Thursday, 4 November 2010

Turn It Off Again

America, you need to take your national soundtrack, Journey's Don't Stop Believing off of repeat already.

Of course I need to write about America and its politics in the aftermath of monday's midterm elections that saw the first two tea party senators elected. But what you don't need to read, and what I don't need to waste time writing, is more refrains to add to the same thick, stewy chorus of pointless crap on the subject. As I've said before, the tricky thing about doing this is avoiding repeating and regurgitating the same obvious and meaningless conclusions that are rehashed by every MSM columnist with varying degrees of eloquency following such closely watched and (supposedly) significant events as midterm elections, just as they are for every other important issue of the day.

And what would those conclusions be, with respect to American politics? Oh, you know, the usual stuff. About how Fox News and the Tea Party have set the agenda, how the debate and the nation are so polarized, how there is so much uncertainty and fear about the economy, how Americans are disappointed and disillusioned with the president, and by the way, have you heard of this thing called the tea party? They want to roll back health care and reduce the size of government.

I don't know why they pay each of these columnists a salary, when they could just pay one to say these same things they basically all end up saying and then print it in every newspaper. Hell, why don't you just hand the control of all media outlets to Rupert Murdoch already? If he's so scary, why does every media outlet, including supposedly "liberal" ones, spout off about him and his big scary evil fox news empire everyday? Haven't these seasoned media veterans ever heard there's no such thing as bad press?

What's so annoying is not that writing about Mr. Murdoch and Fox is easy, or that the subject is interesting because of its tittilating sinisterness. It's that none of the media can come up with any interesting or original points of view in the wake of the fox/talk radio/tea party machine's seizure of the public consciousness and debate. All anybody has seemed interested in doing over the past couple weeks is adding their voices to the feedback loop of the narrative I just described. When the media beats these drums endlessly leading up to election day, guess what happens to their self-fulfilling prophecy, the one the New York Times weighs in on every day with dread and the National Post with barely sustained glee, on that day? It gets fulfilled. Then these papers have the nerve to write the next day like somebody should be surprised by the results.

Many people are so smart that they ignore this whole charade entirely. Yet the fact that this is what continues to get served up shows that there continues to be enormous buying in and hope for the system. Observers, and apparently people in this country called America, don't stop believing. In spite of a prevailing narrative of a country gone horribly astray, a country where many people believe God is watching over the nation and the president is a satanic (or worse, muslim) usurper, every commentator has the underlying assumption that America will slowly but surely find its way again, no matter how far or close he or she is to that insane belief. They lament how a country “opted for hope and optimism two years ago”, and is now opting for “reduction and retribution”. Here again is choral MSM generalizing from the last couple days (see what I mean by how hard it is not to repeat it?)

It inevitably ends with "Don't bet against this country, because anybody who ever has lost", "we just gotta focus on jobs and get the economy moving again" or my personal favourite "the can-do attitude". What is it exactly that America knows how to do anymore? Seems to me the rest of the world is getting on with its life doing what it has to do, and America is standing around listening to how whenever they just figure out where they put that can-do attitude, they’ll be right back in the swing of things. People have the right to believe whatever they want, but here’s a tip – if you’re believe looking for solutions from republicans, democrats, the tea party, or ghost written huckster bestsellers is going to cure what ails America, you are invariably going to be disappointed. If you want to get back to greatness, elbow grease, the founding fathers, and whatever other stuff that is currently lacking that causes you to want to contribute to moving deck chairs on the Titanic of America, I have a suggestion for you. Turn it all off.

I know that there is a widespread tendancy to describe our modern condition as irrevocable, and I know that eighty years of exponential improvement in media technology has caused a corresponding drop in the attention span, and as a result, the collective memory. It was when these channels were turned on that the media discourse on American politics began its precipitous skid to todays cacophonous "echo chamber" of vitriol and misinformed nonsense. So you can keep the Journey, America, just change the song. How about Turn It On Again. Though of course, you'll need to replace the "on" with "off".

