Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Red Flag and the Red Blazer

Somewhere in the first half of the movie "Moscow on the Hudson", a bedraggled Robin Williams huddles on the luxurious first floor of Bloomingdale's clamoring in an unconvincing Russian accent that he wants to defect. Standing between him and a furious KGB officer is a minimum wage store security guard in a red blazer.

The KGB officer hisses that he protests the defection in the name of the Soviet Union. The security guard retorts that his own jurisdiction runs "from Style Boutique, through Denim Den, all the way up to Personal Fragrances." And the Soviet Union and the KGB have no jurisdiction in Denim Den.

While the KGB officer casts a terrifying supernatural pall over his own people, to a Bloomingdale's security guard armed with mace and handcuffs, he is no more than another annoying customers in a store filled with them. The red blazer trumped the red flag.

Sixty years after Stalin's death, the red flag is very much with us. The red blazer however has seen better days.

The KGB agent of the waning days of the Soviet Union might have been a comic figure, roaming the glittering aisles of capitalism, caught between sneering at the decadence of capitalism and stuffing as much of it in his pockets as possible. But the KGB agents have had the last laugh.

After Stalin's death, the KGB and the Soviet leadership had a quiet tussle that ended with the KGB being sent to its corner, under the guns of the army, and a series of uninspiring leaders overseeing the decline and fall of the Soviet Union.

Unlike the Communist Party, which in Russia largely consists of bitter old men and women kissing portraits of Stalin and complaining how the young people have no manners anymore, the KGB has rebounded by merging with Bloomingdale's.

Putin's KGB hierarchy saw no reason why the Russian people couldn't have aisles of overpriced products. Indeed the Putin era looks a lot like the 80s on steroids, big on big, full of artificial everything, million dollar opportunities, vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity, and theft for the sake of theft. Finally the ordinary Russian could have his own oversized TV, piles of debt to pay for it and the opportunity to sit watching bad Russian remakes of American 80s sitcoms.

No one in Russia would ever again have to spend oodles of time trying to understand what Marx was on about or the finer points of the arguments between the various branches of the left that invariably ended with the winners shooting the losers in the head after a series of show trials.

What Putin offered the Russian people was Communism without the Communism. A strong central government, a ruthless secret police and a cult of personality without any of the politics. There are plenty of parties in Russia, but none of them actually matter. The best of them are calculated distractions, large noisy things meant to keep the attention of the people away from those who do hold the actual power.

About the best of these is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, familiar to readers of the New York Times from the time that he posed naked in the shower on the cover of its Sunday magazine. Zhirinovsky, like Savely Kramorov, the talented comic actor who played the KGB agent in "Moscow on the Hudson", is a comic genius. The difference is that Kramorov played outrageous characters in the movies, Zhirinovsky plays one in real life.

Every so often, Zhirinovsky will say something calculatedly awful about shooting everyone who isn't in his party, dumping nuclear waste on Ukraine or using nuclear bombs on the Atlantic Ocean to flood the United Kingdom. Media outlets will sometimes report on Zhirinovsky's antics, little realizing that they are dealing with a man whose job is playing Archie Bunker in real life. During the days of the USSR, many Soviet leaders were actual idiots no better or saner than the buffoon that Zhirinovsky pretends to be. In the savvy KGB-run Russia, the people are allowed to have a man playing an idiot as a prominent politician with no actual authority.

The KGB, which has gone through another one of its many name changes, no longer shrinks in the glittering golden aisles of a department store. It owns the department store and everyone in it. It has caught up to the America of the 80s and become a distorted version of it. And if that boom is built on the illegal seizure and monopolization of energy wealth, a wealth that is fading away, then the boys and girls of the sword and shield have a Plan B up their sleeve.

Meanwhile in Bloomingdale City, the opposite has been taking place. In "Moscow on the Hudson", the quintessential 80s cast of New York City movie types, a loudly gay fitting assistant, a jive-talking black man, a group of Japanese tourists photographing everything, included a beefy cop with a Brooklyn accent arriving to announce, apropos of nothing, that, "This is New York City, a man can do whatever he wants."

That line could have still been delivered with a straight face in 1984. It would be met with uproarious laughter today. In the New York City of today, a man can do whatever he wants, except order a soda, have some salt, drive his car through midtown, smoke, drink and about forty thousand other things. A Soviet citizen arriving in the New York City of 2013 might be initially confused, but would quickly adapt once they learned the new politically views that they were expected to hold and the phone numbers that they could call to inform on their neighbors.

