Christopher Hitchens: America the Banana Republic

I love the illustration for Christopher Hitchens' Vanity Fair story, "America the Banana Republic." It's based, of course, on the beautiful Jack Davis poster for Woody Allen's Bananas from 1971.

Hitchens' piece is well worth reading, too.

I was very struck, as the liquefaction of a fantasy-based system proceeded, to read an observation by Professor Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, of the Yale School of Management. Referring to those who had demanded -– successfully -– to be indemnified by the customers and clients whose trust they had betrayed, the professor phrased it like this:

These are people who want to be rewarded as if they were entrepreneurs. But they aren’t. They didn’t have anything at risk.

That’s almost exactly right, except that they did have something at risk. What they put at risk, though, was other people’s money and other people’s property. How very agreeable it must be to sit at a table in a casino where nobody seems to lose, and to play with a big stack of chips furnished to you by other people, and to have the further assurance that, if anything should ever chance to go wrong, you yourself are guaranteed by the tax dollars of those whose money you are throwing about in the first place! It’s enough to make a cat laugh.

America the Banana Republic (Thanks, Dale!)


  1. It’s clear that we need more tax cuts for the very wealthy and fewer regulations and oversight on corporate behavior.

    American dopes, born and bred.

  2. In a roundabout way, George W. Bush might go down in history as the man who proved that Marx was right…

  3. OK, I read the story, and as usual Hitchens’ sentence structure is out of left field, but I can’t stop looking at the poster. I don’t remember Louise Lasser being that busty.

  4. I think a far greater sign of banana-republichood is leadership that insists it can’t be gainsaid on any legal grounds. Places like Pakistan and Venezuela suffer from the executive trying to circumvent the judiciary any number of ways — from rewriting the constitution to attempts to dismiss the Supreme Court.

    So the US would qualify if, I dunno, they tried passing a law suspending habeas corpus or justifying hearings outside the normal judiciary. You know, that sort of thing.

  5. like the Patriot Act and various other “emergency” laws already passed and little known? Like pre-pardoning for war crimes?

  6. I think we might be able to trace the beginning of the Banana Republic of the United States to the first banking bailout. This crisis has been a long time in the making and we are maybe only half done with the contraction in value. See you all at DOW 4000.

  7. Chasie at #6: Of course it’s a caricature, but Louise Lasser most definitely had it going on. I’d revel in the chance to take the gloves off, as it were, with Lasser, with Howard Cosell providing the blow-by-blow.

    Of course, I wonder who will replace J. Edgar Hoover dressed as a portly African-American woman. Perhaps Alberto Gonzalez.

  8. The US economy will be in full-fledged depression by late 2009.

    The whole world now knows that American economy was controlled by banking and finance Crooks. The world will turn against America with a vengeance because of this.

    America’s best years are behind it now. A lot of misery lies ahead for large number of Americans. There are consequences for being dopes and not being able to see what these crooks were up to all these years. Dopes were feeding the crooks by being scam lovers. Dopes committed the fatal mistake. Crooks simply took advantage.

  9. I’m sorry to say, but I’m not reading the story. I used to read Christopher Hitchens, and every time, he pissed me off so much that I went in and commented on the story in furious rants. I don’t do that any more.

    The tipping point was the article he wrote for Vanity Fair claiming that women couldn’t be as funny as men. Not only is he a giant asshole who’s wrong about pretty much everything, he’s also a sexist pig. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a racist too. After I read that, I decided to try a new tack: stopping feeding the troll. The more people read him, the more freelance-gigs he gets.

    I’ve stopped reading Vanity Fair solely because of him. I wouldn’t think of buying any of his books (even though I too am an atheist). If I see a blog-post about him, I skip past it. I still read Slate (I love the damn thing, despite Hitchens) but I NEVER read his articles. He needs to stop getting published. He demeans every conversation he’s in and he has no sense of fairness, decorum or modesty. Cory is fond of saying “don’t let assholes rent space in your mind”, and Hitchens’ lease is up.

    He’s the atheist Ann Coulter, basically. And I don’t read her either. I urge all Boing Boingers to do the same.

