likes to see dead people on their television screens. (George W. Bush,
April 13, 2004)
I. Flat Personality
for the Age of Simulation
In Jerzy Kozinsky's
1970 novel _Being There_, a character named Chance the Gardener, whose
entire existence has been restricted to watching television shows and
tending a walled garden, is suddenly
thrust into the outside world. Here he acquires admirers who rename
him Chauncey Gardiner, mistake his ignorance for profundity, and take
his horticultural allusions for zenlike koans. His intellectual
limitations and personal inadequacies become social and political virtues.
At the end of the novel, the President's advisors gather to consider
a candidate to replace the current vice-president. One of
them suggests Chance. "Gardiner has no background," he declares.
"And so he's not and cannot be objectionable to everyone! He's
personable, well-spoken, and he comes across well on TV." Although
_Being There_ is over 30 years old, it is eerily pertinent to the current
political scene. Only in one respect was Kozinski's prophecy too cautious.
Writing during the reign of the uncharismatic,
unphotogenic, yet canny and intelligent President Nixon, Koskinski was
apparently unable to imagine Chance as a sitting president.
As a result of
his immersion in television programs and limited experience with the
outside world, Chance is unable to distinguish videotaped fictions
from social reality. _Being There_ recognized the
capacity of images -- the spectacle -- to displace or colonize the
real, even in relation to the Vietnam War.
the war?" the young woman sitting on Chance's left said, leaning
close to him.
Which war?" said Chance. "I've seen many wars on TV."
the woman said, "in this country, when we dream of reality, television
wakes us. To millions, I suppose, the war is just another TV program.
But out there, at the front, real men are giving their lives."
The war is just
another TV program. Not so, of course, to the soldiers themselves
or to the civilians maimed and killed by American missiles, but to
the television audience. And although the vivid
television coverage of Vietnam stirred up anti-war opposition, the
coverage of the first Gulf War, with its greenish flickering images
and explosions of phosphorescence, famously resembled a video game
rather than a battlefield. In 1991, Jean Baudrillard published three
articles in the Parisian newspaper, ~Liberation~, questioning the
reality of the first Gulf War. "We prefer the exile of the virtual,"
he wrote in the first of these essays, "of which television is
the universal mirror, to the catastrophe of the real." Baudrillard's
argument was widely misunderstood and angrily condemned.
appropriates ideas from _Being There_ and Baudrillard's Gulf War pieces
in order to propose that George W. Bush is a simulation, a virtual
figure upgraded from a prototype like that of Chance the Gardener.
I am not interested in George W. Bush's corporeal being but rather
in his flatness and in the way that his obvious deficiencies are "spun"
by supposedly disinterested media pundits. Bush's estrangement from
the real -- evident in his unfamiliarity with geography, history,
ordinary English syntax and semantics, and a fund of common knowledge
-- stems from his own lack of reality. George W. Bush does not exist.
Under the sign of
postmodernism, the hermeneutics of depth have been replaced by the play
of surfaces, and the flat celebrity has superseded the complicated historical
figure. In his magisterial _Postmodernism_, Fredric Jameson commented
on the shift between the deep subjectivity represented in the modernist
novel and the postmodern "death of the subject." "This
new order," Jameson writes,
"no longer needs prophets or seers of the high modernist and charismatic
type, whether among its cultural producers, or its politicians. Such
figures no longer hold any charm or magic for the
subjects of a corporate, collectivized, post-individualistic age."
Accordingly, the cosmopolitan, dignified F.D.R. gives way to the bland,
folksy, often incoherent persona of GWB, with his faux-Texas
accent and gunfighter strut.
Like Bush, Kosinski's
Chance possesses a very limited range of references and a markedly
restricted ability to articulate ideas. When his new fame lands Chance
on a talk show, he manages, after some
helpful prompting from the host, to utter a series of banalities about
the vicissitudes of growth in a garden. Afterwards, one of Chance's
admirers comments that the gardener "has the uncanny ability
of reducing complex matters to the simplest of human terms."
Chance is also complimented on his appearance by Lord Beauclerk, chairman
of the board of the BBC:
enjoyed the bluntness of your statement on television. Very cunning
of you, very cunning indeed! One doesn't want to work things out too
finely, does one? I mean -- not for the videots."
both mistakes Chance's banality for a strategic ploy and assumes that
television viewers are morons whose simple minds require simple explanations.
