Part 2—Does anything ever make sense: Are we all Manchurian now?
Before we consider what Candidate Donald J. Trump has been saying, consider a scene from the classic 1962 film which inspires our question.
Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) has been brainwashed in Manchuria, just like his superior officer, "poor, friendless Raymond Shaw." Unfortunately, though, in Sinatra's case, the brainwashing hasn't quite held.
Sinatra has been having nightmares. In these nightmares, he recalls what actually happened when Shaw's platoon was captured in the Korean War, then taken to Manchuria.
Sinatra reports his nightmares to his military superiors in Washington; they decide he's suffering from combat stress. In the scene to which we refer, a highly sympathetic Colonel Milt comes to Sinatra's home to tell him that he's been placed on leave.
Upon arrival, the colonel asks Sinatra where he gets his piles of books. As Sinatra fixes a drink for the colonel, this strange conversation occurs:
COLONEL: My God, where do you get all the books?The Sinatra character seems a bit off-kilter in his general demeanor. And of course, his rambling comments don't seem to make too much sense.
MARCO: Oh, I, uh— I got a guy picks 'em out for me. At random. Water all right?
MARCO: He's in, uh, San Francisco. A little bookstore out there and, uh, he ships 'em to me wherever I happen to be stationed.
COLONEL: You've read them all?
MARCO: Yeah. They also make great insulation against an enemy attack.
But the truth of the matter is that I'm just interested, you know, in, uh, principles of modern banking and history of piracy, paintings of Orozco, modern French theatre, the jurisprudential factors of Mafia administration, diseases of horses and novels of Joyce Cary and ethnic choices of the Arabs—things like that.
On its primary level, The Manchurian Candidate revolves around a literal act of brainwashing—an act of brainwashing which produces a state of homicidal hypnosis. On the secondary level, the film is stuffed with surreal conversations and decisions which suggest that a type of secondary hypnosis and/or self-hypnosis is marbled all through our waking lives.
These weird conversations and chains of events are most striking in a pair of romances—the romance between Sinatra and Janet Leigh, and the romance between poor Raymond (Laurence Harvey) and the lovely, highly peculiar young Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish).
But the air of hypnosis is also there as Sinatra explains where he gets his information. As it turns out, Sinatra gets his information from "a guy"—from a guy who selects his books for him, at random, from three thousand miles away.
The guy mails the books to Sinatra. Hypnotically, Sinatra reads them—even though they cover a bewildering array of topics which seem to betray no internal connection or coherence.
"Things like that," Sinatra says, referring to an array of topics which display no apparent connection.
After Sinatra's weird explanation, the colonel stresses that he's been ordered to go on leave. The modern viewer may be left with a further thought, in which Sinatra's disordered discussion of his source of information is reminiscent of the disordered stream of random, incoherent assertions and claims which comprise the modern American discourse.
Last night, we thought of the Sinatra character midway through the 9 PM Eastern hour. We clicked through the programs which were airing on the three "cable news" channels. As we did, we found an inane discussion being conducted on each one.
Don't get us wrong! The three discussions were quite unique; each was inane in its own special way. But good lord! We thought of the random flow of information which was reaching Major Marco as we pondered the stream of corporate-licensed misdirection and distraction emerging from our "TV machine thingy," as one of the three cable news purveyors might entertainingly have said.
We found a random flow of inanity being offered to voters last night. In fairness to Cooper, Kelly and Maddow, we have to say that we had the same reaction to Dahlia Lithwick's new essay about Candidate Donald J. Trump for Slate.
Donald J. Trump has been making a series of claims about a federal district judge. These claims have provoked a wave of outrage across the realm of Punditstan.
For ourselves, we've been struck by the difficulty pundits and reporters have had in merely describing what Candidate Donald J. Trump has said about this federal judge. But then, incoherence is a basic part of the culture in this hypnotic realm.
Last night, on one of those three cable shows, we finally saw a journalist evaluate the specific claims Donald J. Trump and his spokespersons have been making. That journalist was Megyn Kelly. Tomorrow, we'll show you the rubble that was left on the ground after she finished shredding the Trump camp's basic claims.
Later in her program, Kelly was peddling inanity, as described above. But in one segment, she actually did what Lithwick didn't seem able to do—what very few journos have bothered to do in the surreal, hypnotic state which now passes for a national discourse.
Lithwick's essay makes little sense, but neither do the accounts of Trump's remarks which have appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Are we all Manchurian now? Are we all immersed in semi-hypnotic states as we receive the blizzard of reactions and claims which pose as our national discourse?
Frank Sinatra's Major Marco would have felt right at home reading the accounts of Trump's remarks offered by Lithwick and the Times. He could have moved on to a blizzard of claims about diseases of horses and novels of Joyce Cary—"things like that."
Our public discourse rarely makes sense in these highly Manchurian times, in which disordered players like Mika and Joe are shipping the public its books. To judge from that one surreal scene, Major Marco had already made his peace with this highly disordered game.
This game was all over cable last night. Is it possible, could it be, that we're all Manchurian now?
Tomorrow: Lithwick v. Kelly