By Phil Rockstroh
A number of years back, Pauline Kael took Steven Spielberg to task for his depiction of rural Georgia circa 1909 in his movie, The Color Purple…averring that Spielberg’s only field of reference seemed to be images culled from cinematic history, rendering his movie tone deaf regarding the rhythms and cadences of life during the era.
On a cultural level, a great many people in the US evince a similar, media-wrought shallowness of apprehension, and therefore are prone to a contemptible callowness, when faced with tragedy and human suffering. This trait, coupled with a toxic ignorance about the larger world, is an ugly thing to behold, and does not bode well for our collective destiny as a people.
What are the origins of these less than admirable characteristics? On a cultural and political level, due to the constant saturation and an attendant internalization of “free market” platitudes, sans a counter narrative of compassion and social awareness, many in the US experience acute cognitive dissonance when confronted by the demonstrable fact that the nation’s much heralded tales of equal opportunity and class mobility are little more than the self-serving propaganda of a privileged few.
National character traits, such as these, display an always present, ever-vigilant, defiant ignorance — a pride-ridden predilection best summed up, albeit inadvertently, by that stumble-mouth poet of the American spirit, George H. W. Bush. During a press conference in August of 1988, when he was asked a question regarding the recent downing of an Iranian passenger jet, killing 290 civilians onboard, by the US warship, USS Vincennes, Bush the Elder bandied, “I won’t apologize for the United States. I don’t care what the facts are.”
A more subtle and compelling intelligence assessed the origin of such utterances with this: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein
An additional aspect of this national obtuseness stems from a collective squeamishness, a revulsion and resultant denial, regarding the truth of the exponential rate of decay of US Empire. Of which, the knowledge is avoided for the same reason one avoids taking a stick and turning over days dead roadkill. Because it would be a mortifying sight to glimpse what is eating, from within, the putrefying remains of the carcass known as the US political system.
Apropos, for many of the progressive minded who went round-heeled for the shimmering promise of hope and change, pledged by Barack Obama, the fact of his betrayal is very painful and depressing to face. Exacerbating the situation is the mendacity and flat-out lunacy of his right wing adversaries — including those spittle spraying prone legions of racist sub-cretins, out in the US spleenland, who refuse to accept Obama’s legitimacy, as president, due to the problem they have accepting the darker shade of his skin pigment.
In this context, the siege mentality of Democratic partisans is understandable…but only to a degree. Ergo, recently, it has been revealed that the Obama administration’s new Gitmo policy has a great deal of resemblance to the Bush administration’s old Gitmo policy. So it seems, at last, we have found who has been concealed within that empty suit known as Barack Obama. Damn, if it isn’t, George W. Bush. We should have taken Bush at his word — never misunderestimate Dubya.
The bailout of Wall Street and the corporatist coup of the kleptocratic class in Madison, Wisconsin and the Obama administration’s continuation of US foreign policy (i.e., the same, blood-soaked stupid empire tricks) as that of his predecessors, should serve as an object lesson and wakeup call to Democratic Party-promoting progressive types regarding whose interests the two parties of duopoly represent.
Moreover, the US public has been willfully ignorant, habitually self-centered, and so easily manipulated by the PR specialists of the corporate controlled state, for so long, they don’t even know what a democratic republic is — much less that they lost one.
With wages stagnant for more than thirty years now, it is maddening to hear economically besieged, debt-beholden members of the US middle and laboring classes, who, because they have had their heads up their corporate master’s privileged rear ends for so long now, continue to convince themselves they’re viewing the glens, glades and fruited bowers of a free market paradise.
The hand of the rightwing intellectual berserker cult of the Chicago School of Economics can be seen in this. At present, we’re witnessing the entire repertoire of the neo-con clown school of misdirection and mendacity. What is unfolding is straight out of the Leo Strauss playbook for the intellectually bankrupt: First, employ a Reagan/Bush/Walker/ type manqué, and have these ambulatory Pez Dispensers shower the public at large with candied covered “noble lies” i.e., promulgating faux populist sound bites serving to conceal the machinations of a corrupt elite, thereby ensuring the retention and expansion of elitist power.
