Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's The Wrong Economy, Stupid!

"What is finished... is the idea that this great country is dedicated to the freedom and flourishing of every individual in it. It's the individual that's finished. It's the single, solitary human being that's finished. It's every single one of you out there that's finished, because this is no longer a nation of independent individuals. It's a nation of some 200-odd million transistorized, deodorized, whiter-that-white, steel-belted bodies, totally unnecessary as human beings, and as replaceable as piston rods... " -- Howard Beale, Network, 1976

We knew this back in the seventies. We knew it. We had all the information at our fingertips, because even if we didn't read books or newspapers much, we watched people like Walter Cronkite (who only occasionally lied to us), who was willing to spend an hour on a single news story, and that was all the national news you got that day. Now, we spend less than five minutes on news stories, opinions are undifferentiated from news, and of course the more sensational, the better. Even with multiple 24-hour news channels, I would bet that The Daily Show spends more time on individual news stories than CNN does. We knew there was something wrong, and we kept right on going.

Large-scale satire is either dead, or overplayed. War, Inc. was meant to be a broadside against the whole Neo-Con, PNAC, guts-passing-for-brains political shithole that was our last administration, and, even with millions of dollars, John Cusack and Dan Aykroyd, they still missed the target. In The Loop, on the other hand, did more damage with a few simple, well-placed swear words than the expensive digital fakery of War, Inc's Rockettes prosthetic-leg kick-line.

There is certainly public rage these days. Just ask Gabrielle Giffords. What's wrong with the public rage of today is that it is entirely misinformed. Even better, it's proudly misinformed. Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, Malkin, on and on and on, these bastards spew hate-filled bullshit out over cable TV and the radio and even in print, and entire genomes genuflect themselves into an orgasmic coma of seething dumb anger that spills into the public, attached to various calibers of bullets, or voting patterns that will guarantee these same comatose fools will lose their jobs to some poor schmuck in China for one-tenth the wages, and all because the asshole they're voting for said he/she believes in "God and Country." Oh, yeah, and "gays are evil." Let's not forget the gays.

But let us also not forget our own folly. We, as the Liberal wing of politics in this country, with facts and science on our side, still can't convince a lot of people that global climate change and evolution(!) are scientific facts. Still can't convince a lot of people that pollution is bad for you, that the EPA serves a purpose. We gave up on teaching kids how to think, and pressed them into learning how to pass tests. I know that America was founded on compromise, but I think we've maybe stepped a little too far back from our own ideals.

But the worst part is that America has changed its concept of itself over the last thirty years - and we've just accepted it. We can point to improved job stats, fewer unemployment claims, a thriving Wall Street, and business profits that are through the roof; but what we can't do is say that things are going to get better. Because this version of better is spiritually bankrupt. We are achieving more now than we ever have as a species, and it's making everyone a little more unhappy every year. We medicate ourselves, not to feel better, but to feel less. I have fallen victim to depression, and taken anti-depressants to "fix" me, and what I realized was that I wasn't getting angry about things I should have been getting angry about (they also play merry hell with your sex life, but that's a whole different issue). We have a space station, privately-funded space tourism, we can communicate with anyone in the world via phones we carry around in our pockets, and pretty soon (as Neal Stephenson once said), we'll be able to move Nebraska to Africa overnight for $5.

But why would you want to?

What good does all of this wonderfulness do for us? Certainly, the technology of the present allows me to spew this unformed rant at the lot of you all at the touch of a few buttons, but what of the rest of it? I've had people yell at me because a fax that was meant for them wasn't properly sent two minutes earlier. "I can resend it right now." "BUT I NEEDED IT THEN!" How did we manage before fax machines, Federal Express, e-mail and texting? How did we survive at all? Could we survive without them? We're teaching our kids to fit into this world, because if they don't have those sorts of weird, unfathomable skills, they won't be able to get a decent-paying job in America. Being able to cook a meal, balance a checkbook, or to think for yourself have become not only superfluous, but oddly suspect.

I will allow that thinking for yourself has always been considered suspect by the majority, but we're supposed to be the smart ones...

I'm no luddite. As a filmmaker, I am thrilled that I can edit a film, fix the sound, mix the music, and burn a DVD in my little basement office. It is an awesome, empowering experience to move through the creative process and have what can be termed a professional-looking finished product without spending millions of dollars to do so. I like being able to get feedback from my director in a few minutes, rather than a few days, and he doesn't have to rent a projection room in order to view what we've worked on.

Before we can have our workers' revolution in this country, we need to have people who know how to work. Better still, we need people who know how to think, not just how to be a well-trained parrot or mule or whatever you want to call the hybrid we've been creating of our children for the past thirty years. Celebrities do not matter. What happens to a newsman doesn't matter. What happens in Tahrir Square, that matters immensely. How we could translate it into our own democracy, that matters immensely. We have to raise expectations for our children, and we have to teach them music and art and sports, and all the other things that our educational system has deemed too expensive. We have to learn to live with less, so that at least one parent can be home more. We have to learn to grow our own food, and to teach our kids the value of home-grown vegetables and fruit (and watch them when they try their first tomato plucked off the vine).

Until we can get this country back to where an individual person really and truly has value (and not just because they're willing to do something stupid on YouTube), America has become Metropolis. With better cable.

So, to quote Howard Beale again, you've got to get mad. You have to remind yourself, every day, that your life has value. And that you want your life to have been for something more than just improving the GDP.

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