Mark Crispin Miller's Operation American Freedom: He's a Stand-Up Kind of Guy
Last weekend (Sept. 12-13), folks flocked to the Creative Alliance's Patterson Theater to see media critic Mark Crispin Miller in his stand-up/educational performance entitled "Operation American Freedom."
Not Miller, but President George W. Bush opened the show with a brief clip saying, "Many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: they are no longer a problem for the United States."
The audience was laughing from the start, and Miller kept the crowd entertained throughout the show with well-paced, intelligent comedy, discussing things that weren't really so funny. The media critic delivered his points in droll deadpan, only a few times cracking a smile.
Miller continually referred to short excerpts of speeches delivered, or rather, stumbled over, by George W. Bush. After several such quotes, Miller paused, waited for the laughs to subside, and asked: "How can this happen?!" And: "Does anyone else in the United States notice the insanity of what the President says at official press conferences? Am I losing my mind?"
He also read transcripts of interviews with Gordon Liddy and Barbara Bush, emphasizing the national epidemic of incoherent speech and fractured logic evident in statements by high-ranking Americans-statements which go unremarked in the media.
. At one point, Miller read a George Bush quote from Bush's well-publicized visit to Africa. Bush had said, "It's very interesting when you think about it, the slaves who left here to go to America--" here Miller paused and looked searchingly at the audience for a reaction. "They left Africa," repeated Miller, pausing for emphasis and shaking his head at the careless, inaccurate and utterly nonsensical wording to describe the Middle Passage events. He continued Bush's statement: "--bringing their religion, their steadfast, and their freedom to help change America."
"We all know how many animistic churches dot the Southern countryside," quipped Miller. "And who would have thought that-while the Polish imported Kielbasa to America-we never thought about how the slaves brought freedom." Miller encouraged the audience to repeat the quote phrase by phrase. The words spoken aloud in a chorus sounded even more ridiculous and illogical than when pronounced by Miller, and could not have made any sense spoken by the President in the context of an official press conference.
One of Miller's main points was that the media spreads the madness of public officials by not pointing out the contradictions, equivocations, and downright falsehoods uttered in interviews and press conferences. He inquired if any mainstream American journalists had closely scrutinized the President's speeches and exposed his bizarre syntax. Instead, he pointed out how FoxNews reporters applauded George W. Bush for his eloquence and "manliness." The complicity of the "liberal media"-Miller held up his fingers to make quotation marks in the air-allow the presidential administrations to distort facts, mangle logic, and deploy propaganda successfully, unchallenged by the journalists who are supposed to serve the public good.
There is no official repression of freedom of speech, Miller pointed out; instead, disinformation works in a more sophisticated way. He went on to describe the structure of a successful lie. "You don't deny anything," Miller said, pointing to failed lies such as Nixon's "I am not a crook" plea. Instead, the officials "work the denial into a positive statement." The slogan for the US Army is "Be all that you can be in the Army." Not, "your chances are 50/50 that you'll die in service." Miller pointed out that advertisers have been using this strategy of spin for decades. They "tacitly negate" the unpopular aspects of a product, while emphasizing positive attributes that may or may not even be true.
Miller ended his performance with a reminder that "the cost of freedom is eternal vigilance." He urged all those present to take it upon themselves to spread truth, to pester Congressmen and journalists, and-most of all-not give up.
"Act like you believe in something," exhorted Miller, "because you do!"
Mark Crispin Miller teaches media studies at New York University. He formerly taught at The Johns Hopkins University. He recently established a blog; visit markcrispinmiller.blogspot.com/.
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This story was published on September 19, 2003.