by Phil Rockstroh
(Swans - April 25, 2005) How did it all get away from us?
In the work place, bosses snoop into underlings' personal e-mails and routinely monitor web-surfing practices.
How did it come about that so many Americans grew to accept such invasive and demeaning intrusions into their privacy?
And the totalitarian practices of American schools are even more pervasive. It is now standard practice to record students' every movement by the use of ubiquitous video camera surveillance. All and all, the young of the United States are being conditioned to create and maintain a culture of snitches.
Where did this all begin?
I first began to take note of the acceptance of proto-fascistic tendencies, oddly enough, in the banalities evinced in the nineteen seventies. I noticed my fellow peak-years-of-the-Baby-Boom teenagers were not the progeny of the Woodstock Nation, as the beleaguered authoritarian types of the era had feared -- but were the floating spirit-incarnate of a pop culture Weimar Republic. We used drugs neither to expand our awareness nor as an act of social or political rebellion -- but they were utilized as apolitical agents of anesthetization...Like the sound and fury of our pinball machine distractions, and our Muscle Car imperialism, and the pseudo-edginess of the so-called FM radio revolution (that was, in reality, the advent of corporate rock) -- our seeming rebelliousness was, below the lank-haired, faded denim-clad, reefer-reeking surface, a pervasive anomie...the metastasizing of an insidious indifference -- to a large measure a radical renunciation of anything more challenging than those things available within the immediate confines of our comfort zones. It was a revelry in adolescent, pop culture narcissism, punctuated by incessant self-medication, that was mistaken for the excesses of freedom... In short, just the sort of numbed-out, muck-headed Sturm und Drang one should expect from young minds -- bereft of experience in life, brainwashed by a life exposed to commercial manipulation, and incompetently educated by the state -- that were larded with Quaaludes and the like, for Christ's sake!
We were primed for proto-fascism by our reflexive consumerism and relentlessness ignorance: As the years trundled on, our customized vans would become Mini Vans that would morph into SUVs and Humvees. It was all about comfort, the illusion of control, and insularity, even then. All about, our right to the pursuit of numbness. We were fledgling Weimar Republicans, clad in faded, frayed bell-bottom jeans.
Beneath the pot reek, clinging to polyester fabrics...the Muscle Car rumble...Quaalude spittle...the tribally-administered prototypical serotonin/dopamine/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors that were the precursor of the pharmaceutical fascism to come -- we baby boomer were scions of the Cold War Military/Industrial/Consumer empire's Thanatopic dynamo. Even then, our corporately usurped Eros had transmuted into an indifference to little else but our relentless appetites and our perpetual need for distractions from the tedium engendered by our existence within an economically exploitive, class-stratified system where one's personal worth is measured in mammon and identity defined by consumption.
Our sense of entitlement would not have to be so grotesquely large -- if our lives were not so damned diminished by the internalization of our bloated empire. Our fat and bloated bodies are a form of over-compensation for our inner emptiness. Our personal selfishness, pettiness and spite are collectively magnified into the grandiose economic and military designs of our elitist overlords. In short, the accouterments of imperial power have grown so large, because our visions have been rendered so small.
It all has gotten away from us -- because an internalized mcmansion has supplanted the towering glory of our internal Sequoia trees; our roots can no longer reach deep down in the dark loam of our evolutionary legacy; our branches no longer lift towards the sky of possibility. We are devoid of nourishment and hope -- because the internalized empire has clear cut it all...It has reduced sequoia forests to toothpicks in order to pick the bits of charred flesh of those slaughtered in its imperial wars from its teeth.
So where do we go from here?
Now that: The incessant salesman's mantras and pervasive militaristic alarums have drown out the primordial songs of bone and heart and flesh and clouds and rivers...
Yet: Deep inside, even the most corrupt and craven among us know this: Even the smallest river is too large for the name we give it.
Rivers will outlive the names we diminish them with.
Hopefully, the same is true of our (often deeply hidden) true selves.
Look inward and we see: A plethora of industrial debris, mass media sewage, and bloated corpses that stem the flow of our internal rivers. Temporarily, the commodified life has distracted us from its ugliness and stench. Our greed and hubris has led us to believe we can indefinitely hold back these rivers and harness their fury. But try holding your charge card up to their towering floodwaters when the damn breaks: see if that will detour the universal forces of uncertainty you contain within you.
But first try this: In the places where the river slows to stillness, look down into it -- and your own reflection will reveal a death skull. You can catch a glimpse of it, as well, when you click off your television (if you ever do) just as the screen goes black. You can see it in the glistening fat of your rushed-through, ill-digested fast food meal, mindlessly devoured, as you rushed back to work. You remember it when you ache from the wounding beauty of nighttime dreams -- untouched and unencumbered by soul-numbing daylight agendas.
