For months now, I’ve danced around the whole prospect of writing this afterword thing.
The world appears drastically different than it did when I wroteCunt. At that time, there were foreshadowings of a planet-wide corporate takeover-one going by innocuous-sounding designations such as “globalization” and “free enterprise.” While I wrote Cunt, NAFTA, GATT and deregulation laws steamrolled a golden expressway of opportunity for huge, multinational corporations. Meanwhile, mindlessly brutal atrocities took place throughout the world. Bosnians, Haitians, East Timorese, Somalis, Hutus, Tutsis and the people of Chiapas are just some members of the world’s population who could tell tales of what was going on while I wrote Cunt.
Every indian tribe and nation living in what is now called the U.S.A. has been under some kind of siege or another for the past five hundred years. Corporate and police forces all over the U.S.A. brutalize black men, women and children without so much as a slap on the hand. Jamaican, Southeast Asian, Latino, Haitian, Pacific Islander, African, Middle Eastern, Chicana, Central Asian, Cholo, Vato, Mestiza, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Asian, Hispanic, South American and Central American people are routinely marginalized, victimized and wantonly stereotyped as a matter of course in this country.
These trends continued as I wrote Cunt, and they continue today.
What is different now is it is difficult for me to focus on my work because I am completely obsessed with what is going on in the world, in this country. The sense of desperation that I was once able quell in the nether regions of my heart has exploded into my every day life.
In a recent article in the Observer, author, political commentator and self-described “hooligan” Arundhati Roy spoke about pointlessness. Ms. Roy lives in New Delhi, and the article, “Under the Nuclear Shadow” was a response to the threat of nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Here are her thoughts about foreign reporters asking her if she is working on a new book:
That question mocks me. Another book? Right now when it looks as though all the music, the art, the architecture, the literature, the whole of human civilisation means nothing to the monsters who run the world. What kind of book should I write? For now, just for now, for just a while, pointlessness is my biggest enemy. That’s what nuclear bombs do, whether they’re used or not. They violate everything that is humane, they alter the meaning of life. (Observer Worldview, June 2, 2002)
And I, American me, I should not feel this way. I shouldn’t consider pointlessness my biggest enemy. I’m a “lucky” one. No one is talking about obliterating almost every single person I have ever loved on this planet, myself included. No one is talking about me looking into my mother’s eyes as we sit at her kitchen table and wait, because the buttons have just been pressed.
My desire to write has presently been consumed by my desire to understand — and perhaps anticipate — what is going on.
At present, I know a lot.
I know more than I have ever known in my life about U.S. history, foreign policy and domestic policy.
I know names, dates, places, events.
But I have not felt much like writing, even though I know very well what kind of book I should write. I have been working on it for three years.
Pointlessness is my biggest enemy.
According to the freaky little white men running the show right now, my job as an American is not to concern myself with big, faraway things like the rest of the world. My job is not even to concern myself with my country. Most certainly, my job is not to spend endless hours scouring the Internet for actual news, and piecing together the fragmented hints reported in the mainstream “media.”
My job is to consume the products that the world produces for me at breakneck speed, in sweatshops where folks are fired for failing a mandatory pregnancy test, or killed for trying to organize a union. My job is to watch teevee and allow it to shape my view. My job is to keep on the look-out for suspicious Muslims in my neighborhood.
If I adhered better to my job description, the desperation and pointlessness that haunts me would surely go away.
Conversely, part of the pointlessness I experience is directly related to how very well my fellow Americans are following the freaky little white man’s idea of a job description.
We are ass-deep in shit, but the “media” keeps telling us that new, improved, compassionate shit no longer stinks. A gaping disparity between the daily myth and the daily reality is producing a form of collective schizophrenia.
I recently came across an article on PopPolitics.com, written by a lawyer named Steven C. Day. He describes how a trial in which he was involved gave him insight on how the bias of the mainstream “media” messes with public opinion and creates this kind of collective schizophrenia.
It seems the plaintiff’s lawyer was buddy-chums with the reporter covering the trial. Every day, the local newspaper printed articles about how the trial was going in favor of the plaintiff. People would stop Mr. Day on the street and tell him he needed to seriously get his shit together. His only response was, “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.” When the trial was over, and the judgment went for Mr. Day’s client, people in the community were stunned. Based on the news accounts written by the other lawyer’s pal, folks were pretty sure Mr. Day’s side would lose.
