Made in Germany
BLAKE MASTERS IS a creep, obviously. The now-defeated Arizona senatorial candidate is a gaunt, tense-jawed supercilious weirdo, who only became a political figure at all by attaching himself to the malevolent and sociopathic billionaire Peter Thiel in a role that is usually rendered as “protege” but which could as easily be described as “servant” or “henchman” or “flunky.” His politics are overtly fascist, and to go with them he has cultivated the physical type, and the domineering, anxious carriage, of an upper-midlevel military officer of the Galactic Empire.
Nevertheless, everyone tells a would-be politician that their job is to seem relatable. This is, I have to assume, why Masters recorded a campaign video of himself shooting a silenced Walther PPK pistol in the outdoors.
When he created this video, Blake Masters believed he was going to be a winner. He is a loser now, so the gap between self-estimation and reality is the framework for understanding the clip; it is the reason people shared it around over the weekend, as the ballot count confirmed he was not going to become a United States senator.
At least, not in January of 2023. Who knows what our American future may hold?
For now, the video made his defeat seem comfortingly inevitable. It is an uncanny document even by the standards of an uncanny age. It runs for two minutes and 22 seconds. In it, Masters stands near his car, parked by a bare-dirt roadside embankment ("Outside Tucson," an introductory title reads), and he loads and shoots a silencer-equipped Walther PPK pistol. And talks, intermittently. For instance, introducing the Walther, he says, "I've wanted this gun a long time. Ever since I was a little kid. Made in Germany."
His lips spread and protrude in what reads as an attempt at an ingratiating smile. "Double-O Seven gun. Why would you not want this?'
Why would you not want this? The video should belong to a familiar genre, in which candidates shoot guns to establish their bona fides with a gun-loving public. The insistent All-Americanness of the campaign gun spot can usually absorb a lot of weirdness and absurdity; it's what brought the world Joe Manchin blasting a hole in the cap-and-trade bill.
The Masters version, though, is all wrong—hauntingly so, full of bizarre intentional choices. Wind whips across the microphone, emphasizing the desolation. The camera presses in and draws back, uncomfortable with its subject. Masters' monologue trails off, repeats itself, stalls out. A small but prominent boxy shape juts out under the upper chest of his t-shirt, a microphone or amulet, something concealed yet insistent. In lieu of a pickup truck, he has a low, wide BMW in cold silver, an ATM balance receipt on wheels.
Wearing safety glasses, Masters briefly holds forth on how absurd it is that people think a silencer—attached, here, to the gun model used by a fictional assassin—is meant to help people commit crimes. He explains: "You don't have to worry about" [Masters mimes the shape of a bulky headset and makes a "phoof!" noise] "giant ear protection."
It is almost unbelievable how little happens in the two minutes and 22 seconds. Masters fires the gun, looks up to grin at the camera, and fires it again. The camera moves behind his shoulder as he fires some more, and some more. There is no target in sight, nothing downrange at all but a distant blur of hills or dirt mounds while the focus remains crisply on the shooter in the foreground. The viewer gets no payoff for coming along on the shooting spree. The camera goes to the side again and Masters walks forward, emptying the clip, advancing on some unseen and nonexistent enemy.
"Whisper-quiet," he says, after the last shot. "It's pretty cool." [Five-second pause.] "Made in Germany." [Eleven-second pause, then, softly:] "It's pretty cool."
Another 10 seconds go by as Masters walks back to the BMW. "It's definitely a fun" [pause] "and quiet gun," he says.
By the time he hit that second "Made in Germany," I was feeling a new and different gap between expectation and reality. I despise Peter Thiel and his project, for too many reasons to count—personal, political, professional, primatological. The world Thiel wants to bring about is hell, to me, and I want to see him fail and suffer. The only thing maybe more contemptible than being Thiel is being his lackey.
And yet I felt bad for Blake Masters. The overwhelming impression of the video was one of immense and crushing loneliness, of a person untethered from humanity. He wasn't literally alone, naturally. Someone had to be holding the camera. But there outside Tucson he had lost nearly all human points of reference, save the memory of being a child and thinking James Bond was cool. James Bond was cool; more than one friend of mine was lucky enough to have the old Corgi Aston-Martin, with the gun ports and the ejector seat. We were seven years old, though.
Blake Masters, out in the wasteland with his gleaming machines, doesn't know any better. He is the product of a time and place in which awkward young men with high IQs have been taught that their destiny is to rule over other people like demigods, not to learn to get along with them. Now, armed with eerily high production values, he had managed to produce a high-gloss version of the Columbine killers' VHS tape of themselves shooting up the woods. Except the Columbine killers at least had each other to talk to.
"awkward young men with high IQs": Awkward, sure, and young, maybe, but smart? Assumes facts not in evidence. Indeed, this video is evidence to the contrary. Smart politicos don't DIY campaign videos. Even not-so-smart politicos mostly know better than that.
But that fits, for a flunky of Peter Thiel. Like Elon Musk, Thiel is an especially conspicuous case in point of John Kenneth Galbraith's observation that "[w]ealth, in even the most improbable cases, manages to convey the aspect of intelligence". ("The confident speculators", 1982, Atlantic Monthly, 249(5), p. 100) For example, Thiel notoriously cheered for Candidate Trump but was disappointed with President Trump, declaring the latter and his shambolic administration "incompetent"; see, for example:
Um, yeah, no shit, Sherlock. But the way Cheetolini governed, if you call it that, was utterly consistent with his public conduct for decades prior. That he's a bloviating fraud, neither interested in nor capable of understanding the U.S. government well enough to lead it effectively, even toward the evil ends that excite Thiel and his ilk, wasn't exactly news in mid-2016. As with Dubya and Dick's not-so-excellent adventure in Iraq, only idiots were surprised by what ensued. Evidently, Thiel is one of them.
And that isn't even getting into the fact that Thiel's notions of progress and how it happens are asinine.
I had words with Thiel once, at a conference in Mountain View over ten years ago. He gave a talk, he said something stupid, and I called him on it during the Q & A. He's none too bright, even about "tech". Where's the evidence that he's ever done anything but ride on other people's intelligence? As far as I can see, he's just another striver who got lucky.