The Real State of the Union


"Our music no longer has substance because substance no longer sells. Our TV screens sell us twisted perversions of ourselves. All of our models have been distorted, and all our optimism aborted. We struggle and endless struggle just to struggle to afford it."

We are broken. That's what I'll tell you that they won't. This isn't about politics or policy. It is about our culture, about who we have become and to whom we have surrendered. It isn't about China or Putin, or about ISIS or oil or even our proverbial "way of life" we hear the politicians convince themselves we are defending. It is about what J.K. Rowling called a casual vacancy. It is about an absence of values and bearing that hints at a full-scale reversal of all the spoils of the Great Enlightenment. It is about a permissiveness that has become pervasiveness. It is about decadence that has transcended the realm of decision into destiny. We have committed suicide at the level of collective consciousness. The flakes and gurus and mystics use to sell that stuff in the eighties and early nineties. We were all going to be of one mind and join hands as a species and all that bleeding heart bullshit we used to get stoned and tell ourselves. The TV used to tell us it was all going to work out. One need not channel surf very far anymore to understand that our TV has evolved a completely new outlook concerning the quality and condition of the human character, and we have completely accepted it, seemingly with little to no dissent whatsoever.



What would have been classified as a slasher film thirty years ago is now prime-time week-night entertainment. What's more, that old slasher film rarely topped ninety minutes for lack of funding, whereas these are big-budget productions usually slated for upwards of ten hours of airtime. Some of the more popular examples range into the forty to sixty hour range, while still others apparently aspire to run into perpetuity. One can name at least a dozen made-for-TV shows whose content is exclusively centered around murder, rape, greed, vanity, infidelity, abuse, or consumption, or some other incredibly vile aspect of inhumanity still being conceived. Doesn't anyone ever get to feeling like we are being conditioned for the fall? A wise scholar once said that art precedes culture. If so, what do these exaggerated abstractions say about our own future? Reasonably healthy people couldn't possibly define themselves this way, and, in realistic circumstances, wouldn't dare accept such a characterization from someone else without argument or insult. I wouldn't. When I look in the mirror, I don't see a rapist or a murder or a thief or a hustler. If at any point in my day someone told me sincerely that they thought so little of me, I would be compelled to scour my own nature for traces of evidence to the contrary, and I would be greatly alarmed and dismayed by a failure to do so. So why then do we continue to buy these cheap, horrible knock offs of ourselves? Why do kill scenes have to get progressively more elaborate and intense in order to satiate our blood lust? Why must every daughter have an early pregnancy and an interracial boyfriend her drunk father hates and her lithium mother screws? Why does does someone have to be murdered in some brutally cold and atrocious calculation at the hands of some charismatic anti-hero we will all keep coming back for? Why do corrupt politicians get top billing, and why are honest politicians nowhere to be found? Why do we dragnet America's backwaters for "talent" only to dismiss ninety nine out of a hundred for the sake of competitive suspense, only to prop the "best" of them up for a shallow, dry-hump of a disposable one-night-stand of a career? Maybe we celebrate mediocrity because our appetites have become to insatiable to appreciate real art, to comprehend real human suffering in its extant state. Maybe we just can't leave all that steak on the plate long enough to enjoy the bite. Maybe, just maybe, entertainment works just like any other drug. Exposure is inversely proportional to potency. The longer we do it, harder it is to get off. We feed it to our kids intravenously, guaranteeing they will someday grow up to be callous, disconnected emotional wraiths. It all seems so innocuous, until we consider how we might have reacted to something twenty years ago that we take for granted now. I saw the president spit on Jesus. It barely even tickled what little vestige of a sense of impropriety the last ten years has left in me. I watched America rally around a criminal, assuming as a foregone conclusion that his fate was emblematic of a perfect storm of broken systems, and then venting all that hatred and vitriol on the one miserable element of our society we task to clean up ugly, impossible messes we refuse to witness or acknowledge in more than two dimensions. Furthermore, we demonize any critic or commentator who dares to deviate from that  narrow distortion of cause and effect to look for an explanation elsewhere. If one looks to rap culture, one is racist. If one looks to violence and cynicism in music in general, one is cast into the formless void somewhere between 'out of touch' and a 'grave threat to our sacred freedom of speech.' If one dares to point at video games or movies, more of the same. One is free to point to economic strain, and, on this, everyone will sympathize and agree, as is common with large, vaguely defined threats or vulnerabilities (like 'terrorism' or 'drugs' or 'education'), but therein lies the great golden clue. What each of these peculiar persuasions has in common, if one looks very closely, is materialism. America has taken up arms against those she has sworn to solemn oaths of protection ans service. In the context of this emerging phenomenon, a number of strings seem to come together, and the patchwork pattern of ourselves sort of becomes visible in form, however featureless and incomplete. The criminal who became the underdog and the face of an ill-conceived revolution is the TV personality whose mistakes and flaws are disregarded for the greater context of his story. This is desensitization, and a transference of the fantasy world morality to reality. There is such great and monumental irony here than even I will probably fail to articulate. In TV shows, the properly humanized character struggles against personal flaws and shortcomings as a process of growth. There is a formula here. The greater the flaw, the greater the growth, and therefore, for a given time frame, the greater the story. In order for that growth to be illustrated within a limited