  10. Or putting a rider in the original draft of a $700 billion bailout that the Secretary of the Treasury’s actions with the money wouldn’t be subject to judiciary overturn(*). I’d say you’ve got it, Takuan.

    (*)Yes they did.

  11. If there’s anyone here who thought that bailout bill was a good idea I would appreciate it if you poke yourself in the eye now.

  12. Lol. When I explained the waterboarding thing to a friend of mine in Cape Town, with the context that it was a serious topic of public debate in the U.S. as to whether or not it was moral or justified, her exact words were: “But that’s the sort of thing you’d expect from a banana republic.”

    I concur.

  13. I used to read Christopher Hitchens, and every time, he pissed me off so much that I went in and commented on the story in furious rants. I don’t do that any more.

    Good idea, because if you ignore something it just goes away.

    The tipping point was the article he wrote for Vanity Fair claiming that women couldn’t be as funny as men.

    Not what he said but why be fair when you’ve got a good hate on. Comedy, being funny, is a male human primate mating display. The human mind is the evolutionary equivalent of the peacock’s tail.

  14. Good idea, because if you ignore something it just goes away

    If enough people stop reading a writer, then yes, they stop getting paid to write. Besides, Vanity Fair or Slate doesn’t get the privilege of my eyeballs for ad-impressions on any article written by him.

    Short of somehow actually injuring the motherfucker, this is the most I can do. Ranting about how wrong he is only helps him. This is called the “John C. Dvorak Theory of Profitable Journalism”.

    Not what he said but why be fair when you’ve got a good hate on.

    The headline of the article is “Why Women Aren’t Funny”. In the third paragraph, we find this tidbit: “Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women?”

    So that’s EXACTLY what he said.

    Arguing that “comedy” is a secondary sexual characteristic is absolutely ludicrous. Hitchens know nothing of science, nothing of human behaviour. He’s suffering from such a severe case of confirmation bias that I’m surprised he can get up out of bed in the morning.

    Here’s the thing: American society hasn’t reached a point were outright and despicable public sexism (unlike public racism) isn’t tolerated. Suppose he had written an article with the headline “Why Black People Aren’t Funny”, and then made extremely dubious arguments from science that black people are less funny than white people. It is not hard to imagine how that article would look, he could just quote one of those “Black People Have a Lower IQ!”-assholes and then implying that they’re not as funny because of it. The science in those two articles would be approximately as valid.

    No magazine would print that, because that kind of public and outright racism generally isn’t allowed in modern popular culture. It certainly happens occasionally, but not to the level that outright sexism does.

    Now, following Cory’s excellent advice, I’m going to stop letting assholes rent space in my mind. Hitchens and Noen will have to do without further comment from me.

  15. #12 I too am an atheist who refuses to read Hitchens. Racist? Well, he’s certainly assisted Martin Amis on his batty Islamophobic mission.

  16. Suppose he had written an article with the headline “Why Black People Aren’t Funny”

    Well that would be just dumb, some black men are very funny. Racism isn’t supported by the facts. The EvPsych claim about comedy does seem to be. Even if it turns out to be socially constructed that doesn’t change the observation much.

    Arguing that “comedy” is a secondary sexual characteristic is absolutely ludicrous.

    No, it isn’t. What I said is actually supported by, you know, research ‘n stuff.

    Liberals get upset with Hitchens because he dared to stray from official dogma when he realized that Islamic fundamentalism really does represent a threat to us. Christian fundamentalism does too and he’s not exactly been shy saying so has he? But that ok, it fits into liberal orthodoxy. I admire Hitchens, he has the courage to follow reason where ever it takes him and no matter who’s ox gets gored.

  17. I like Hitchens because I disagree with him about everything. A weathervane that’s wrong 100% of the time is just as useful as one that’s right 100% of the time.

  18. Will no one here step up to defend the honor of Our President, so basely defamed in that mocking poster?

    Seriously . . . I think a significant majority of Americans wouldn’t mind seeing Bush beaten to death and fed to pigs, and are held back only by the thought of Cheney being president.

  19. A weathervane that’s wrong 100% of the time is just as useful as one that’s right 100% of the time.

    Odd, I would think it logically impossible to distinguish the two.

