Sunday, November 10, 2002.
SOME OF YOU MAY REMEMBER an underground comic artist from the 1960s named Robert Crumb. At one point, Crumb created a character called Mr. Natural, an old fraud with a long white beard and a pragmatic, generally self-serving, world view.
For a long time, I had a Mr. Natural poster hung by my workstation. It featured the grinning guru offering one of his sharpest perceptions: "The whole universe is completely insane!"
For the next hour, we are going to be looking at the idea of change and how it is crazy-making. I'll be talking about the emergence of storytelling to deal with all that nuttiness. We'll look at the role of the artist in maintaining social function in a mad, mad, mad, mad world, and the growing problem of corporate concentration in the mass media. And, lest we forget, our subject is movies and their content, so we'll examine some recent films.
I will also rant briefly about how corporate concentration cheats us of any real understanding of our media, and finally, I'll explain to you what really happened on September 11, 2001.
TO BEGIN, THEN: LET'S make a quick trip to the video shop and pick up the surprise hit of 1999, a science-fiction cyber-fantasy called The Matrix. It was written and directed by the thirty-something brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski. A pair of comic-book-reading college dropouts from Chicago, the Wachowskis' only previous directorial credit was a 1996 suspense thriller called Bound. Not a big hit, it starred Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon as a pair of lesbian lovers with a plan to steal millions of stashed mob money and pin the blame on the Tilly character's less-than-honest boyfriend.
The Wachowski brothers broke into the business by co-writing the screenplay for a Richard Donner film called Assassins. Released in 1995, it was your standard action thriller: Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas were the guys with the guns. Nothing here to suggest that the brothers were four years away from making one of the most popular films of the 1990s.
The Matrix had minimal star power — top-billed were two Canadians, Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, and African-American actor Laurence Fishburne. It's set more or less in the present. Reeves plays a computer programmer who is contacted by Moss and introduced to Fishburne, the leader of a guerrilla movement. Fishburne claims that what Reeves accepts as reality is nothing more than an elaborate dreamworld created by a malevolent cyber-intelligence.
The machine has taken over, Fishburne says. All the humans are locked away in individual pods like so many AA-cell batteries. Within the pods, they live out their lives, enjoying machine-made dreams while their life essences are "farmed" to fuel a mechanism that they don't even know exists.
Something in the movie struck a chord in the mass audience. Indeed, it was this very issue that author Margaret Visser addressed Friday evening [November 8] at UBC. The 2002 Massey Lecturer, Visser's chosen subject was "Fatalism," and she wondered if, despite apparently limitless choice, people were feeling less in control of their lives than ever, feeling as if they were living in a novel being written by someone else.
In the movie, Keanu Reeves’s character is recruited into the fight against the machine. The movie combined just enough mysticism and martial arts special effects to attract the young action audience. What kept them coming back, generating the repeat business that made the picture a major money spinner for its producer, Joel Silver, was its creepy core metaphor — that we are all locked away, cogs in a machine we cannot control.
The Wachowski brothers told a great story.
Their success won them the chance to do it again — The Matrix: Reloaded is scheduled for release in May, 2003, followed almost immediately by The Matrix: Revolutions next November.
It's an art, a necessity and probably the second oldest profession. Storytellers maintain the bulwark against the fact that the whole universe is completely insane. They do so by explaining change, a phenomenon with which we are not naturally equipped to cope.
But we do cope. After all, change is our only constant.
"CHANGE IS OUR ONLY CONSTANT." We've all heard that truism to the point where it seems to be a natural law, like gravity or income tax. Actually, constant change is a relatively new notion for us hairless apes. In his Intelligent Man's Guide to Science (1960), Isaac Asimov tells us that “if Neanderthal and his cousins can be classed as sapiens, then our species is perhaps 200,000 years old."
To date, the oldest known cities to be discovered are a mere six to seven thousand years old. This suggests that for our first 190,000 years, your life wouldn't have been any different from that of your parents or your children. For 190,000 years, our species showed no aptitude for change.