From this experience, Mr. Day clearly saw how the U.S. “media” operates on a much grander scale:
Am I stretching too far in trying to compare the actions of this Midwest legal reporter to those of the journalistic royalty of the presidential press corps? I don’t think so. The truth is, the relationship between the White House and White House correspondents is every bit as symbiotic as the associations legal reporters build with certain lawyers. The Bush administration, like others before it, provides reporters with information and inside access that is critical to their jobs. By all accounts, Bush himself also provides them with a much-appreciated salve to their well-developed egos, by handing out nicknames and engaging in friendly chit-chat. In exchange, the reporters disseminate the administration’s point of view to the public. (Steven C. Day, June 6, 2002,PopPolitics.com)
I’m deeply concerned about the merger mania that has swept our industry, diluting standards, dumbing down the news, and making the bottom line sometimes seem like the only line. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be.
You know times are worth concerning ourselves over when a white guy who got rich reporting what was once considered “the news” sounds like a goddamn pinko revolutionary.
At this point in history, regardless of our race, gender or class, we are informed by homogenized “media” outlets that read us verbatim press releases from the Heritage Foundation, the present corporate government administration and whatever sponsor has a new product that ties in to a current event (such as Bayer Pharmaceuticals, makers of the much-touted Anthrax antidote, Cipro).
Here are a few of the media outlets that “inform” us:
- AOL Time Warner
- Hearst Corporation
- USA Today
- Clear Channel Communications
- Vivendi Universal
(Because of the cutthroat nature of the present economic model, any one of these monsters may at any time consume any other of these monsters. So excuse my error if, by the time you read this, the ten above named “media” corporations have glommed into four or three or two, or one.)
Here are a few more examples of how the “media” creates this debilitating form of collective schizophrenia:
1. May 10, 2002. CNN has a small story on it’s website about “C-18,” a one hundred and twenty five mile long iceberg calving from the Ross Ice Shelf. In June, it’s reported that Mt. Everest is melting.
May 10, 2002. Reuters runs an article where the man who is and, yet, is not, president emotes on the patent non-existence of global warming.
I am not a scientist, but I still feel really safe asserting that ice melts when it warms up.
2. During a dramatic “dead or alive” manhunt for the most wanted international criminal known to modern history (which, for some reason, involved a “carpet of bombs” for a population also victimized by this selfsame man), the U.S. government flips the bird at the world’s creation of an International Criminal Court.
3. In May, the German magazine, Der Speigel, reports that Bush asked Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and I quote: “Do you have blacks too?”
On May 9, 2002, the Miami Herald reports on the deteriorating relationship between the present corporate government administration and Brazil. “What is beginning to look like an escalating diplomatic skirmish between Brazil and the Bush administration went up another notch this week, when a Brazilian diplomat claimed in an academic paper that the U.S. government’s, ’irrationality and arrogance’ could expose the world to a Nazi-style imperial power.” Because I’d seen the translated Der Spiegel article, I know very well what the reporter is talking about when referring to the “escalating diplomatic skirmish.” Many Americans, however, do not have this frame of reference, since Bush’s quote was published only in “alternative” news sources.
Millions and millions of people rely on “alternative” news sources. How do all these people feel when Larry King interviews Anna Nicole Smith, and J.Lo’s divorce makes headlines, while the country is going to corporate hell in a handbasket and rest of the world is rabidly protesting our present government?
4. In June, BartCop.com published an article by Gene Lyons about the U.S. media’s “selective” reporting of Bush’s embarrassing behavior during his trip to Europe.
Something the Washington press did report, if only because it involved one of their own, was Junior’s bitchy response to what he apparently saw as NBC correspondent David Gregory’s attempt to show him up by speaking French. At a joint Paris press conference with Prime Minister [sic] Jacques Chirac, Gregory asked Bush about the perception that U.S. policies were unpopular in Europe. He then directed the same question to Chirac in his own language, a courtesy generally followed by European reporters.
Bush bristled. “Very good,” he snapped. “The guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he’s intercontinental.”
Insulted, Gregory volunteered that he could continue in French.
“I’m impressed,” the president sneered. “Que bueno. Now, I’m literate in two languages.”
The New York Times account emphasized how tired Bush was, an excuse you wouldn’t make for a fifteen year-old. Which is exactly what Junior, kept up past his bedtime by decadent European dining habits, sounded like: a resentful preppie at a fancy school on Daddy’s money showing his contempt for a brainy scholarship kid-pretty much how people who went to school with Bush describe him.
For the record, it has been reported that Mr. Gregory considers this interaction to represent the end of his career as a journalist.
Do you remember all the reports that Bush was “tired” during his trip to Europe? The Washington Post reported that President Chirac surprised Bush with a press conference after lunch one day. Bush was completely unprepared to meet the press, and I suspect President Chirac was well aware of Bush’s need for totally scripted “press conferences.” That’s right: the president of France pulled a fast one on Bush, and the U.S. media’s response was to report that a caught-off-guard Bush was “tired.” How utterly humiliating for every U.S. citizen. The Washington Post, however, made no connection between the surprise nature of this press conference and Bush’s embarrassing behavior.
