The best satire is indistinguishable from cinema verité. I first learned that when living in England, and I discovered that the absurdity of Monty Python was really keenly observed reality expressed without filters.
Everyone had been to the cheese shop that carried no cheese; I shopped among the buxom middle-aged suburban housewives the Python troupe imitated. Frederick Wiseman couldn’t have nailed them so perfectly.
Which is why this Thomas Friedman op-ed column generator is so scary.
You’d think the man himself had created it—and used it repeatedly:
“DISORDER AND DREAMS IN [COUNTRY IN THE NEWS]”
Last week’s events in [country in the news] were truly historic, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. What’s important, however, is that we focus on what these events mean [on the ground/in the street/to the citizens themselves]. The [media/current administration] seems too caught up in [worrying about/dissecting/spinning] the macro-level situation to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the [desert for the sand/fields for the wheat/battle for the bullets].
When thinking about the recent turmoil, it’s important to remember three things: One, people don’t behave like [computer programs/billiard balls/migratory birds], so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. [Computer programs/Billiard balls/Migratory birds] never suddenly [blow themselves up/shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs/set up a black market for Western DVDs]. Two, [country in question] has spent decades [as a dictatorship closed to the world/being batted back and forth between colonial powers/torn by civil war and ethnic hatred], so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, [hope/freedom/capitalism] is an extraordinarily powerful idea.
When I was in [country in question] last [week/month/August], I was amazed by the [people’s basic desire for a stable life/level of Westernization for such a closed society/variety of the local cuisine], and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of [country in question] have no shortage of [courage/potential entrepreneurs/root vegetables], and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in [country in question] are just like people anywhere else on this great globe of ours.
So what should we do about the chaos in [country in question]?
Is Friedman any more (or less) absurd than this?