time frame, and to increase the tension (the "stakes") the protagonist will often elude capture (in most cases) and sometimes get away altogether, perhaps suffering instead in personal ways for their errors, which an audience will accept, in suspended disbelief, as resolution. Often, and especially in the case of the modern series, many illegal acts, even murders and rapes, are entirely without consequence. In most cases in which consequence is an element in modern cinema, however, authorities are typically always portrayed as corrupt, imbecilic, indifferent, or simply inept, and the assertion that police officers typically get the worst of these characterizations ought to go unchallenged by reasonable viewers. Consider though, that this is not by virtue of ubiquitous commonality an actual reflection of society, as much as it is a (convenient) literary device for justifying why the character who just robbed a bank in the first fifteen minutes of the story can pursue a boundless love affair with a troubled hooker for the next two hours of film. It is a convention used in any kind of storytelling to indemnify the audience against totally pointless reprieves about people failing to do impossible things and suffering pointlessly for their own fallibility. No. Superman has to jump over buildings and Spiderman has to swing from them and Batman...just has to drive around, and at no point will anyone outside the plot show up to ruin the suspense by spilling their identities. Random, unrelated people don't just "figure out" who Clark Kent is and exit the stage. And no one ever catches the low level crook caught up in the game and puts him away before he finds Jesus and falls in love. In Spiderman, the asshole authority figure is the boss. In Batman, it's the two faced DA. Superman was created as a cultural psychological bulwark for the (capital I)institution, and therefore, there are no inverted authority figures among the cast of commons characters. The police, the Justice Department, and most goddamned well certainly the Government of These Here United States are all held beyond contempt as reliable constants in themes which center around familial and relationship conflicts in the subplot. Batman is the contemporary inversion of patently moralistic Superman, where the one has an identity and close friends and a single stable lasting love interest and is often associated with positive symbolism and self determination, the other is isolated, introverted, dark, has a series of flawed and tragic love interests, and keeps very limited personal company, always working outside of an untrustworthy justice system in a dystopian smog of lawlessness and villainy. 
Neither of these are REAL! (you're screaming at me) But they have become real. Our villains are now are heroes and our heroes are now our villains, and no one with any history in art could deny this. Superman doesn't sell anymore. We have all become individuals with tragic back stories who ought to be permitted to rampage through life until we "figure it out." This was never reality, at least, it was never supposed to be. The reason why our authorities, (and mind you, we have some of the best in the civilized world, for what they have to deal with, regardless of how they come across) have become so damned jaded and cynical and prone to be so dismissive of so many people...get ready...breathe in...is FUCKING US! We are assholes now. We can't challenge the worst shit rap music has to offer, not because we can't be trusted to sort out the good from the bad, but because to challenge it is tantamount to threatening to take it away. We can't challenge artificially sexualized constructs of women anymore, not because we are chauvinist or feminist or any other such nonsense, but because to challenge that imagery is perceived as a threat to take it away. We can't challenge hate speech anymore, because to kick those Phelps fuckers off the airwaves somehow jeopardizes everyone's god given right to repeat bullshit they heard about the president from the TV. But here is the real world consequence. Students at Texas Tech don't even know who the vice president is. (Google it) Underprivileged minority youth will pay in excess of $200 for a pair of Nike shoes, even after it was revealed to the world that Nike never paid Vietnamese workers more than $2 per shoe. (GOOGLE IT!) Millions of Americans pay thousands of dollars per year for Apple Iphones made by Chinese workers who don't earn enough to live in their own on-site dormitories and share toilets, showers, and cooking and cleaning implements with dozens of strangers. We use something like seven billion barrels of oil per year. We have thirty billion barrels in the united states, or roughly about four years worth of proven oil resources. The middle east has more than 650 billion barrels, enough to sustain our consumption for nearly one hundred years, not accounting for the energy consumption of the rest of the developed and developing world. And yet, every few days, when we kill some brown family full of women, children, and old people our government won't condescend to name in published record, we ignore their tragedies because the TV has taught us we are fighting terror. Because we are fighting "suspected militants." WE ARE TERROR. We are the single most militant nation on the planet. We argue that we are trying to make the world safe for democracy, and people believe it because they simply do not know that our number-one ally in the world is not Britain, and it damned sure isn't some degraded farm-village in Latin America; it is Israel, which is arguably human history's premiere theocratic dictatorship. Among those few exceptions who know at least this much, the majority are completely convinced that this relationship is somehow preordained by the subordinate religious historicity. It must then take some kind of mind to weigh the obviously gratuitous tonnage of oil and steel puffing its way across the Atlantic Ocean on a diurnal heartbeat rhythm against the comparatively insubstantial number of souls being saved in the vicinity of the Gaza strip. 99 out of a hundred Americans will tell you terrorists are Muslims. But only the remaining 1% can recite any substantial details concerning Islamic history, culture, or political structure. They are the formless caricature of our distant TV antagonists, bumbling, inept, corrupt, cruel, and inevitably only existing only in seamless determination to take something away from ourselves. How could they possibly have their own legitimizing back stories and still oppose our central characters in a palatable plot? 