Then, about 6,500 years ago, slacker sapiens began to pick up the pace. Even with our species nose to the grindstone, it took another 1,000 years to come up with writing. We have the Sumerians to thank for that. About 500 years after that, some genius came up with the wheel.
OK. By now, you can see where I'm going with this. Before 1400, serious change was not something you could see, or needed to deal with in the course of a single lifetime. Then, in 1450, an overachiever named Gutenberg started turning out Bibles on something called a printing press and all hell broke loose. During the next 100 years, Europeans managed to have a Reformation, a counter-Reformation and begin their conquest of the so-called New World.
In 1967, the year that Matrix director Andy Wachowski was born, Marshall McLuhan cut a record album called The Medium Is the Massage. Among its many insights was this one: “Schizophrenia may be a necessary consequence of literacy."
Add to that: adjustment to rates of change just keep accelerating. In the 18th century, we had an Industrial Revolution to go along with the American and French Revolutions. By the 20th century, change was not just visible, it was, in the words of the truism, constant.
Consider my mother, who was born in 1915. She can remember a time before sound films and commercial aviation. I was born in 1945, and can remember the time before commercial television. My daughter was born in 1976, and remembers a time before personal computers and the Internet.
HERE'S ANOTHER TRUISM. Storytelling is as old as mankind.
Steven Spielberg believes it. In 1985, looking around for new worlds to conquer, the high-powered feature-film director sold the NBC television network on giving him full creative control over a weekly, hour-long anthology series called Amazing Stories. Its opening featured a prehistoric family huddled around a campfire, listening with rapt attention as a patriarch spun a tale of wonder. As the fire's sparks flew upwards, the computer animation took over, and there was a terrific bit of CGI work that encapsulated the history of narrative fiction in about a minute of inspired imagery. It ended with a closeup of that original campfire, this time on a television screen with a suburban family — played by the same group of actors from the earlier caveman tableau — huddled together before their 20th century storyteller.
IN HIS 1999 MASSEY LECTURES, Canadian journalist Robert Fulford talked about The Triumph of Narrative. "Of all the ways we communicate with one another, the story has established itself as the most comfortable, the most versatile — and perhaps also the most dangerous. Stories touch all of us, reaching across cultures and generations, accompanying humanity down the centuries. Assembling facts or incidents into tales is the only form of expression and entertainment that most of us enjoy equally at age three and age 73.
"The story links us to ancestors we can never know, people who lived 10 or 20 thousand years ago. As the study of preliterate cultures demonstrates, storytelling was central to society long before humans learned to write. Millions of anonymous raconteurs invented narratives, and simultaneously began the history of civilization, when they discovered how to turn their observations and knowledge into tales they could pass on to others."
There's Spielberg's first image: the communal campfire. And it served the purpose nicely for the first 195,000 years of our existence. Indeed, what we think of as modern fiction didn't really appear until 1350, the year Boccaccio compiled his Decameron. Spielberg's second image, the campfire on the television screen, represents something quite different.
Another quotation: "Ours is the first age in which many thousands of the best-trained minds have made it a full-time business to get inside the collective public mind. To get inside in order to manipulate, exploit, control is the object now. And to generate heat, not light, is the intention. To keep everybody in a helpless state engendered by prolonged mental rutting is the effect of many ads and much entertainment alike." Herbert Marshall McLuhan wrote that half a century ago, in his first book, The Mechanical Bride (1951). His subject was commercial advertising and its profit motive, but the same insight works for modern story-telling in the movies and on television.
Robert Fulford addressed something similar in his Massey Lecture series. "This has been the century of mass storytelling. We live under a Niagara of stories: print, television, movies, radio and the Internet deliver to us far more stories than our ancestors could have imagined, and the number of stories available to us seems to grow larger every year. This phenomenon, the rise of industrialized narrative — storytelling that's engineered for mass reproduction and distribution — has emerged as the most striking cultural fact of the 20th century and the most far-reaching development in the history of narrative.
