By Nathaniel Mehr – London
This Christmas, the discerning progressive might seek to amuse friends or relatives by buying them the War on Terror board game, which is available in many good UK stockists (including the socialist bookshop Bookmarks), courtesy of Terror Bull games. It’s like a normal board game, only it features “suicide bombers, political kidnaps and intercontinental war”. It is, in other words, a deliberate send-up of the US-led “War on terror” of the last eight years. Playboy magazine calls it “one of the most thought-provoking games we’ve seen in years”. High praise indeed. It would appear that the manufacturer’s political views are somewhat to the left of centre – their website proudly displays a quote from an outraged Tory MP like a badge of honour.
Depending on your view this is either an excellent and cutting masterpiece of irreverent political satire (this is The Guardian’s view: the game is “stunning satire” apparently), or merely the latest on a long line of vacuous gimmicks which gives some idea of the self-indulgent and frivolous tendencies of some elements within the anti-war movement and the “left” more broadly. We are talking about an element who see something irrepressibly humorous in the run of events that began with George W. Bush’s election in 2000 and ended with several hundred thousand dead across two countries, via the outrage of the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp and several terrorist atrocities in Europe and Asia; the central protagonist in this laugh-a-minute comedy is the bumbling figure of George W. Bush himself, complacently mocked by a variety of liberal social commentators for his incoherent oratory and alleged stupidity, and lazily characterised as the personification of American imperial hubris. Somewhere along the line these same mainstream commentators have contrived, between them, to manufacture a sense of fun out of these proceedings, and it would seem that many among the anti-war left are determined to share the joke, in the apparent mistaken belief that some profit may accrue with respect to subverting US imperialism. We are talking, in other words, about people who either underestimate the seriousness of the current world situation or, alternatively, have imbibed so much of contemporary popular culture that they are under a delusion that this sort of facetious gimmickry constitutes an appropriate and potentially effective response to it.
That a section of those among the anti-war community could deem it appropriate to produce, stock and presumably, (heaven help us) buy this product, speaks volumes about the complacency, if not the sheer arrogance, that is endemic within this element of the (broadly-constituted) “left”. It is probably too speculative to consider with any great seriousness whether this tendency is, like so much else in British popular culture, attributable in part to the influence of US popular culture – in the United States, to a greater extent than in Britain, there is an associative link between what is anti-establishment or “left” and what might broadly be described as a “slacker” culture, heavily identified with drug-taking and a sort of instinctual rebelliousness and recklesness, so that the desire to escape from the world (or poke fun at it) rather than seek to understand and change it, appears as the high-point of socio-political protest. We would be delving here into a real of considerable uncertainty. One thing is certain – there is no precedent for this sort of thing in the tradition of the peace movement in Britain. Can we even conceive of anti-fascists in the 1930s and 1940s showing their solidarity with European Jewry by getting together and giggling over Kristallnacht – The Board Game? Of course not – this is something altogether new. Anyone who is at all amused by War on Terror must surely, on some conceptual level, have learned to live with the events of the past eight years, and that is as sure a sign as any of the success of the imperialist hegemony in breaking the spirit of resistance to imperialism and war.
A few years ago, your author had the pleasure of working with a young man who, thinking himself quite a politically-conscious sort of person, purchased and displayed on his desk a calendar of “Bush-isms” – one semi-literate Presidential gaffe for each day of the year. What, we must ask, has been the combined effect of eight years of gimmickry and infantile anti-Bush posturing? It certainly did not bring down Bush, who stayed in power and carried out his entire programme to its bloody, and entirely predictable, conclusion. Perhaps the satirical genius behind War on Terror might respond that it has in fact brought down the Republicans, contributing to the climate which enabled Barack Obama to win the US Presidency. Given a death toll in the hundreds of thousands spanning eight years of violence, this would hardly be a satisfactory or convincing riposte. If political dissent is to move beyond the perfunctory effusion of smug wise-cracks, a sort of interminable in-joke that goes on and on while actual bombs continue to rain down on the voiceless and the dispossessed, then it might be a good idea to reclaim the discourse from the manufacturers and purchasers of cheesy novelty items.
-Nathaniel Mehr is a UK journalist. He is the co-editor of the London Progressive Journal, an online current affairs magazine. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.