5. Since when does the Supreme Court decide who the president is? I wasn’t the best student, but I enjoyed government and history classes. I paid attention. I read the textbooks. There was nothing about the Supreme Court deciding anything about who would be president.
EVERYONE KNOWS THIS.
But it has been palmed off since day one like it’s this perfectly normal thing and you’re just being a sore loser or a bitter partisan or an eco-terrorist if you insinuate anything close to a question on this never before heard of rule that the Supreme Court decides who the president is.
I mean, how weird and surreal is this?
I learned about “dazzle camouflage” from Lynda Barry in her work of staggering genius, Cruddy. Dazzle camouflage is from the Navy and it’s where you do something really glaring and obvious to get your opponent’s attention away from what you are truly doing.
I’ve developed a dazzle camouflage tactic for phone solicitors:
“Hi, this is Larry Laforge from the Fireman’s Benevolent Vinyl Siding Association, how ya doing this evening?”
“Oh, hi. I don’t speak English.”
“Uh, you don’t speak English?”
“No, no. Not a word. We don’t speak English in this house.”
“You sound like, uh, you speak pretty good English.”
“Yeah, I know. People tell me that all the time. Thanks for the compliment!”
“Uh, so. Well, thanks.”
Say people are starting to wonder about what you knew that might have stopped terrorist attacks on huge buildings filled with people. You don’t want people to wonder about this at all. You think it is none of their business. Even though you received warnings from at least six international intelligence agencies and even though your attorney general stopped flying on commercial planes a few months before two airplanes slammed into buildings, you really, really must insist that it is no one’s business. So you find someone to blame and you hand out all these press releases/articles with fill-in-the-blank bylines, that lay irrevocable blame on the someone you picked, say the head of your bureau of investigations.
Maybe you even had this person all picked out in advance, because you figured one day people might start asking you questions, even if it takes, say, eight months.
Maybe this person became head of the your bureau of investigations only one week before the terrorist attacks, and actually allowed himself to be placed in the position of blame for the express purpose of being blamed in your stead.
I mean, you would always love them for taking the blame, and do everything in your power to make sure wonderful things happened for them, it’s not like the person being blamed will necessarily even suffer for the terrorist attacks on huge buildings filled with people.
Maybe the person who catches the blame will, as a result, have more power than before.
Maybe it could be a win-win situation.
This is a dazzling example of dazzle camouflage.
All the blame and questions are simply too dazzling to see you in there anywhere, but you are there. You are there.
Mr. Mueller’s childlike promise to work harder to “connect the dots” is designed to protect his political superiors from blame by changing the subject-to the notion that bureaucratic bungling, not political corruption, is the problem. (John R. MacArthur, “He Waved Away Warnings,” The Globe and Mail, June 4, 2002)You can’t believe Bush is truly a man of nuanced intelligence because that implies that he probably did know something about the possibility of a terrorist attack and how it could fortify his political career, but you can’t call him flagrantly stupid because that’s unpatriotic and un-American and embarrassing, and hence you’re just left with this feeling of unease and vague despondency about the nation’s overall direction and whatever happened to your civil liberties. Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is patriotism. We don’t want to believe the Bush administration could’ve done something to prevent the horrors of 9/11, can’t imagine Bush would use the tragedy to bolster his re-election hopes while simultaneously pummeling Afghanistan into docility in the name of oil pipelines and his friends in the military-industrial complex. Increasing piles of evidence be damned. It’s just too painful. (Mark Morford, June 7, 2002,SFGate.com)
What happens to people living in a society where everyone in power is lying, stealing, cheating and killing, and in our hearts we all know this, but the consequences of facing all these lies are so monstrous, we keep on hoping that maybe the corporate government administration and media are on the level with us this time.
Americans remind me of survivors of domestic violence.
There is always the hope that this is the very, very, very last time one’s ribs get re-broken again.
There is another way in which this situation reminds me of domestic violence. One of the most popular tactics of an abuser is to isolate their victim from the community. The abuser belittles family, friends and neighbors until they just stop coming around.
If you read the newspapers and put together a comprehensive look at how the rest of the world feels about the U.S. right now, you will see that we are being isolated from the world in a very similar manner.
I think people in other countries are wise to this abuse tactic because all the protests I read about make a huge and formal distinction between the American people and the present corporate/presidential administration.
It seems like we should be reaching out to this community, and not allowing ourselves to be boxed in.
All in all, I wish we were more like the people of Venezuela.
I don’t know what will be happening in Venezuela in the next few months-it could get ugly-but in April 2002, the Venezuelan population took to the streets and demanded the return of their president after an attempted U.S.-backed coup.
I imagine Venezuelans have experienced the U.S.A.’s version of how their country should be run enough to know that it doesn’t serve them.