Every commentator likes to compare the current era to past eras based on U.S. political history. All of a sudden, were hearing more about Roosevelt, Lincoln, the founding fathers, Jefferson, Washington. There comparisons are facile and, more importantly, irrelevant to the current American political context and globalized economic context. And the main reason is because people in those days, while significantly less educated, had peace and quiet in their minds to develop their creative and mechanical faculties. These distant historical figures, whose greatness and willingness to make tough decisions makes people quick to cite them as a way to deplore the current situation and mock those they hold responsible for it, had something in common. They existed before the era of everything being turned on all the time. But because of our short memories, we have difficulty acknowledging that humans lived at one time without 24 hour news channels, social networking sites, smartphones, 500 channel universes, consolidated print media empires, schlock jock sportscaster political pundits, and political apparatuses fully bought by special interests and completely subservient to them.

Of course if you listen to people like John Doyle, the smarmy, smug TV critic at the Globe and Mail, you’re just deluding yourself by trying to look away from the carnage because you know you really want it. The giants who tower over us with success in this media-political universe do it by staying ruthless, simple, and on message. He admires those have who have done it this way recently (like Rob Ford) and says if you have a problem with it you’re just mad because it’s not you there in the spotlight. If you want to listen to Horatio Alger stories about how you can be a superstar in the two thousand teens, then you probably need to get it from someone who is so dumb they watch TV for a living and are proud of it. “Duh…wow. I wish I had that job.”

If you are finding its all getting a bit too noisy and there isn’t really much of a payoff to listennig to any of the noise since so little of it makes any sense, there are several ways you can turn it off. Start by swearing off of CNN, Fox, MSNBC, all of it. 24 hour news. I’m serious. That stuff will kill you. Like a dietician who rips out the synthetic contents of your freezer and sends them crashing onto the linoleum without a shred of pity, this is step #1 on your detox. You will immediately have your thinking powers restored. Then, in a few months, you can watch it for 10 minutes and laugh at it in the way it should be appreciated, as mildly amusing entertainment. Just as the guy with an empty freezer can celebrate his 1st 10 pound drop with a token burger.

Secondly, ignore the delusional tweets and facebook postings that these fundamentally selfish wannabe politician people put up to boost their public profiles, and various other up to the minute internet self promotion, look-at-this-person-because-they’re-great idolatry put to their service by others.

Very important: When you see tickers, feeds, headlines, blurbs, and rundowns, ignore them. These are the bait that draw you into more detailed, but equally lacking in substance, media vehicles that waste your time confirming your worst suspicions, and transmitting lies from the mouths of the spokespeople of these narcissists, who are only validated because we pay attention to them.

Finally, turn off those hectoring old grumps on the radio. You think you’re mad about the same things as them, but really you’re mad because they want you to be as stupid as they are. It takes a special kind of boisterous, misplaced indignation about nothing and everything to be one of these guys (they’re always guys) and the fact that they are more popular than ever is a reason to stay away, not be drawn in.

People are guaranteed to feel disillusioned with politics when they use their five senses to be receptors to a constant barrage of shite. So turn it all off. Then use your hands, to make something. Use your feet, to walk around your neighbourhood. There are plenty of good publications that deserve your support that you’ve never heard of; the real information you find there far exceeds the odd bit of wackiness that gets put it. Check out some books and movies at your local library. Use your ears; dig out a classic album and put the TV on mute if you absolutely have to have Wolf Blitzer’s face in your living room after work. Call someone you haven’t spoke to in a long time or write them a letter. About politics. About this situation. About all this stuff. If they don’t want to hear it, at least you tried; send it to your local counsellor or MPP or MP adjusted with addendum. Or just talk to anybody about it. Allow yourself to have a real, person to person conversation about issues without resorting to spewing MSM lies to explain what’s happening. They’re like crutches, or training wheels. It’s hard to get rid of them at first but once you do it’s incredibly liberating. Despite the onslaught, people have their own ideas which are actually interesting because they do not repeat the discourse that wants itself to be dominant (I will not glorify it by calling it the dominant discourse)

By the way I apologize, I lied to you earlier. Turn it On Again is by Genesis. But I admitted I lied. And it remains the point I want to make. It’s part of a medley of covers played by Dream Theater on the Change of Seasons album, I guess that’s why I got it mixed up. Now you know I use progressive rock to understand life. I cannot, however, make such demands on you.

So in the spirit of Journey, America, I’ll give you a slightly less irritating (but still very irritating) song of theirs: Anyway You Want It. But on the condition that you don’t misinterpret that to mean the tea party or the Obama administration is going to give it to you. It means you’ll be able to make your life, and the politics of your life, anyway you want it once you turn it off. Again.

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