“. . . This huge subject, narrative, never ceases to raise troubling questions, and the questions are likely to grow even more troubling as storytelling becomes an even more pervasive aspect of life. One question, highly personal but perhaps also broadly relevant, concerns my own relationship with storytelling, and my fundamental need to consume and produce stories. Here the question can be framed in the simplest terms: is the impulse towards stories-telling a sign of my mental health, or is it merely evidence of a deep-rooted anxiety?
“Do I use stories to expand myself by making connections with others and to understand cultures that might otherwise be closed to me? Or, do I use them mainly as consolation and distraction? And is there a way to distinguish between those two functions?"
A brief biographical aside. Bob Fulford is something of a Canadian journalistic icon. As a teenager, I read his arts columns in Toronto's Daily Star and have always admired the knowledge and humanity he brings to his social analysis. For 19 years, he was editor of Saturday Night, for a time Canada's most distinguished general-interest magazine. During those years, he wrote some fine film criticism under the pseudonym Marshall Delaney. Most recently he has been writing a column for the National Post.
In the fifth of his Massey Lecture talks, he said: "A broader question springs from the high density of storytelling in our daily lives. Mass culture and mass leisure have given all of us the opportunity to spend far more time absorbing stories than any of our ancestors could. Has this been to our benefit? Has it made us larger people than we might have been otherwise, or has it so filled us with aimless fantasies that we are emotionally and intellectually constrained? In this context, storytelling becomes and issue in the history of human development and democracy."
Among the dangers of what Fulford call "industrialized narrative" is separating McLuhan's heat from the light. All stories have a point. In addition, many now present a message from their corporate sponsors.
CONSIDER, IF YOU WILL, the war movie. As a genre, war movies are back and they have some particularly interesting problems to contend with. One is the reality of U.S. military supremacy. It's no state secret that the U.S. currently adheres to something called the "Powell Doctrine," named for Colin Powell, the general who articulated it during his tenure as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell insisted that, as a matter of policy, the last superpower should undertake no military engagement without the use of "overwhelming force."
I don't think it’s any secret that the U.S. possesses such overwhelming force.
Even so, it is a dramatic necessity that in any fictional portrayal of a U.S. military action, the Americans must be portrayed as the underdogs, winning not by superior numbers or technology, but by their courage and the righteousness of their cause. These are the givens within which any screenwriter has to work.
That said, let's look at three pictures from 2001 that attempt to add a new element to the required formula. Although they use different settings, they end up telling essentially the same story, one that delivers a message that we really need to question.
Behind Enemy Lines is a movie that relies upon our memory of the fact that, during the recent unpleasantness in the Balkans, an American flyer was shot down and had to be rescued. The real-life incident involved a U.S. Air Force pilot name Scott O'Grady.
His story probably inspired director director John Moore's movie, but the final film relies on an old-fashioned action-adventure formula. In it, Owen Wilson plays a U.S. Navy navigator whose reconnaissance jet is shot down by some Bosnian Serbs. They're the bad guys. They really want to kill our American fly guy, and they chase him all over their country's war-torn landscape in the effort.
Fortunately, there's a good guy fleet admiral, played by Gene Hackman, who won't leave any of his boys behind. Defying his orders and his superiors, the admiral mounts a successful rescue mission.
The second movie, Spy Game, reminds us that the Central Intelligence Agency is often a player when there is fun to be had in faraway places. The star here is Robert Redford lookalike Brad Pitt. The movie opens with young hero Pitt attempting the daring rescue of a pretty English aid worker who's been locked away in a Mainland Chinese prison.
Pitt is captured in the act, and this sets off a crisis for his CIA mentor, played by the real Robert Redford. Director Tony Scott's movie uses a lot of flashbacks to tell us all about their relationship, right from the time that career spook Redford recruited young soldier Pitt in Vietnam.
