The Americans swapped Viktor Bout for Brittney Griner, and the trade sums up the whole American outlook: the Russians received back a man involved in a practical activity (the arms trade) with substantial real-world consequences, the Americans received back a religious token—a black lesbian professional sportswoman; almost the Platonic ideal for a holy object in the American empire, it could only have been better if she played wheelchair basketball.
The reason Griner was imprisoned in Russia was for cannabis possession—so even her misdemeanour was adolescent; just like a fourteen-year-old who indulges in a little shoplifting, plays cat-and-mouse with the security guards, and then has a spliff behind the bike sheds—too bad Mr. Putin caught him this time, now he’s expelled (his folks are goin’ to be so mad). Bout, meanwhile, was “wanted on five continents” and was some international criminal mastermind sprung from Ian Fleming’s imagination. The American empire is fundamentally adolescent, whereas the Russians are adults.
The exchange recalls the Cold War, and yet it is nothing like the Cold War. It is not two hard-bitten men, with ropey pre-cirrhotic livers and twenty-a-day fag habits, who walk across some East German bridge in the mist. They meet in the middle, both dressed in badly-tailored crumpled grey suits. “God, Charles, what’s it all for? Do you remember Cambridge? It all seemed so simple back then, didn’t it? Marxism. Anti-fascism.” “It’s the wilderness of mirrors, Philip. Buggered if I know whose side I’m on—even today.” “Well, so long.” <<both walk on into the mist>>.
Today’s exchange is more like a comic book experience. Bout is a character in a Marvel comic, possibly Tony Stark, with his luxurious moustache (pictured above)—and he has even been the basis for a Nicolas Cage film. Griner is like a character from an alt-comix in the 1980s, perhaps in the line of Tank Girl—indeed, the comic Give Me Liberty even features a black demi-lesbian up against “da system”; she was in a zine read by people in Oregon who listen to Le Tigre—she’s very alt.
Did it represent a “bad trade”? For progressives, no—no less than it would be a “bad trade” for an ultra-Orthodox Jew to regain the Temple Mount after a decade of total bloodshed in the region. Can you put a price on a holy object? How many black lesbian sports stars are there in the world? How many Temple Mounts? Bout, the practical man involved in the “evil” arms trade, represents no real value—he should chill out and have a spliff, not take the world so seriously; then, perhaps, he would do fewer evil things. Peace out.