When Bush stammers
publicly about freedom, democracy, and the axis of evil, American
media commentators gloss his remarks positively. Reporters and pundits
chronically overestimate Bush in much the way Chance's admirers do,
discoursing about him as if he actually possessed a political philosophy
and an understanding of government policies. They overlook, understate,
or make excuses for his slipshod syntax, reliance on cliches, and
inability to answer either theoretical or factual questions. They
inevitably refer to him as if he were a "real" person with
a complex sensibility, rather than a simulacrum entirely composed
of sound bites and photo opportunities.
After the press
conference of April 13, 2004, for example, one television reporter
acknowledged that Bush had spoken "clumsily" at times, but
speculated that the president's plain speech is part of
his appeal, that he uses the idioms of ordinary Americans. Other commentators
approved his evident "conviction" about the war in Iraq
-- referring to moments when Bush uttered the cliches about freedom
with apparent vehemence. On the April 13th, 2004, edition of ~Hardball~,
Chris Matthews expressed his admiration for Bush's refusal to acknowledge
any responsibility or any mistakes -- a bizarre encomium, considering
the long and embarrassing moments when Bush slouched down the side
of the podium, grinning and stammering, unable to think of any response,
as if a computer virus had infected his personal software.
On the following
day, the ~New York Times~ lead editorial characterized the president's
performance as follows: "Mr. Bush was grave and impressive while
reading his opening remarks, but his responses to questions were distressingly
rambling and unfocused." The use of "impressive"
seems precisely calibrated to ward off the blow of "distressingly."
None of the commentators mentioned the ingratiating smile that constantly
played about the President's lips, a nervous and inappropriate aspect
of his demeanor, particularly considering the serious content of the
reporters' questions. No one referred to the software glitch, and
it was not shown again, let alone played repeatedly -- unlike other
moments televised in 2004, such as Howard Dean's "scream"
and Janet Jackson's bared breast. After observing how media pundits
shed the best possible light on Bush, one has to wonder: are journalists
and pundit colluding in his legitimization, or are they, like Chance's
many admirers, actually taken in?
In _Being There_,
Chance's ignorance of the "real" world causes him to remain
silent when he doesn't understand questions, remarks, and behavior
directed toward him. His strange passivity prompts other
characters to interpret him as they see fit. When EE, wife of the
elderly Mr. Rand, makes sexual overtures to Chance, for example, she
regards his lack of response as indifference to her particular physical
charms. When ambassadors at the United Nations meet Chance at a dinner
party, they quickly leap to wildly inflated assumptions about his
linguistic and cultural fluency. No one realizes that in every situation,
Chance is completely out of his depth.
suggest that Bush has adopted a similar strategy of passive inscrutability.
In Ron Suskind's _The Price of Loyalty_, Paul O'Neill, Secretary of
the Treasury from 2000-2002, becomes acquainted with the inner workings
of the Bush White House. O'Neill soon observes, with increasing dismay,
the President's uncommunicative demeanor. After he presents his ideas
and positions on the economy,
he pauses for a question or response: "Bush didn't ask anything.
He looked at O'Neill, not changing his expression, not letting on
that he had any reactions -- either positive or negative."
Like Chance, Bush is open to interpretation: "The President seemed
to nod in affirmation. O'Neill couldn't be sure." A White
House veteran, O'Neill was accustomed to the active participation
of previous presidents -- to their questions, analyses, thinking processes.
In subsequent meetings with Bush O'Neill notes the typical "flat,
inexpressive stare" with which the president would listen
to his briefings. He concludes that no one on the staff knows what
Bush is thinking -- that "experienced, ambitious men and women
atop vast federal agencies [were] acting, in many cases, on little
more than hunches about what the President might think -- what he
might have suggested with a nod or a wink during some presentation
of options." The climax of O'Neill's disillusionment with
Bush is described as follows:
O'Neill was watching
Bush closely. He threw out a few general phrases, a few nods, but
there was virtually no engagement. These cabinet secretaries had worked
for over a month on detailed reports. O'Neill had been made to understand
by various colleagues in the White House that the President should
not be expected to read reports. In his personal experience, the President
didn't even appear to have read the short memos that
he sent over.
That made it
especially troubling that Bush did not ask any questions. There are
so many worth asking about each of these areas, O'Neill thought as
he sat quietly, dozens of queries running through his head.
was like many of the meetings I would go to over the course of two
years," he recalled. "The only way I can describe it is
that, well, the President is like a blind man in a roomful of deaf
people. There is no discernible connection."