Their story touches down in Paris, Berlin and Beirut. It involves lots of bad guys, a few assassinations and some internal CIA politics. What it comes down to, though, is that Redford won't leave his boy behind. Redford defies his own superiors to engineer a successful rescue mission.
And finally there's Black Hawk Down, the recent Academy Award nominee directed by Tony Scott's older brother Ridley. This is the one that plays like a docudrama chronicling America's 1993 military humiliation in Somalia.
It opens with a reminder of why a combined unit of Delta Force specialists and U.S. Army Rangers are base-camped in Mogadishu. We're reintroduced to a bad guy called Mohamed Farrah Aidid who was, you may remember, the Middle-Eastern Hitler-clone who we were all supposed to worry about just after the last war on Saddam Hussein, and just before the current one on Osama Bin-Laden.
Because Aidid is such a bad guy, a U.S. major-general, played in the movie by Sam Shepard, has been sent to Somalia to "take him out." There are problems, though. The Americans are unable to get near the man himself, so Shepard sends a strike force into the city to kidnap some of big bad Aidid's lieutenants. And there are more problems.
In a display of shocking ingratitude, the locals turn out in their thousands and turn on the nice young men involved in the raid. The restless natives shoot down one of the American Black Hawk helicopters and generally get in the way of a happy ending to the story.
With his boys under siege in hostile territory, General Shepard vows that he'll “leave no man behind.” Indeed, that's the advertising line that appears on the movie's posters.
Leave No Man Behind.
It's a most reassuring theme, central to at least three movies in 2001. Now, here's a quotation from sometime in 1999, just about the time these movies were going into production: "I want prosperity to spread its wings across America. I don't want to see anybody left behind." Those lines were spoken by Texas governor and U.S. presidential candidate George W. Bush. What we have in Black Hawk Down, Spy Game and Behind Enemy Lines are the man's rhetorical sentiments writ large on the big movie screen.
The message from the sponsor.
Which brings us to Panic Room, a suspense thriller with a very different theme. Unlike the three war movies, Panic Room is set in a modern American city. Its central characters are endangered women, not manly men.
The star here is Jodie Foster, who plays a recently divorced woman rich enough to move into a New York mansion with her daughter. Their house is modern enough to have something called a "safe room," which is a secret hideaway set up to protect a homeowner from home invaders.
Such rooms have their own food and water, power source, ventilation, communications links and, of course, a weapons arsenal. In the movie, the women are forced to hide out in their safe room when some bad guys come looking for a fortune that's supposed to be hidden away somewhere in the house.
Unlike the action in Behind Enemy Lines, safe rooms are not the invention of a screenwriter. Since the 1970s, the wealthy have been quietly including such amenities into their home-building plans. According to a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, most A-list celebrities and entertainment executives in Los Angeles have safe rooms. Indeed, they are also known to exist in every major American city, and specialty builders interviewed by the Chronicle claim that they can't keep up with the demand.
The theme of director David Fincher's Panic Room, then, is painfully simple. Wealthy Americans are afraid and, unlike the 1950s when the government encouraged homeowners to build bomb shelters in their basements, the enemy is not a foreign power.
Wealthy Americans are afraid of poor Americans.
They are afraid of their own countrymen on the wrong side of the ever-widening gulf between rich and poor. They are afraid of the Americans who have been left behind.
That is not a reassuring message at all.
IN THE MID-1960s, Marshall McLuhan said that artists are society's Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, the ones who suss out what's really going. In one of his more colourful aphorisms, McLuhan said "The artist, the enema of society, points out things that many people would prefer not to notice."
The problem today is separating the artists from the ad men, the insight from the sales pitch. Clearly, the new crop of war movies are working hard to stay on the right side of the powers that be. Just as clearly, there are filmmakers who are capable of creating commercial entertainment without total capitulation to commercial interests.
