Unbecoming American: Truth, Love and Hope: Carlson at the Bolshoi

Broadly speaking three kinds of reactions to the recent Tucker Carlson – Vladimir Putin interviews can be detected. Aside from the official condemnations that find their echo wherever dementia and other intellectual impediments prevail, there is ecstasy, skepticism, and loyalty.

The ecstatic present this interview as something akin to the visions of Fatima. The skeptics point out that Fatima is a fraud. The loyal include those who have held Tucker Carlson for a hero or at least a very worthy member of their national conservative side in the ongoing US political wars. Nonetheless all these groups of viewers, commentators (pod or web) and officials high and low agree that there is something extraordinary about the event, the interview or conversation recorded in Moscow on or about 9 February 2024. Is it a sign of information liberation? Has Carlson together with those who have offered him platforms to distribute the interview without charge broken the sound bite barrier in the US (NATO) war against Russia and its own middle class and working class? Has this event revealed mysteries hitherto concealed except from those whom divine powers have deigned to speak? Is this yet another psychological operation where the son of the former director of Voice of America has launched the campaign that will end so-called “alternative media”?

The disturbing aspect of all these possibilities is that they are rooted in the fundamentally religious culture of the United States (and to the extent its missionaries have succeeded, in the various vassal states, e.g. the EU). In the first place the interview was a performance, if not a spectacle. This is not an issue of culpability. Rather it is an affirmation that the Carlson interview in Moscow by its very nature and cultural context is a show. That is just the way American culture works. If it had not been staged as a show— to the extent that Carlson and President Putin agreed on the format— it would have been incomprehensible to an American or American indoctrinated public. It is meanwhile tiresome to analyze all the speculation about „narratives“— that gratuitous contribution of literary scholarship to the lingual franca of the mass media through whatever channel. The corollary to Coolidge‘s dictum is that the business of America is also show business. Religion is the ultimate show as the plethora of radio, TV and auditoria evangelists easily testifies.

Of course Tucker Carlson, like his father, has been a part of the public-private partnership that constitutes the American propaganda system. Anyone who works at an establishment media outlet is— wittingly or unwittingly. That is how American journalism was founded by Pulitzer and Hearst at the end of the 19th century. It is superfluous to criticize Carlson for doing what every professional journalist has been trained to do, whether at one of the corporate sponsored journalism faculties, or as a well-connected freelancer. That cannot be the starting point for understanding the Moscow interview (as opposed to Oliver Stone‘s 2017 interview— which was also framed in cinematic terms rather than journalistic). 

The starting point ought to be with the facts. What did Carlson say? What questions did he ask? What answers did he receive? And what has happened since, to him and to those who watched the interview? Carlson spoke in a rather poor interview format in Dubai this week. It was apparent from his statements that whatever he may have expected from his interview the confrontation with Russia and President Putin induced him to make statements he has not previously made. Those statements about the character of the US regime, his values as an American patriot, his confusion as he attempts to integrate the experience into his personal and professional personae, ought to be taken for what they are statements of fact— about in the first instance Tucker Carlson, American.

Some skeptics have speculated that Carlson is the thin edge of a crowbar that will undermine through infiltration and acquisition the so-called alternative media. They point to his curriculum vitae and his career as a corporate propagandist. All that is a matter of public record. However it is necessary to recall that since the founding of the CIA (and before that the FBI) there have been innumerable people whose careers were in the “opposition” and only very late— if not posthumously— were identified as government agents or assets. Just as the public curriculum vitae creates a presumption to be rebutted. It is extremely difficult to know who among those with „spotless“ opposition credentials are merely working under deep cover.

The long-time followers are probably the least disappointed or skeptical. For this audience Tucker Carlson already enjoys a certain star status. If they are anti-Russian then their star has shown courage in the face of battle. He did not let himself be intimidated by what the Germans call the “Ivan”. They may have wondered that Carlson was unable to carry an American spy back to the homeland with him. However they would have had no problem explaining that. Carlson sat in the Kremlin in front of the cameras and showed American strength and character. His personal meeting with the Russian president was evidence that American values can be defended even in Moscow— while the Democrats and the bizarre “Left” try to destroy their country.

There is another way to assess the interview and Tucker Carlson‘s subsequent statements. This is where the role of the appraiser ought to be more carefully considered than that performed by the performance appraised. Carlson performed the role of an American journalist on a stage partly structured like those stages upon which American audiences are accustomed to see such performances. Although the interview was extraordinary in a limited sense, it was overdetermined as performance. Anyone who had listened to President Putin‘s speeches over the past ten years would not have found anything very new in what he said. However that is the key point. The audiences before which Carlson sought to perform had never seen this stage or this show. It was a premiere in a very real sense, even if not held at the Bolshoi or on Broadway.

Much of the analysis and appreciation of this performance by the generous and sympathetic critics misses the point. In Dubai Carlson found himself unable to answer all the stock questions his poor, corpulent, interlocutor posed. He also was very clear about that incapacity. Anyone his age- 54 – or older ought to be able to recall the kinds of albeit naive basic principles and optimism with which his generation was still educated at home if not at school. The under-40, who have by and large been indoctrinated with the ostensible absence of positive doctrine or history, do not even understand the problem of recognizing that one‘s personal history and one‘s national history cannot explain the current conditions of the country in which one lives. They have been trained in the history of the brand, where the past is merely a “retro” design of the present. Tucker Carlson is a child of the Establishment, at least once removed. Yet there are far more people who share the history in which he was raised than our current youth fetishism recognizes. 

The question that still bears serious consideration is that of what Tucker Carlson the performer means in the overall context of political warfare? This is a fair question but until now I have only noticed feeble expressions of this issue. If instead of applying rigid forensic dissection of Carlson‘s role, like those found in those atrocities of film criticism, one distinguishes between Tucker the journalist and Tucker the man, then one can also say that Tucker the journalist is susceptible to every subterfuge and political warfare tactic to which the entire profession is open. Then one must look at the way the journalist role is played now and in future— not only by Carlson. At the same time, a humanist appreciation must distinguish between the man, Tucker Carlson and what he does and says in that role. Serious intellectual effort, cultural-historical method, is needed to detach oneself from the constant role of “show perceiver” and learn to master the role of perceiving ordinary humans as they act in their daily lives. That applies to Tucker Carlson, his wife and four children, even if he lives in a wealthy neighborhood of La Jolla, California, where smoking Cannabis at breakfast is not allowed. 



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