Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Small Victory

A crackling portrait, the fondling of trophies
The null of losing, can you afford that luxury?
A sore winner, but I'll just keep my mouth shut
It shouldn't bother me....but it does
-- Faith No More

Heading into this past weekend, after two solid months of Charlie Sheen/Donald Trump/royal wedding guff from the rancid husk that passes for our corporate media, I had plotted out the usual pained jeremiad lamenting that which has at this point already been long lost. Sometimes it feels good to sing a familiar song, vent spleen into pixillated void, edit it into something passable.

Process, as they say, is important.

Needless to say, the events of the past 48 hours have cast my would-be picayune musings into rather sharp relief. Ever undeterred and still endlessly annoyed by the (seemingly paradoxical) abdication of a vacant institution, I have to lob at least a couple of scuds on the aforementioned inanities. The continued boosting of said inanities only feeds into the lame meme of the lamestream media, yet damned if it is not becoming more and more true.

Useta be that the meringue stories fell into a certain time of year when folks' attentions were presumed to be only incidentally tuned to the teevee. Moving summer-of-the-shark type crap into heavy rotation during March and April only makes one wonder what fresh hell awaits the unsuspecting person who might actually expect something, anything, newsworthy to float through their electronic transom during the summer.

Instead we get a vapid, overblown nobody with a crappy show traveling the country and making a complete jackass of himself; an inbred Hanoverian dynasty desperately trying to sling the tinsel of relevance on its archaic, completely useless offices and ceremonies -- and of course, Charlie Sheen.

Sheen's case is reprehensible for its simplicity, for starters -- a man is self-destructing, seemingly at a mile a minute, in front of America, and fucking with his bosses the entire time, while keeping up a level of whoring and drug intake that would have brought down most people. Everybody loves a train wreck, but not when it's drawn out so far past its shelf like, and not when it culminates in the likes of Matt Lauer pumping some weedy teevee therapist about What Charlie Should Do. Well, Matt, maybe Charlie should do his next bump off yer wife's ass, champ. How ya like them apples? It's just cheap, tawdry voyeurism at its worst.

Trump and the Windsors were just exhausting in the Jesus-Christ-who-in-their-right-mind-fucking-cares sense. The idea that anyone, besides shut-ins and morbidly obese people with broken remote controls, would watch royal wedding crap for three blessed weeks straight is utterly perplexing. It quite literally makes zero sense, except as the most abject, desperate attempt at marketing -- I dunno, tourism, wedding dresses, something along that line.

Considering that family of theirs, the princes seem like more or less normal decent people, who just happen to be able to get pretty much anyone and anything they want. One of 'em got married. Seriously, I mean, big fucking deal, are they going to follow the new couple to Mustique and film them having sex? It's difficult to escape the impression that this is not really a demand-driven market, but rather something that is pimped and pumped until certain segments just give in.

That's also the only sensible explanation for why anyone would watch more than five seconds of Trump's estimable contribution to the body cultural. Yes, F-list has-beens and never-weres threatening each other and pulling out each others' weaves. Why not just beat your own skull in with a large rock and have done with it?

Trump's bizarre attempts at political jabber make his weekly NBC abortion look like fine craft. Perhaps this is all performance art, just another distraction aimed at the already overly-distracted. Nevertheless, the fuck-China, take-their-fuckin-oil, whaddaya-gonna-do-bout-it-fuckface attitude capture perfectly a deeply ingrained, reflexively ignorant posture in the 'murkin body politic. He's the perfect preznit for people who confuse endlessly promoted scenes of Meat Loaf and Gary Busey screaming at each other with reality, much less with entertainment.

For a few years in the late '90s, I had a pirate rig on my satellite teevee system, basically an ancient PC with (iirc) a 386 processor, whose sole function was to simulate code for the satellite card reader. Periodically DirecTV would catch on, disable the code, and you'd wait a couple hours for a new code to pop up online and load (via floppy disk, mind you) over to the system. It was pretty sweet, since we got everything -- all the sports packages, all the movies, all the porn, yada yada.

