Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Egyptian Question

I do have a question to ask, but not without prologue.

I know that of late my rants have been on the sad side of the scale, and for that I have to apologize. Originally, when I began this endeavor, I did so as a sort of entertainment for my friends, all of whom said I needed to write down all the insane stuff that was rattling around in my brains, if only so I didn't have to repeat myself over and over again to different people, telling the same story (something I'm a little too good at). And the stories were often funny, since I have a pretty sarcastic frame of mind, and even the most brutal tales could be told with a humorous edge, so long as they didn't touch me personally, or as long as I wasn't dealing with stories of war and death. But as the years have progressed, the stories have begun to have a depressing sameness, a theme that draws a line from the beginning to now, and I think I know where it really started, where I really noticed what was going wrong in America the first time.

I was sixteen years old, and watched a film called "Network."

For those of you unfamiliar with this work, and other works by Paddy Chayefsky, well, shame on you. Chayefsky was one of the great writers of the twentieth century, and if he hadn't died in 1981, I think he could have skewered the Reagan era beautifully. Strangely enough, he managed to skewer both our current era and the seventies with frightening accuracy, and for the former, he didn't even know he was going to do it. But what was true then is truer now, because we haven't learned much from that era. An excerpt from a rant by the character Howard Beale, played by the great Peter Finch, who won a posthumous Oscar for his performance in this film:

"We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad.

There have been wonderful flashes of lightning in the interim, the punk movement being one of them; but that's been co-opted, and even better, commodified. Any new popular uprisings quickly appear on MTV as the latest fad, thing to do, group to follow, and rapidly become as significant as the latest style in tires. Rap music, which began as a form of street protest, now rarely ventures beyond the confines of the various forms of "bling" one can acquire. Certainly, there are still protest musicians, and they fight in their own ways: Fugazi, for one, Ani diFranco, for another. They have generally eschewed the mass-marketing efforts of the big systems, and are consequently viewed as being so far out of the mainstream that only a small, vocal minority even knows they exist.

Sure you can go to a Green Day or REM concert and feel like you're politically aware, but then you go back to your nine-to-five job and essentially continue to suck on the same teats you've been sucking on since birth. Or you go to see James Cameron's Avatar, and recognize the plight of the indigenous peoples, recognize the obvious references to the militarization of corporate greed, and still manage to go back home and think, "I really need a big-screen, 3D HDTV."

So as we sit in our houses or our apartments, watching a country a world away turn itself into either a great place to live or yet another Middle East hell-hole, we can be distracted by democracy taking place as spontaneously as it ever has. And the question that follows that is, how bad does it have to be here, before we react in a similar fashion? What will it take, ultimately, for America to get off its collective ass and do something that's not just the usual weak street protest, or (my personal favorite) astroturf movements sprung by large corporate interests that people think were their own ideas?

Can't we, like Gandhi recommended in the thirties, have a day of "prayer and fasting?" Where no work is done, no busses, no trains, no planes, no cars on the street, no financial transactions, no nothing. Perhaps someone needs to tweet this out to create the largest flash mob in history, and it's something everyone can do from home - just not go to work.

1 comment:

fredges said...

Count me in, buddy!