BOOKS/Alvena Bieri

Saul Landau Looks at the World

We need more political writers like Saul Landau. In his brand-new book, A Bush and Botox World (Oakland, Calif : AK Press, 2007) he lays out in stark language and startling detail just how both our politics and our culture have deteriorated. It's not just George W. Bush that he blames. It is the long-lasting fact of America's ruthless march toward empire and our selfish culture. By the way, Gore Vidal wrote the foreword, short but good.

What about "Botox" in the title? Landau is referring to our widespread self-absorption as played upon by a major advertising industry. In other words while 5 or 6 billion inhabitants of this planet are barely getting by, many Americans are concentrating on their wrinkles and how to get rid of them. Our politics and culture are extremely selfish, he thinks. Landau explains, "Just as Botox erases wrinkles for a short time, Bush's Botox approach to politics, like badly wrinkled skin, also revealed itself as something getting old very fast." Then he characterizes our president as "a man unable to deal with suffering and death" despite the fact that he has caused so much of both.

It is uncomfortable, disappointing and sad, all at the same time, to reflect on the darker history of our country's use of war to achieve what some like to call our "greatness." All you have to do is read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and then Landau's analysis of our highly militaristic past to understand. The countries to the south of us are just one good example of a long-expanding empire. In the past the US has invaded or interfered with the governments of Latin American republics from Chile to Nicaragua to Grenada to Cuba. Big corporations like the United Fruit Company have long been eager to have our government help them stay dominant in their trade as they work to avoid paying taxes or following any environmental regulations. Sometimes, Landau says, this system is called "free trade." US relations with Cuba are a close-up chapter in the imperialism story from the war with Spain in 1898 to the present. What will stick with me after reading about Fidel Castro's Cuba in 2007 is the fact that Cuba's doctor-patient ratio is similar to that of Beverly Hills!

So viewed from the perspective of the last hundred years, our invasion of Iraq should not be a surprise to anyone. Landau thinks that, "In the name of the Prince of Peace, the Lords of War in Washington bombed and invaded Afghanistan and Iraq."

The other theme of the book is just as comprehensive and important as the political one: That is how short-sighted our consumer culture is. Do you remember Vance Packard's book, The Hidden Persuaders, of many years ago on the subject of advertising? It is more relevant than ever. Landau is hard on our attitudes toward buying and consuming in a mindless way. "Logos, brands, and vicarious identification have sucked reason from the modern consumer brain," he says. Aggression not only dominates our politics but our airwaves as well. American ads are used all over the world and have become a sort of modern missionary activity. He believes that, "Instead of pushing Jesus on the natives, advertising pushes soap, hair spray and drugs that take US consumers up, down and sideways and promise to cure their impotence and acne."

So, in his opinion, we are prey not so much "to Fascism as to Fashionism." Example: Janet Jackson's now famous "wardrobe malfunction" was more important on TV news that day than a report that our military was getting overextended in Iraq.

Not only is our country in need of some new and strong moral leadership. Our media and our general culture have little sense of proportion or "guiding intellect." We should be very thankful for a book like this. I hope that Landau is working on another project. That would be to use the same direct language and approach to tell us more of what we can do to change things!

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2007

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