Sunday, May 17, 2009

Revisiting Dr. Strangelove: A Rant of Sorts

I've noticed that I am a bit stressed out lately.

It started with the Tea Party idiocy. The orchestrated protests, the media coverage, then the media coverage of the lack of media coverage, followed by the lacking media's coverage of the other media's over coverage, culminating in a pointless event overshadowed by the coverage of its own coverage. Not to be outdone, the people behind the whole event were ignorant enough to adopt a commonly known sexual act term as their slogan, and then complained that everyone else kept making fun of them for using it. The more time the cable news channels waste reporting about themselves instead of other noteworthy events, the more I find myself wishing for government sponsored propaganda to pick up the pace a bit. An occasional smoke and mirrors display of manufactured opinions camouflaged as investigative reporting would be a welcome alternative to the constant barrage of narcissistic excuse-making pandering they bombard us with every day.

Since then, its been nonstop torture. Did we torture? Should we have tortured? What is torture? Is torture illegal? Is torture justified? Is torture necessary? Who did we torture? Who tortured? Who told them to torture? Who knew about the torture? Who should have known about the torture? Should we be told about the torture? Listening to the endless stream of former administration officials, legal experts, and military intelligence ad visors debate and dissemble and deconstruct and dissect and define and redefine the very concept of the word has become downright torturous. I could try to be funny here by naming someone I'd like to see water boarded, but I'm afraid that once I start that list, I won't be able to stop.

I'm not even going to begin to list the multiple headaches developing across the wrinkled terrain of my cerebral landscape because of the whole shift of political power from the right to the left. All I will allow myself to say is that there are more damned Republican talking heads, politicians, and political pundits on my television now than there were during the entire Bush presidency. The only thing worse than listening to the Republicans being smug with power is listening to them bitch and moan about being out of power. And the only thing worse than that is listening to the Democrats that are finally in power again bitch and moan every time Obama doesn't act like Bizarro Bush and fulfill their fevered liberal wet dreams.

Of course, in the background during all of this has been the recession, unemployment, government bailouts, the stock market crash, home foreclosures, massive layoffs, massive corporate CEO bonuses, health care, TARP funds, and the slow, steady erosion of any hope we might have had that the people in charge of everything might actually have a clue about how to make it all okay. In fact, the only thing anyone seems willing to agree upon is that everyone else is obviously wrong.

Then, just to add some flavor to the mix, we get a week straight of Miss California and Notre Dame. Some bimbo gets bent out of shape when she becomes unpopular for the first time in her precious little life, then cries about her constitutional rights to religious beliefs and freedom of speech when she is almost stripped of her crown for violating several aspects of her contract. At the same time, a university decides they aren't going to honor Obama with an honorary degree because some religious leaders don't like his position on stem cells and fetuses, then backs down when the rest of the rational world tells them to grow the hell up already. Mix the two together in the same news cycle, and you get a screeching cacophony of gay marriage, abortion rights, moral authority, religious indignation, and the usual Left vs. Right grandstanding as every politician alive attempts to scream the loudest about whatever gets people fired up more. Even Obama saving the day with yet another remarkable speech doesn't help wash the holier-than-thou taste out of my mouth.

And of course, as if things weren't loud and volatile enough, a Supreme Court Judge has take it all one notch higher by suddenly announcing his retirement. Get ready for months of endless nominee challenges, accompanied by yet another exciting round of abortion debates, the definition of which is two sides yelling Baby Killer and Woman Hater at one another until someone gets fed up and calls it a draw.

I know, if you're smart enough to be able to peek behind the curtain and see what truly motivates the talking points and repeated slogans, you should be able to just laugh at it and shrug it off. But you can only laugh so long at the likes of Hannity and Beck, until you suddenly realize that you're laughing way to loud, and so hard that it trails off into uncontrollable fits of coughing. That way, as they say, leads to madness.

Maybe stressed isn't the right word. Distraught strikes closer to home. The more I sit back and watch this freak show of self-righteous goons throw insults and prepackaged witticisms at each other across news desks, their smug shit-eating grins and flippant schoolyard attitudes beating my patience and goodwill like hammer-fisted kidney punches, the more I feel like this is the beginning of the end. Maybe the giant pyramid scheme called Free Trade Capitalism has finally run its course, and the founders of the world's greatest Ponzi Scam are milking the final drops of blood out the rock while the poor saps at the bottom of the labyrinthine structure run around in circles trying to figure out why the wealth isn't trickling down anymore. Maybe this big Pseudo-Democratic experiment was doomed from the start, and it was only a matter of time before we crumbled under the weight of our own lofty ideas on how the world should really work. Or maybe, just maybe, we as a country had spent one evening too many voting on American Idol outcomes and assuming that our best interests were truly being sought after, and we were only just now awakening to the realization that the people we've put in power have been slowly and methodically screwing us into the ground.

When I get in these kinds of moods, the best thing to do is to put in a movie, lose myself in the art form of the story and the direction, and try to forget about everything else.

So, I sat down to a quiet viewing of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

In hindsight, it probably wasn't the wisest choice. But something about it helped. Maybe it was the fact that Peter Seller's portrayal of the President looked an awful lot like a younger, slimmer Dick Chaney. Whatever it was, I found myself beginning to relax a bit. By the time I got to the end, with George C. Scott ranting about not allowing Soviet survivors of nuclear Armageddon to get ahead of American survivors and create a 'Mine Gap', I had found that I had learned to stop worrying. Kubrick's classic black comedy reminded me that this isn't the first time that the world has appeared to be in an unstoppable downward spiral.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that we aren't screwed. By all means, just the opposite is true. We are definitely screwed. We're as screwed as we were during the Great Depression, or the Cuban Missile Crisis. We can look back at those historic events and think of them as isolated incidents, giant hurdles that we were able to overcome. The greater truth, however, is that they are perfect examples of exactly how close we are to complete and total self-destruction on any given day. In the Great Depression, the financial masterminds that orchestrated the structure of our entire financial foundation practically destroyed the wealthiest nation in the world overnight. And the Cuban Missile Crisis? A two-bit dictator that our craftiest secret agents couldn't assassinate with an exploding cigar gave us our first palpable taste of Nuclear Armageddon. The farce of Dr. Strangelove has survived for so long that to this day because it is, on a certain level, undeniably accurate. In all likely hood, there is a General Ripper hunkered down in some quite hallway of the Pentagon, silently waiting for the bureaucratic loophole that will allow him to jump start WWIII in a vain attempt to preserve his bodily fluids.

So why am I more relaxed now? Because we can still look back and laugh. The fact that the people we entrust with guiding and protecting us manage to botch the job so massively and often that they make the Three Stooges look competent isn't comforting. But the fact that we survive each cataclysmic event by the skin of our teeth allows us the illusion that our luck will hold out. The illusion of repetition is what allows us to laugh at tragedy. We can laugh at the poor fool who falls through the open manhole cover on the screen, because subconsciously we know that he'll survive the fall, even if only to perform the same tragic event for someone else's amusement. So yes, we are indeed spiralling down that manhole once again. But the odds are that we will somehow manage to miraculously rebound, even if only to perform the same tragic event for someone else's amusement.

And if it this actually does turn out to be the last hurrah for real? In that event, some of us will still be laughing, if not just a bit too loudly. Some of us just can't help it.

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