The voice of our internal rivers sing on beyond the tedious blather of the power drunk high priest of capitalism and the dying din of the machine age mysticism of Marxism. It is not that its voice is apolitical; In fact, the exact opposite is true...It is the deathless voice of the Politics of Desire...the vehemence of the heart to live with passion and purpose...not commercialized passion and purpose -- but for one's existence to be imbrued with the poetic resonance of music...the indomitable self defiantly singing, like the severed head of Orpheus floating down river, resisting, refusing to internalized the extant empire of the status quo...
Woody Guthrie believed all songs are political and I agree. Songs take up residence in our hearts and in the non-verbal areas of our minds where we harbor our deepest longings. There, they inform our perceptions of the world. In a sublime way, our conceptions are built on musical notes...this is because music is made of more durable material than the ad hoc, shoddy stuff of our subjective ideas and opinions -- and even of our ephemeral flesh.
In this way, mass produced pop tunes are highly political. Garish and trite come-ons that they are -- they have helped to construct the garish and trite inner lives of American consumers that are mirrored in the garish and trite outer architecture of the American landscape, Bridges are named after Walt Whitman. Convenience stores should be named for pop stars.
Good music contains rivers and mountains and verdant scents and animal musk redolent on the wind...
The flow of our internal rivers (if left to, unmolested by corporate exploitation) can dissolve decades of conditioning. We can get a clearer view of the valley of banality when perched upon the mountains of our hearts. But: These mountains are not to be strip mined...their coal cannot be exploited for profit. It must be crushed by the weight of eternity into diamonds for the adornment of the soul.
Instead, we have displaced the soul with Home Shopping Network shills who beckon us to bedeck our petty egos with Zirconium.
What other sort of an environment could give rise to the monotonous, commercialized propaganda of most contemporary pop music? As I said, we must recognize this music for the corporatist state propaganda that it is and the toil it has taken on our lives.
So much of our humanity has been forsaken.
Lost has been the defiant longing for release from hard labor beneath the oppressive Mississippi sun finding voice in late night, crossroad barroom freedom of the Delta Blues -- or the dehumanizing, daylight demands of mid-twentieth century, industrial, urban existence finding midnight transcendence in Free Jazz. Lost has been a personal sense of creative risk and abandon, whereby, a few short years after that, Jimi Hendrix would resurrect and fuse the spirits of Robert Johnson, John Coltrane, and Malcolm X -- or few years later and further down a southbound road, Duane Allman would resurrect a redneck hippie, guitar god Jesus who would feed the honkey tonk multitudes Orange Sunshine as he delivered an electric guitar sermon fusing the spirits of Tim Leary, Martin Luther King, and the Carter Family. And a few years later, across the Atlantic Oceans, the Sex Pistols would howl like Post-Industrial Age demons, trapped within the detritus of the crumbling British Empire...much like, Kurt Cobain's short Icarian flight across the dying Sun of the American Empire, nearly a decade and a half later.
But, as years passed, the apparatchik of UberCulture grew adroit at controlling such untidy outbursts. There was too much at stake...too much money and power to be lost if freedom's voice was heard unfettered.
It must be subdued, co-opted, commodified. Seemly apolitical corporately mass-marketed music is, in fact, highly political...it usurps passion; it is as reality-adverse; it is anathema to imagination. Because it habituates the mind to denial and distraction, banal pop music could have been the soundtrack inside Eichmann's mind as he calculated the weight capacity of death-camp-bound boxcars...for it conditions one into acceptance of the status quo, even when the status quo is maintained by murderous militarism.
More than likely, the readers of this essay are as mortified, heartsick, and enraged by the actions of the US Government and the corporate overlords who own and operate it as is this writer -- but regardless we carry the empire within us as deeply as we carry the imprints of our parents' faces. It is too immense for us not to...it is too pervasive and invasive for us to avoid...it weaned us and socialized us -- and even when we rebel against it, our actions are generally within limits set by it. Otherwise, the consequences would be too crushing for most of us to endure...financial ruin, destitution, homelessness, prison.... There are reasons the ruling elites wish to widen the class distinctions in the United States and abroad: The harsher the economic consequences are for the laboring classes to risk defiance the more obedient we will grow. Especially if we are incessantly plied with the synergy of corporate salesmanship and state propaganda...if everyday we must negotiate our way through a collective mindscape, which is as zoning-bereft, nature-denuded, commercialized, and garish as the endless and sterile archipelagos of commerce spanning the length of the land.
Yes, the empire is as noisy, distracting, meaningless as a vintage 1970s pinball machine...as smart and self-aware as a baby boomer, suburban pothead teenager, who, as the years have passed has transformed into a self-absorbed Starbuck's Latte-guzzling, SSRI-popping consumer, afflicted by a mindless appetite engendered by an inner hollowness that threatens to devour the resources of the entire planet in the manner he devoured the food from his mother's pantry when he had a bad case of the reefer munchies in the 1970s.
But then again -- what endures -- empty cravings or nature's ceaseless hunger...the giddy lies of salesmanship or the resounding roar of the rapids of ancient rivers...musical notes or imperial empires...the mountains of the heart or the mall's food courts of fat-clogged, aortic valves?
It's your call, folks.