In 1998, they voted Hugo Chavez into office. His “platform” was the Bolivian Revolution, a reference to one of South America’s heroes of independence, Simon Bolivar. President Chavez has spent the last four years giving Venezuela back to the people, after forty years of a two-party rule that represented the country’s elite (sound familiar?).
Some of these elites-involved with Venezuela’s oil industry-muscled Chavez out of office. (Wherever there’s a problem, there’s oil. Venezuela is our third largest supplier of oil.) America was-as far as I’ve been able to discern-the only country in the world that did not report this as a coup. U.S. papers reported that Chavez had suddenly “resigned” because members of “civil society” were fed up with his silly nationalization of Venezuela’s resources.
In an interview on Buzzflash.com, journalist Greg Palast speaks on the bullshit nature of the U.S. press coverage of the attempted coup in Venezuela:
There was a report straight out of the United States State Department that Hugo Chavez, on April 12th, had resigned as President of Venezuela. This is a complete fabrication, lie, garbage, nonsense. And the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times — every major paper in the United States ran it. And by the way, PBS ran it as a stone-cold fact. And the entire factoid-the entire garbage nonsense of this was nothing better than a false press release from the U.S. State Department. Pure propaganda.
The military revolted; the people took to the streets and nonviolently freaked.
Within two days, President Chavez was back at Mira Flores, the presidential palace.
(There’s a lot more to this story and it you want to check it out go to gregpalast.com.)
Venezuelans were willing to have a goddamn neon yellow canary when their government was taken away from them, even though the coup-backing “media” broadcast sitcoms while President Chavez was spirited off by greedy men the U.S. would much rather deal with. Mr. Chavez’s main flaw seems to be his unwillingness to allow U.S. oil giants to plunder Venezuela’s resources.
Our resources are being plundered too, but we don’t have a President Chavez, and we don’t have a population of people who are willing to turn off their teevee and stop this utter nonsense.
The day after Arundhati Roy broke my heart with her words, I went to a (locally owned, independent) bookstore where Robin D. G. Kelley was reading from his new book, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. This proved to be one of those instances where the universe decides it’s time to save my ass from utter despair.
Freedom Dreams is about how the fight for freedom occurs in the mind. I have long suspected this, but Freedom Dreams (I am reading it as I write this postscript) is showing me exactly how.
Too often, our standards for evaluating social movements pivot around whether or not they “succeeded” in realizing their visions rather on the merits or power of the visions themselves. By such a measure, virtually every radical movement failed because the basic power relations they sought to change remain pretty much intact. And yet it is precisely these alternative visions and dreams that inspire new generations to struggle for change. (Preface, p. vii)
We’ve been getting shafted for a long time now. We have fought, and the freaky little white men have prevailed. The stories of our fights are glossed over in the freaky little white men’s history, which is partly how they have prevailed. Now they are poised to kill the earth, and this is not about signing petitions and attending protests. This is about eradicating fascinations with celebrities who contribute nothing to our imaginations. This is about telling our stories, poetically employing our imaginations in the actions of our every day lives. And this is about loving each other.
When I saw Robin D. G. Kelley reading, I wondered how frightening it must be to come out in public and talk to people about love and imagination. He is an academic, a noted historian, an analyst of social movements, a professor at New York University. He is not “supposed” to talk about the power of love and imagination. To do so places him in danger of being invalidated by his peers. Maybe I am projecting, for I have been publicly belittled for speaking of such things, but this book is obviously very close to his heart, and he is incredibly courageous for speaking of love in such hate-filled times.
What does it say about our culture when it is considered “dangerous” to talk about the power of love and imagination?
What really set a fire under my ass is when Professor Kelley discussed how social movements are not necessarily huge groups of people making things change:
“Sometimes, it just takes one person, like Ivory Perry of St Louis-a Civil Rights activist who sometimes chained himself to monuments or cars and blocked traffic for miles to draw attention to certain struggles for social justice.”
Please read Freedom Dreams.
A young woman named Selemawit Tewelde hit this point home. Ms. Tewelde is a teenager in Philadelphia who does not want her school to be privatized, and thanks to her and a handful of other youth’s actions, her school probably won’t be.
A lot of students probably think, “I don’t care, since nobody’s asking me how I feel about what’s going on with this,” she says. That’s how everything gets messed up. Young people start to feel powerless, but they’re not. They’re very powerful-and they need to understand that. (Mother Jones, May, 2002)
My only addition to this is that “young people” aren’t the only ones who are very powerful.
Yesterday I felt like shit, so I rode my bike around town and repeatedly grafittied “The revolution is not being televised” in paint pen. It was a “pointless” action, but it nonetheless healed me to do this. It was an act of love for that “hooligan” Arundhati Roy. It was an act of self-love. I don’t expect it to change the world, but on the other hand, I know it will.
Los Angeles, California