Today I was reminded for the umpteenth time that the world is a scary, forbidding, dangerous place. Living in this inhospitable labyrinth, we have to deal with unending hazards of one kind or another. Our lives are being threatened every single day of our lives, sometimes by forces we don’t even know exist. Whether it’s Nyarlothotep possessing our bodies or the United States government making attempts on our lives as in Oliver Stone’s JFK which I watched earlier tonight, unseen forces are moving nonstop and sometimes they happen to come in our direction. I wanted to mention, for some reason, the fact that the other night while shaving I had a brief fantasy about what would happen if I pushed too energetically with the razor – how it could go slicing across my eyeball as in Un Chien Andalou. It’s not like I was considering it. It’s just that the idea came into my head, a danger I hadn’t even been aware of moments before. Who knows what could kill you or cause you immeasurable pain next.
It was, oh, 6-7 years ago and I was at a Christmas party of some family friends. Some other kids and I were playing around upstairs. I saw a door in the wall and decided to open it. The door came unhinged and fell on the big toe (or for the technical term, hallux) of my right foot, which started bleeding through the white sock as I sat there in pain on the carpet. My parents came and found out what had happened, we left eventually, we went back home. The consequences? I had a fucked-up nail on my big toe for years to come. Fast-forward to May 19, 2005. I can easily look it up, because it’s the day I saw Star Wars: Episode III. My toenail, by then, had recovered for the most part (although at some point while at summer camp, another kid had stepped on it, fucking it up and making it bleed all over again). I was opening the back doors of the family car, taking some bricks out for my mom to remodel the downstairs or something. A brick fell out of the car and onto my right foot, again smashing my big toe. I went to the bathroom and lay down, sprawled out on the floor, moaning for a while. Eventually I got up, got it washed off, and I went through the same bullshit all over again. Some time later, my dad had to heat up a bent paperclip end in order to puncture the nail and let blood gush out. 4 years have passed. Here is my toe as of last December.
So why, indeed, am I sharing all this dubiously significant information? My toe’s fine now. It’s a very, very minor part of my life. I guess my whole point is that 1) I find it amusing and 2) danger can come from anywhere at any moment and really inconvenience you for a while. To illustrate this further with a more extreme example: my father once tried to help a woman who had been hit by a drunk driver and died shortly thereafter. It’s a sad story I heard growing up. Someone was killed as a result of mistakes and bad decisions. My father was on hand to witness it, but unable to stop it from happening. Everyone is going to experience pain and eventually death. The least we can do is not to inflict any pain ourselves.
I find myself coming back, over and over, to the words of Irish poet William Butler Yeats in his poem “The Second Coming“:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…
They’re well-known words, and I guess I feel like they sum up so well something so basic and true. Things fall apart: it takes more energy to build than it does to destroy. So, whatever. We know this already. What kind of point am I trying to make? My stomach hurts. We consume food every day of our lives. We break down carefully-constructed chemical bonds resulting in chains of molecules containing energy set up so that they taste delicious and are aesthetically appealing as well. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. I read something really insightful in the Onion last night, in reaction to apparent dishonesty in American Idol voting: “Come on, corporate America. Just tell me who the real winner is so I can buy his album and listen to it until you give me someone new to like.” There’s a reason I no longer partake in broadcast media – TV and radio – and it’s because, well, the same gang of greedy fuckers is behind most of it. Fucking Clear Channel Communications, fucking Viacom, man. There’s a quote I read once from Woody Allen on the topic of colorizing films. Although I can’t confirm for sure that he said it, it’s a quote I love: “Colorization is a monstrous, disgusting, horrible, sinful, absurd, humiliating, preposterous, and insultin’ mutilation and defacing of genuine works of art, in which computers are used to doctor and tamper with the great originals, thereby creating degraded, cheesy, artificial symbols of one society’s greed.” That’s how I regard a huge chunk of mainstream shit being shoved down the throats of American consumers: artificial symbols of one society’s greed.
So why exactly did I start ranting against Corporate America? I really can’t say. And I admit that my views may tend toward the naïve, recitations of “Down with The Man!”, “Fight the power,” “Eat the rich,” and what have you. But at some level, I really do believe in it. I’m not just all flash and no substance (as if it made a difference). I was thinking, while watching JFK, about all these modernist terrors, all these leftover Cold War fears stirring in my brain about a generally fascist, globalized world where no one and nothing can be trusted. Sure, reading 1984 several times along with every other dystopian novel I can get my hands on hasn’t helped, but then there’s the realities. I read half of André Brink‘s novel A Dry White Season is one sitting once (and never finished it, sadly); it dealt with South African apartheid and the treatment of black prisoners. I vividly remember a scene where the protagonist, a white lawyer, is thinking about how his gardener’s son may be being tortured in prison, having weights hung from his testicles in a dark, cold cell. I found that image pretty terrifying. I saw Costa-Gavras’s film Missing (1982) last term in a Politics in Film course and, well, I guess my point is that I’m practically afraid of Latin America as a whole by now. (OK, I’m kidding, I’d love to travel to the area, but still, not during the ’80s.)
My real point is that, I think, reading and watching all these different sources basically made me terrified of police states. Security is not worth the sacrifice of freedom. I want to know as many of my fucking constitutional rights as I can, don’t like cops in general, and when asked which freedom I could not do without, insisted on the 8th Amendment, which includes “cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted.” That’s fucking important to me. Something else I hate? The idea of government surveillance interfering with my civil liberties. I want to be fucking free to do whatever the fuck I want, say whatever, think whatever, within the privacy of these four fucking walls. All of this is just so very deeply important to me – that outside ideas, even if they’re weird or irrational or hell, even unpatriotic, still continue to be expressed. Oh, and Frank Capra films (like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , which I mentioned to Ashley as a model for JFK) also helped inspire this sentiment. I side with Thomas Paine who (probably) said, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.” God, seriously, the number of movies I’ve seen where bureaucracy ruins lives, or a buck-passing justice system executes the wrong people, or a sprawling government just makes life suck in general. Now you may ask, Wouldn’t it be preferable to base your beliefs on facts and reality rather than what you see in movies? But dammit, you know what? What I see in movies are stories which appeal to psychological drives in different ways, stories which reflect or mediate or interrogate reality, stories which are capable of demonstrating truths we’d never understand otherwise, sometimes through a combination of logic and emotions. What I see in movies has very real, albeit strange connection to reality.
So in the end, this leaves me somewhere between living a normal life, relatively unhindered by these civil liberties violations I so desperately fear, and being afraid, very afraid, especially when too much power is given to too few people. Or when someone announces that in the name of progress, they want to be able to watch me and take pictures of me without my consent or awareness. I’ve learned at least a little bit from the histories of Latin America, most of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Soviet Union, Nazi-dominated Europe, and everywhere that’s suffered under the yoke of totalitarianism. I am frightened of the invisible forces governing my life; I want to cut the strings binding me to all these ruling systems and, like my old English teacher used to say, “speak truth to power.”
I am scared. You should be too.