Michael Moynihan

01.16.14

Great and Fake: The Wild Absurdity Of Iranian And Russian State Media

Did you know North Korea has schools that rival Eton? That Nazi space aliens are running D.C.? Propaganda peddled by Russian and Iranian state media is shocking—and absurd.

In the bad old days of the Cold War, those Americans sympathetic to Moscow could purchase clumsy Kremlin propaganda at various radical bookstores, stocked with glossy magazines and turgid tracts about collective farms and Stakhanovite iron output. (A friend recently recalled buying the complete works of Stalin—in a handsome, if slightly flimsy, edition—at a Communist Party bookstore in New York’s Union Square). But the spread of capitalist technology has greatly benefited state-run propaganda, allowing them to reach the stupid and credulous with much greater efficiency, but with a predictable lack of nuance.

And there is something addictive about television stations like RT, the Kremlin-owned conspiracy mill that has collected 1.2 billion YouTube clicks, and PressTV, the Iranian-government sponsored television network that investigates Jewish conspiracies. (Full disclosure: I have, for reasons I still don’t quite comprehend, appeared on both channels, though haven’t done so in many years and refused payment from PressTV. Being a participant, unfortunately, makes one feel like Lord Haw-Haw. Being a viewer is more likely to leave one confused and unintentionally amused.)

There’s rather too much Roderick Spode in George Galloway, a recent addition to RT’s lineup of spittle-flecked hosts. Spode, the Anglophile reader might recall, is a fictional creation of P.G. Wodehouse, modeled on British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley. He is a brash and thuggish political extremist with a secret history toiling in the women’s undergarment trade. Galloway, who unfortunately resides outside the realms of both fiction and reality, is a brash and thuggish political extremist, with a very public history of donning women’s clothes on British television…while pretending to be a cat (just watch the clip).

“When one needs a defense of the indefensible—I often do, just to stave off the boredom and depression provoked by the non-insane news—RT is always a reliable alternative”

In the United States, Galloway is best known for his 2005 filibustering performance in front of Congress, where he harangued dopey American politicians about Iraq. (He was, The Independent declared, “The Man Who Took on America,” while the respectable left-wing publisher New Press printed a transcript of his comments as a pamphlet.) But in the United Kingdom, where he has hosted a sports talk radio show and appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, Galloway is better known as a former member of British Parliament, a thorn in the side of the establishment, and a bit of a nut.

We needn’t recount every foul position Galloway has held in his life—I haven’t the space, you haven’t the time—but he has variously been an Assadist, Saddamist, Castroite, Hamas-nik, and sycophant of the Soviet Union. “I did support the Soviet Union,” Galloway once told an interviewer, “and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life.”

So for an old Soviet nostalgic, it’s hardly surprising that his RT show, appropriately called Sputnik, is often nostalgic for the lost world of Soviet totalitarianism. And when one needs a defense of the indefensible—I often do, just to stave off the boredom and depression provoked by the non-insane news—RT is always a reliable alternative. Which is why they hired Galloway.

On a recent episode of Sputnik, the MP for Bradford West went all in for the most oppressive country on Earth, introducing his guest, Keith Bennett of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), as Britain’s foremost North Korea expert. (Political parties consisting of a few dozen dead-enders, like CPGB-ML, can always grab screen time on RT, because the Putin government is dedicated to providing narratives ignored by the Western media for being stupid and reckless).

Bennett, looking like one of those swivel-eyed types who hang around bus stations, launched into a vigorous defense of the North Korean regime, with various assists from Galloway. There follows a précis of their conversation, to save you the emotional and intellectual distress of actually watching. According to Galloway, “we invaded Korea” and the North is now “surrounded by hostile nuclear-armed bases,” which explains its completely rational behavior. The succession of power in North Korea “has passed apparently seamlessly” (you have to love that “apparently”) with the small exception of a recent “domestic difficulty”—the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek by firing squad. But after all, says Galloway, “every country has factional problems” and he asks his guest just “how serious were the crimes [Jang] committed.”

Not thinking this monologue sufficiently insane, Bennett explains that Jang was “found guilty of treason” and his crimes “would be treason in any country.” This verdict has, he says, brought a measure of “stability” to North Korea by preventing a Jang coup. And don’t forget that North Korea was the “first country in Asia to reach 100 percent literacy” (this is more punishment than achievement when the only available books were written by Kim Jong-il) and has “free health care” (a good thing when routinely collapsing from starvation). But Bennett saved his most explosive revelation for last, when he revealed that the Schoolchildren’s Palace, a school in Pyongyang, has “facilities that would really be the envy of Eton and Harrow,” the tony British private schools.

All beamed into your living room, courtesy of the Russian government.

This stuff can be too depressing to watch for an extended period of time, so one can unwind with an interplanetary conspiracy from Iran’s “semi-official” (meaning completely official) Fars “news” agency. For conspiracy mongering, no one does it better than the Jew-obsessed lunatics at Fars, as they proved on Monday. As pointed out by Washington Post blogger Max Fisher, they revealed that, according to documents provided to the Russian secret services by Edward Snowden, a “US-Alien-Hitler” cult is currently in control of the United States government. According to Fars, “of the many explosive revelations in this…report, the one most concerning to Russian authorities are the Snowden’s documents ‘confirming’ that the ‘Tall Whites’ are the same extraterrestrial alien race behind the stunning rise of Nazi Germany during the 1930’s.”

I don’t understand either. But the important point is that an arm of the Iranian government—but only semi-official—believes that Nazi aliens are running Washington, DC.

And these people want a nuclear bomb.

It’s brilliant—and completely terrifying—stuff. And it makes one appreciate the comparatively subterranean biases of NPR, PBS, and the BBC. But I consistently come across this idea, nurtured by credulous radicals, that to live outside the mainstream mediasphere is to, almost by default, be independent, righteous, Chomskyian (Stop the manufacturing of consent!). The corporate media has been upended, at long last…by the authoritarian media.

And yes, I’ll keep watching and reading RT, PressTV, and Fars. But I’ll keep treating it like professional wrestling: absurd, occasionally funny, and always fake.