(August 2005) Just talked with my bestgrrl for so long that my ears are tired. She’s a city grrl in academic exile in the hinterlands who made the interesting observation that horses have old mouths. Their teeth and nostrils look modern, she says, but their mouths look very old, as if they belong in some other era.
I told her about my new short story involving a firefighter who spends his time extrapolating victims’ lives from the various items he discovers in their dwellings. She likes the concept and told me about a Russian artist who builds rooms that capture a person in his or her particular time or era.
We also discussed what items would encapsulate our childhoods, so here are a few: “Russian” Tea (which I believe the local UU fellowship refers to as Spiced Tea now, but it’s the same powdery Tang-and-cinnamon mixture that my mother served us so we could drink like the astronauts); Iceburg lettuce wedges topped with bright orange French dressing; Family Circle and Guideposts magazines; See Dick Run and Weekly Reader magazines and those hokey protect-your-necks-in-the-event-of-a-nuclear-disaster Super-8 movies with giant spools that invariably ran out and slapped the film against the projector for amusing minutes as the teacher tried to figure out what to do next; cream-colored utility trucks spraying DDT while we kids rode our bikes behind them (shiver); Kool-Aid popsicles made in Tupperware molds that we listened to as Crosby, Still, Nash and Young sang “Teach Your Children Well” in the radioed background.
There is something deeply suffocating about life today in the prosperous west. Bourgeoisification, the suburbanization of the soul, proceeds at an unnerving pace. Tyranny becomes docile and subservient, and soft totalitarianism prevails, as obsequious as a wine waiter. Nothing is allowed to distress and unsettle us. The politics of the playgroup rules us all.—J.G. Ballard, interview in the Guardian, 6.22.04
A bumper sticker on the way into work today read “We ARE the rogue state.” Was pondering the Ballard quote when I saw it and concluded, sadly, that far more Americans can identify the newest Hollywood break-up than define a rogue state.
Also came across this jingoistic gem from AdBusters:
DON’T LOOK NOW
Listen: don’t you get it? This is the greatest place on earth. Nobody cares about the declining dollar, or the dwindling oil reserves, or the massive trade deficit. These are just words you hear on the news every once in a while. They don’t mean anything to anybody.
Look around you! We’re number one and that’s not going to change. It’s no accident we’re all fascinated with Paris Hilton. We’re her, she’s us. She’s beautiful, rich and fabulous—she has it all, everyone wants to be her. And that’s exactly what this country is like.
Yes, we’re in debt—what country isn’t? How much do you think Paris owes on her Visa right now? We get the Chinese to keep buying US treasury bonds and we’re golden. The important thing is: we have to keep our eyes on the prize. We can’t let the eggheads and nay-sayers get us down. These people aren’t in touch with reality.
Look: this is a beautiful place—we’ve made it that way. We can’t turn back now. We can’t give an inch. We can’t let it slip from our grasp.
We’ve just got to believe.
(Groan) A cross between bobbleheaded Gipperspeak and that ee cummings poem about the silver-tongued politician who spoke and then drank rapidly from a glass of water.
Matthew Alper, author of The God Part of The Brain (due out soon), asserts that God is a coping mechanism and that we're hard-wired (to our detriment) to believe in deities.
Or maybe we’re just overworked and undereducated and hardwired to accept easy answers that will allow us to turn back to some easier topic that will makes our heads hurt less than economics or death or cancer.
Of course, as a species, we also tend to be spineless conformists who will do harm for no better reason than the fact that we believe that other people are also doing it. (psst. Don’t tell Cheney.) Then there are the Machiavellians and fucking Napoleons (to use ani’s phrase) and social puppeteers who manipulate us with our common fears and insecurities and need for pat answers. They’re adept at using God’s name to, say, build up extravagant riches in Rome, etc.
A recent review of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) contains this wonderful observation: “Art is the only god you can prove exists. Everything else is mortal.”
(Or, to encapsulate Medea’s worldview: “Creativity is my religion. It has saved me more than once.”)
The reviewer says that people who “get” Warhol understand that he was fascinated by the shallowness of personality, by its transparency.
Warhol recognized that Americans respect the infinitely reproducible better than the one-off creations, so he gave us what we wanted: 8,000 identical silkscreen prints of every-day tomato soup labels.
(What’s today’s equivalent? Maybe 8,000 identical hazard-yellow Humvees popping wheelies on the previously beautiful Alaskan wilderness?)
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
Yep, we're a consumer culture all right and the corporate rich keep inheriting bidnesses that pay ad agencies to use their creative genius to convince the rest of us all that we must spend our money on their latest iteration of bling. It’s supply and demand American style: tell us what to buy in order to be happy, because we are so goddamn empty without the latest toy.
In Videodrome, Professor O’Blivion says “The television is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch. Therefore, television is reality and reality is less than television.”
Meanwhile, Warren Buffett, whose personal holdings have outpaced the Dow Jones Industrial Average for over 40 years now, has a luxury yacht named The Middle Finger and Cheney's running hog wild.
Rogue state indeed.
So. Finally, an observation by Slavoj Zizek:
The planes hitting the WTC towers was the ultimate work of art: we can perceive the collapse of the WTC towers as the climactic conclusion of twentieth-century art’s “passion for the Real”—the “terrorists” themselves did not do it primarily to provoke real material damage but for the spectacular effect of it.
And so we line up for spectacles every day, digging the latest Fox sensationalism or exploding Iraqi city, because anything as mundane as an economics lesson is, like, so gawd-awful boring, ya know?