May 13, 2005…Pope Benedict beatifies the late Pope John Paul in a ceremony at the Vatican.
Child killer Michael Ross is executed in liberal Connecticut. First execution in that state since 1960.
Condi Rice is promising prompt action if it turns out U.S. soldiers did indeed desecrate copies of the Koran in Guantanamo Bay.
Meanwhile in Andijan, Uzbekistan, that morning, troops on direct order from President Karimov, open fire on peaceful, quietly standing protesters. It is estimated that a thousand were shot dead. No exact figure is possible because the bodies were carried off to mass graves by government troops.
The United States continues to bestow aid and love on President Karimov. He lets them build a military base in his country (which he later demanded they vacate).
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, composed of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, characterized the Andijan massacre as a terrorist plot. Terror was a popular topic in 2005. Its a popular topic today.
When asked about the Uzbek government’s response to the protest, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. government has been “very consistently critical of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, we’re very concerned about the outbreak of violence in Andijan, in particular the escape of prisoners, including possibly members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an organization we consider a terrorist organization. I think at this point we’re looking to all the parties involved to exercise restraint to avoid any unnecessary loss of life.” Later, Boucher added; “It’s becoming increasingly clear that very large numbers of civilians were killed by the indiscriminate use of force by Uzbek forces. There needs to be a credible and a transparent accounting to establish the facts of the matter of what occurred in Andijon. At the same time I think it is clear that the episode began by an armed attack on the prison and on other government facilities. There are reports of hostage-taking and other claims that should be investigated.”
This is bullshit. But who cares, right? How many people in the U.S. can find Uzbekistan on a map?
Don Rumsfeld squashed any further U.S. investigation into the massacre.
The daughter of President Karimov has released a fashion line this year….2012:
She also recorded a few pop songs, one a duet with Julio Iglesias:
Ms Karimov has apparently made another dictator’s daughter sort of jealous —
The daughter of President-for-Life Nursan Nazarbayev, has come out with a jewelry line, and promises of a perfume line in the pipeline. Speaking of pipelines….
In 2005 (!!), the Government of Kazakhstan adopted plans for creation of a trans-Caspian westbound pipeline for oil. In 2006, President Nazarbayev and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed an agreement for a trans-Caspian oil transport system. In 2007, partners in TengizChevroil (developer of Tengiz field) and KCO (Kashagan field developer)signed a “memorandum of understanding”(sic) to create a trans-Caspian oil transport system (pipeline), and then in October 2009, the national oil company of Kazakhstan, “Kazmunaygas”, and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan signed another memorandum of understanding to expand the Caspian Oil Transport System to include Azeri refineries and onshore pipelines from Baku to the Kulevi oil terminal in Georgia.
In October 2009, an agreement was reached on the oil pipeline to Baku and signed by a consortium of French companies while the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy was visiting Kazakhstan.
Here is Human Right’s Watch report on Kazakhstan:
None of this is really news. The U.S. has embraced dictators for as long as there has been a United States. However, recently the topic of wealth has come up a number of times on this blog, and elsewhere. The master narrative valorizes wealth as achievement. Wealth is a sign of virtue. Now, if you asked a hundred U.S. citizens, randomly, if they felt being rich was a sign of virtue the majority would say no. I don’t know how big that majority would be, but I suspect it would be a majority. If you then asked is it wrong to be rich, the vast majority would say no. If you asked, is there a moral obligation attached to wealth….most would say yes. I think. But I don’t think many would actually believe what they were saying.
This is the split in public belief and private belief. This is that topic of identity, again. I think the private self wants to be rich. It is the desire for luxury — for yachts and parties and expensive clothes. One is told this is natural.
From the Daily Mail, London:
“His yacht will cost nearly three times what his country spends on health and education for its impoverished citizens each year.
But Teodorin Obiang is the son of a dictator and the chances are that such considerations won’t unduly trouble him.
He has commissioned a $380million (£233million) superyacht, with cinema, restaurant, bar and swimming pool, it was revealed yesterday.
Because Obiang earns $6,799 (£4,184) a month as agriculture minister of the tiny, oil-rich West African state of Equatorial Guinea, questions are being asked about quite how he could afford the 390ft yacht.
If built, it will be one of the most expensive private vessels in the world. It is thought that Obiang used as a blueprint Roman Abramovich’s Pelorus – worth a mere £74million – as a blueprint.
The most expensive luxury yacht in the world is the Eclipse, also owned by Mr Abramovich and worth around £740million.”
You remember Equitorial Guinea, the small west African nation that Margaret Thatcher’s son tried to take over via coup — a nation ranking first (worst) in the trafficking of children to brothels worldwide.
The U.S. support for dictators is well known, and well established. Dictators are stable business partners, while democracy means business uncertainty.