If Moscow has become more like New York City, New York City has also become more like Moscow. In ten years, it may be easier to buy a McDonalds burger in Moscow than in New York. There were hints of this trend even then, as Robin Williams' character arrives at a posh party only to be stuck talking to a woman who teaches Marxism-Leninism. While the circus performers of the Communist paradise wanted nothing more than 30 minutes in New York, many New Yorkers wanted nothing more than to turn New York City into Moscow on the Hudson.

At the climax of "Moscow on the Hudson", a debate over the choice between order and freedom in a Brooklyn diner on the Fourth of July ends with quotes from the Declaration of Independence recited by a diverse cast of immigrants and a man walking off into the night carrying a sparkler in his hand. The sparkler however has been banned in the entire state since 1997. Governor Andrew Cuomo recently vetoed a bill that would have legalized sparklers at the urging of Mayor Bloomberg.

“The governor believes that safety comes first,” his spokesman said. So much for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The multicultural island where everyone embraces the ethos of freedom is a cinematic pipe dream. It was a fading memory even in the 80s. In the 90s, Giuliani made New York safe again. In the 00s, Bloomberg made it bankrupt and boring.

Bloomingdale's filed for bankruptcy around the fall of the Soviet Union. Five years after the movie aired, it was already making plans to open stores in Moscow. In 1989, Pravda reported that Soviet goods would be sold in its flagship Manhattan store and a Bloomingdale's would open in Moscow. That never did happen, either under Communism or after it, and the American big retail store model has only been getting shakier ever since.

In the Soviet Union, central government concentrated wealth in Moscow making it a mecca for the rich and powerful. Now central government has been having that same effect on Washington D.C. While New York's star has been fading, along with its illegal sparklers, Washington has become the new Moscow.

Washington is the only city where the average household income stretches far enough to afford a new car. It is the only city where incomes have been growing as if there were no recession. It and its surrounding bedroom communities have become glutted on the wealth of a nation as America's instructors of Marxism-Leninism have discovered that you can have both the red blazer and the red flag.

Like Russians in the 1910s, Americans in the 2010s, are becoming more comfortable with the rhetoric of redistribution and a strong central government that will provide them with stale bread in exchange for their freedom. "What good is freedom?" is the question being asked in every sphere of life and the answer is rarely positive.

If giving up freedom can get you cheaper health insurance, fewer school shootings and less worries about the future, then who needs it anyway?

During the Cold War, many Russians and Chinese saw an America where you could live like a king and Americans saw a Soviet Union where the government took care of you. The old Communist countries have remade themselves into totalitarian capitalist entities where you can make a lot of money and never have to read the writings of Lenin or Mao, so long as you don't challenge those in charge. America is remaking itself into a totalitarian Socialist entity where the government will take care of you, badly, and where you are expected to read the politically correct indoctrination of the day and where you had better not challenge those in charge.

Russia and China have not become that much more free, but America has become far less free. Many of its immigrants have not embraced an ethos that traded order for freedom, but instead they want what the Russians wanted, the glitzy wealth of Bloomingdale's with the security of a Socialist state. Those two things do not go together. Instead what they have gotten is an oligarchy running up huge bills on their credit to pay for everything under leaders who sound less like America and more like Moscow.


Just a common 'tater said...

DC, NYC, LA, New York State, California, and a host of other states and cities are in race to see who can gut the Constitution and Bill of Rights fastest. Of course this is "sold" to the voters (both real and virtual) for choose one: a) the sake of the children b) to protect us from terrorists c) to prevent gun violence d) our health. As our manufacturing base and jobs disappear, more Americans become more dependent upon government largesse. At the same time more illegal immigration is not only encouraged, but rewarded, with many jobs given to the low bid under-the-table crew or the H1B crew. America is circling the drain folks, and our fearless leaders pulled the plug. We now have an oligarchy that is doing everything possible to keep the average american: 1)dependent upon the government 2)a slave to perpetual debt that cannot be cleared in bankruptcy 3)marginally educated 4)disarmed and 5) distracted by meaningless arguments over oxymoronic terms like sequestration and jobless recovery. It is hard to tell which is more useless, the hot air from the politicians (talk about global warming and green house gasses!) or the celebrity worship pushed by the main stream media. I could go on, but you do a pretty good job of describing it in more colorful terms and with better detail.

Evgeni Akhremenko said...

Nothing wrong with Communism for America. I look forward to it and the end of this silly Capitalistic Imperialism that destroys the world.

Anonymous said...

The Constitution is already gutted. The Chris Dorner case proved that.
They got 125 cops in paramilitary gear to pee on the 4th amendment as they went warrant-less into all 400 homes in Dorners home town.
They proved that 1. the police do as they are told regardless of the constitution. and 2. that Americans sat back and took it.

