Friday, August 26, 2011

The Osprey Book of Secret Hideaways of Flamboyant International Dictators

Remember this picture? It appeared in November 2001, as the hunt for Osama Bin Laden built up its full Western movie denouement steam. The evil mastermind's secret hideout, invented by an excited Anglo-American press unknowingly unfurling pre-programmed narratives, resulting in a USA Today infographic that mixed equal parts threads of sourced urban legend and Silver Age Batcave cross-section. Edward Jay Epstein has a brilliant deconstruction of the whole thing at his Fictoid Series, explaining how the imaginative alignment of this image with our idea of how the story was supposed to go was so potent that Tim Russert and Donald Rumsfeld grimly discussed the drawing on Meet the Press.

I am still waiting for my 1/72 scale Airfix playset. In 2004, I got the next best thing—in the local hobby shop, a military modeler's guide to how to create your own: The Osprey book Afghanistan Cave Complexes 1979-2004: "Mountain strongholds of the Mujahideen, Taliban & Al Qaeda", part of the Fortress series.

And now I have Richard Fernandez's brilliant fresh Qaddafied analysis of the Secret Underground Fortress meme over at The Belmont Club.

Our media loves the Blofeld narrative. Because they think just like we do. The built architecture of contemporary geopolitics needs to conform to the narrative architecture of the library of movies playing out at all times on the back of our foreheads. The lone 007, or the elite MIF squad, needs to find the bad guy and his Easter eggs inside the secret fortress, to get to the next level. That was the really brilliant thing about Christopher Nolan's Inception: the way it tasked the secret mission force with actually assaulting the imaginary fortresses of our dreams.

But perhaps the most astounding thing is how much the pulp narratives pumped out by Hollywood et al into the global mediasphere come back at us through the actual behaviors of our 21st century evil dictators, who, while presumably acting out very different archetypal roles in the tradition of their own culture, always manage to throw us some very meaty semiotic bones that let us know they are also playing the same pantomime as the designers of the Bin Laden Playset.

With Saddam, we had the confounding discovery of Rowena Morrill chainmail cheesecake adorning the walls of his secret Baghdad bachelor pads. Perhaps it should not have been that surprising, when one is reminded that Saddam also wrote his own fantasy novels. Boggling the mind with ideas for potential psyops.

Bin Laden's special effects team was a bit more muted, setting him up in a WWII walled farmhouse diorama, sitting in front of the matte backdrop of the Pakistani Colorado Springs, watching himself play Osama Bin Laden on TV. And lots of porn, though maybe that was just another psyop by the Langley wiseguys who allegedly produced their own fake Osama pedo-porn. He gets it, and they get it: the movie version is as real as the reality version.

NB: There is a movie currently playing in theaters about the reality-altering life of one of Uday Hussein's body doubles. When will there be a convention of the body doubles of deposed international dictators? You know you could totally mint that in Vegas. Especially if you hired the CIA porn producers to orchestrate a Ziegfeld Follies of dancing with the impostors.

So now it's Muammar Q's turn (again—he's been stealing the scene and chewing the geopolitical scenery since the days of Reagan and the Libyan Hit Squad). Does he really have an elite team of lipsticked female bodyguards trained at his secret Tripoli facility?

Will they find him hiding out with them in his labyrinth of secret underground tunnels?

You already know the answer, because those tunnels lead into the Gygax catacombs of your head.

1 comment:

Dave Hardy said...

I recall a passage from The Bunker by James O'Donnell. There was some plan afoot for Hitler to fall back from Berlin to Bertchesgaden since the Soviets were making straight for the German capital.

Someone, I think Goebbels, managed to scotch the plan. According to O'Donnell the fuhrer believed he had to make his last stand in his fortress amid the flaming ruins of the Reichskapital. Dying at his summer vacation house was NOT Wagnerian.

Bunkers are practical things, but also strangely theatrical.