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Letters from Downunder

The Mandrake Effect

Submitted by Lindsay
Melbourne Australia!

Disbelief in magic can fool a poor soul into believing in government and business.
Tom Robbins

(11/2013) Even if you do not remember it, June 1 1934 was a memorable day. No one knew it then, but the beginning of a new era took place without fanfare or headlines. Simply, the first ever super hero appeared in print. Well, only partly in print, because the words were illustrated in true comic style, but the effect was electric. Lee Falk was the writer and cartoonist, and he called his creation Mandrake the Magician.

Comics had been around for ages, of course, but never before had an unstoppable champion of the people – the good people, that is – been so fancifully portrayed. A phenomenon was born, and it didn’t take long for others to get into the swing of it. Superhero, super friend, super family, supercharge. Down with baddies, long live the goodies. We are protected! We have a hero on our side, the evil that threatens sometime, anytime, will be dealt with. We Can Sleep Safe in our beds. We did, and were entertained.

Not only an evil scourge, this man (always a man) would risk his life for us. He would fight against unimaginable odds, vanquish villains, and becomes the hope of the masses. We were enraptured, thankful, and lulled into that make-believe world of fantasy. A wave of his hand, a stare from his eyes, and things no mere mortal could achieve happened.

O K, we know it’s just pretense, we know it’s not true, but it’s fun and it’s harmless, and it translated well into the grist of Hollywood movies. Whole generations wanted to be superman, Spiderman, or any other–man, and the fun we all had felt good. We wanted a bit of that magic, a bit of hero in our lives.

Sometimes, however, fantasy has the ability to become reality; a hand or two waved across our collective eye can make us see things as they are not. We read the comics, see the movies, and watch with a smile as Mr. Mandrake does his deeds to others, yet the situations he and his mystic brothers gave us can become the foundation for a new version of the superhero, a real but inverted set of wizardries that may be waved over our collective minds in a program of mass mesmerization. Whatever our new Mandrake makes us see, it is not designed to defeat the baddies, the evil villain, or the world-destroying genius, but to keep them all safe. And who then is the enemy? Why the goodies, of course. Us, in other words.

Mandrake and his like would be dull without their companions, and in his case it was the giant king of an African tribe who got the nod. His name was Lothar, he could not be harmed by any man made device, was immensely strong, loyal and true. He wore a Fez, a leopard skin, and apparently not much else. Over the years he became more and more ordinary in the clothing department, and is now indistinguishable from other mere mortals. His invulnerability remains, his loyalty to his master has never been better, and his power is still extra-ordinary. His name, by the way, has changed, and has become Rupert Murdoch.

Mandrake, meanwhile, has morphed into a shadowy multi-dimensional monster that expands and guards its own future, has no single name but power, makes parties and people blame each other for the problems, and has created the illusion that it is benign, wishes wellbeing for us all, is the bastion of democracy, and that all is well with the world. In fact things are far from being all right in the world. Here’s some examples.

Australia has one of the highest per capita outputs of carbon dioxide emissions in the world, yet the total is relatively small because there’s only 23 million of us. We discuss the need to reduce our emissions, the topic is hot on talk-shows, TV sends us graphic black balloon pictures showing how bad we are and how big out footprint is; the Murdoch pundits propose that global warming is a myth, and we are bemused, no matter where we stand on the subject, and most of us are by now either activists or indifferent. BUT – we are the chief exporter of coal to Asia. Millions of tons of it are shipped to China, India, Japan - not so they can extract its chemicals, but to burn for power, heat, processing the things they make mostly for you. A very few magnates benefit enormously from this, including the richest woman in the world, Gina Reinhardt, but we the public only see the need for us to reduce our own emissions. It is as though no one knows that the air above is constantly mixing, and if our output is small we’ll survive. Mandrake says we will, but we won’t. Our new Prime Minister is making your tea party look green, (how does the green-tea party sound? They need making fun of), while nuclear power is unmentionable - even though we are a major exporter of the raw materials. But hey! We’re all right, our footprint is small and business is business.

We and yourselves took violent sides over the weapons of mass destruction saga in Iraq, which proved to be a smokescreen for the massive genocide Hussein was carrying out at that time. We put in sanctions, entered into wars financed by debt, made reprisals to topple this most terrible of dictators, then wondered what all the fuss had been about. Deluded, hypnotized? Absolutely.

We see the destruction of chemical weapon stockpiles in Syria, not the hundreds of thousands of refugees forced to flee their home, often with nothing more that their lives. The destruction acts as a façade created by the waving hand and flashing eye of the magician.

Politicians from either side are now normally unable to fraternize with anyone from the other side, making an exchange of views and tips nigh on impossible, strengthening a divide that sees the sorry mess of a loony few holding the nation to ransom. If ever a bit of reality was needed, it is there.

We see the proposed removal of the limit that private citizens can donate to a political candidate or party, nearly 40 years after that limit was introduced to combat widespread corruption. Another victory for the illusionists. We are aware of the argument that not raising the debt ceiling will mean a default on debt and send the economy and the world reeling into ruin– but we fail to see the debt itself, partly because it is so big that it is beyond imagining, partly because most people seem to have got used to the idea that it’s normal. There was once a song that went ‘to dream the impossible dream’ but this should be ‘to service the impossible debt.’ It is the black hole of finance, the Mandrake effect of massively living beyond the country’s means - and for all the talk, it would not be the first time America has turned tail and run away from its fiscal responsibilities.

There are many other examples, but what we see is what we come to care about, even when those things are illusions. We care not for the things we cannot easily see, even when they are the reality. It is not curiosity that kills the cat, it is laziness, lack of clear sightedness and understanding . The new Mandrake has one aim: To survive. The illusionist knows the reality behind his magic, knows that the times ahead are so perilous that only the very powerful, the very rich, the very ruthless will make it. That does not include us, of course. We’ll go on hoping and trusting unto the end.

I cannot look into your eyes, but here’s a spell-breaking hand wave from down under instead.

Lindsay, happy as a fool trying to grasp reality in Australia.

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker