I click on random news items from my Comcast homepage regularly. It’s a bad habit and wastes a colossal amount of time, but I’m pretty much addicted to any link where someone “slams” someone else. Jen lashes out at Angelina! Rosie rips Oprah! Axl hammers Slash! Mayer porks Bieber! Boehner shanks Barney Frank! In almost every instance the actual confrontation turns out to be some mild disagreement or manufactured insult and it reassures me how enticing the prospect of public confrontation is, and how rarely it delivers. Monetary scandal, sexual transgression, and celebrity shit-talking are the three muses of modern entertainment, but even the actual goods like Bernie Madoff or Tiger quickly devolve into a wearisome parade of carefully-worded statements.
Which is why the commentary following each link is so fascinating. Unlike a boozy Federline massaged by his handlers after slagging someone outside the Viper Room, anonymous posters sink their claws into one another openly and viciously. There are few ramifications in airing these opinions and therefore zero self-censorship, which is not only liberating but possibly the single most honest reflection of what the internet purports to be. Until you’ve read about twenty posts. And then skimmed through twenty more. A vast majority tend to be both grammatically cubist and intellectually constipated, a fact which doesn’t seem to lessen their number or frequency. It baffles me that anyone has the endurance to continue shouting into a collective wind with so little prospect of being heard. Why, for instance, did Ponygirl54 feel the need to share her thoughts on the Kyoto Accords beneath yesterday’s review of The Blind Side? What inner turmoil drove Shahbagger9 to respond by calling the Octomom a douche? Even Budonkadonk66’s wife can’t possibly care about his musings on North Korean intransigence, can she?
I didn’t. Until a few weeks ago, when I was reading an article on the passage of health care (Fox gutshots Pelosi!) that included a transcript from one of Glenn Beck’s radio shows. Beck polished all his usual trinkets: Ronald Reagan (awesome), global warming (feh), socialism (deviltry), William Ayers (still whispering in a certain ear), ACORN (ha-ha, cornholes), and the evils of progressive thought (even more evil than suspected, run!) before sharing an uncanny knowledge of the Founding Fathers’ takes on a variety of contemporary issues. It turns out John Jay would not be feeling the stem cell research. Ben Franklin would almost certainly have eaten his wig (Whig?) over the usage of reconciliation. And Alexander Hamilton was practically born to open-carry a Tec-9 into the Weehawken Starbucks. Which makes nothing particularly clear, except that if the Founding Fathers’ original intent was to be regularly fellated by a gin-soaked Elmer Gantry who two centuries later would make a fortune grafting his wholly divergent thoughts onto their defenseless backs, it has certainly come to pass. At any rate, beneath this particular article was a truly endless scroll of posts, a group of responses so lengthy and virulent they glowed like a lump of iridium. I spent hours re-reading every last one. Opinions decamped along the entire political spectrum, from Incest Militia Right to Kennedy Martini Left, but each was crammed with its own particular brand of fury and invective. The voices were so unrelenting that after a while I began to suspect I’d stumbled upon something greater than its individual parts. Like the Virgin Mary’s face scorched into a tortilla, these posts may not have been just a random wishful representation. Maybe they were a message. To me. A perfectly chosen, mathematically precise cross-section of voices representing the utter and incurable dysfunction that is 2010 America.
Later that day I was jogging down by the waterfront, wondering what my discovery meant. Sure, advances in technology allow us to do things even Prince couldn’t have conceived of in 1999. Chat Roulette. Live-Cam Chubby Dorm. The ability to, without government interference or restriction, refer to one another as “dogz” on the Tool Academy website. But have these things, in the end, actually improved our ability to communicate? Further, was it possible for someone (me) to pull on a few yards of sackcloth (itchy) and write the rare lucid yet conciliatory post that didn’t scream, accuse, or alienate? That tried to incorporate the valid points of both Right, Left, and nougat-filled Middle? That could, like Martin Luther nailing 95 pixelated theses to a message board door, kick off a revolution of non-partisan thought?
Probably not. But I decided to try. So I sat down without reflection or guile, attempting to be as open and honest as I possibly could, a human Camp David. I avoided saying obvious things like “if you drive a Hummer in 2010, there’s a lonely nub where your penis should be.” I avoided mentioning the cash-besotted freedom-ride that is Sarah Palin in any way. I ignored the fact that the last time I attempted to join one of these conversations, the only direct response I got was “Yer a fag.” And although I responded by saying “Well, no, but it’s tempting to join, if only because of how apoplectic being gay makes those who decry government intrusion in their lives while trying to legislate my orgasm.” To which I got no response at all. Nevertheless, as I warmed up the keyboard, I felt weirdly confident and newly attuned to my fellow countrymen.
Here’s what I wrote back on the Beck stream:
We are all Americans, are we not? Why do we persist in acting like all liberals are evil and all conservatives stupid? There was a time in this country when most people recognized, despite their party’s current electoral success, that the duty of government was to find common ground upon which to pass legislation. Congressional leaders are now so locked into a continual cycle of re-election campaigns, media baiting, and ideological tactics that they are unable to take stands according to their conscience or constituents. Polemical commentary from both FOX and MSNBC hand-feeds the inertia. Far Right television propaganda is brilliant at manufacturing false divisions and corrosive to reasoned thought. The far Left propaganda arm is scandal obsessed and too whiny to be corrosive to anything. Both sides can flash all the pie charts they want, but no one truly knows if the health care bill will lower our deficit in the long term. In a decade we’ll look back on its passage as a decision of either brave genius or unbelievable folly. Meanwhile, entitlement Ponzi schemes continue to gobble both liberal and conservative dollars. George Bush failed to address them for eight years, mostly because he’d already spent his lunch money on Colin Powell’s WMD/Yellowcake tour. So if not this bill now, what and when? The only people who’ve won during Our Year of Procedural Ploys are the insurance companies. And the Chinese, who nurse our debt. Why can’t we pull together and stop using liberal and conservative as epithets and craft legislation that may not be perfect or ideologically pure, but at least represents movement? (yes, I realize it’s because lobbyists now pretty much write the bills themselves, but let’s stay on point.) Barack Obama won the presidency with a clear majority. Allow him to enact his agenda. In three years, if his decisions seem unwise, vote Romney. Or Non-Lesbian Cheney Daughter. It’s clear the congressional minority is willing to stall away all of our lives as a cynical campaign tactic. Why doesn’t this infuriate across party lines? The wearisome McConnell/Kyl/Boehner refrain that they are “not being heard” neglects the fact that their voices are justifiably marginalized because their side lost. Democrats loathed George Bush and frequently acted in their own self-interest during his administration, but they still managed to find compromises on many of the bills he proposed while hugging the pommel horse like Ving Rhames over the ones they couldn’t live with. That’s how politics works. Being in power sometimes means having the freedom to fail spectacularly. If John McCain (sadly broken by Karl Rove in South Carolina in 2000 and now without a single genuine conviction except remaining in office) had been elected president I’d be making the same argument: he won, let him do his thing, and in a couple of years we’ll check back and see, since no matter what demented legislation he proposed while trying to metabolize a Cialis bubble it couldn’t possibly be worse than our current gridlock. So the time has come to be honest about the sources of our anger. Disagreeing with the president, our president, is not the same as constantly questioning his legitimacy. Americans who claim to be patriotic but cavalierly wave placards of Obama with a Hitler mustache are exercising a speech which is not only not free, but void of both historical context and moral root. Americans who hold signs bearing conveniently truncated quotations about “the blood of tyrants” or “taking our country back” are really saying that our president should not be allowed to act on promises made during a winning campaign that sixty-five million people voted for. Which is, in effect, saying that they do not believe in representational Democracy. They do not believe in voting. Their patriotism is malleable and dependent upon being governed by someone who simply touts their narrow interests. Can it be true that every single thing Obama stands for is utterly wrong and false? It’s a seductive idea, because jettisoning nuance is an underrated pleasure. Particularly with language. Like when Tea Partiers say “Obama’s a socialist” what they really mean is “I have zero clue what socialist economics actually entails, but it makes it easier to hide the fact that I wish my head of state were more alabaster.” When they say “Obama’s a Muslim” what they really mean is “If I can attribute to him interest in a religion that’s safe to publicly ridicule, I can more easily call him things that should otherwise have me arrested for sedition.” When they say “Obama was not born in this country”, what they really mean is “Sure it’s a state, but Hawaii is on the very far left of most maps, and, frankly, that makes me uncomfortable.” The unpleasant truth is that Republicans and Democrats both have valid ideas. They’re also both represented by those who do nothing but parrot taking points and flash capped teeth. Scandal is not aberration, it’s inevitability. This very second John Ensign’s parents are writing a fatter check, Eric Massa is snorkeling his own private reef, and Larry Craig 2.0 is pulling The Wide Stance in some Capitol Hill bar stall. We are all weak, vain, duplicitous, and unable to consistently curb our uglier impulses. But we are not all running for public office. When our three major qualifications for election are raising money, going to a church where in the history of videotape the preacher has never said anything remotely controversial, and being the candidate who most effectively sublimates their personal brand of kink, we will continue to get exactly the representation we deserve. Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann are the same person: marionettes hired by network-owning billionaires whose political ranting is calculated not only to reinforce what we already believe, but to convince us to buy burgers, cars, and other burgers. We are constantly made to hate things that have no value while being blinded to the advantages enjoyed by the ruling class (by which I mean not Democrats or Republicans, but generational affluence). There were no Tea Partiers railing about a “redistribution of wealth” while George Bush’s deficit-financed tax cuts passed, mostly because more than fifty percent of the benefit went to the top five percent of the economy. Cash is its own lobby. And that money will trickle down eventually. Of course, when it does it’ll be in the form of frozen piss dumped by a commuter jet bound for Cleveland, but at least it’ll create thousands of new jobs in the umbrella industry. Fomenting anger over meaningless social issues is a diversionary tactic that goes all the way back to Millard Fillmore insisting Christmas be re-named Millardmas. Or at the very least Christmard. From flag burning (Iran Contra) to swift boating (Enron) to the notion that somewhere lurks a generic family by which to gauge what constitutes family values (Goldman Sachs), a succession of wealthy people have repeatedly and cynically increased that wealth by dangling the Carrot of Irrelevance high above all our heads.
It is time, friends, that we begin hating things that actually matter.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that my comments were absolutely pilloried. By the time I’d posted, the thread had gone cold. But once my words went up, the coals were stoked, and within hours a frenzy of responses stretched the server limit. I was called every possible name, from Marxist to Dickhead to Dave Matthews fan (ouch!), but the only one that really bothered me was unpatriotic, which I take to mean there are those who will always remain blind to the ridiculousness of their certainty, even while identifying the ridiculousness of mine. The bottom line is that I don’t need to be agreed with. But I do want to be listened to. At least long enough to argue that discourse is only a slightly dirty word.