And here's where we come to the problem of concentration of ownership in the mass media. In 1983, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist named Ben Bagdikian wrote a book called The Media Monopoly, which identified itself as "a startling report on the 50 corporations that control what America sees, hears and reads." Today , that number is down to ten multinationals — AOL Time Warner, Disney, General Electric, News Corporation, Viacom, Vivendi, Sony, Bertelsmann, AT&T and Liberty Media. Vertically integrated companies, their holdings include newspapers, magazines, book publishers, television stations and networks, cablecasters, radio stations and theme parks.
In Canada, the situation is even worse. Our public broadcaster, the CBC, is chronically underfunded and under attack from the private sector. Virtually all private broadcasters and all of the nation's daily newspapers are owned by three large corporations — BCE, CanWest Global and Quebecor. Way back in 1970, a Canadian senator named Keith Davey produced a report on chain ownership of newspapers in which he said "this country should no longer tolerate a situation where the public interest, in so vital a field as information, is dependent on the greed or goodwill of an extremely privileged group of businessmen."
Canadians, as you all know, are famously tolerant. We did absolutely nothing to deal with the situation that so worried Davey. The owners kept right on doing what they pleased until August 27, 1980. Canadian journalists remember it as "Black Wednesday." It was the morning on which the Thomson and Southam newspaper chains "rationalized" their operations by killing daily newspapers in Winnipeg and Ottawa, turning those cities into one-newspaper towns. On the same day, Southam became the sole owner of both Vancouver dailies, The Sun and Province.
The government's response was to set up a Royal Commission on Newspapers headed up by a former journalist named Tom Kent. Like Senator Davey, Kent knew how to turn a phrase. His report, delivered in 1981, begins with this fundamental assertion. "Freedom of the press is not a property right of owners. It is a right of the people. It is part of their right to free expression, inseparable form their right to inform themselves."
The question, acknowledged by both Kent and Davey, is "who will tell our stories?" Both reports had concrete recommendations for government action to limit the concentration of ownership. Both reports were ignored by the governments that had commissioned them. And that concentration juggernaut rolled along. Conrad Black, the rich-kid son of a brewery executive, bought most of the English-language dailies in the country, then sold the package to Israel Asper, a self-made media mogul who added the newspapers to his CanWest Global network of radio and television stations.
Time for full disclosure. I currently work in the finance department of the Province, a Vancouver newspaper published by the Pacific Newspaper Group Inc., a division of Southam Publications, a CanWest company. Put less elegantly, Izzy Asper owns my ass.
AND WHAT SORT OF MAN is CanWest Global's executive chairman? Last week in Montreal, Israel Harold Asper gave a speech at a fundraising event selling bonds for the state of Israel. A man of firm opinions, Mr. Asper called the media in Canada, the United States and Britain dishonest, biased, ignorant, outrageous, irresponsible, misleading, slanted, sad and sordid. He called journalists lazy, sloppy, stupid, ignorant, biased and anti-Semitic. And he named names.
The worst of the media, he said, were The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN. In Britain, he named The Guardian, Independent, Reuters, Sky News, ITV and the BBC. In Canada, it was the CBC. All of them biased against Israel, he said.
Mr. Asper, I remind you, heads up Canada's largest media company, a company that the CBC's Tony Burman was indelicate enough to point out is the only one among all those named that does not have a full-time journalist in Israel.
Who will tell our stories? How will they tell them?
And what stories will we be permitted to see and hear?
Robert Fulford described "a Niagara of stories" under which we stand daily. But what if it's all the same story — Behind Enemy Lines, Spy Game, Black Hawk Down — and what if that story contrives to advance a worldview that just isn't true? What if the stories add to our natural nuttiness rather than offer relief from it?
As a former film critic, I believe we need to take a much harder look at the industrialized narratives supplied to us by our globalized media conglomerates. Instead, we are offered endless celebrity gossip, awards shows, infotainment news, boxoffice reports and show biz trivia. And this, unfortunately, is quite deliberate. It is in the economic interest of multi-media corporations to "converge" their content, to cross-plug their products and create a closed loop within which the consumer wanders forever in a happy daze, spending, spending, spending, without ever once thinking.
