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One Nation Off Its Meds

Patt Morrison's e-mail address is patt.morrison@latimes.com.

First-aid Hollywood-style dictates that the best way to calm a hysterical person is to deliver a sharp slap across the chops. Bogie did it to Bacall’s little sister in “The Big Sleep.” The passengers in “Airplane!” lined up for a turn at smacking a woman with the screaming meemies.

When is hysterical America going to slap itself back to its senses?

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Oct. 11, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday October 11, 2004 Home Edition California Part B Page 11 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Patt Morrison’s column -- In an Oct. 6 commentary on political strangeness, Jon Stewart’s first name was misspelled as John.

This week’s e-mails have informed me that George W. Bush must have been equipped with an earpiece or a receiver in his molar during last week’s presidential debate because he kept saying “Let me finish” when no one was interrupting him. (Get wise, people; if Bush had had Karl Rove feeding him lines, do you think he would have lost?)

The around-the-bend blogs hollered that John Kerry had illicitly used his own pen at the debates -- or was that a cheat sheet in his hand? -- and that Kerry won only because someone slipped him the questions beforehand. (Yep, those surprise Iraq questions in a debate on foreign policy sure looked like sucker punches to Bush.)

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When did the loonies get off their barstools or off their meds and take over? Aren’t Area 51 and Bigfoot enough for them anymore? When did the wackos stop getting transmissions from Saturn in their bridgework and start getting C-SPAN?

When Pennsylvania Avenue and Madison Avenue and Wall Street and Hollywood Boulevard showed them how slickly it’s done, that’s when. The dubious 2000 presidential election. Last week’s bogus Fox News story with its fake Kerry quotes about his manicure. Fox says it was fabricated “in jest” by chief political correspondent Carl Cameron, a product of “fatigue and bad judgment.” (Is that all it takes to fix Fox News -- a good night’s sleep? Somebody get the Ambien.)

The movers and shakers have been shaving political truths and lying and swearing to it for so long that we are now One Nation Under Delusion. Sense is nonsense, the absence of weapons of mass destruction is proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction, and it all depends on what “is” is. Nothing is too outlandish to get traction. Kerry got Botox injections. Bush didn’t choke on a pretzel -- he was drunk. A missile, not a plane, hit the Pentagon on 9/11. A third of Americans believe in ghosts and believe that WMD were found in Iraq, though maybe not the same third.

If the 15th century had been as potty as the 21st appears, Columbus would have stayed home for fear of tumbling off the edge of the Earth and everyone in this hemisphere would be speaking Old Norse and Aztec.

Michael Shermer writes books with titles like “Why People Believe Weird Things,” and his beef with conspiracy theories isn’t that conspiracies don’t happen -- Lincoln was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy -- but that, because they are a lot more titillating than dreary old logic, they become mythological, unassailable. A little quirk called “confirmation bias” predisposes us to latch on to whatever confirms what we already think and ignore what contradicts it.

Take the Bush administration, desperately wanting to believe those aluminum tubes were evidence of nuclear weapons development: “Once you have it in your mind,” Shermer said, “then it’s easy to find bits and pieces of intelligence to fit, and even though 98% points in the other direction. It’s the same way psychics work: You forget the 90% of misses and remember the 10% they got right.” Fire the national science foundation. Appoint Miss Cleo Secretary of Hunches and Intuition.

When war is peace and freedom is slavery, humor is truth. The punch line has more credibility than the party line. “The Daily Show” audience is politically savvier than other channel-surfers, and John Stewart’s viewers are better educated than Bill O’Reilly’s. Communists for Kerry, Pleasure Boat Captains for Truth and Billionaires for Bush teach civics better than Founding Fathers High School.

I’ve just discovered the Yes Men, seditious progressive pranksters disguised in Salvation Army suits and “Hi. My name is ... " tags. Their parody performances are so deadpan and deadly that they have been welcomed at global trade meetings where they endorsed slave labor as an “involuntary imported workforce model.”

After campaigning for gay divorce in San Francisco, the Yes Men headed to Ohio for last night’s vice presidential debate, careening around Cleveland in their Bush Bus with the oil derrick on top, determined to “be cheerleaders for Vice President Dick Cheney because everything he does is pro-business and therefore good.” This was told to me by Yes Man Andy; they go by Andy and Mike because no one would believe their real names, Jacques and Igor.

How do they get away with it? Why are they welcomed, even applauded, in places where street protesters would be tear-gassed for delivering essentially the same message? Ah, says Andy, that’s the beauty part of parody: “The real thing is so weird in itself that people are ready to believe anything.”


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