Monday, January 09, 2006

Sui Generis

Joe Bageant: Sui Generis.

Joe reminds me of an instant near the beginning of A Hard Day's Night when the Beatles are riding on a train through the newly Beatle-mad English landscape, doing madcap, zany moptopped shit in their train cabin, when suddenly, in a Dick Lester-inspired bit o' nonsense, they're outside, running alongside the train, yelling back in the window like demented, cheeky fools -- yelling, if you follow the film's loony inner logic, at what can only be themselves on the train. Joe's managed to find the way off the train and is running alongside us, howling our lunacy back at us as we sit staring blankly out the window.

His essay, The Simulacran Republic, at his not-to-be-missed blog,, cuts, with deadly accuracy, to the Heart of the Matter:

Americans, rich or poor, now live in a culture entirely perceived through, simulacra-media images and illusions. We live inside a self-referential media hologram of a nation that has not existed for quite some time now, especially in America's heartland. Our national reality is held together by a pale, carbon imprint of the original. The well-off with their upscale consumer aesthetic, live inside gated Disneyesque communities with gleaming uninhabited front porches representing some bucolic notion of the Great American home and family. The working class, true to its sports culture aesthetic, is a spectator to politics ... politics which are so entirely imagistic as to be holograms of a process, not a process. Social realism is a television commercial for America, a simulacran republic of eagles, church spires, brave young soldiers and heroic firefighters and "freedom of choice" within the hologram. America's citizens have been reduced to Balkanized consumer units by the corporate state's culture-producing machinery.

Some weeks ago, my meditation on the McMansion was met with a good deal of outrage at the gluttony, the sheer piggish avarice on display in their architectural excess; but the main thing I'd hoped to communicate -- the weeping, shrieking, howling emptiness of the homes on display -- was overlooked a bit. I don't waste much sympathy on the SVP of Marketing & Fulfillment for Consolidated Widget who lives in an 8000^2ft. pile in a denuded field outside Purcellville where no trees assist the three heat-pumps he runs to cool his idiotically sited vinyl "Tudor-esque" fuck-box with brick facade. No, the one I weep for is the aspiring copy-room clerk, the fresh-faced project manager, the talented programmer -- just married and Baby Makes Three -- who've been handed a pile of Starter Credit and an unassailable mandate that asserts that that miserable pile of 2x4s, drywall, concrete flooring, Berber carpeting, and Maytag appliances is the absolute highest thing that they or any other human can aspire to.

That way lies the darkened garage, the purring welltuned 4-liter engine, the garden hose connecting tailpipe and leather interior....

To think that some election or another, some temporary shifting of the balance of power from Throat-Slitting Reactionaries to Gibbering Centrist Appeasers, is ever going to change any of this, is, frankly, stupid and naive. What passes for American Life will, no matter who is in power, continue to devolve into melted plastic goo. We're just plain built that way, goddammit. Says Joe:
Meanwhile the culture-generating industry spins our mythology like cotton candy. We all need it to survive, Hollywood myths, imperial myths, melting pot myths, the saluting dick male myths. They keep the machine running. And when the machine is running correctly, it smoothes its own way by terrifying uncooperative people into submission in prisons and torture rooms, where we do not have to look at the corpses on ice and the naked hooded bodies handcuffed to the bars. We are innocent as long as we keep our eyes taped shut. And only with our eyes shut can we keep seeing the hologram. And with duct tape over our mouths, we can recite its slogans with one hand over our heart with the other one resting on the trigger.
The tape that closes drywall joints on those McWalls -- same stuff keeps our historical maidenheads virgo intacta.

While you're at it, you really want -- the Jingmeister demands you take -- a guided tour of Winchester with Joe Bageant.


Linkmeister said...

Annandale had nothin' like that, except the main street, and it was surrounded by suburbia.

eRobin said...

And only with our eyes shut can we keep seeing the hologram.

So we should all be looking for that red pill?

I enjoyed that essay because I'm a sucker for good ol' liberal guilt trips, but the people targetted by it are at least behaving in a sensible way when they refuse to give up the power and comfort they have largely lucked into. What excuse to the powerless have to do everything they can to remain that way? When the voting rate is in the 70's, (still piss-poor) I'll start worrying about why dead-eyed suburbanites aren't willing to shed some of their comfort for a better world for all.

Quinn said...

Sometimes it all seems so hopeless, right? Every time I look at it, I think of this quote from Dzevad Karahasan: "For, let us not fool ourselves: the world is written first - the holy books say that it was created in words – and all that happens in it, happens in language first." He is a Bosnian writer and teacher who was trapped in Sarajevo during the 92-95 war and that comment was a born out of his belief that somehow, the writers of the former Yugoslavia had, in some fundamental fashion, a hand in creating the environment for war.
Where did we get our misguided, mutated, warped perception of America? Writers, of course. Ad writers, TV writers, novelists, playwrites, screenwriters, journalists, etc.
If we wrote ourselves into this crap-fest, can't we then write ourselves out of it?

XTCfan said...

Only if we also read ourselves out of it, and I have little hope for that...

Depressing post, Ned. But the truth ain't usually happy, is it.

gmgcsbue (a state of social literary ennui)

Quinn said...

I suppose that, despite my own cynical slant, I harbor an inner optimist who thinks that if we of the writerly bent would quit writing "art for art's sake" empty crap, and dogmatic, black and white drivel, we might rediscover the instructive power of art dedicated to truth, beauty and justice. Sounds very sappy doesn't it? It requires an honesty that is missing in a lot of entertainment these days. But I'm not just speaking of books. Movies have to be written first, as well as TV shows.

I've sometimes been accused of an over-earnestness. Ah well. This is, I suppose, my own battleground: my fight between my pessimistic, it's all crap side and my desire to effect some change wtih the meager talents I have as a fiction writer.