There were also all the local network packages for something like two dozen markets around the country, New York, LA, Chicago, Jacksonville, what have you. It was cool to check out other local news teams, get some local weather, see what the weather bunny looked like, the usual. You could watch Live at Five at 2:00 Pacific time, Letterman at 8:30.

One thing that became a guilty pleasure -- perhaps because of its total spontaneity, perhaps simply because I'm originally from Los Angeles -- was when the 5:00 LA news would air a police chase, completely live, no delay, nothin'. Sometimes I'd recognize neighborhoods I had lived in or near, sometimes these things would go on for much longer than you thought they could. Some of these would-be getaway drivers (and they always get caught, of course) are pretty inventive, dumb as they are for thinking that they actually have a shot at getting away from the LAPD.

So one fine afternoon an epic chase comes on, goes on for at least fifteen minutes, not in the heart of the city, but the sprawling, interchangeable communities bordering it, your Norwalk, your Bellflower, your Cerritos, etc. Through alleys, around corners, backtracking around blocks, knocking garbage cans, sideswiping and cutting people short, narrow misses every few seconds. Crazy shit. This putz was endangering people, but you almost had to have a grudging respect for his sheer animal will, his utter belief that he would not be caught. The helicopter, the all-seeing eye, captures every move, every dodge, every squealing, frantic turn.

Finally he comes up on an overpass, hemmed in because, well, it's LA and it's fucking rush hour, and you ain't getting near any freeway in a hurry. Sits there parked on the overpass for a minute. Helicopter starts zooming in its focus, so's you could see the profile of the guy through the driver-side window, actually see his face fairly well. Naturally, there is periodic commentary throughout from the meat puppets at the anchor desk, peppered with the usual bons mots from the one in the copter, and by now, they're in the "well, what's he gonna do now?" mode.

Welp, here's what he does, friends 'n' neighbors -- while the copter has its nice tight shot on this gentleman sitting in his ancient, now-beaten Monte Carlo, no doubt pondering the sequences and patterns of decision-making and impulse control, both throughout his life and on that particular day, which led him to this particular fork in the proverbial road, he blows his fucking brains out. If anyone had any doubts about whether these chases were completely live, no delays, they were certainly dispelled that tragic instant. Suddenly it's no longer fun and games. Needless to say, the station was shocked at such an outcome, and made some changes.

There's yer reality teevee, folks. All these circle jerk shows, with their barely-vicarious nonsense, manipulative scripting and editing, and intensely manufactured and programmatic setups, taking weeks to "tell" a "story" that should really take a couple hours (and isn't interesting to begin with), featuring idiots that you wouldn't let clean your gutters, are nothing, just filler between endless ads for overpriced vodka and completely unnecessary pharmaceuticals.

Used to be that if you didn't like a show, you could avoid it by changing the channel. But with endless cross-promotion cluttering up blocks of time formerly devoted at least to somewhat newsworthy subjects, that is less and less the case. This has been amplified by the onslaught of Trump, posturing dickhead bloviating to anything and everything that looks like a microphone, blustery nonsense guaranteed to aggravate our creditors and give credence to the notion around the rest of the world that Americans will fall for damned near any ricockulous notion.

Even, as it turns out, the fuckwitted idea that a casino owner -- you know, the business model where people come in, drop off money, and leave -- who has managed to go bankrupt four times, might be a good or even competent businessman. But again, this seems much more media-driven than truly demand-driven (not to mention, for NBC, a pretty cheap and obvious conflict of interest, for which they really deserve a nice boycott). But it is also an inescapably ugly instance of the innate, lame voyeurism that pervades the popular culture at large. People feel compelled to gawk, even when there's nothing at all to see.

Maybe is the true palpable cultural residue of "reality" teevee -- people no longer have the urge -- perhaps not even the capacity -- to discern what has value and utility, and ignore or reject the toxic emissions of this ocean of dross. At some point, one would think, people might get sick of Trump's obnoxious preening and increasingly dismal choices for contestants. But then, the Survivor thing still seems to be on, weirdly, inexplicably. I still think dropping a crate of weapons on the next site would liven things up.

So. Bin Laden, eh? Good riddance and all that, but it's strange, this woofing, chest-thumping dynamic. The surprise Moe Greene-ing of bin Laden seems to have awakened our inner Homer Simpson, never too far below the surface in the first place.

