by Tim Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Danes for Bush characters...
The genre of serious satire, of which Danes For Bush is a part, is a growing genre. It is satire that is lightly, if not cleverly, disguised - a part of pop culture found at some indefinite point where art, journalism and politics meet. If Michael Moore is the current king, Danes for Bush is an original derivative.
Danes for Bush hit the pavement in August 2004; just as the American Presidential campaign was beginning to heat up. The tour was timed to hit New York at the end of August at the same time as the Republican convention that would confirm George W. Bush as the Republican presidential candidate in 2004.
The two-man Danish road show of Jakob Boeskov and Mads Brugger plow their way across the United States in a camper van for a series of appointments with the right-wing grassroots of the American heartland during the weeks leading up to the Republican convention. With an air of determination they make continuous vows to do whatever they can to support the cause of making sure Bush and Cheney are around until 2008.
Their weapon of choice is a portrait of sincerity, a couple of over-the-top matching outfits, plenty of ‘Danes for Bush’ campaign paraphernalia, and a bizarre inflatable pork-sausage mascot wrapped in an American flag. Yet they steadfastly refuse to reveal that their fighting words should be taken at anything but their face value. It may all seem over the top, but so are the views espoused by hard-right republican after republican.
Ironically, Jakob and Mads’ very outrageousness and demeanour, if a dead-give away to fellow-Danes and others of a more moderate point of view, is the bait that catches and quickly convinces countless staunch Republicans. We witness a scattering of semi-formal speeches and informal discussion results where Jakob and Mads allow their mock-opinions to bubble out. Their comments regularly cross the line into what many would (hopefully) feel is outrageousness (Jakob: ‘Let’s face it, we need that fucking oil!’), before faithfully jumping back to (slightly) less outrageous territory, lest any of the less radical radicals in the crowd become disturbed and suspicious. The targets fail to register that it is pantomime and satire they are momentarily cast into. They believe in the sincerity of two passionate figures echoing their own warped thoughts!
This is the ticket into this surreal parallel world, and Jakob and Mads never give up the deep dark secret that they themselves are anything but genuine in their purported beliefs and stated intentions. Even on their website (www.danesforbush.org), they refuse to give up the gag. Their subjects remain unguarded and uninhibited. Free to speak candidly, they do. This is the source of the genius.
A district judge in Texas feels no shame in suggesting that dropping the bomb on Baghdad would save lives – his proof: it did in Japan. They create an award and give it to him – Americans love awards. There is no counterattack attack their targets face. No moment of revelation where the purpose is revealed to the unsuspecting. They will forever remain ignorant.
Yet it is the unexpected by-product of these countless encounters with hard right-wingers during their cross-country marathon that sets Danes for Bush apart in this genre of political satire.
While it is no surprise to find groups of radical right-ringers talking the talk one would expect of radical right-wingers, what is an eye-opener is the source of the feelings of uncertainty and paranoia their targets ultimately reveal.
The talk of the right-wingers they encounter is of the hopeless tragedy of friends and neighbours murdered by random gun-violence; Vietnam as a terrifying scar – one that we see lingering disturbingly on so many psyches; and of course the deep, oftentimes wildly fanatical, religious faith used to steady so many in the face of it all. The trauma of being hit by terrorists who, from the perspective of a small-timer in the heart of America, have emerged almost mystically from some unknown evil has been the final blow. These people are visibly shaken in many of the encounters. They have felt an enormous sense of betrayal of purpose over the years, and they are stunned by it. Unfortunately, they seem totally unarmed to deal with this deep bubbling well of conflict and contradiction that lays deep inside their country’s history, continuing to boil unrelentingly today.
The affects of violence, war and terrorism the Americans as individuals can see within their own homeland are dramatically at odds with the widely held belief in their own global superiority, domination and universal righteousness. These beliefs are deeply ingrained, and not easily displaced. They have been nurtured since age none, through their first steps as children; ritualistically pledged through a symbolic allegiance to the flag spoken each and every school day; hyperactively spoon-fed by a lifetime of not entirely coherent media; canonised by the deeply conservative judicial system; rubber-stamped by the various levels of government across the land and through the very words of the President himself. Mix in the symbolism, dogma and (oftentimes) fanaticism of the growing Christian right populating the heartlands in ever increasing numbers, and what is left is odd message of fearful hope amongst the senselessness.
Yet the air remains densely clouded with cynicism, confusion, tension, anger and repression because, spliced together, these disjointed fragments have become justification for policies of (pre-emptive) war and containment abroad, the curtailment civil liberties at home and few if any fundamental rights at all for those deemed as possible threats (evidence be damned). Only the hopeful language of universal freedom and peace on the march stands as the shaky premise buffering the reality of the madness they are supporting. So instead this premise has become the final nail in the coffin - what is a person to think? To imagine the issue is one extreme right-wing president and a misguided war is to miss the point.
What these people see surrounding them, all that is being told, all that has been taught, all they have learnt; it all purports to be the truth – yet not all of it can be. They themselves can sense that it all doesn’t add up, they can’t quite make sense of how this has come to be. The radicalisation of their views is the by-product, since countless friends, neighbours, colleagues and the rest would sooner part ways with them than accept a daring suggestion that another reasonable point of view may exist beyond the prevailing right-wing logic.
This is the point where surprisingly, the clouds begin to clear.
As we watch the Danes for Bush characters in full pantomime, Mads and Jacob meeting right-winger after right-winger, group after group; the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place. One now understands where it is the people they are meeting are coming from.
With this realisation, the disbelief that a group of such people and their radical viewpoints can exist mutates into a sort of momentary, if uneasy, forgiveness – which is not at all to say that one finds oneself agreeing with virtually anything being said.
The right-wingers are children stumbling through the unknown, ever fearful of what may lurk around the next corner, wishing for the impregnable protection they once imagined their parents to provide, a long time ago. Unsurprisingly, they opt to support the solutions that most closely mirror their childlike tendencies. Tough talk and unconditional support of those willing to accept war against an imaginary enemy, thereby subjecting others to the burden of their fears as they themselves cower defencelessly, waiting for the world to become the idealistic place they imagine it should be.
The enemy surely lurks somewhere in the Middle East, so attack, ATTACK! What better justification? There is no time to think about it, to debate. How can you put a price on comfort, reassurance? The violent and unpredictable world must be secured; perhaps a more manageable task than that of collectively coming to grips with ones own conflicted past.
In Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore set out to convince anyone who cared to listen that America is a fearful nation, full of people scared silly, if not stupid. Danes for Bush has gone further still. In managing to communicate with the same group of people that John Kerry and the left wing of America were simply unable to touch, the Danes for Bush guys, if inadvertently, stumbled upon the reason why this very fear exists in the first place.
Sadly, dealing with this mess will preoccupy left-wing Americans for years to come. What can be said here and now at least, is that blended together with enough passion; politics, art and journalism certainly can reveal a lot.