era. In an arc of tragedy spanning five seasons, Breaking Bad essentially chronicled what it takes for a man to accept who he really is, while in the process ending up paying the unbearable price of losing everything he holds dear and what is assumed to be his ultimate treasure; the love of his wife and son.

Along the way, Breaking Bad was also an entomologist study on American turbo-capitalism – with the 1% haves depicted as either cheats or gangsters and the almost-haves or have-nots barely surviving, as in public school teachers degraded to second-class citizen status.

Walter White was dying of cancer at the beginning of Breaking Bad, in 2008. Progressively, he gets rid of Mr Hyde – a placid chemistry teacher – for the benefit of Dr Jekyll – undisputed crystal meth kingpin Heisenberg. It’s not a Faustian pact. It’s a descent into the dark night of his own soul. And in the end he even “wins”, under his own terms, burning out with a beatific smile.

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His secret is that it was never only about the transgressive high of producing the purest crystal meth. It was about the ultimate Outsider act, as in a Dostoevsky or Camus novel; a man confronting his fears, crossing the threshold, taking full control of his life, and finally facing the consequences, with no turning back.

And then, as in all things Breaking Bad, the music told a crucial part of the story. In this case, no less than the closing with Badfinger’s My Baby Blue, the bleakest of love songs:

Guess I got what I deserve

Kept you waiting there, too long my love

All that time, without a word

Didn’t know you’d think, that I’d forget, or I’d regret

The special love I have for you/

My baby blue

So – as Walter White finally admits, fittingly, in the last episode – he did it all, Sinatra’s My Way, not for the sake of his family, but for him. And here we have the purest crystal meth as a reflection of this purest revelation in this purest of TV shows, blessed with unmatched writing (you can almost palpably feel the exhilaration in the writers’ room), direction, sterling cast, outstanding cinematography quoting everything from Scarface to Taxi Drivervia The Godfather, meticulous character development and gobsmacking plot twists.

But then again, that spectral song My Baby Blue is not only about crystal meth – just like Tommy James and the Shondell’s Crystal Blue Persuasion, used in a spectacular montage in season four.

It’s about Jesse Pinkman, Walter White’s repeatedly used and abused young business associate. It’s as if it was written by Walt as a tribute to Jesse; Jesse is the “baby” always evoking Walt’s “special love” in the form of usually spectacularly misfiring paternal feelings.

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I’m in the Empire business

Walt/Heisenberg is a scientist. His scientific genius was appropriated by unscrupulous partners in the past, who enriched themselves in a tech company. As Heisenberg, finally the scientific/mechanical genius comes to full fruition – from a wheelchair bomb to a raid based on magnets and even a remix of the 1963 Great Train Robbery in the UK, not to mention the perfectly cooked meth.

Here’s one the writers’ take on cooking Breaking Bad. Yet that does not explain why Walter White touched such a nerve and became a larger-than-life global pop phenomenon from Albuquerque to Abu Dhabi.

A classic underdog narrative explains only part of the story. In the slow burn of five seasons, what was crystallized was Walter White as Everyman fighting The Establishment – which included everyone from demented criminals (a Mexico drug cartel, brain-dead neo-nazis) to vulture lawyers (“Better Call Saul”), cheating former associates and, last but not least, the US government (via the Drug Enforcement Agency).

Nihilism – of a sub-Nietzschean variety – also explains only part of the story. One can feel the joy of the Breaking Bad writers tomahawking the Judeo-Christian concept of guilt. But this has nothing to do with a world without a moral code.

One glance at James Frazer’s The Golden Bough is enough to perceive how Walter White, in his mind, does hark back to family-based tribal society. So is he essentially rejecting the Enlightenment?

We’re getting closer when we see Breaking Bad as a meditation on the myth of the American Dream – and its extrapolation as American exceptionalism. As Walter White admits to Jesse, he’s deep into “the Empire business“. In real life, Walter White might have been a mastermind of the Orwellian-Panopticon complex.

So with My Baby Blue ringin’ in my head, I ended up finding my answer in a book I always take with me while on the road in America: D H Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature. Not by accident Lawrence was a deep lover of New Mexico – where Breaking Bad‘s geopolitics is played out. And Walter White is indeed there, as Lawrence dissects James Fenimore Cooper’sThe Deerslayer. (Here’s a digital version of the essay.)

Walter White, once again, embodies “the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”

When Walter White turns into Heisenberg he morphs into Deerslayer:

A man who turns his back on white society. A man who keeps his moral integrity hard and intact. An isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man, who lives by death, by killing, but who is pure white.

This is the very intrinsic – most American. He is at the core of all the other flux and fluff. And when this man breaks from his static isolation, and makes a new move, then look out, something will be happening.

The genius of the Breaking Bad writers’ room – with creator Vince Gilligan at the core – was to depict Walter White’s descent into the maelstrom as primeval, intrinsically “most American”. No wonder Gilligan defined Breaking Bad essentially as “a western”. Clint Eastwood was fond of saying that the western and jazz were the only true American art forms (well, he forgot film noir and blues, rock’n roll, soul and funk, but we get the drift).

So call this warped western a masterful depiction of American exceptionalism. And mirror it with the soft pull of a dying, lone superpower which is still capable of turning the whole planet into junkies, addicted to the cinematically sumptuous spectacle of its own demise.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com

This column originally appeared on Asia Times.