The fairness-phobic and freedom-defying tendencies of these sorts of toxic alliances are woven into the very DNA of contemporary conservatism and have left their adherents devoid of a compass of common sense and civic responsibility.
Again and again, I’m astonished to witness the manner that US citizens mistake this smoke and mirrors casuistry for a political mandate. Over the last three decades, anyone (who has been even nominally conscious) can see how destructive to the health and well-being of the general population of the nation, conservative, “market-driven” economic dominance has been. And how the cynical manipulation of factions within the Republican base, comprised of Christ fantasists and states’ rights fetishists, by the neo-con and corporate wing of the so-called “conservative movement,” have weaken both the civil libertarian contract of government and its social safety net obligations to its citizenry almost to the breaking point.
The Koch Brothers and their quisling, Governor Walker, are an object lesson in this personal pathology being played out as public tragedy.
The Koch Brothers were born into a family of oil-rich multi-millionaires. They have never known anything but wealth beyond any reasonable measure. Yet it is never enough. The brothers seem akin in character to a spoiled malicious brat whose greed for gifts can never be sated, a nightmare child, who not only breaks the expensive toys he demands and receives, but breaks the toys of other children, simply because they’re not his.
In deranged opposition to both common sense and common decency, the actual children of the US, those who were careless enough to be born into poverty, will just have to suck it up — and give up their school lunch programs so that the billionaires of the plundering class can continue to receive tax write-offs.
That’s right, good people of the US, it is high time we nipped this problem in the bud: Those damn spoiled brats have just gotten too damn fond of eating. Fortunately, the roar of the engines of fleets of private Gulfstream jets will drone out the rumblings of those entitlement-maddened little monsters bellies.
What is equally disheartening is the public at large has internalized the narrative of the dissemblers of the ruling elite, to such a great degree, that: Even before being defeated by legislative weasel maneuvers in Wisconsin, union members were willing to give up their benefits; they only agitated to keep “the right” to go to the table and ask for their master’s scraps.
This is a “rock bottom” situation. Liberals working within the system are like drunks who need to be told, just go out there and do some ‘controlled drinking.” Perhaps when the situation grows painful enough, then we’ll talk about the problem.
“Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation” Oscar Wilde
Short of a mass awakening on the part of the US public (one can have ones little fantasies, right?) and an attendant Islamic world style uprising against the soft totalitarian structure of oligarchic rule in the US, the consolidation of power by the plundering class will continue unabated.
A couple of circumstances have to be present for freedom to flourish and economic exploitation to be mitigated: (1) Have the propitious presence of an enlightened elite in place willing to contribute to the common good by curbing their cupidity and obsession with retaining power; (2) An aware, civically engaged citizenry willing to risk all to secure their dignity. Or: We can just wait around for an enlightened monarch or dictator of benighted intent to arrive on the scene.
“We do not know what is happening. And that is what is happening.” – Ortega y Gasset
In numerous ways, due to a confluence of constant inundation by distracting media influences and enervating, time-decimating financial burdens, the act of discerning the agendas of veiled corporate power, and the manner by which this nebulous, yet almost implacable structure, impacts ones life becomes difficult. Still, continually, I’m startled when I hear US citizens state: “It is a free country.”
At present, we are at liberty to hold and voice our opinions, as long as doing so has almost no effect on the status quo. The US corporate media has endowed us with the right to decide for ourselves and voice, unfettered, our opinions on the destructive choices made by celebrity millionaires or wax feckless before our televisions about the devastation wrought by natural disasters. In our faux republic, we are guaranteed the right to free speech, as long as it remains marginalized and ineffective.
The Gnostics had a term germane to the shallowness of thought that passes for discourse in our time, political or otherwise — “hylicism,” which means an inability to see below the surface of things. This is why, over and over, “news consumers” are diverted by news as gossip and, on a political level, fall for the demagogic ploys of Republicans and the phony populism of married-to-the-status quo Democrats. It is the mode of mind of the duopolistic state.