OK, that's my rant.
TIME TO LIGHTEN UP and deliver on my promise to explain to you what really happened on September 11, 2001: a day, according to all the corporate newspersons, when the world changed forever.
Remember McLuhan here. He told us that artists can often provide the answers that analysts, in their rush to appear brilliant, overlook .
It was nine days after the destruction of New York's World Trade Center that I wrote an opinion piece for broadcast on Vancouver's non-commercial Co-Op Radio. What I said was this:
We can all agree on just two things. The first is that it was a tragedy. The second is that no one has the slightest idea who conceived and organized the attack. With that in mind, I've done my best to ignore the mind-numbingly repetitive words and images that have passed for coverage in the corporate media during this last week.
Taking my cue from McLuhan, I've turned to art rather than commercially-motivated reporting for some understanding. Earlier this year , a movie director named Dominic Sena, working from a screenplay by Skip Woods, offered an explanation as good as any currently being shopped by the rent-a-ranters on CNN.
Before we suspend all our hard-won civil liberties and march off to some war against God-knows who, led by the court-appointed president of a very confused nation, consider this chilling possibility: John Travolta did it.
Bear with me for a moment and, when I'm done, consider renting the video version of a film called Swordfish. In it, director Sena tells a story every bit as plausible as the ones being retailed in what remains of the National Post.
It is the fictional story of an American covert agent named Gabriel Shear, the character played by John Travolta. Gabe is afraid that his cold war is over, and he is determined not to let go of his own part of it without a fight.
Gabe knows that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency once maintained a dummy corporation — an operation codenamed SWORDFISH. When they finally shut it down, back in 1986, Swordfish had generated some $400 million, which was left just sitting in a bank.
According to Gabe, 15 years of compound interest has swelled that amount to $9.5 billion. He's interested because he heads a covert counter-terrorist unit called Black Cell, and he wants the money to help finance a raise-the-stakes vengeance war against international terrorism.
Here it's hard to miss the echo of Ollie North and Ronald Reagan scrambling about to find financing for their secret war in Nicaragua, and their personal army of rapists and murderers that the press rather too-politely called Contras. The 1986 arms sales that North and Reagan came up with begat something now remembered as the Iran-Contra affair.
In the movie Swordfish, the money is locked away behind a lot of super-encryption programs, so Shear brings in convicted computer hacker Stanley Jonson, played by Hugh Jackman, whose crime was to scotch an FBI program designed to invade Americans' privacy.
Jonson's motivation for aiding Shear is the fact that he desperately wants to be a father to his pre-teen daughter Holly, but can't afford the legal fees necessary to fight the custody battle with his wife. What Shear needs him to do is break into the government mainframes and transfer the money to some offshore accounts.
There are two things to consider here. One is that the U.S. is currently led by a man who, as a state governor, has never shown the least concern over executing the innocent. Another is that the U.S. government, through its various military and intelligence agencies, has engaged in murder and assassination, has waged secret wars and been responsible for uncounted deaths all around the world throughout the 20th century.
Now, here comes the good part.
As the picture begins, we learn that Shear's team is holding a group of bank workers hostage. Each of these innocents is wrapped in a vest of explosives and weighed down with ball bearings — effectively, they are human land mines. Worse yet, the bad guys have placed an electronic dog collar on each one, so if anyone strays past the boundaries of his "fence," he or she will be blown to smithereens.
One young woman, plucked from the crowd of hostages, is being shown off by a henchmen to the gathered police force and SWAT team. She's crying hysterically in fear and pain. In a gonzo act of bravery, a police sharpshooter picks off the henchman, and a SWAT guy grabs the woman and starts to run off with her, not heeding the cries of his colleagues to let her go in order to save her life. There is a big, crowd-pleasing bang.
Well, according to the online magazine Salon, some crowds were pleased by the bang.