  20. I haven’t read a lot of Hitchens, though I did plow through his execrable “God is Not Great”. In that book, he certainly did not “stray from official dogma when he realized Islamic Fundamentalism blah blah blah etc” (see Noen’s post for context).

    What he did in that book was repeatedly make the categorical statement that “religion poisons everything” and then provide a whole lot of anecdotes about his disgusting cowardice and how it’s triggered by religious people of all stripes (including Quakers and Buddhists and similar harmless folks). He also excuses atheist mass murderers such as Mao and Stalin by stating something to the effect that “at least they did not claim divine guidance” as if that made it somehow OK! He glosses over the anti-religious Tamil Tigers in similar fashion; to Hitchens, Quakers are poisonous because they believe in a God, but atheistic terrorism and mass murder is just something anomalous that we shouldn’t get upset about.

    The book is also notable for errors of fact, not just the aforementioned lack of intellectual rigor. Fundamentalist atheists like Hitchens are as tedious and illogical as all the other fundies.

    All the same, while I certainly have no desire to read anything else he’s written, I have to agree with the general premise here in boingBoing; the US Government of today is certainly at least as brutal and corrupt as those of the United Fruit puppet states.


  21. @# 21: Me too, NOEN. I’ve got a soft spot for the not-so-old drunk; and it’s not just because we once both drank from Trotsky’s well. He is indeed rather fearless and stands his ground, and he usually does his homework. (After all, he did a hell of a number on Kissinger.) I am not a holier-than-thou critic of people who were fooled by Bush’s lies regarding Iraq, although it does puzzle me why so few cop the “I was lied to” plea; it’s no insurmountable disgrace to be led down the garden path; it’s easily forgiven, since we’ve all traipsed among the tulips at least once, and some — myself included — more than once. You would think an old Trot like Hitchens would be more flexible and willing to adjust his mistaken opinions, his hatred of radical Islam notwithstanding.

    But the smiling cat is now out of the bag, and Hitchens may not be so happy with his new American citizenship in a few years. At least he can spot the kleptocrats at work, but is he stalwart enough to call out the idiocracy that allows these thieves to trash his adopted country? He knows the names.

    We shall see, won’t we?

  22. Everyone else here is commenting about politics.

    I’d like to ask: Why can’t movies nowadays have hand-drawn/coloured posters like they used to?

    And when and why did modern movie poster fonts get so stupidly thin and illegible?

  23. #27: About the time they realised “slick” marketing netted them more profit than quality of product?

    Sign of the times, really :(

  24. I am also an atheist that tries to avoid Christopher Hitchens. Normally I do not like to discount someone’s ideas based on their lifestyle, but this man is a disfunctional alcoholic. Every single time that I have seen Hitchens do a chat show, book signing or forum he is completely wasted. I just can’t consider his logic to be reliable.

  25. befuddled

  26. For Hitchens:

    “You used to ride on a chrome horse with your diplomat
    Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
    Ain’t it hard when you discover that
    He really wasn’t where it’s at
    After he took from you everything he could steal
    How does it feel
    How does it feel
    To be on your own
    With no direction home
    Like a complete unknown
    Like a rolling stone?”

  27. musha ring dumma do damma da
    whack for the daddy ‘ol
    whack for the daddy ‘ol
    there’s whiskey in the jar

  28. If Hitchens’ (whoever he is) is a drunk, is the US therefore not a banana republic?
    Lot of ad hominem here, what about the premise?
    Is the USA now a banana republic?

  29. Oskar: I was pretty turned off Hitchens by an article he wrote in Vanity Fair in the late 90’s called “The New Police State” or something like that. Basically he went around New York violating bylaws (no smoking in shops, no riding your bicycle on the sidewalk) and talking about how repressive the rules were. Because…that little old lady with the walker trying to get around Manhattan’s crowded sidewalks should just get the fuck out of your way! And if you don’t want tobacco smoke in your lungs, you should just stay home!

    He is without question a dick. But to be fair he does sometimes have interesting things to say.