The lavish ‘lifestyles’ of the fascist class includes….just as a random sampling of examples…the former Shah of Iran (an absolute favorite in the Western press) who spent 100 million dollars on the Monarchy’s Anniversary Party. Jean Bedel Bokassa spent tens of millions on diamonds and jewelry for his coronation. Mobutu of Zaire (who took power after MI6 and the CIA had helped murder Patrice Lumumba) was known to have spent billions on his wardrobe, multiple yachts and over a thousand dresses for his wife. The list goes on but how different is this, really, from the British Crown’s coronation or the official ceremonies of the United States? The ruling class spends as much as the GNP of small nations on its own comfort. The public in the West is far more accepting of this than some other parts of the world, and the reasons for that take us back to the formation of the bourgeois psyche. And let’s remember this: industrialist Ira Rennert lives in a 200 million dollar home in Sagaponack New York, with 29 bedrooms and three swimming pools. Larry Ellison lives in Rancho Mirage CA in his 240 acre estate worth 42 million dollars and includes his own golf course. Or Steve Cohen’s 15 million dollar crib in Greenwich Conn, a 35,000 square foot mansion with indoor skating rink and a couple swimming pools. The extent of personal wealth is almost impossible to imagine, but the poverty of the lives who live in these places isn’t hard to imagine, actually. The response though from most people, I’ve found, is to defend these holdings. There is a complex set of psychological mechanisms involved, but a good part of it is the idea that unlike, say, Mobutu Sese Seko, these are white men, capitalists, and not war lords. Hedge Fund thief Steve Cohen is treated as royalty. One can’t find an article online that says a bad word about him. The narrative is controlled and wealth is in and of itself never a bad thing, unless you are third world tyrant. I’m not sure it’s of any value in laying out dueling body counts or comparative suffering incurred — the point is more the way the story is presented.
The public self feels the need for a moral consensus. However, if given an invite to a party on Ms Karimova’s yacht at Monaco, I’m guessing most people would accept. The lurid tastelessness of the British royals makes great tabloid reading, but nobody really seems to care very much and most would be happy to party down with Harry and his gal pals. I have found an acute sense of entitlement in most affluent people I’ve met. Servants are there to provide services, and after all, they are happy for the job, right? Hire a Guatemalan nanny, and it’s the same rationalization. *They’re happy to have the work*. Well, of course they’re fucking happy. A job is better than no job. You have to eat. How far does this logic extend ?
There is a nostalgia for Empire evident in cultural product in the West. And an increasing nostalgia for Colonialism. The styles of Empire are reproduced in almost parodic versions for mass consumption. If one looks at Disney cartoon figures, the goal of *happily ever after* usually means you have married into royalty. There is the obvious misogyny in this (marry the handsome Prince) but it extends beyond that as well. This is just another expression of white desperation, I think. The growing prevalence of paternalistic tropes.
The sense one had of a partial corrective, a reaction of sorts, in the 1960s — the anti-heroes that popped up in a landscape of colonial domination, has been digested today, and returned (as is usually the case) as its opposite. The despair — even if masculinist, to a large degree — in those post Viet Nam noirs, the later expressions of the detective genre, at least had the virtue of placing a sense of grief in the heart of the story. Films like “Cutter’s Way” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” today seem oddly like protest films, such is the rise of the vigilante racism and worship of militarism in studio film of this last decade. There are interesting glosses on these themes…”Beau Travail”, the brilliant Claire Denis expressionist re-telling of Billy Budd became a sort of deconstruction of the sado-masochism of military repression and power. A film like Sidney Lumet’s “The Hill”, seems almost the last anti-war film made with studio money. And again, a deeply Freudian critique of sadism and racism in an institutional setting — a POW camp in North Africa.
So the private/public self has been assaulted more aggressively in the last few decades with narrative and PR that reinforces white supremacy. The selling of a ‘War on Terror’ has really re-configured the idea of white identity. The contradictions, of course, are to be found within the simultaneous marketing of wealth as a sign of favor from God. One can wage drone attacks on the poor of far away dark skinned countries, and also sell the Yacht parties or fashion shows featuring the rich families of dictators and arms merchants. Criminality is seen in the most schizophrenic fashion. Dick Cheney isn’t a criminal because he was so smart he got away with it, and more, because he was a standard bearer for White america. If a Saudi Prince wants to throw a big party during fashion week, who cares if Googoosha is singing, or Beyonce, or if the swag comes from sweat shops in Haiti, or if party goers include ruthless dictators…in fact, a blood drenched president of some puppet regime only adds to the *coolness*.
More than a few times I have had pause when watching Fashion events. They have come to be the first rung in media rehabilitation for the under class. Corporate made ‘Rappers’, famous athletes, or recovering speed freak actresses, or domestic abusers — if they’ve got enough money, they can buy media legitimacy with a front row seat at the Marc Jacobs show. The Fashion world loves to have its own accoutrements in the form of the latest social climbing celebrity. They become house pets for a season or two. Or longer if they pay the bill for a seat at the table of the anointed.
Fashion is a petri dish for the incorporating of ‘shock’ and ‘controversy’ into sales. It is its own self devouring engine of image fetishization.
The appeal of couture is in its very exclusionary privilege. The very sadism of the anorexic ideal, the misogyny of the de-eroticized body — an *ideal* mimicking (among other things) starvation, but also of self restraint, the refusal of the sensual in the form of extreme dieting, encodes *decadence* as style; though filtered through a lens of manufactured scarcity. Haute couture is the manifestation of class divisions in culture, as well.
