T Time: Walther Mitty and the Strange Case of Prism Break II


With mirror-refined bonhomie and affected bemusement, a former UK secret service operative diverts attention from the British backdoor benefits of project Prism with a studied nonchalance. “The irony,??? he tells me via Sky News, “is that the whistle-blower should decamp to Hong Kong, where his every move and email will be scrutinised by the Chinese.???
While this practiced, self-serving obfuscation may indeed make us pause and ponder on the wisdom of whistleblowing Edward Snowden, I do wonder where the irony is. It could be entirely logical, at least in terms of internal consistency.
Of all generations, we are surely the most familiar with internal logic. We flick from narrative to narrative, blithely accepting the oft-conflicting conventions of one with another. One moment we’re treading the Weatherfield cobbles, happily accepting that posh-ish middle-aged spinsters frequent an inner-city local, the next we’re pressing the spacebar in Arkham Asylum and grimly bataranging Killer Croc.
We inhabit a world of multiple, serried realities, indulged with a variety of compliance, cynicism and temporary abandon. Aside from our top-level reality of the rent, the nine-to-five and travel connections, we subscribe to sundry auxiliary actualities, all designed to make the day disappear by baby steps. Historically, it has been ever thus – campfire heroics, first editions and prestidigitation have all intermittently beguiled the ancestors.
Today, I would suggest, we are unique in the multiplicity, duration and immersion offered by our otherworlds of choice. While our forefathers may have sustained a seven-day snapshot of just what prevented Flash Gordon Conquering the Universe in any given week or had a lingering, instalment-spanning recall of the progress of Roadsweeper Jo’s consumption, we have to sustain an array of continuities, with new ones ever-jostling for admission.
From DVD-box-set mid-marathons, soap operas (domestic and transatlantic), multi-digit (and multi-incarnation) film franchises, novels, biographies, video games, sports fixtures, the vicariously-lived love lives of starlets and canteen colleagues, the musical careers of chord-striking concert stars and the world-narrative of tectonic events to more home-spun fictions, those designed for your mini-me to mull or to maintain the trust of your misguided Mrs, we live a life steeped in a veritable Venn diagram of unevenly shared realities.
Thankfully, these narrative strands seldom collide; content to sit in separate cerebral shoeboxes until required. While they may occasionally overlap – comparing Homeland plot exigencies down the Rugby Club – they, by and large, lead independent lives. Even a brief interleafing of Reality Prime, though, can prove somewhat disconcerting – meeting a Manchester chum in a Hong Kong bar or spotting a Facebook Friend on an alien Timeline.
How then should our whistleblowing Hawaiian resolve his own supposedly collapsing realities? Why would he choose to flee the Land of the Free after digging his own grave in the Home of the Brave? Was it too much for him to suddenly discover that Uncle Sham had independently declared open season on online privacy? Was it a Mavis-Riley-Meets-A-Dalek moment, with the internal consistencies of his all-American worldview suddenly undermined by their internal contradictions? That Tekken glitch that catapults you living room-wards sans dhoti?
It’s a nice idea, but not one that bears much examination. This was not some recidivist member of the Famous Five, weaned on hampers, cycling proficiency and voluntary admissions of LBW. This was a 29-year-old intelligence officer earning, allegedly, US$200,000 a year – in a country where the median wage is still around US$50,000. The frequency with which his earnings are cited should be enough to arouse suspicion. It was a figure bandied around online by both Snowden and his on/off poll dancer girlfriend. Hardly the most covert of financial operations – you don’t, after all, read of James Bond boasting about the extent of his licensed OOverdraft.
Snowden turned to security work after failing in his bid to join the Special Forces, a sort of USAS, apparently breaking both of his legs in a training accident. It is an interesting choice of early career for a man who latterly decides himself a champion of individual freedoms.
This was not, then, a man who stumbled upon a dark secret and found himself obliged to turn rogue. This was a man who watched too many movies, a man whose own internal narrative became corrupted by cross-contamination from his Bourne DVDs.
Casting himself as The Geek Who Saved The World, Hong Kong was a logical – rather than ironic – choice for him to seek sanctuary. Having already outflanked Assange – partly by being more personable and a bit less rapey – he now has his sights set on being the anti-Chen Guangcheng (the blind Chinese activist who sought sanctuary in the US Embassy in Beijing just over a year ago).
Every story needs a sequel. And one with ever-higher stakes. The follow-up to Indiana Jones and The Raiders of The Lost Ark was hardly going to be Indy and the Stubborn Trouser Crease, now was it?
If Act One sees you defy the Oval Office and flee the FBI, then why not become a global water-cooler icon, the sand in the Vaseline of the world’s two mightiest ideological and economic opponents? Now there’s an Act Two.
Hong Kong, then, was a logical choice for a man with an eye on the on-going narrative. And mainland China would have been an even better bet, but – Mittycisms aside – the boy is still an American and wouldn’t want to risk the plumbing.
 
Tony Murray has been the Managing Editor of Gafencu Men magazine in Hong Kong, following time spent at Adline, and the Carnyx Group, publishers of The Drum and former publishers of The Marketeer. These days he is Research Editor at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.
You can contact him at tonymurray37ATgmailDOTcom