22 January, 2014

Snowden: An Alternative Literary Theory



Now the US government seems to think Snowden had help from Russia. Why else, they ask, should he have fled there?

Because I love conspiracy theories, here’s one of my own. I don’t think Snowden had help from Russia. I think he had help from….

First, that name. Edward Snowden. Try saying that aloud.  Try saying that aloud in a proper British accent. Then ask: have I ever heard of any American called “Edward Snowden”? Ed, maybe. Eddie, most definitely. Eddy, if he’d been influenced by hippies. Eduardo, perhaps. Ediah, if he was feeling Biblical or had just joined a rap group.

But Edward Snowden?

Then there’s Hongkong. Most Americans who flee the country flee down South to Mexico, or they head up north to Canada. Isn’t Hongkong a little out of the American cultural trajectory? 

But it is right at the heart of British spy thriller territory, of course. That breathless mix of East and West, where the British empire played out most of its nineteenth century “The Sun never sets” drama.

Then there’s David Cameron, and his most insistent insistence that the British have no issues whatsoever with surveillance, that he and Britain are totally 100 percent behind the Americans, and so on, and so forth. I hope you caught that BBC segment on TV, it was a masterpiece. While all the rest of the European leaders exuded gloom and glum, Mr. Cameron was practically falling out of his seat, insisting that surveillance was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Or the British equivalent thereof. Which awoke the Miss Marple in me, who said: Now isn’t that interesting? 

Or as Shakespeare may have said: “Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.”

Then there’s the British dislike of snooping. Now if the American security establishment hired people who read British children’s books, they would go back to the Mallory Tower series, written by a certain Enid Blyton, and find out there is a character in there  who is blacklisted for her propensity for “snooping.” For the Anglophones amongst us who grew up reading this author of great renown, the word “snooping” brings up shivers.  As a child, we all understood this was a very bad thing to do. 

Then of course there’s the British public, who’s lost no time in berating their leader as well as GCHQ. GCHQ, they say, has been collaborating too closely with the Americans. They have taken millions of dollars and quietly agreed to implement sweeping surveillance tactics on Europeans and the British. Shocking, said the public. 

Now the Hercule Poirot in me awoke and wanted to know: “Are zees gentlemen as in cahoots with the NSA as zey appear?” Because lets think about it. You can buy a few people at the top with a few million bucks, but then there are a few hundred at the bottom who may be holding on to fierce ideas of freedom and personal liberty that goes back to John Stuart Mill. And those young men may be quietly creating a breathless thriller expose of the greatest story of the century.

Never forget, the British are masters of drama. And masters of subterfuge. 

The British have disappointed me about a lot of things, but they have never disappointed me about their drama. And doesn’t the Snowden story seem to come with a lot of breathless cliffhangers that leave you hanging for the next episode and the next revelation—rather than a welldone episodic drama? 

The British also ran an empire whose sun never set for a few centuries. Surely some of that DNA is still alive. (see, I knew the junior year history class I took in “The Great World Powers in 1914” was going to come in useful in writing this blog post.)

By the way, my favorite detail of this whole story is how Snowden walks out with a million documents on his…thumb drive? I have a thumb drive that holds about 20 documents at the most. Can someone tell me what kind of thumb drive this is? This is almost as believable as the boxcutter mythology. I call this the “miniaturization of detail”—the way in which details are gracefully simplified, in almost the same way as you would simplify a theme in a film. The Rosebud detail in Citizen Kane, and so on and so forth. 

Then of course there’s The Guardian, which exposed everything. 

Where else to end this thrilling plot but by sending our hero to that greatest of all spy territory, Russia? All those Cold War novels that we read as children feature Russia in great literary and imaginative detail. It would have been a pity not to use it as a destination for Edward Snowden.

Vladimir Putin must be sitting there slooki-ing his vodka and looking at his typewriter and thinking: “But vait, they are blaming us? I must start to write the next “War and Peace” to prove our innocence.” 

Of course, you should understand that this conspiracy theory is fiction, thought up by a fiction writer with a rather large imagination. 

But I can’t wait for the book. And the movie.  Lets hope it gets made by the British film industry.



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