Others, such as the one that sat all around me in Vancouver's Hollywood Theatre, were horrified. The horror intensified when it became clear that Shear's operation has a political patron in the United States Senate.
There's more. We learn that Gabriel Shear is a double agent, an American super-spook who's really working for Israel's Mossad. I'm not at all sure what Mr. Asper would make of that one.
Swordfish, the film, is fiction. Swordfish, the idea, draws upon social and political realities that have troubled decent, reasonable people for generations.
Currently, the media is offering the world someone named Osama Bin Laden as its villain. In the absence of any credible evidence, I can only note that Bin Laden, like Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein before him, was once a Central Intelligence Agency asset — asset being the word the CIA uses to describe persons who do what the agency wants.
When accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in Dallas, Texas, he was overheard to say “I’m just the patsy.” If and when the world's last superpower takes Osama Bin Laden into custody, will he use the Arabic equivalent of ‘patsy?’
THOSE, AS I SAID, were words first broadcast a little over a year ago [September 20, 2001]. Today, despite the best efforts of the last superpower, both Osama Bin Laden and John Travolta remain at large. But that's OK because there's a new story to be told, the coming invasion of Iraq. And if you don't like that one, there's a new Harry Potter film [2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets] scheduled to open this Friday.
To recap quickly, this afternoon I've taken as my text Robert Crumb's observation: "The whole universe is completely insane." We've looked at the idea of change, my belief that it's crazy-making for humans and the emergence of story-telling to deal with all the nuttiness. We've considered the role of the artist in maintaining social function in a mad, mad, mad, mad world and the growing problem of concentration in the mass media. And, you now know what really happened on September 11, 2001.
Questions? Comments? Rebuttals? Job offers?
The above is a restored version of a speech by Michael Walsh originally delivered at Vancouver Mensa’s 2002 North by Northwest gathering. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.
Afterword: The new story was indeed the invasion of Iraq. On February 5, 2003, about twelve weeks after I shared my thoughts on 9/11 with Vancouver’s Mensans, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell assured the United Nation Security Council that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction.” Six weeks later, we were enjoying the sight of Baghdad burning as America launched “Operation Iraqi Freedom” with a display of military “shock and awe.”
In response to 9/11, President George W. Bush invented a “war on terror,” identified an “axis of evil” and then invaded Iraq. The sheer insanity of it all brought to mind the parking garage scene from Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 feature All the President’s Men, the one in which reporter Bob Woodward’s confidential informant Deep Throat tells him to “Forget the myths the media's created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”
And so America was off to war based on tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury . . . Among them was Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who offered this bit of sworn testimony to the 9/11 commission on April 8, 2024: “No one could have imagined them taking a plane, slamming it into the Pentagon … into the World Trade Center, using planes as missiles."
Actually, the pilot episode of the single-season X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunmen imagined just that. Together with writers Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz, show-runner Chris Carter crafted the story of rogue government agents who take control of a passenger aircraft and put it on a collision course with New York’s World Trade Centre. The show was aired in the U.S. and Canada on March 4, 2001 — six months before the real-life event.
Eventually, we learned the names of the 9/11 perps, identified as 19 members of al-Qaeda from four countries: Saudi Arabia (15), United Arab Emirates (two), Lebanon and Egypt (one from each). The U.S. response to the attack was to invade Afghanistan, and then Iraq, where it brought about regime changes. Iraqi president and long-time American ally Saddam Hussein was executed on December 30, 2006. Regime changes also were required in Libya (where its leader Muammar Gaddafi was murdered on October 20, 2011) and in Syria. The latter action didn’t go so well for Pentagon planners, and the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, remains in power as of this date in 2021.
Twenty years have gone by, and the events of that Tuesday morning in September are now deeply embedded in the popular culture of the twenty-first century. The insanity continues and its stories will continue to be told by a mass media controled by the five multinational corporations named in the 2021 edition of Ben Bagdikian's The Media Monopoly.