While in public,
Bush appears to interact amiably with the media, in the center of
government -- away from public observation -- he is disconnected,
like an unplugged machine. At a January 30, 2001, meeting with the
National Security Council, O'Neill remembers, "the president
said little. He just nodded, with that same flat, unquestioning demeanor
that O'Neill was familiar with." Behind closed doors, Bush
no longer connects or exists. His principal function has been lost.
In this respect he is like an expensive, hand-waxed automobile, gleaming
in the darkness of a garage. The car is intended for rapid motion
and for public display. When its owner-driver is at the dinner table,
he has no need of the car. "The celebrity displays personality,"
explains Michael Rogin. "He pleases others; intimate before the
mass audience, he plays at privacy in
public. Neither a repressed interior nor an intractable reality exercise
claims over the celebrity for he exists in the eye of the beholder."
If Bush "plays at privacy" in public, he cannot act "for
real" in private, because he is now in a realm where substance
and depth, rather than sheer surface, are called upon.
of the Presidential Simulacrum
President Reagan was soaring above the real. (Michael Rogin)
George W. has political forebears as well as literary and cinematic
cousins. The political slippage from the real to the hyperreal begins
with Ronald Reagan. Unlike George W. Bush, Reagan was real, but for
Reagan, a postmodernist sans la lettre, memory, history, and brute
facticity were always already constructs.
The ongoing joke
about Reagan -- made eventually by Reagan himself -- was that he relied
upon cue cards to speak in public. Everyoneacknowledges that, unlike
the current occupant of the White House, Reagan read his cue cards
and speeches fluently -- without fractured syntax, stammering, or
incoherence. In _Ronald Reagan, The Movie_ (1987), Michael Rogin demonstrated
not only how Reagan frequently confounded events from films with historical
events but also what that confusion signified: "Reagan's easy
slippage between movies and reality is synechdochic for a political
culture increasingly impervious to distinctions between fiction and
history." Observing that the content of Reagan's March 16,
1986 speech about the threat posed by Nicaragua, seemed questionable
even to some of his supporters, Rogin comments:
But even if the
empirical truth value of Reagan's speech was larger than zero, it
was somehow beside the point, for the speech inhabited a wholly different
realm from the one in which reporters tried to hold it to account.
The fractured reality principle could coexist alongside the speech,
for the two operated on different planes ...
President Reagan was soaring above the real. His maps, pictures, and
visionary worldview exhibited on the
television screen, replaced the world they claimed to represent...
As Reagan's words and pictures brought his Nicaragua into American
living rooms, the real Latin American country disappeared; it was
in danger of symbolic and physical obliteration.
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 theCold
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:
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."
who had first exposed Reagan's chronic confusion between film and
reality on CBS's ~60 Minutes~ -- and at the invitation of that network,
when a reporter heard Rogin give a talk on this subject at a scholarly
conference -- thus becomes one of "the literal-minded."
Dan Rather proceeds to replace misinformation with "dreams";
Reagan no longer blurs the boundary between truth and fantasy but
"stands at the intersection" of the two.
Even one of Reagan's
most ardent admirers, Edmund Morris, has acknowledged some of the
late president's faults, such as his failure to display affection
to his children, absence of close friendships, and inability to recognize
people he had met repeatedly. Like George W. Bush, Reagan periodically
manifested an astonishing ignorance of basic cultural information.
Crucially, Reagan seemed to lack what Morris calls "private empathy"
with other people's troubles. Despite this, Morris writes:
He could be movingly
sincere when he was required to emote in public. To question his identity
with "the boys of Pointe du Hoc" or the nameless dead of
Bergen-Belsen would be to misunderstand his essentially thespian nature.
Actors are not like you or me: their real world, where they really
feel, is onstage (italics added).
Here, and elsewhere,
Morris seems to suggest a kind of solipsism in Ronald Reagan, an inability
to comprehend the "reality" of other minds and other sentient
beings. To possess an "essentially thespian
nature" apparently means to express feelings only in public and
only for those who no longer exist or who have never existed.
In 1982, during
Reagan's first term, Warner Brothers released Ridley Scott's famous
film ~Bladerunner~, a film in which human actors played "replicants,"
artificially created lifeforms who are almost indistinguishable from
human beings -- the important difference being their incapacity for
emotional empathy. ~Bladerunner~ is based upon Philip K. Dick's 1968
novel _Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep_, and both take as their
main character a bounty hunter whose job is to "retire"
the replicants, or "androids" as they are called in the
novel. However, the Nixon-era novel is quite different from -- darker,
more pessimistic than -- the Reagan-era film. While actorslike Rutger
Hauer make the film's replicants appealing and even touching in death,
the androids of the novel are gratuitously and unimaginatively cruel,
even to the few vestiges of organic life that
survive on Earth. One cuts the legs off a spider to see what wil happen.
