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April 3, 2006 | by  | in Features |
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Robert Fisk: Britney Spears for the Liberal Middle Aged

Robert Fisk is a haunted man. He has no doubt seen sights more horrific than you or I could ever imagine, and seen them a thousand times over. Not because he enjoys it, not for financial gain nor to serve any ideological agenda. Robert Fisk has borne witness to hell on earth, because somebody has to. Somebody has to tell the world the truth.

So stands the cult of Fisk, the saddest part of which is that Fisk almost seems to be beginning to believe it himself.

I’d love to make the point that Robert Fisk is a douche bag, but it doesn’t feel quite right to take shots at a man who has, by all accounts, spent his life fulfilling a role as dangerous and difficult as it is essential. It’s almost inevitable that anyone in Fisk’s position will eventually end up fairly good mates with death, feeding each other’s cat when they’re away on holiday and so forth. However Fisk appears to have embraced their friendship with a creepy zealousness. He turns up at death’s flat at three in the morning, having just baked him a cake, and wears his subsequent inhumanity as a badge of twisted pride. He cultivates his image as a man scarred by the things he’s seen, and milks it for all its worth.

During his recent visit to Wellington, Fisk recounted an anecdote during a panel discussion on writing about war. While reporting on the West Bank, he witnessed a Palestinian mob set upon three Israelis in retaliation for yet another of Israel’s helicopter assassinations. The Israeli men were stripped, beaten to death and then hung upside-down from lampposts. Burning cigarettes were shoved into the men’s faces. It wasn’t the deadpan and unaffected manner in which Fisk recounted the story that was the most disturbing aspect. It was the way he turned to fellow panelist, reporter-cartoonist Joe Sacco and said that he’d been unable to record that image in words, and so he drew “little pictures” in his notebook. His tone was as if he’d discovered a charming coincidence, like their daughters shared a birthday or they both had golden retrievers as children. Sacco, a veteran of the Balkan Wars, looked aghast. It is one thing to laugh at death, Robert Fisk chuckles at it.

Fisk isn’t just able to deal with war; he’s able to comfortably cohabitate with it. His façade of world-weariness and deep despair is just the mask he wears because he realises that he has sacrificed pretty much all that is human inside him on the alter of journalism, and that if his fan base of middle-aged left-wing cheerleaders ever catches on he will not be allowed to interact with, let alone reintegrate into, society. It is this pep squad of Bush-bashing baby-boomers who have created and sustain the cult of Fisk, buy his books, read his columns and absorb his words as if they were the freakin’ gospel. And it is for them that Fisk insists in playing the martyr, audibly agonizing over the choices he has made, and pining for his lost life. Yet he always returns to the war zone, never quite able to admit he actually enjoys it, because if he doesn’t, why won’t he just get off his high horse and throw the whole thing in? There’s always somebody else who wants to be a celebrity.

Of course, he’s more than a celebrity isn’t he? He’s the messiah with a social conscience, which is never more apparent than when a woman in the crowd asks him the absurd question, “What do we do now?”, her voice straining, as she implores her saviour to show her the way. To his credit Fisk dismisses the question, and it is these moments when he demonstrates the intellectual prowess for which he is renowned. He refuses to be drawn into pointless speculation, refuses to gratify their neediness. It is not Fisk the straight-talker who is at fault; it is Fisk the seemingly reluctant celebrity. It is not Fisk’s fault that the adoring public misconstrues him as a man with a message. His experiences support their prejudices and they love him for it. It is a shame though that a man so obviously intelligent and critically minded has been reduced to a pep-girl for the anti-Bush squad. No wonder that Fisk comes across so blasé and cavalier about the horrific sights of his life. It must be unbelievably demoralizing for such an advocate of critical thinking to realize that he has become Britney Spears for the liberal middle-aged Wellington scene.

It is not Fisk’s fault that he has become so cheapened, but rather it is the fault of the legion of douche bags (hurrah!) that hang on his every word. Which is why it was so terrific to hear his answer to the final question of the panel discussion, which happened to be about Iran. Fisk dutifully confirmed the crowd’s belief that the threat of Iran was a fraud dreamed up the Western media, and everybody applauded. He then added that the real threat was, in fact, Pakistan. And the whole crowd sat in stunned silence, as their secular messiah betrayed them. Fucking priceless.

James’ Right of Reply
You live in a cold, cynical world. By your accounts Fisk should just pack it all in because he has become an unintentional two-dimensional poster-child. You question his sanity and his celebrity but make no effort to comprehend his importance beyond this.

In the words of Mr. T “I pity the fool (that doubts Robert Fisk)!” Maybe I’ll top that off with some further A-team wisdom “I love it when a plan comes together! (In regards to Fisk’s excellently researched and relevant work.) Mr. T is never wrong Nick. NEVER.

Me and T are going to go grab a beer now. OUT.

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About the Author ()

Nick Holm, feared by his enemies, loved by his friends, is the whore of student media. Having cut his teeth working for the California Aggie, and come closer to committing hate crimes than anyone will ever really know while the News Editor of Massey\'s Chaff, he\'s somehow beached himself at Salient for the near future. Haunted by prophetic dreams that show him tantalising glimpses of a future that may come to pass if he fails to prevent the robot uprising he will like you if you bring coffee or malt liquor.

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