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Disgusting read. I just feel so dirty after reading it.
on April 12, 2016
April 11, 2016
Who Runs this Show?
You think you run your life? You think you’re in charge of your perfect suburban life? What forces influence you, and the outcomes you hope for? In Florence of Arabia, the Christopher Buckley critiques the forces of patriarchy, media, feminism, U.S. Foreign policy/government, power, and religion. Unfortunately, while doing so he offers no real solutions, but grim realities.
Buckley refers to these topics usually indirectly, but at other times directly through his characters. Patriarchy is prevalent in Florence of Arabia. It covers the state department, CIA, FBI, the governments of Matar and Wasabi, and even Florence’s “A Team.” All of the people who rank higher than Florence are all male. All of them. The only other significant female character (the Sheik) is portrayed as strong, but constantly persecuted by her husband who rules Matar. At the very beginning of the story we learn of Nazrah and her inability to drive. Why? Because she was prohibited from doing so. “Wasabi women were not permitted to drive.” Not only was she not allowed to drive, but she was not the prince’s only wife. All throughout the novel we hear that every person in middle eastern thrones has many women to choose from. One of the most interesting moments in the novel however is when Florence rejects the orders of the mysterious “Uncle Sam,” and goes it on her own. When she does so all funding and protection stops. The minute anything becomes fundamentally her idea no one stands with her. Even Bobby (who makes love to her more than once in the book) constantly curses at her for her ideas, and desires.
Florence’s desires are commonly called into question when her ideas have the ability to reach others. Media is another massive theme that is all throughout the book. These ideas of hers are put up on a TV station. This station called TVMatar, but she has to get through her PR person, as well as all of the other men in the room. This theme is evident in that media is portrayed as a medium of reaching people. Deeper levels to the theme include the role of truth, and the role of the media of itself. Florence used TV as a platform to do what she viewed was for the greater good. In her words “It is being shown on my initiative, and mine only, for one reason: to honor a brave woman who dared to speak out against a terrible injustice, and who for that was herself savagely murdered. The term ‘martyr’ has been debased and corrupted. You are about to witness an actual martyrdom” (134). Her message empowered the women of Wasabia and Matar, but to what end? The government was toppled, and many women lost their lives in the chaos. Buckley uses these circumstances, with all of the circus of cameras and wiretapping to make the reader think about what the role of media is in communicating. The TV channel in particular was gave rise and fall to Florence.
The messages that Florence put out on the TV were not just designed to keep the station going, but to upset the patriarchy, and “Free Women.” Feminism is another theme that pops up every now and then in the book. Here I am conflicted about how feminism is portrayed. In some respects, it is the very ideal of the book, but the result of feminist actions all end up in discord. Nazrah attempted to learn how to drive and be independent of a dominant and oppressive male. She was beheaded. Florence upset the status quo with TV, but she is constantly imprisoned, attacked, chased, threatened, and abused, both by those in her team, and from outside forces. In stead of creating peace, and greater opportunity for women, she creates instability in Matar, and causes the death and oppression of many women. All of our female heroes need to be rescued by others, or are subjugated by males.
The males who run the governments make all of the lasting decisions. U.S. foreign policy is commented on at length throughout. From the beginning of the novel Florence is working for the government. She joins a Uncle Sam, who is a symbol for the government, but in the end only represents private interests. This of course is commentary that the government is controlled by its interests. Oil comes in as a subtheme here for the workings of the U.S. as well as France, and the U.K. The only reason that these governments are dabbling in the region is not for the plump figs, but for the pipes of slimy crude. Characters mention that the U.S. is really good at messing things up. The narrator states “France was no longer content to sit back and watch the United States screw things up in the region. Did not France have her own proud history of screwing things up?” (159). Buckley shows here that he is obviously against American Interventionism.
Along with the theme of U.S. Policy abroad is the theme of power. The keen reader will notice that all the prior themes are tied together, and that is certainly true here. Power, money and sex are all throughout, because they are the basic motivations of all the men (Patriarchy) in the story. They seek for wealth, power, and women (read sexual gratification). I do not buy that all men are only motivated by those things alone, but it makes for an easy plot. Governments show that they yearn so much for this power that they are willing to spy on both sides. Tactics used by both Florence and governments show that the end justifies the means. Florence reports what she wants, as does the government without regard to completeness of the truth. Another not so subtle theme is the hypocrisy of all religion mentioned in the book. Buckley in his extremely overt way uses the phrase “Praise God” or “God be praised” approximately forty times. Many times this adage is used it rarely is actually connected to anything religious at all. God is used at best as an excuse in the novel to assume control of a people, or existing faith structure. Other times Buckley outright used the phrase to show how meaningless God was to those who said it. In this example there is nothing remarkable about the phrase. It could have been deleted, and that is just the reason why he included it. “Here King Tallulah and Prince Bawad had been imperious beyond belief, reminding Maliq … that it was their troops, their mukfelleen, their money and, God be praised, their oil that had put him on the throne” (159).
Perhaps Buckley has more interesting to say regarding all of government intervention, greed, feminism, power, media, patriarchy, and religion. In the book his arguments feel like critiques without suggestion of better methods, unless abstaining from all foreign affairs is the best method. What this novel shows his experience of being in the state department. Apparently writing speeches for Bush really turned him off to American Exceptionalism. For whatever reason Buckley shows how hopeless all characters are to get the outcome that they work toward. In the end Florence and Bobby realize that they were working for investment bankers all along. That is his real lesson, the theme that ties everything together is that no matter how we try to avoid it, we are bound to seek for money, wherever it comes from.