Another vengefully pushes a goat from a roof. The androids of the
novel lack the instantaneous empathic reaction that normal human beings
innately possess, and thus they fail the Voigt-Kampff Empathy test,
with its references to "boiled dog" and "babyhide"(real
humans react with revulsion). The androids are simulacra. As one of
them, Rachel Rosen, admits: "We are machines, stamped out like
bottle caps. It's an illusion that I -- I personally -- really exist;
I'm just representative of a type." A human character senses
of the androids that that "a peculiar and malign _abstractness_
pervaded their mental processes." The bounty hunter Rick
identifies androids by their coldness. "Her tone held cold reserve
-- and that other cold, which he had encountered in so many androids."
lack of empathy, and a bias in favor of abstraction are characteristic
of the android, then George W. Bush is clearly one of them. His political
speeches are composed entirely of undefined abstractions like "freedom."
While governor of Texas he inevitably approved state executions, never
exercising executive clemency. Appeals for mercy were particularly
ardent in the case of Karla Faye Tucker, the convicted murderer who
had undergone a conversion to Christianity while incarcerated. Bush,
who had claimed in a national debate that Jesus was his favorite philosopher
(no one asked him to name his second favorite), refused even to meet
with Tucker's many advocates. Not only that, but according to no less
conservative source than bowtied Tucker Carlson, Bush mocked her imagined
appeal to him: "'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock
desperation, 'don't kill me'." Like Reagan, Bush seems solipsistic,
unable to believe in the existence of other people. He has shown this
coldness even to members of his own family. According to _The Perfect
Wife_, Gerhart's biography of the First Lady, Bush was "snarly"
upon learning that his daughter Jenna would undergo an emergency appendectomy,
"like he was pissed at her."
The notion of
an American president as an android or simulacrum appears in an earlier,
less well-known Philip K. Dick novel, _The Simulacra_. In this version
of the future, Germany has become the 53rd member of the United States,
time travel is possible for the governing elite, and a venerable presidential
figure known as Der Alte (The Old One) periodically addresses the
public on television. There have been several presidential figures,
each with a name and an identity -- the current one is named Rudi
Kalbfleish -- and all
fabricated by the Karp Cartel. At the end of one presidential address,
the Assistant Secretary of State takes charge:
Curtly, in his
usual brisk tone, Garth McRae said, "Shut it off."
simulacrum stopped. Its arms stuck out, rigid in their final gesture,
the withered face vacuous. The simulacrum said nothing, and automatically
the TV cameras also shut off, one by one.
In the world
of Dick's 1964 novel, only a minority of citizens know that der Alte
is a simulacrum. By the end of the novel, the secret has been revealed.
The presidential simulacrum, the beloved First Lady Nicole, and television,
"that planet-wide instrument of persuasion," are all intimately
Now, 40 years
later, as the July, 2004, cover of _Wired_ proclaims, "Human
Being 2.0: The Race to Make Androids That Walk, Talk, and Feel Just
Like the Rest of Us," can we be sure that Dick's prediction has
not already come to pass?
III. A Blank Page: The Culture of Celebrity
Illiteracy is a kind of blindness. (Ruth Rendell)
What is the origin
of simulacra like the current President of the United States? When
I argue that Bush is not "real," I do not mean that he was
manufactured in a secret factory, owned by a corporation like the
Karp Cartel and controlled by a powerful conspiracy. But I will speculate
that in a post-literate, hyperreal world, those accretions of historical
time and psychological reflection that produce subjectivity tend to
disperse before they constitute a deep, coherent self. The result
can be a personality like that of Bush -- intellectually narrow, emotionally
shallow, working with an abridged vocabulary, like a novice in a foreign
language class. He is a commodity produced by contemporary American
culture, with its bizarre admixture of consumerism, television, worship
of celebrities, and glib Christian fundamentalism. Other cultures
in other periods have
produced personalities limited in different ways -- the provincial
peasant, for example, who has never been more than a mile from his
birthplace. Unlike the peasant, the contemporary flat personality
knows that other countries, other cultures, other religions exist
-- but in his solipsism they remain "unreal" to him, mere
delusions to which other people, themselves mere figments, display
an irrational attachment.
