Thursday, April 30, 2009

Great Chewouts (2003)

FROM THE ARCHIVES / OOPS DEPT. APRIL 30 - This originally posted on, 2/3/03. I thought about this piece yesterday, at Disneyland, after passing several clusters of singing pirates that - in 2009 - no longer seemed quite so adorable. Suspiciously, the "Pirates Of The Caribbean" ride was closed. Perhaps several hastily constructed robots of Somali kids with baggy pants and battered AK-47s are quickly being imagineered into the mix. Or maybe that will have to wait until 2040's "Pirates Of The Gulf Of Aden" ride...


The dressing down given to failed Shoe Bomber Richard Reed in a Boston courthouse this last week was a rare treat, perhaps the only time I will feel admiration for a U.S. district judge. Once sentenced, Reid delivered a rambling freakout that produced this exchange:

REID: Your government has sponsored the torture of Muslims in Iraq, and Turkey, and Jordan and Syria with their money and weapons!

JUDGE YOUNG: …You see that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is long forgotten.

As patriotic rebuke, Young’s remarks were about as relevant as Reid’s. But as a declaration of Al-Qaeda's futility it was a home run. Pirates were the terrorists of the 18th century, and these days pirates are exactly as scary as their ride at Disneyworld. America, the good bits as well as the bad, will outlast the wrongdoers. I am a loyal customer of Pizza Pirates the same way that people who live in 23rd century Pomona will probably be loyal customers of Taco Terrorist.

Reed is, paradoxically, an American kind of jerk loser. His is the face of the Kinkos employee who mangles your originals, the postal worker who denies the existence of media rate, the Pomona City Clerk office lady who blankly told me, last fall, that the Xeroxed forms I needed would cost an extra “fitty eight cents” she knew I didn't have on me. Nazi skinheads admire Al-Qaeda because they delivered the goods. But I suspect there may also be a deeper level of the skinhead psych makeup that equally identifies with the hapless loser who couldn’t light his shoes afire because his feet were too sweaty.

Young’s dismissal was also a nice parallel of the chewout delivered to press secretary Ari Fleischer a month earlier by revered AP reporter Helen Thomas:

THOMAS: My follow-up is, why does he [the president] want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?

FLEISCHER: Helen, the question is how to protect Americans, and our allies and friends --

THOMAS: They're not attacking you.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- from a country --

THOMAS: Have they laid the glove on you or on the United States, the Iraqis, in 11 years?

If Reid is the pathetic employee, Fleischer is the petty middle manager. His is the face of the friend’s uptight dad, the Kinko’s manager who asks to count all the copies in your bag, the bank branch head who refuses to accept his own clerical mistake. They are two subsets of the same jerk attack.

Last year I managed to visit DisneyWorld’s Hall of Presidents in Orlando, FL. After some strange narration and the introduction of all preceding presidents, the GW Bush robot bungled a zero-content speech that was a most unwelcome infusion of reality into the theme park experience. In the background, the Kennedy and Lincoln robots could be seen shaking their heads in disbelief. If Fleischer is the petty middle manager, Bush is the drunken asshole whose family connections managed to get him installed as the most powerful man on Earth. Whatever scoldings this one-man brand of jerk receives are hush-hush, delivered only in the wee hours by the ghosts of his predecessors or the terrified face that greets him every morning in the Presidential mirror.