From the 1950s onward the co-opting, largely, of popular culture, and also its re-branding, often, as high art was the most pronounced collective shift in society, probably. Now, Haute Couture’s very existence as a concept is at this point a symbol of divide, which is it’s appeal to the social reaching. Buying a new McQueen creation beats having to actually learn anything or do something as tedious as read. You shop instead. The art of shopping, and while that in theory is an expression of taste, it really isn’t because the taste demanded is predicated on simply learning the sign codes for new or current, or really just reading the price tag. In fact, artworks have come to model themselves, structurally, after haute couture in the sense that galleries need seasonal product to be put out there in the name of innovation — this commercial strategy encloses several trends…the non-reproducible as select or exclusive, and hence elite, as well as innovation as a synonym for quality or radicalism.
The collapse of that dynamic that kept arts institutions and practices separate (to a degree anyway) from the vast apparatus of financial capital, was just one more implosion on the cultural landscape of the second half of the 20th century — so that one began to participate in the other. Hang your Rothko in the main bank headquarters, and create your theatre or arts studio on a corporate model. The financialization of culture was complete by the end of the century.
There is one more aspect of this seduction by the very rich. While it is an affirmation of a world structure of fascist values, it operates in a register of religious guilt, almost. The sinful is commodified. I am not sure how different a party on Abramovich’s yacht is from buying a few tokens to peep shows downtown. The difference is that the Yacht is a better drug. The strip club or peep show is there to remind you that you’re not on the Yacht.
The pleasure palace needs its sadistic dimension to fully deliver what is being longed for. The cruelty of state torturers and war criminals serve much the same function as the silicon enhanced breast in a pole dance. One is moral deformation, and the other a pseudo-voluntary self disfigurement.
There is always a strange quality that attaches to the international jet set, a sense of inbreeding to the purchased beauty — good orthodontal work, personal trainer, expensive cosmetics, clothes, and yet the ugliness won’t go away. The dictator’s daughter knows the line of her mouth is vulgar, while her father, his peasant stuntedness a reminder always that ruthlessness must be exercised for full preparedness. No human being is immune to hatred. It is said that Mz Karmimova is the most hated woman in her country. I don’t know if that’s true, but I expect it is. Of course it is.
One sees the same nihilism in the face of Reza Pahlavi, as in those dead mackerel eyes of Margaret Thatcher, or the mouth of the simpleton in Reagan (an over reacher if ever there was one). You see it in Kissinger’s face, and in Bush’s and in Hillary every bit as much as you see it in Karimov. The billion dollar mansions or yachts or private jets of the 1% are only their own mausoleum. For they house the dead. And that is easy to forget I think, that the rich fascist class is expressive of death, not life. These spectacles of privilege are inherently vicious for they are built on the labor of the poor. On the lives of the poor literally. Anna Wintour sits front row like the boatman on the river Styx.
The culture industry, it is worth noting here at the end, creates the context for viewing society as a whole. It creates scapegoats and villains, and it does that with so called Dictators as well (Chavez and Castro usually fall within this category). Karimov or Nazarbayev. The question of philanthropy is often invoked here as well. As if Bill Gates were someone with deep compassion.
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. Into this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
As a culture, the West remains enthralled with Paternal figures of authority. This is how the corporate class write the narrative. The truth is, there is great anger out there, but it won’t show up on the nightly news. The story is controlled. Not that the narrative doesn’t have traction, but its far from absolute. Mitt Romney’s seven mansions is only a topic of mild humor, little more. That people starve or freeze to death every day, while millions more rot in cruel inhumane prisons is never juxtaposed with facts about the very richest class. Oh those horrid prisons in Uzbekistan….the savage oriental demon, but never the equally horrific conditions of Parish Prison in Louisiana or new Super Max joints across the country where solitary confinement is just the starting point of one’s incarceration. Madness the end of it.
It is all interdependent. No Koch Brothers without a Karimov and no Mobutu without the Pentagon or CIA. Bombing Iraqi infrastructure back to the stone age (a boast by Rumsfeld) makes billions of dollars for Halliburton and Bechtel. Who buys all those Boeing Jet Fighters? Well, Karimov for one, the House of Saud and Israel and the UAE. Who profits from the manipulation of trade tariffs and sanctions? Many of the people living in those mansions Forbes Magazine likes to list each year. The insecurity of life for the average American creates the need and longing for relief. But it is as if our dreams were being colonized. A nation addicted to narcotics, worse anti depressants, and mood elevators, or just drink — is not one that has yet figured out to unplug everything for a while. Literally and metaphorically.
A staple of network TV for a couple decades has been variations of one sort or another that riffs off the ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ model. Tours of celebrity mansions, exclusive resorts and parties. The creation of empty dreams. Hollow dreams that thinly mask their own despair. The off kilter half grimace, half smile of uneasy celebrity. The smiles become rictus, the laughter never leaves the throat, the eyes never alight one place, ever darting, growing incrementally more hysterical. This is the foreshadowing, it is the lobby lights flicked on and off to signal its time to take your seat. There is no performance anymore, but people take their seats anyway. That’s how it’s been taught. Those are the rules.