  30. Ugly Canuck: If Hitchens’ (whoever he is) is a drunk, is the US therefore not a banana republic?
    Lot of ad hominem here, what about the premise?
    Is the USA now a banana republic?

    I agree its an ad hominem attack, and that does not discount his assertion that the US is a banana republic.

    That being said, when a ranting street person informs me that our government is being influenced by a conspiracy of 12 galaxies and I should therefore impeach the president, I weight that piece of information appropriately. I am simply suggesting that Christopher Hitchens and his writing be weighted in a similar manner.

  31. At a small Minnesota college in 1987, I was amazed to hear (ex-CIA author) Phil Agee spelling out in some detail how the government intended to ‘Latinize’ the US … to, in fact, turn it into a banana republic.

    Phil’s life was pretty tough after those days. But if you watched the ballistics … how the 60s American way of life has been systematically de-constructed … how the pieces have slowly and inexorably been replaced with new pieces all moving in the same direction … just slowly enough that each change has been accepted before the next begins … Phil’s tale has been more accurate than not.

  32. obviously America in the sixties was a freer, better place. And not just because resource limits hadn’t caught up. The terrorists haven’t won today, but the current government sure has.

  33. I think the Ron Paul cultists who have nothing but a passing knowlege of the economy and don’t believe in mitigating a crisis, should have a name for their activity. I suggest “fanaticide,” as their skewed beliefs if followed would end the capatalistic system as we know it and that they apparently enjoy living in.

    I certainly think the Wall Street criminals need taking care of, but you need to put out the fire first. I think that most of the rational behind the rescue package grows stronger as each day passes on.

  34. #24 – Unless you had one thing that you knew to be true or false via some other means. Then it’d be easy.

  35. Forgive me for being surprised to be one of the few (any?) to say that I enjoyed this read, took it as an editorialization instead of a call to arms and have enjoyed it as much as most anything else I’ve read by Hitchens.

  36. The original clause –
    “These are people who want to be rewarded as if they were entrepreneurs. But they aren’t. They didn’t have anything at risk”
    Appears correct to me; the emphasis in the second sentence is on the ‘they’. Expand it to
    “the people who did the stupid thing didn’t have anything of their own at risk”
    and it seems quite clear.

    I’ve never quite understood the claim that these people need to be rewarded for being risk-takers and that somehow it justified them making vast amounts. They’re not risking a damn thing of their own, nor do they lose anything when it all goes pearshaped.

    I suggest that the bonuses ‘earned’ by anyone plausibly involved over the last ten years and amounting ot more than say $500k (I suppose we can leave them with some funds for Bolinger etc) should be rescinded and extracted from their holdings. Let them feel some of the pain, take part in the risk they so valiantly took.

  37. Hitchens is a mercenary drunkard bigot. Now that the neoconservative project has disintegrated and his buddies (Chalabi, Riza, Wolfowitz) have been called out on their BS, This about face was sure to happen eventually.

  38. might I add at this juncture how disappointed I am that even with the poster that heads this article that not one person has done a “I’ve been bitten by a snake!” joke. Shame on you all.

  39. Too long ago to remember much about it. But I saw the Eddie Murphy one, and I can easily remember the scene where, uh, Janet’s girl, er, takes off, um her Sweater? eh-eh…

  40. sigh…. OK….the rebels are in their training camp in the jungle covering basic survival, the instructor say: “When you get bitten by a snake in the jungle,what do you do?” around the circle “suck out the poison ,suck out the poison,suck out the poison” etc. Later in the film, the most attractive female rebel comes running through the camp screaming “I’ve been bitten by a snake!” while cupping a breast. Woody’s leer is pure treasure – along with the general ensuing and very enthusiastic pursuit by the whole camp. Ah, I guess you had to have been there.

  41. I get the feeling Hitchens’ spleen for the Bush crowd derives mainly from their bungling the noble mission of cleansing the earth of radical Islam. Some neocons angling for jobs in an Obama dministration are also peddling this “unworthy vessel” angle.

    As if eliminating religion would eliminate intolerance.

  42. US Election Night 2008 – For what it’s worth, Chris Hitchens is in the studio for the BBC coverage (for the UK at least).
    He is conspicuously sober.

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