9/11, you'll recall, itself brought out some baser, more opprtunistic impulses -- suddenly every inbred dipshit who had always trashed NYC as a multiculti librul enclave knew how best to avenge the city's honor, even though the majority of New Yorkers themselves, once the initial shock was over and cleanup had commenced, seemed determined to get up, brush off, and move on. The people with the least direct investment seemed the most bloodthirsty, especially in their eagerness to turn everything ending in -stan into a parking lot. The bloodlust was completely undiffused by important questions, such as who and how, and what the most rational course with the best outcome might be. People just wanted to go fuck up the first guy that looked cross-eyed at them. So we did.

This time, the bloodlust is undiffused by any rational thought about the results of killing bin Laden. It is not going to bring one (1) soldier home from a war zone a day earlier; it is not going to save a dollar or a dime from the military budget. It is still going to be standard procedure to molest travelers and confiscate toothpaste at airports; we will still detain people without charge or recourse, without defense or representation.

But one expects woofing from five-digit crowds at sporting events; that is, after all, the original, time-tested purpose of mobs gathered in stadia, drunk on $8 trash beer, deep-fried organ meats, and an unstoppable sense of self-regard. More offputting was an exchange I happened across yesterday on the public Nice Polite Republicans station, home of the soothing, dulcet-toned panderers of reasonable discourse. One of these indistinguishable gits was counseling a caller who had lost a loved one in the Towers, was still grieving of course, and had possibly achieved closure with this latest news. Good for him; after unspeakable tragedy, everyone needs to find whatever works for them to screw up the courage to soldier on and make the most of it.

But it struck me during the counseling session, not how routine these genuflections to public grief have become, but how invisible the grief of innocents who had our rage inflicted on them has always been. I recall stories of mothers literally digging through gardens of limbs, walled slaughterhouses of parts, looking for some sign of a lost child. I recall Fallujah getting white phosphorus, cheerfully referred to as "Willy Pete", which melts your skin off, being indiscriminately spewed into large cities under siege, to subdue them, force capitulation. I recall Abu Ghraib, prisoners humiliated and raped for the amusement of their pervert captors, and beaten and killed at times. There is never, and will never be, so much as a thought or a care for any of these lost souls, all of them preventable, none of them necessary, a great many of them genuinely innocent of any misdeed whatsoever, aside from being in the way.

Don't get me wrong -- the world is better off without the likes of bin Laden, and "moral equivalence" attempts to square the grief of 9/11 with the grief of the Iraq war will always ring false, as moral equivalence tends to. The SEAL team that went in and accomplished this mission did amazing precision work, truly a surgical strike. There will be foreign-policy implications, but there always are, no matter what we do, right or wrong. There is something here to celebrate and be proud of.

It's the public grief-plumbing that puts me off. It's just the stark, grotesque disparity of it all, one endlessly fetishized and the other long dropped down the memory hole. Most unbecoming of such a Christian nation, since perhaps the most durable tenet of that particular religion may be the principle of empathy.

Although I constantly claim to be "perplexed" by the manifest oddities of the world around us, and its cantankerous, misbegotten denizens, the reality is that the capacity for genuine surprise seems long gone.


Bob Hopeless said...

"Most unbecoming of such a Christian nation, since perhaps the most durable tenet of that particular religion may be the principle of empathy."

Uh, yeah, except that the practitioners of the American brand of that particular religion, with a few worthy exceptions, have absolutely no idea what most of the supposed principles of their religion are, and empathy for anyone who does not look like, act like, vote like or live near them is and has been completely nonexistent for who knows how long now. These are people who think the main tenets of their religion are to prevent people from having abortions and heaping hatred on the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, and the non-white. So, as you note later, there is no surprise.

Anonymous said...

"the world is better off without the likes of bin Laden, and "moral equivalence" attempts to square the grief of 9/11 with the grief of the Iraq war will always ring false"

Sorry...don't buy this. I think the slaughtering and displacement of a million people for no other reason than so our elites can play war and power games is objectively morally worse than Osama's crime.

Far more died...for even cheaper reasons than some theocratic nonsense