It is all materialism. But how did it get to be so? Somehow, against what elementary school teachers would have you believe was a royal tide of altruistic momentum, we became a nation of things. We forsook all our other rights for Things. The little booklet stashed away in the nethers of the box our toaster came in says the thing can burn down our house and kill our family, so if we use it, its on us. Our toothpaste says it can poison us, so if our kid eats it and dies, we can't sue. We don't care, we surrender to the risk, to the haphazard engineering, to the blatant negligence, and we let it all go so we can have toast with our coffee and cigarettes and still have unnaturally whitish yellow teeth. It is things we crave and things we must have and things, progressively, to which we have become entitled. Things which we can not let go of, no matter how certainly the world must some day wrench them away. We have to have the gas to get to the store for small luxury purchases. We are willing to pay hundreds a month for use of extant cable networks, broadcast systems, and software management systems that facilitate our smart phones, all of which systems are non-consumable, though they have high end initial costs. We will pay those presumably into perpetuity. $120 per month X 12 months = $1440 X 10 years = $14000 for something we cannot possibly use up. X 200 million subscribers is an obscene number that would pay off every single component of our entire national communications infrastructure more times over than anyone can count. And yet, while we haven't the slightest technical proficiency needed to understand that under a different philosophical political framework we could have simply owned that technology as a nation ten years ago and shared it freely ever since, we absolutely insist on screwing the Arab world on the one single thing they have to offer that we would condescend to give a shit about. And we do this in pure and utter belligerence. They told us thirty years ago our energy policy was wrong. And they told us thirty years ago that getting it from the middle east would be morally grey at best from then on. So our parents were oblivious idiots too. That's the real lesson. We are a generation of sniveling, absent-minded children raised by poorly dressed space cadets. We watched the Chocolate Factory and completely missed the characterization of the American kids as a violent, little shit and an obnoxious, stubborn cunt. We all pretended we were Charlie Bucket, but we have shown the world that we are all Mike TeeVee's and Violet Beauregardes, simultaneously fat and two dimensional. 
And the worst part is that, emotionally speaking, that's pretty much us. We are so stuck in our comfortable TV paradise that we forget the most central convention of all: Inversion. What Checkhov's Gun Theory, the Glass Menagerie, and modern cinema (whether political or otherwise) all have in common is that the characters and elements must change or they are meaningless. The broken family must heal, or the wholesome family must be defaced. The lonely man must find love, or the happy couple must be dismantled. The defiant, apathetic child must become the hero. The cruelest antagonist must have a soft, charming appeal. The favorite dog must die. The common thief must ascend to the lofty perches of the oppressed and disenfranchised, while the upright cop must become the unrestrained monster, because that is truely equal opportunity. The common man must always have cause against the monolythic Orwellian institutions. We are not addicted to the melodrama, we have long since been consumed by it. We no longer differentiate fact from fiction, let alone account for the difference. They are all jumbled together and folded over, one syndicated lie after another, into an impenetrable body armor of reality-resistant bullshit. In the real world, we tolerate racism because we don't really care what anyone thinks. Conversely, if someone comes to take our things away, we will fight to the death, call the cops, help the cops, thank the cops, and then give credit to the cops. But in TV world, property crime is subordinate to character ethics. No one cares about the props, they don't matter after the movie is over. They aren't real tangible things, just symbols and furniture. Let someone steal from you, and it is the most violating sense of humiliation next to actual rape. To feel the gun in your face, or to come home and find your things strewn across the floor is to be victimized again and again, to no longer trust your own environment. Truthfully, very few people care what color the gunman is, or whether their employer is a dick in real life. Most people will tolerate almost anything in real life so long as the pay check comes. But threaten the money, or the TV, and you will see the revolutionary furnace flaring up suddenly in their eyes, regardless of race, creed, or capacity. Every popular comedian is inherently a racist, very literally feeding off of irrational cultural stereotypes for material. But unless you're a Seinfeld fan, you've probably never paid money to have your money taken by some hack.
We have lost all recognition of consequence beyond our own glorified individuality. We have a foreign policy that seeks to police the globe, and yet very few of us could name more than a dozen of the countries in it, with fewer of us able to guess at the names of more than couple of those leaders, and virtually none of the social or political histories which formulate their systems of government or conventions of determination. But we will march in support of the most bazaar and fruitless causes, while completely obliviating glaringly credible grievances into obscurity. Remember Occupy Wall Street? Know what happened to them? Nope? See? Remember those Weapons of Mass Destruction? Nope? Neither does the UN Security Council. Remember that little girl our Chair Force murdered with a PC from a shipping container in Nevada last year? Nope? 
Well, that's the state of the Union.

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