Open Wide, Tom

Brian Cook

You'd think someone who argued for starting a disastrous war in order to send the message, "Suck On This!" might think twice before doling out moral instruction to anyone. But Thomas Friedman is nothing if not shameless, so in today's column he took the youth of this country to task for not pouring out in the streets and being generally more radical (presumably, I guess, so that he can sit back and watch for his own aesthetic edification and personal uplift, while doing nothing himself but writing braindead columns like this). Let's start with my man's short memory. Leaving aside that hundreds of thousands of Americans (many of them young) took to the streets to stop this war before it happened, probably the last time there were truly large, radical protests in this country was in Seattle in 1999. Here's how Tom greeted them: Is there anything more ridiculous in the news today then [sic!] the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle? I doubt it. These anti-W.T.O. protesters … are a Noah's ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960's fix. He goes on to say "adopting 1960s tactics in a Web-based world…[is] a fool's errand." Tom's like that cokehead dad who finds his kid's stash in the old anti-drug commercials, self-righteously asking, "Where did you learn this?" ("I learned it from watching you," Tom's poor daughter cries.) I can hear the voiceover now: "Parents who are passive schlubs have kids who are passive schlubs." As for the column itself, Friedman berates the kids for not mobilizing around global warming. It's a great example of the time-honored truth that just because Thomas Friedman says something's not happening doesn't mean it's not happening! (Or is going to happen again in less than a month!) Finally, the English major in me has to point out how utterly moronic this literary allusion is: It’s for all these reasons that I’ve been calling them “Generation Q” — the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad. Dude. Please. If you're going to cite it, actually read Graham Greene's incredible novel. Its message was aptly summed up by Slavoj Zizek in this piece: With the global American ideological offensive, the fundamental insight of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is more relevant than ever: We witness the resurgence of the figure of the “quiet American,” a naive, benevolent agent who sincerely wants to bring democracy and Western freedom. It is just that his intentions totally misfire, or, as Greene put it: “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.” In the novel, this naive, benevolent agent backs a horrifying series of bombings that kill innocent civilians because he truly believes it will bring about democracy. In other words, it's not the young generation today who are Quiet Americans. As always, whether he realizes it or not, Thomas Friedman is writing about himself.

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Brian Cook was an editor at In These Times from 2003 to 2009. He now works on the editorial staff of Playboy magazine.
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