The Emperor’s New Clothes Are Awfully Revealing

Not since the days when I helped plan satirical plays for a gravel pit in West Athens, Maine have I laughed so hard. The simultaneous meltdown of Twitter’s ability to verify its high profile users and the resulting outburst of creative fun have been a welcome relief from the relentless bad news of the day: bait-and-switch on a few crumbs of student loan forgiveness, simultaneous CIA regime change operations aimed at Russia, China, and Iran, and cold weather approaching while hundreds of thousands in the U.S. are without homes.

The closest thing the U.S. empire has to an emperor is the SpaceX CEO, a man who inexplicably bought a highly successful social media platform in order to .. run it into the ground? It’s likely he thought it would bend to his will because, hey, he’s a billionaire and that’s how things work. But it turns out that’s not how free or even partially free speech works. 

In a shocking revelation that legitimacy cannot be purchased (who would have guessed?) the sale of the blue check mark quickly turned into a free for all where, as one wag put it, kids spent their lunch money to impersonate Fortune 500 companies. And this tanked their stocks!

Another thrilling example of an evil, bloodsucking corporation lampooned financially with humor:

Verification on sale for $7.99 a month quickly led to a hall of mirrors as accounts scrambled to claim to be who they said they were (or weren’t, as the case may be).

Needless to say, the emperor himself came in for a lot of impersonation as did his once valuable platform.

Social media is a newish phenomenon, unlike building cars or even rocket ships. But one of its most well-established tenets is: if you’re getting a service for free, then YOU are the product. Because the owners of the platform can sell access to you to their advertisers. Charging you to be the product exhibits the confusion of those who think anything can be monetized to their advantage.

Did I mention that while taking an ax to the free-content-from-famous-people model that built Twitter, the new owner also decided to fire 50% of the workers? The speed with which this was done violated labor laws in several states. 

And the new normal at Twitter may entail generating income by selling users’ personal data in ways that are prohibited by law. But not to worry — the emperor’s personal lawyers assured his remaining employees that they would be safe from legal repercussions if they followed his orders.  I doubt that many of Twitter’s remaining workers were dumb enough to fall for that. 

It takes a special kind of wealth and worldly success to engender the hubris to make these kinds of blunders. 

Did I mention that the emperor also tweeted the day before the midterms to vote Republican? But, like many of his tweets as supreme leader of the bird, he took that one back down.

Pessimists are predicting that, without the terminated software engineers to keep the bird aloft, it will lose more feathers each day until it eventually sinks to Earth. Notwithstanding the fact that many who were fired were offered their jobs back almost immediately, you won’t be surprised to hear that many considered themselves well out of the chaos and declined. (A slew of  top executives were either fired or resigned, too.)

Free speech used to mean oration and publishing in the press. Then social media came along offering a ton of freedom and reach until the tech bros got cozy with government and began restricting the flow of information quietly, behind the scenes. The emperor’s need to brag went against this tacit agreement about how things are done. He was supposedly good at making money but his new attire reveals his butt hanging out there, slowly twisting in the wind.

I’m old enough to know that most things come to an end no matter how much you love them. The In Spite of Life Players retired from the gravel pit to be seen no more. I still miss them, and I will miss Twitter. 

But, it was fun while it lasted.

One last joke before we go:

Mission Creep: Armistice Day To Veterans Day

The U.S. has always been an incredibly violent society. Founded on genocide of Native people (ongoing to this day) and slavery (ditto), what chance was there for us to not turn Armistice Day into Veterans Day? 

The survivors of the first industrialized war, one where even the wealthy sent their sons to be slaughtered, did not think the price of an entire generation of young men worth it. How many believed they were sending their beloveds off to stop barbarity in its tracks? How many knew that the fight had broken out over competition for the rich colonies of the rapidly failing Ottoman Empire?

As my friend Abby’s grandmother said after returning home from organizing against incipient World War I, the whole thing was about Mosul Oil.

As an adult on 9/11, I watched my own country turn into a jingoistic herd of war mad flag wavers. 

Youngsters who remember nothing of that day know this: you dare not be called unpatriotic. Support the troops became a posture that no official hoping to be elected could afford to omit.

Photo of airplane maintenance worker was edited by me to obscure a homophobic slur.

The droves of people who sat by while their military invaded Afghanistan were traumatized by seeing the twin towers burn again and again and again, with soon-to-be corpses sailing out of the windows.

They’d woken up a bit by the war in Iraq. Millions bought the twin lies that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, and that he was a madman with weapons of mass destruction he aimed to use. But the people who oppose wars when a Republican is Commander-in-Chief came out in droves to object to the impending shock and awe unleashed on civilians in Bagdhad (and, later, Mosul).

By the time Obama was in office, continuing those wars and upping the ante by drone bombing civilians around the globe while his government admittedly “tortured some folks,” satisfied Democrats had gone back to reading the New York Times and believing it

That satirical newspaper The Onion was consistently more fact-based than legacy media did not seem like a reason to give up their prestige. Educated, liberal, and peering myopically through a tiny peephole deemed to be “world news” was where they were comfortable.

In the same way that big money crept in and hollowed out organizations that had once challenged the powerful, alternative media was infected. Common DreamsDemocracy Now!Mother JonesRolling StoneThe AtlanticThe Intercept — arguably once worthy of attention, now worse than useless. Worse because they hide their defense of oligarchs behind platitudes of either wokeness or limited investigations careful not to drill down far enough to see the levers of entrenched power at work. Many people are fooled by this strategy. The old are fooled by it because they value their comfort. And conformity for social animals is usually comfortable. The young are fooled by it because they want to belong and for their efforts to matter. 

What happens to the few who don’t get fooled?

My ex once explained to me that historically the Ottoman Empire would send agents out into the provinces, e.g. Greece, where he was born, to find rebellious youth. Preteens or young teens with a penchant for kicking over the established order were evident living as a religious minorities under a repressive imperial government. These young men were lured into distant, luxurious jobs for life in the imperial service. The price: castration. 

A thousand NGOs now employ once idealistic young people to go through the motions of halting climate catastrophe, “saving democracy,” or upholding civil rights. Entire careers are built on not achieving the stated goals.

The Ottomans thrashing in their imperial death throes unleashed the first genocide of the 20th century, marching a million Armenians to death in the Syrian desert.

The U.S. thrashing in its imperial death throes already has attempted genocide on its bloody hands. As its ability to control its vassal states and far-flung colonies unravels, it becomes increasingly dangerous (I know, hard to believe). But the nuclear weapons it claims others want to use in a first-strike are gleaming in their bays, and the bombers that could drop them are fanning out around the globe. 

Today, legacy media outlets will glorify the imperial forces, now expanded even to outer space as a “warfighting domain.” Politicians will weep, embracing the mangled bodies of warriors. Little children will be paraded before their father’s coffins, draped in flags.

And liberals will cling to their comfort here in the heart of the empire, unless of course the final bomb is dropped. Then they will emerge from the radioactive dust like hikabusha before them to testify to the need for an armistice that endures.