As a result of the contrivance of powerful mass media interests, combined with a complicity on the part of the general public, the witless indulgences and perpetual excesses of the idiot empire of celebrity news and gossip grip the popular imagination and provoke a greater degree of indignation from the populace than the tearing to tatters of the social contract, ongoing since the Reagan era, by the nation’s government and business classes.
The proliferation of news as celebrity gossip serves as a kind of corporate propaganda e.g., Charlie Sheen’s private contretemps being hyped to public spectacle and topping the news cycle, as opposed to, let’s say, a series of investigative reports exposing the degree of wealth inequity in the US, how it was established, and is maintained. Or why large-scale news events, such as the very likely catastrophic effects of the meltdown of a nuclear power plant, are treated with all the depth of a mindless Hollywood action movie, devoid of a deepening historical context.
To paraphrase Warren Buffett, his side has won the class war. At present, we are experiencing the mopping up operation in progress. In this cultural milieu, there should be little mystery regarding which stories the ultra-wealthy owners of huge media conglomerates would prefer their underlings to investigate and expose.
Another reason, Charlie Sheen has been placed in the media’s electronic stock and pillory is the manner in which a persistent strain of Puritanism in the US endures, and engenders, in the nation’s collective psyche, both a compulsive curiosity about excessive behavior merged with an intolerant, punitive reaction to it. Hence, aberrant behavior seizes the cultural imagination and fosters powerful, repressed desires.
First arrives the secret desire to make a daring, perhaps violent escape from the quotidian prison of everyday obligation and restrictive social nicety, as Pablo Neruda limned in verse, “to terrify a law clerk with a cut lily,/or kill a nun with a blow on the ear./It would be great/to go through the streets with a green knife/letting out yells until I died of the cold.”
Next, one is seized with the compulsion to make somebody pay for evoking such untoward, vile thoughts in a good person like me…I’m still a good person…right? That spoiled celebrity should be made to pay for this, damn it.
Conveniently, this situation works out well for those who benefit from the deeply inequitable system now in place: Their agenda is served by having the public direct their animus at the hubris of dim-witted celebrities as opposed to the incompetence and criminality of the powerful.
In the city center-devoid, suburban archipelago of the US, there exists scant real estate where an immersion in the mass (for either constructive purpose or odious design) can take place and private rage can be vented as civil disobedience, or rise, in its demented shadow form, as the public psychosis of fascist pageantry.
Although, in the US, our variety of Nuremberg Rally mobs don’t throng down wide boulevards, in torch lit processions, culminating with the sweat-lacquered faces of snarling Brown Shirts reflecting the flames of pyres of burning books. In contrast, the analog in the United States takes place on a hundred million, Cheetos-stained couches, as the corporate media’s propaganda by distraction induces fools and tools of the class-stratified, corporate state to gibber about the latest celebrity contretemps.
“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.” Thomas Pynchon (from Gravity’s Rainbow).
In this way, the so-called “culture wars” serve the ruling elite. This is a technique the operatives of corporate duopoly have down. Unloose social conservative activists to kick up dirt with divisive issues e.g., the rightwing wants to roast Big Bird on a spit and legislate that every unborn fetus be declared Jesus Christ himself. All the while, above the obscuring dirt cloud, the financial elite fly off in their private jets, elated as thieves luxuriating on a bed piled high with their loot.
I don’t mean to imply one should not fight extant inanity and prevailing idiocy…fight it with a vehemence sacred in its fury. Ironically enough, one must allow oneself to be idiot enough to risk the fight against the proliferation of eternal stupid. Yes, one can win a battle, but the war is endless. But within the fury of the moment, you are fully alive.
Yet every victory is fleeting, and the eternal stupid returns…having no memory of its whipping, and ready for another round. And it will kick your ass from time to time. I have the scars to prove it.
Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Phil’s website http://philrockstroh.com/ And at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000711907499