August 26, 2007

Inspector Boosh ees still ahn zee case!

One of the more fruitful collaborations in movie history was that between Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers, with such movies as A Shot in the Dark, The Pink Panther and The Party as the result. In the Panther movies, Sellers played Inspector Jacques Clouseau, of the French Surete, given to bombastic and somewhat pompous declarations about the unique insights of his approach to police work, and also to incredibly funny physical sequences in which he would, for example, destroy an entire drawing room while a staid and mystified group of aristocrats looked on in mute horror. In The Party, which Sellers plays in East Indian blackface, he manages to wreck, all by himself, an upstairs bathroom while the party is in progress. This destruction is inevitably effected seamlessly by a series of artfully connected pratfalls, inadvertent body movements, and futile attempts to regain his balance which cumulatively lead to catastrophe. They are nearly impossible to describe in words, which makes sense because they are sight gags non pareil. I imagine they originated with a few sketchily described prompts from Edwards, where he might say, "You are in an elegant parlor with the evil Victor and the beautiful Maria Gambrelli, also present are the chauffeur and gardener and a bunch of aristocrats. While describing the solution to the murder, you manage to destroy the room."
Peter Sellers and his comic genius did the rest.

And then we have another kind of genius, our very own Inspector Boosh of the Boosh Administration. I have maintained for some time that describing Bush's performance as "incompetent" or "bumbling" (the word always used with Clouseau) doesn't quite capture the man's true aptitude for destruction. While in office, Bush has overseen the destruction of the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon, the entire city of New Orleans and the whole country of Iraq. While he's been at it, he's wrecked the U.S. military, reversed a budget surplus to a $9 trillion national debt, mortgaged the U.S. Treasury to the Chinese and Japanese, devalued the dollar to something resembling the Mexican peso, and utterly destroyed America's good standing and reputation internationally. He has accomplished all of this in only 6-1/2 years. Of course, this is a very partial list, because it leaves out his obstinate refusal to cooperate with the world on climate change, his subjugation of American science to religious stupidity, and his dismantling of the Constitutional Bill of Rights. All of his intelligence agencies report that the net effect of his profligacy, his war on terror, his endless battle for Iraq, his overuse of the military has been to create a far more dangerous world, while impoverishing and stigmatizing the United States.

Screwing up on this level goes way beyond "incompetence." I would posit that this (and this alone) is Bush's true gift. One might seek high and low to find some other evidence of talent or aptitude in W, but one would seek in vain. I sometimes ask myself how this might have transpired, and where I arrive is that Bush represents the peculiar, perhaps unique, confluence of certain forces in American history that produced just such an unprecedented personage at his particular time.

The first of these is the strange American preoccupation with dynasties. While it's true we threw off King George III in the late 1700's, we did not, it seems, transcend our taste for aristocracy. Whenever an American lineage rises up, with blue blood coursing in its veins, such as the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, the (godhelpus) Bushes, and now with the ascension of Mitt, Son of George, and Hillary, from the self-fabricated dynasty of the Clintons, Americans bow and pay homage. I think it's more than name recognition or brand loyalty. We think there is something to this idea of "breeding," that a person from an aristocratic background will in some way have the natural self-confidence and -esteem to weather an international crisis or take an unpopular stand simply because it's the right thing to do. And because we think this way, Bush has inculcated and internalized society's regard for his special place in our society. He sees himself as a blue blood, a peer of the realm, who went to all the right schools (Phillips, Yale, Harvard), and if his younger years were spent in wastrel ways, that too is part of the aristocratic tradition. When called to the service of the kingdom, he put aside his dissipation, rose to the challenge and assumed his natural position of leadership.

This sense of noble privilege, I think, is what makes Bush immune from constructive criticism. Much is made of his religious belief, but from reliable reports, Bush does not even go to church. His religiosity is a P.R. creation of Karl Rove (an agnostic), and simply a useful trope in the Republican Southern Strategy. If Bush believes in divinity, it is in the divine right of kings to rule. As the eldest son of the Bush Dynasty (begun with Prescott and reaching its apotheosis with George H.W. Bush, who was head of the CIA, Ambassador to the UN, Vice President and President), George W. was entitled to the privileges of primogeniture, and his innate sense of specialness was reinforced at every turn by the money always made available to him, by the powerful friends of Poppy who cleaned up his mistakes and salvaged his mismanagement, who assured him of his greatness, who sought his name to legitimate their enterprises, who sponsored his rise to power.

Yet, as Oscar Wilde told us, there is only one true aristocracy, the aristocracy of the mind. Here is where things fell apart for George W. Bush. Reassured at every step of the way that he was special, despite all clear evidence (and wholesale devastation) to the contrary, George's encounter with the complexities of running the most complicated economic/military/diplomatic/political apparatus in the world came a cropper. His brain is simply not up to the task, and the aggressive, even antisocial, natural tendencies of his personality assured that the stupid and bumbling vectors of his decisions would always tend toward destruction and chaos. A man without his sense of entitlement, with a clearer view of the world and his place in it, would have long ago recognized his limitations, panicked, and sought the help of smarter and more capable aides. The smarter and more capable aides are precisely the ones that Bush gets rid of, since they threaten his regal self-image. L'etat, c'est lui.

There is a comic parallel to the epic bumbling of Inspector Clouseau. Bush is, in a way, hilarious, as he moves in his somnambulant, unconscious way from one disaster to another, always with that smirking self-satisfaction which projects his inner sense that he is completely on top of his game. Humor does rely on the juxtaposition of jarring discontinuities, but, sad to say, A Shot in the Dark was just a very funny movie. Inspector Boosh's America really exists.

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