The star or politician
on screen is the opposite of the introverted reader in the book-lined
study. With the exception of the occasional compelling sports event
or drama, watching television is a porous, rather than engrossing
experience -- hence the urge to channel-surf, get up for a snack,
make a phone call during a commercial. A good book, by contrast, is
sufficiently absorbing as to make interruptions annoying. In the May
2004 issue of _Harper's_, Lewis Lapham pondered the shift from reader
to viewer: "As the habits of mind beholden to the rule of images
come to replace the systems of thought derived from the meanings of
words, the constant viewer learns to eliminate the association of
cause with effect."  Magical thinking and incantations replace
rational argument, thoughtful analysis, and careful research. This
may sound reactionary, but it is difficult -- as Noam Chomsky has
complained -- to develop a complicated political discourse on a show
like ~Nightline~, interrupted not only by commercials but also by
the briefly encapsulated views of other speakers. On television, acting
and role-playing take the place of the subjectivity both developed
by and observed in the Bildungsroman and the high modernist novel.
Thus, "in deciding how to behave, Chance chose the TV program
of the young businessman who often dined with the boss and the boss's
is unable to read or write. "I do not read any newspapers,"
said Chance. "I watch TV."  In an October 17, 2003,
interview on Fox, George W. Bush volunteered that he did not read
newspapers. The emptiness of both George W. Bush and Chance the Gardener
is on display yet remains invisible to their admirers. This emptiness
in turn is a product of their illiteracy. Those who are proposing
Chance for the vice-presidency significantly praise him as a "blank
page," a man with no personal history.
between reading, privacy, and subjectivity is the subject of Sven
Birkert's "The Time of Reading," first given as a lecture
on May 1, 1996, in the New York Public Library. Reading has become
archaic, he speculates, rather like walking in the age of the automobile.
We no longer seem to have time to read, not the kind of time reading
requires -- solitary, private, indefinite. Birkerts postulates the
emergence of a new kind of self, "no longer tightly gathered
around a core identity, no longer pledged to simple
membership in an organic human community, but rather fluid, capable
of metamorphosis -- of donning masks, assuming roles ... The self
of the future may indeed be a decentered entity."
Such a self is
already here, of course -- was here in Ronald Reagan and is even more
(or less) so in George W. Bush. One cannot imagine either of them
as an adolescent curled up with a book by Thoreau or
Jack Kerouac. For both of them the desirable persona to adopt was
that of the suntanned cowboy on his ranch, not the pale, bespectacled
nerd -- the Western outdoorsman, not the Eastern intellectual. Both
also, despite a lack of actual military experience, played at Commander-in-Chief,
tossing off salutes and, in Bush's case, dressing up like an airman
and landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier -- "donning masks,
reader who dies today," Jonathan Franzen observes in an essay
entitled "The Reader in Exile," "a viewer is born."
 In order to devote himself to reading and writing. Franzen gives
away his television set. He confesses to possessing an old-fashioned
literary sensibility. "I understand my life in the context of
Raskolnikov and Quentin Compson," he writes, "not David
Letterman or Jerry Seinfeld." With some skepticism, Franzen
considers the pessimistic arguments of cultural critics. Barry Sanders
that, in Franzen's words, "without a literacy rooted in orality
there can be neither a self, as we understand it, nor self- consciousness."
(Such an observation is applicable to Bush, who seems constitutionally
incapable of self-doubt or self-criticism.) Franzen also writes about
Sven Birkert's collected essays, _The
Gutenberg Elegies_, which he finds "alarmist" and unduly
pessimistic, despite his sympathy with many of Birkert's sentiments.
"Novelists want their work to be enjoyed," he points out,
"not taken as medicine."
An even more
pessimistic look at illiteracy, both its particular and cumulative
ill effects, appears in Ruth Rendell's 1977 novel _A Judgment in Stone_,
which opens with the sentence, "Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale
family because she could not read or write." Parchman is
a malevolent counterpart to Chance the Gardener; she lacks his good
looks, his benign disposition, and his artlessness. Unlike Chance,
she has grown up among many people, all of whom can read, so her illiteracy
induces profound shame and becomes "the root cause of her misanthropy."
