This Is What Dystopia Looks Like

MEDIA, 15 May 2023

Caitlin Johnstone - TRANSCEND Media Service

Simpsons characters waving Ukrainian flags; an opera about a drone operator sponsored by General Dynamics; Bono drawing pictures of Zelenksy and Sesame Street working with USAID in Iraq. 

Caitlin Johnstone

3 May 2023 – So U2 singer Bono is literally just doing illustrations for the imperialist propaganda rag The Atlantic now, because that’s the sort of thing that happens in a dystopian civilization during the death throes of a globe-spanning empire.

A Washington Post article titled “Bono likes to sketch Atlantic covers, so the magazine hired him” reports that “Bono is into Atlantic cover fanfic — so much so that he was invited to illustrate the magazine’s June cover featuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.” 

Bono’s latest contribution to the mountain of cringe-inducing Zelensky moments we’ve been seeing for the past year provides a cover image for an article by lifelong war propagandists Anne Applebaum and Jeffrey Goldberg. The article endorses a Ukrainian offensive to recapture Crimea, which experts largely agree would be the move most likely to trigger a nuclear war in this conflict.

Here’s a paragraph from Applebaum and Goldberg’s article, just to give you a taste of the infantile “Good Guys vs Bad Guys” framing that western liberals are being fed by mass media war propagandists these days:

“Sometimes, the war is described as a battle between autocracy and democracy, or between dictatorship and freedom. In truth, the differences between the two opponents are not merely ideological, but also sociological. Ukraine’s struggle against Russia pits a heterarchy against a hierarchy. An open, networked, flexible society—one that is both stronger at the grassroots level and more deeply integrated with Washington, Brussels, and Silicon Valley than anyone realized—is fighting a very large, very corrupt, top-down state. On one side, farmers defend their land and 20‑something engineers build eyes in the sky, using tools that would be familiar to 20‑something engineers anywhere else. On the other side, commanders send waves of poorly armed conscripts to be slaughtered—just as Stalin once sent shtrafbats, penal battalions, against the Nazis—under the leadership of a dictator obsessed with ancient bones. ‘The choice,’ Zelensky told us, ‘is between freedom and fear.’”

Many westerners felt their first stirrings of youthful rebellious passions while listening to U2 songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, but nowadays Bono’s voice is heard saying that he has “grown very fond” of war criminal George W Bush, praising capitalism at the World Economic Forum, teaming up with warmonger Lindsey Graham to promote US empire narratives about Syria, and  singing “Stand by Ukraine” in support of US empire narratives in a Kyiv subway. And just when it looks like he can’t become any more of a tool of the empire, he gets hired by one of the world’s worst militarist smut rags to draw a cover image of Zelensky.

Because that’s just how things go in a highly controlled society where mainstream culture is designed to serve the powerful. A society where the minds of the public are continually being shaped by mass-scale psychological manipulation to ensure that they keep thinking, speaking, working, consuming and voting in ways which serve the rich and powerful. Everything that gets elevated to the top of mainstream attention facilitates this agenda (or is at least harmless to it), and as soon as it becomes potentially threatening to this agenda it is either corrected or marginalized away from mainstream attention.

This dynamic can cause some truly jaw-dropping flotsam and jetsam to surface in the roilings of our cultural waters, like Simpsons characters waving Ukrainian flags, or an opera about a drone operator sponsored by General Dynamics.

Here’s Responsible Statecraft’s Connor Echols on that last one:

This fall, DC denizens will be treated to the world premiere of “Grounded,” an opera following an Air Force ace named Jess whose unexpected pregnancy forces her to leave behind her beloved F-16 and join the “chair force.”

Throughout the show, the “hot shot” pilot wrestles with the mental impact of firing rockets from a drone in Afghanistan from a trailer in Las Vegas. “As Jess tracks terrorists by day and rocks her daughter to sleep by night, the boundary between her worlds becomes dangerously permeable,” an ad tells us.

The production is brought to you by presenting sponsor General Dynamics, one of the world’s largest weapons companies (and, wouldn’t you know it, the maker of Jess’s favorite plane). Playwright George Brant wrote the libretto, which will be brought to life by mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo and Tony-winning composer Jeanine Tesori.

You’ll also see things like “humanitarian intervention” champion Samantha Power enthusiastically tweeting about the collaboration between the Sesame Street franchise and the CIA cutout USAID in Iraq:

You see things like this all the time under the shadow of the US empire, and individually they don’t look like much, but once you start noticing them you come to recognize them as symptoms of the profoundly diseased civilization that we are living in. One where our heart strings are pulled in the most obnoxious ways imaginable to get us to support capitalism, empire and oligarchy, where we are manipulated into espousing values systems which benefit powerful sociopaths under the cover of noble-sounding causes. Where we are trained like rats to support systems that are driving our species toward extinction because our rulers gave lip service to humanitarianism and waved a rainbow flag.

This is what dystopia looks like. Like a bunch of thought-controlled automatons mindlessly marching toward ecocide and omnicide to a beat played out by screens who tell them every day and in every way that there is no higher purpose than this. Like military industrial complex-funded feminist rock operas about drone operators and Cookie Monster helping Samantha Power psychologically colonize Iraqi children. Like Bono coming home from singing a heartfelt number about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr to illustrate a cover for a war propaganda piece in The Atlantic.

It’s like they’re pouring concrete over our hearts. Sewing blindfolds over our souls. Numbing us, distracting us, sedating us, so that the local riff raff won’t interfere in the workings of the imperial machine. They’re killing off something beautiful and sacred in humanity, and they’re doing it to roll out some of the ugliest visions this planet has ever seen.


Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Contact:


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