Friday, 25 February 2011
Libya Gas Price Hysteria (Oh can you feel it)
Hysteria – (n): an uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, often characterized by irrationality, laughter, weeping, etc.
I was unfortunate in my eighties childhood to mistake Def Leppard for a metal band. The oblique shape of their misspelled logo, the eerie graphics on their album covers, the five manly guys playing rock n' roll instruments with British accents. Even the one handed drummer was an extra hardcore component that made them seem like a rough and tough band serious guys listened to.
They sure couldn't keep that up, and the naivete of my six year old brain didn't last long either. Other than the strip club anthem “pour some sugar on me”, what did these guys bring to the rock music table?
It turns out, in my opinion anyway, not a whole lot. This week, while I was catching up the latest news from Libya at my desk, I heard the utterly wretched Def Leppard track “Hysteria” come on my ipod's shuffle, which put me in the frame of mind to subject you to this bit of subjective music history, and how it relates to the North American media's interpretation of the events in Libya. To the bands credit it is also damn catchy in all of its horribleness, and this post is part of the process of deleting it from ipod and forgetting about it, I hope, for another twenty years.
The song, which if you open a new browser tab and listen to it may make these remarks come alive for you, begins with a dreadful twangy, synth-enhanced clean guitar arpeggio that takes itself way too seriously. I have the most vivid vision of a curly or frizzy eighties explosion of female hair à la Ferris Bueller's sister or early Elaine Benes, thrashing around the most earnest of pouty actress faces, while she tries to make things right with Mr side parted hair football star, who's also running alone on a track in a fading juxtaposition. That's before Joe Elliot's high baritone, Aussie inflected, grunty whine of a voice serenades into the most embarrassing set of lyrics you've ever heard (don't believe me? follow along here), which make you wonder who you feel more sorry for; his former self who came up with them, or yourself because you're actually sitting there listening to them.
This gears you up for a rousing chorus with the rest of the band coming around to pipe in with their high terrible backing vocals. They sound like a group of the principal's favourite schoolboys in the choir who are grown up but are still in their outgrown childhood uniforms, which restrict the circulation to their masculine organs and inadvertently re-create their voices of yesteryear.
With those thoughts circling around in my head, along with that damn arpeggio riff that seemed to be simultaneously begging me to take life more seriously and reminding me why I'll never be able to take it fully seriously, I hit the gym. And there I saw it on the TV screens above the cardio. Gas prices had jumped at least 8 cents overnight. This means the majority of 6 o'clock news programming is devoted to gas station testimonials with car owners. And they are an extraordinary spectacle to witness – the human spirit in crisis. Guy with baseball cap frowning and shaking his head from inside his Toyota Rav4 driver's side window. I took his look of consternation as fear that his 2 car household days may be numbered. Giggly but concerned looking skinny Chinese lady filling up her compact sedan, laughing. Taking the pain with a sense of humour: yeah it sucks I have to pay more, but what can I do? Cut back to the anchor. People in the region are getting gas today, he says as he stares into the camera with a firm look, and it's a few bucks more than it was yesterday. Your hysteria is well placed and totally warranted, conveys his expression with approval in all of its seriousness, which is why it occupies front row centre on our program.
To help us understand the horrible injustice to humanity these folks' plight represents, we cut to Libya, where gunfire, chaos, uncertainty and mayhem seem to be the order of the day. This isn't the first time external forces have had adverse effects on the price of gasoline, so what are our upright and concerned fellow citizens going to do about it? They're going to get into their cars and drive by themselves again tomorrow, just like they always have.
I can't help but feel a bit hopeless when I contemplate the volatility and usefulness of the remaining petrol left in the world and look at all the people whizzing around in their personal vehicles here in Waterloo region. Can't they effect the smallest gesture which indicates they are cognisant of the future? Do they stop and ask themselves, “Is the middle east a bottomless black hole which is going to power this fantasy world forever?”
Yes, they stop and say, yes it is. Of course it is. And if anything bad happens, there's Saudi Arabia and there's the oil sands and we're good. No worries!
This morning when I got on the bus, the front page of the newspaper provided an exact match to the news. Except I was no longer reacting only to visual cues, I was reacting to what a local businessman said. “I thought this recovery was just starting to happen, that things were just starting to get better, and now this.”
I guess this is the irrationality bit in the hysteria. Its nice to know that the entire strategy of this supposed “recovery” hinges on cheap, abundant petroleum, and that interested parties know so. If that's not enough to make you reject the blather from the governments and media about recession, and the “nascent recovery”, maybe you should wonder why the stock market is really high, real estate values are really high, and public and consumer debts are at all time highs. But that “recovery” is just around the corner. I can just feel the early hints of its wind breathing down my neck, ready to gust through here and save us all.
Gadhafi will be deposed, sooner or later, and whoever replaces will continue to sell the oil until its all gone, because they need the money just as bad. But I was more frustrated in the media's stoking of hysterical reactions than with him. His reactions, of course, have been hysterical too, but they usually fit in the psychiatric definition more than the one we've been working with.
Hysteria (n): A complex neurosis in which psychological conflict is turned into physical symptoms, such as amnesia, blindness, and paralysis, that have no underlying physical cause
Hysteria (n): a psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability and disturbances of the psychic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions without an organic basis
Al-Qaeda spiking young people's coffee is at the root of all this is his latest reasoning for the cause of the unrest. Right. I think these definitions apply. Remember this is the same guy who told the last U.N. General Assembly that the JFK assassination file needed to be opened. Or you could just Google images his name, Gaddafi. The outfits alone will convince you that he's been hysterical, in more ways than one, for quite some time.
He's a lost cause, and his people are the latest grouping of arabs to decide that about their leader. But the Def Leppard song seemed an appropriate soundtrack to the local reaction to how what was taking place in his country affected this area here in Canada.