Tuesday, May 14, 2013

We Really Should Pay Attention to the Men Behind the Curtains

Amongst my geeky obsessions are personality cults and cargo cults. And honestly, I think they're kind of the same thing at their core: a charismatic person rallies sycophants around themselves with promises of power and wealth, and they attempt to maintain control through often ostentatious displays of pomp, circumstance, and propaganda.

I've long been fascinated by the psychology behind how these cults not only coalesce, but more importantly how they continue. Usually, the center cannot hold and things eventually fall apart. But who are the enablers and apparatchik who keep the machinery working while the con is ongoing? How do they rationalize their actions? How many believe their own hype, and for how many is it simply a paycheck? "They've drunk the Kool Aid" has become a shorthand in our culture for this kind of loyalty, but I've never been entirely comfortable with this sort of hand-wavey, yadda yadda-ing of human mass psychology.

I tend to think about this stuff once a year when the Arriang Mass Games roll around, but it came to the fore ahead of schedule when I saw this video of Newt Gingrich earlier this morning:

We're really puzzled here at Gingrich Productions. We've spent weeks trying to figure out: 'What do you call this?'

Now— putting all politics aside— I don't want this to become a sniggering argumentum ad hominem, where I point at the former Speaker of the House and Presidential candidate— someone who is held up by many as the leading intellectual and historian of his political party— and laugh at the fact he has somehow never heard the term 'smartphone'. After all, this is a man who ostensibly loves science and technology... if you remember from the 2012 primaries, one of his campaign platforms was the building of a manned moon base as a way station for further manned- and unmanned exploration of the solar system. That's some pretty heady, visionary stuff there!

So, I'm trying to wrap my brain around the implications of this video, trying to figure out the world just beyond that camera lens' field of view. And I've come up with five options, none of which bode well for my (already decidedly dim) view of humanity:

  1. 'Gingrich Productions' is a one-man band. The mighty have fallen, and Newt is sitting alone in his office talking to a webcam, essentially rendering him a better dressed version of the 'Kid from Brooklyn'. All of his talk of "we" is just delusional self-aggrandizement. Somehow, I doubt this is the case, but it is amusing to consider.
  2. Newt Gingrich does indeed have a production company and staffers surrounding him. And they have truly discussed this miraculous black box amongst themselves "for weeks." And somehow, all of these fellow travelers are just as out-of-touch as their boss, and not a man jack of them know how to use Google. Which begs the question: do we want such intellectually incurious people anywhere near policy making?
  3. A corollary of option 2: Gingrich has his staffers, and during these weeks of internal discussions, not a single one of them simply spoke up and answered Newt's question. This means Gingrich Productions is a personality cult staffed by cowardly sycophants and courtiers of Versailles proportions. The Emperor Has No Clothes, indeed.
  4. Another corollary: he has his staffers, and they do know the answer, but they chose en masse to not answer their boss because each and every single one of them apparently hates him *so much* they wanted him to make an ass out of himself publicly by shooting and posting this video.
  5. Newt Gingrich and his staffers know damn well the little piece of glass and metal he holds in his hand is colloquially called a 'smartphone.' But they hold themselves in such arrogant high regard, they somehow think the rest of us plebes are either a) dolts for using this term, or b) it is early days yet, and here is his chance to steer the cultural conversation. Gingrich himself brings up that we don't call cars 'horseless carriages' anymore, so apparently we just need men of vision like he and his disciples to change the language and lead us into the light.

I'm sure it all comes down to "a little from column A and a little from column B" depending on the individual motivations of the apparatchik. But like I said at the start: none of these options really buoy my faith in humanity. I find it pretty damned depressing to think about the motivations of the men behind the curtains. 

1 comment:

  1. At 1:09 - listen to the way he pronounces "automobile", the syllable where he places the stress. There may be a sixth option...