112 said...

^^Imperialism and capitalism are two different things hippy. How is capitalism destroying the world? Is it killing millions of people like Islamism? Maybe it's destroying morality and the family like liberalism? Is it bankrupting everyone like European socialism? Or maybe it's controlling everyone like the late Chavez fascism.

It isn't doing any of those things, and the further we move away from it, the worse the world is.

NormanF said...

Unlike its predecessor, the Russian FSB is not much interested in throttling capitalism.

But American mayors are a lot more powerful than the KGB secret police ever was at the height of its power - they can ban supersized soda. Not even the KGB had that kind of power.

In some ways we Americans are actually less free than people in Russia, who for all the constraints they may face, are not told how much they can make or on what they can spend it.

Moscow on the Hudson is here - in NYC and Robin Williams' punch lines are no longer as funny as they were in the Cold War days. The circumstances have been reversed and most Americans don't appreciate the irony of their situation.

Edward Cline said...

An apropos line: "It would be met with uproarious laughter today. In the New York City of today, a man can do whatever he wants, except order a soda, have some salt, drive his car through midtown, smoke, drink and about forty thousand other things." Not to mention own guns, drive a cab without paying a fortune for a medallion or for the government's permission to drive a cab, cross the street without being struck by a legalized road warrior cyclist, offering a restaurant menu without calorie counts, and so on.

I recall the story here of novelist Ayn Rand and her sister. Her sister, her favorite and one of two others who perished during WWII, came to New York City from the Soviet Union with her husband at Rand's expense (after a long search brokered by the State Department), and it should've been a joyful reunion after half a century of separation. But New York depressed the sister, because there were too many decisions and choices to make. She and her husband returned to the Soviet Union, where decisions were made for them. As Daniel points out, too many Americans and New Yorkers are of a similar mind. They want the values made possible by capitalism, but not capitalism itself. It isn't possible. They will learn that the hard way.

mushroom said...

... the people are allowed to have a man playing an idiot as a prominent politician with no actual authority.

I thought we were talking about Russia. How did Joe Biden get in here?

11Fsteve in the desert said...

Evgeni Akhremenko, why wait? Move your drone keester to North Korea TODAY! Who will miss you? In fact, tuck a New York City Mayor and a New York State Governor under each arm for your trip to the worker's paradise.

Doug Mayfield said...

The hidden flaw in every appeal for, every application of, more government controls on behalf of 'safety' is that life, by its nature, cannot be safe. You must take risks every moment.

To preserve life, we certainly minimize risk but we must face it. The only 'safety' truly offered by politicians today is the intellectual and moral equivalent of dead.

You don't ban automobiles because people get killed in them. But I very much doubt that the automobile could even be introduced into our statist and increasingly tyrannical society today. The politicians and bureaucrats would jump all over it on behalf of their false, and morbid, concept of 'safety'.

fsy said...

"What good is freedom?" is the question being asked in every sphere of life and the answer is rarely positive.

Judaism actually has a punishment for a person who chooses to be a slave to another person, and therefore to be unable to serve G-d from freedom. See Rashi on Exodus 21, 6.

IgorR said...

Obama's goal is to turn the US into a parody of the Soviet Union.

johnnyreb said...

Liberals have always believed, believe now, and ALWAYS WILL believe that marxism/socialism/communism will work just fine, except for 2 things.

1. The right people haven't tried it yet
2. Right-wing radicals wont let them spend enough money on it.

Anonymous said...

No worries Evgeni. We can be half Commie and half Capitalisti:)

Still, if I were to change my party affliation to Communist my neighbors would most likely get a visit from someone in black glasses, and I couldn't register as a Communist without checking other on my registration form and insert Communist lol.


Anonymous said...

Side bar to Mr. Cuomo--thank you for supporting the PA and Ohio economies where sparklers are legal.

And BTW, you represent the entire state not just NYC even though NYC seems more like a state of its own.

As a lawyer you should know better. It's the SONY v. insert name/organization not SONY-C.

But if you want to separate NYC from the rest of the state fine. Toronto, Ontario Canada can be our sister NYC-like big city.


meema said...

I have to ask this, given the newest Bloomberg edict regarding how loud music can be in one's ear buds - when do New Yorkers finally draw the line? Crazy me, all this time I've had the impression that New Yorkers were spunky people. Will they just say no when their mayor dictates what color underwear they have to buy? Or will they wait until he determines when they can walk outside or how many times a week they can eat out?

Inquiring minds...

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