The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Geopolitical Flash Fiction

Life imitates art ... or life becomes art -- simultaneously farcical and dead-serious in its consequences.

This is the feeling one gets while watching a video that was recently broadcast by CNN.
And the video itself is like a very short narrative: an example of geopolitical flash fiction. And the fact that the piece in question comes in video form is secondary to the importance of the dialogue it recorded. It is the dialogue that speaks volumes and tells a form of “story”. I want to emphasize this point, because I have spent the entire weekend compulsively checking the news online and have also been wondering about the role literature plays in a time when the world seems to be stepping toward a catastrophe no one will be able to control. (If I find any pertinent examples of literature-about-political-crisis, I’ll add them in a later post.)

The video is entitled “The sh-t heard round the world”. It shows a short sequence of Tony Blair and George Bush caught talking into an open mic at the G8 conference. The two are talking about the current crisis in the Middle East; a crisis that has ramifications far beyond the conflict between Israel and Hamas/Hizbollah. The the “sh-t” is Bush’s expletive. (Bush: “See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over.")

The sub-header at the CNN homepage states, “Bush frustration sparks expletive”. The exact phraseology Bush uses is “this shit”, and what he’s talking about are the Hizbollah attacks on Israel. But when you pay attention to the dialogue, you don’t get any sense that Bush is frustrated. He’s merely speaking the way people do when they’re analyzing a situation and in the company of people they’re comfortable with. A million conversations like this take place every day—though in situations where the stakes are much lower and less hideous: for example, shop talk. How many times have you or someone you know used the phrase “this shit” to refer to some workplace obligation: a piece of paperwork you’re obligated to do, or a badly organized project you’re expected to accomplish? Instead, the one who seems frustrated is Blair.

It’s Tony Blair, with his fastidious tone and thinly concealed exasperation, who comes across as stymied. Blair wants an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon to separate the hot-heads from each other. Bush, by contrast, wants Kofi Annan to put pressure on Syria to put pressure on Hizbollah. Bush sits in his chair, spreading butter on a roll and then eating it contentedly while Blair stands to one side. The body language of the two men is as dramatically interesting as it is revealing: Bush is relaxed, chewing on his roll slightly open-mouthed while scanning the room and listening—more or less—while Blair hovers beside him, trying unsuccessfully to get Bush to focus on the international peacekeepers idea.

The two men appear nothing as much as Oscar and Felix from the Odd Couple: Bush is the relaxed and slightly piggish Oscar, while Blair is the more precise, more alert, but ultimately impotent, Felix.

The dialogue between the two men is on its surface without literary value. Yet at the same time it has literary qualities: it is psychologically revealing, it is dryly satirical, and it has all the ridiculousness and poignancy of tragi-comedy. Unfortunately, however, there won’t be a happy ending to this drama. Yet—for the time being—reality seems to be transforming itself into entertainment automatically.

[note: there's no url for this video clip. To view it, go to this story, then scroll down to the blue highlighted text.]


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