Get Smart

One of my favorite old  television shows was “Get Smart”. It was a hilarious send up of James Bond and other spy shows, that tapped into the zeitgeist of the mid Sixties and the Cold War attitude that prevailed. While the show was a satire of the secret agent genre, it was loaded with physical comedy, sight gags, and funny catch phrases alongside action and romantic chemistry. Although the show was amusing in it’s silliness, it was also brilliant in its use of satire. CONTROL was the name of the U.S. government counter- intelligence agency based in Washington, D.C.  Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86, the bumbling, nasal voiced, comedic version of the James Bond type (or Man from U.N.C.L.E. or many other suave spies of the era) inexplicably saved the U.S. (and presumably the world and all that is good) from the evil doers, particularly  his arch nemesis, Siegfried, head of the rival organization, KAOS. With a colorful cast of characters, including Agent 99 and The Chief, who was the head of Control, Larrabee, 44, 13, and other number secret agents, Siegfried’s right hand man, Shtarker, as well as the robot Hymie, each episode was essentially Smart and his malfunctioning gadgets (including the original Smart phone) in his attempts to bring down KAOS and save the day. So… in order to keep control, we must be smart against chaos. Oh, and the Cone of Silence never worked properly. 

In light of Edward Snowden’s recent leaks regarding U.S. data-mining programs, I am concerned about control and chaos, and the cone of silence that has pervaded both the government and our culture. We have known since 2001 when The Patriot Act was signed and took effect, that we are living in a new age with curtailed civil liberties while being hyper-connected through various gadgets. Some of us were quite apprehensive about the law then.  Also during the last decade, the business sector, with the aid of the tech industry as well as internet companies, have been mining personal data and phishing with hardly any protest from consumers/citizens. I feel as though these recent leaks have sparked a response like Maxwell Smart’s, “I asked you not to tell me that.” Perhaps there are truths to all sides of this story, not merely one of control versus chaos. Are people reacting based on political party affiliation? In this age of immediacy, the habits of mind that encourage intelligence seem to take a back seat to instantaneousness. Depth, reflection, willingness to challenge perceptions, and examining ramifications are practices that seem to be almost forgotten. To me, the data mining does not seem particularly revelatory, but it does seem to have struck a chord.

I have always found that the names The Patriot Act and Citizens United were rather ironic names. The terms Patriot and Citizen are used to name laws that favor government data mining and corporate anonymity.  I think most good citizens are concerned about privacy and security. There is a fine line between tragedy and comedy. Sometimes the art of comedy allows us to think differently and with some reflection without the emotional weight of tragedy. With the Snowden leak, we have an opportunity to re-examine our notions of liberty and security, and maybe some of our laws. But this is serious stuff that needs serious thought, not knee-jerk party-line reactions. It’s time to seriously get smart!

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