Rendell explains: "Isolating herself was natural now, and she
was not aware that it had begun by isolating herself
from print and books and handwriting. Illiteracy had dried up her
sympathy and atrophied her imagination." In compensation,
Parchman possesses a keen memory, especially for visual images. Like
Chance she is fascinated by television and spends most of her free
time watching it. Both _Being There_ and _A Judgment in Stone_ represent
the personality of the illiterate as lacking in depth and complexity,
a flat screen or blank page. Kosinski exploits the irony of the situation,
while Rendell explores its capacity for tragedy. One could protest
that both novelists overstate the deficiencies they attribute to illiteracy,
but it is important to recognize that they situate their illiterate
characters in the context of almost universal functional literacy
(both novels were written before the advent of personal computers)
and perpetual TV.
We live in a
culture in which the ultimate validation or personal achievement is
to appear on television. Just as movies confer potential immortality
on actors, television seems to confer "reality" on ordinary
citizens. Chance looks forward to his first appearance on a TV talk
show. He "wanted to become an image, to dwell inside the set."
only people's images; it also kept peeling their images from their
bodies until they were sucked into the caverns of their viewers' eyes,
forever beyond retrieval, to disappear. Facing the cameras with their
unsensing triple lenses pointed at him like snouts, Chance became
only an image for millions of real people. They would never know how
real he was, since his thinking could not be televised. And to him,
the viewers existed only as projections of his own thought, as images.
He would never know how real they were, since he had never met them
and did not know what they thought.
In this passage
the circulation of images, the televised spectacle, enhances the power
of images to the detriment of the real and of real human interaction.
In a Freudian pun, thinking becomes mere projection. In this triumph
of solipsism, one can believe in one's own reality but not in the
reality of others. Nonetheless, Chance's appearance on the talk show
does not expose his ignorance; it only enhances his reputation.
In the screenplay
version of _Being There_, Chance's former caretaker Louise, happens
to witness his performance. Of all the millions ofviewers, she alone
knows of Chance's intellectual limitations. She
is the only counterpart to the child in the fable who declares that
the emperor is naked. She exclaims to herself :
All the time he talked gobbledegook! An' it's for sure a White man's
world in America. Hell, I raised that boy since he was the size of
a puissant an' I'll say right now he never learned to read an' write
-- no sir! Had no brains at all, was stuffed with rice puddin' between
the ears! Short-changed by the Lord and dumb as a jackass an' look
at him now! Yes, sir -- all you gotta be is white in America an' you
get whatever you want! Just listen to that boy -- gobbledegook! 
One might speculate that a flat personality like that of Chance, oof
George W. Bush, is inherently more in accord with the flatness of
the television or computer screen and thus transmits smoothly and
consistently. By contrast, perhaps, a complex, three-dimensional personality,
full of contradictions, corners, and real history is difficult to
reduce to a flat surface. Not all politicians, however, are inherently
flat. John Kerry, for example, has posed a problem for the sound-bite
insights of television pundits. How could anyone be
both a decorated war hero and a longhaired protestor? A novel could
delicately delineate such a transformation (think of _Lord Jim_ or
_Crime and Punishment_) but television must flatten it into "flip-flopping."
The obviously literate Kerry, who speaks in complex sentences and
uses "big words," has been compensating for these deficiencies
by emphasizing his athleticism and military experience. He advertises
himself as "the real deal."
But in the hyperreal
United States, where "reality TV" has usurpedreality itself,
the problematic status of "the real" is precisely the issue.
Jerzy. _Being There_. New York: Grove Press, 1999, p. 139.
Jean. _The Gulf War Did Not Take Place_. Bloomington: Indiana UP,
1995, p. 28.
Fredrik. _Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism_.
Durham, N.C.: Duke UP, 1991, p. 306.
 _The New
York Times_, 14 April 2004.
Ron. _The Price of Loyalty_. New York: Simon and
Shuster, 2004, p. 58.
 Rogin, Michael
Paul. _Ronald Reagan, The Movie, and Other Episodes in Political Demonology_.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987, p. 9.
 Rogin, p.
 Rogin, p.
Edmund. "The Unknowable: Ronald Reagan's Amazing, Mysterious
Life." ~The New Yorker~, 28 June 2004, p. 48.
 Dick, Philip
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K. _The Simulacra_. New York: Vintage, 2002, p. 32. I have to add
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Sven. "The Time of Reading." http://www.bostonreview.net/BR21.3/Birkerts.html
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* Carol Vanderveer
Hamilton lives in Pittsburgh. Her article, "The Evil of Banality:
Moby-Dick versus the Extreme Machine" appears in the Summer, 2004
issue of _The Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies_. Her book of poems,
_Blindsight_, is forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon University Press.