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COVID is not the only pandemic rolling across the Earth.

November 10, 2020

Long ago, when Clive James was in his prime, he used to delight in showing us video clips of eccentric Japanese TV shows. Effectively, they were I’m a Celebrity Get Get Me Out of Here on steroids, except that the participants of the game shows weren’t celebrities, but ordinary (!) people prepared to chuck away their dignity by putting up with all manner of humiliating tests of endurance. It was crazy stuff, and it pre-dated the cruelty and sadism of modern reality TV by a couple of decades.

It was also hilarious, in a way that no reality TV has managed to be since. It’s likely that you wouldn’t be able to view these shows today, because the powers that be would consider them racist.

Modern equivalents are no longer to be found on TV. More likely they’re on on Twitter and YouTube. But if you have a taste for the bizarre, I suggest that you follow a group that goes under the name of Right Wing Watch. I say a group – they could actually be one person. They’re to be found on Twitter. They specialise in a particularly gruesome form of comedy. Actually, they aren’t comedy at all for many people.

RWW scours the media for videos of right-wing evangelicals in full flow. For any but their followers these folks – as they careen around stages babbling about angels striking down the enemies of Donald Trump, laughing maniacally at the prospect of Joe Biden becoming president and giving theatrical impressions of people speaking in tongues – are enormously entertaining, until you realise that they mean it. And then you wonder how many God-fearing followers in the churches of Florida, Arkansas and North Carolina will take them seriously enough to go back home and unlock their hunting rifles, ready step in if the angels don’t do their work.

Hopefully the FBI and the Secret Service have similar worries and are doing what they need to in order to protect the president-elect.

I know I’m inclined to babble on about the difference between my country and the United States, but this is a big one. In Britain we don’t have a religious right. No televangelist in their right mind would pitch to a British audience that we should part with our hard-earned dosh to buy them a second executive jet. Perhaps one reason why the ranters and ravers haven’t gained much traction over here is because they all emigrated to America, the land of the free and the exceptionally gullible.

The evangelicals are nothing new in America. People over there have been testing their faith by fondling rattlesnakes for centuries. But their weaponization in support of right-wing politics has only really come to the fore over the past fifty years. So while back in the day we were able to laugh at them in the same way as we did suicidal Japanese game show contestants, now we have to take them more seriously, especially when they have representatives at the highest level of government actively trying to bring about conditions that they believe will trigger the end of days. And if you don’t believe me, check out the beliefs of the current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

An equally sinister phenomenon is the ranting of Muslim televangelists, who are matching the Christian right for lunacy. I also subscribe to a Twitter feed called MEMRI, which specialises in videos of preachers The moderate ones call for the restoration of the caliphate, but there are some wilder shores inhabited by people like the chap who recently urged Pakistan to unleash its nuclear weapons on the infidel. These guys, and yes, they all seem to be guys, are not just speaking from the obvious places in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. They’re also to be found, it seems, in American, Canadian and European cities.

A note of caution here. I have no idea about the political affiliations of the person or people who are behind Right Wing Watch. But its raison d’etre gives a clue: “A project of People For the American Way that monitors and exposes the activities of Radical Right political organizations”. So I doubt if they’re Trump supporters. All well and good, but any organisation that talks about the American Way automatically arouses my suspicions. After all, there are many different versions of this mythical path.

MEMRI, on the other hand, makes no secret of its connections. It is a non-profit institute based in Washington DC “co-founded by former Israeli military intelligence officer, Yigal Carmon, and Meyrtav Wurmser, an Israeli-born American political scientist” (Wikipedia)

But even if MEMRI’s agenda is to undermine and discredit Islamist preachers, it’s hard make a case that these videos have been edited in such a way as to highlight extremist sentiments that stand on their own. The messages these guys are sending are pretty much in your face. Unless MEMRI is using deep fake technology, of course.

I don’t find MEMRI’s offerings as amusing as the ranting of America’s religious right. But they are compelling nonetheless, because seemingly without any central orchestration, these preachers are beating a drum that echoes around the Muslim world. Not among the vast number of rational Muslims who are no less sceptical of the siren calls of fundamentalism than the majority of Americans are of the lunacies of the religious right. But if one in a hundred is inspired to radical action by these preachers, that’s a whole lot of people who might go on to translate thoughts into deeds.

When I subscribe to stuff like this, I’m mainly interested in the political dimension. No doubt there are many more weird and wacky feeds and channels out there that amuse, provoke and horrify. But life’s too short. I have enough to be going on with. The MEMRI stuff is plain disturbing, as no doubt it’s intended to be. But I can’t help laughing at the videos of right-wing Christian preachers, who appear to me to be plain demented.

But then if we’re looking for demented talk, we don’t need gimlet-eyed lunatics laughing at Biden’s election, when we have people like Rudy Giuliani standing up in a car park between a crematorium and a sex shop spouting about a stolen election.

A bonfire of the vanities, you might say.

Here’s the point. You might easily content yourself with ignoring the social media altogether, or at least confine yourself with videos of screaming goats and cuddly dogs. But your neighbour, without your even knowing it, might be gorging themselves on the dark stuff. All of a sudden, they’re coming out with all manner of conspiracy theories, and you wonder how the hell people you thought were sane and rational have turned out to be raving cultists.

I know of at least two people, both medical professionals with long experience, who seem to have gone that way. That they’re Trump supporters is one thing, but it seems that if you’ve bought into the orange monster, you’re highly susceptible to buying into a package that includes 5G paranoia, the Gates/Soros implantation theory and all manner of other spikes on the QAnon virus. Before you know it, you believe that the world is controlled by shape-shifting lizards, or you pray that the angels from Africa, South America and Asia will fly to your country and liberate it from blood-drinking paedophiles and other demons that have populated the land.

Almost as bizarre as anything else, you believe that the pussy-grabbing, narcissistic fraudster at the White House is God’s instrument for restoring virtue and order.

Which suggests to me that an entire hemisphere – because this is not just happening in America – is going through a serious bout of mental illness that is just as destructive as the coronavirus.

In other words, we’re dealing with two pandemics, not just one. We seem to be on the verge of rolling out a vaccine for the first one, but dealing with the second will be even tougher.

And before you mention it, I’ll say it: without even realising it, I could be a member of a cult that seeks to bring down God’s instrument on earth. Or I could be a lizard who’s extremely pissed off at the Chosen One’s presumption.

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