When did it start?
When did America’s mass consensual hallucination begin? When did the boundaries between truth and fiction dissolve?
Consider the evidence.
I awoke this morning to read that a candidate for the Presidency (Newt Gingrich) believes we should launch a preemptive nuclear strike on North Korea and Iran because he fears they are about to launch a nuclear missle to be “detonated in outer space high above the American heartland, (which) would set off a huge and crippling shockwave of electricity. Mr. Gingrich warns that it would fry electrical circuits from coast to coast, knocking out computers, electrical power and cellphones. Everything from cars to hospitals would be knocked out. “Millions would die in the first week alone,” he wrote in the foreword to a science-fiction thriller published in 2009 that describes an imaginary EMP attack on the United States. Most scientists regard this as the ravings of a paranoid lunatic even if these two pygmy powers had such a rocket, and yet this man could seriously be the Republican nominee for the President of the United States. This is like Ron Hubbard running for President on the Scientology ticket.
Or last Friday, when two dozen faux Kim Kardashian imitators showed up for a party put on by New York’s Museum of Modern Art at the Art Basel Miami “Black Friday for the 1%” annual gathering. As Guy Trebay wrote, “but why say faux? Is an imitation Kardashian any phonier than the real?”
Or how about the new stupid rock genre ( Rebecca Black’s “Friday Night”) dubbed “trollgaze” as described by the Village Voice critic, Maura Johnston?
You can call the genre “trollgaze,” although its appeal transcends any sort of musical style; this is actually why it works as a marketing strategy, because the potential for laughing at/being annoyed by/saying “wtf” at a piece of art trumps its aesthetics. The result, of course, is a somewhat toxic cycle where those people who are willing to wear lampshades on their heads over and over take attention away from artists who are trying to figure out what the hell they’re doing, and who don’t want to play for laughs to the cheap seats in order to establish a foothold.
America is in the midst of a massive crack-up. Our TV screens are filled with hours of fiction called reality TV. Our public discussion is poisoned by the surreality of each politician feeling entitled to their own set of facts. And what we might call art or culture or even entertainment is so sticky with the stench of compromise and inanity that it drowns out all the legitimate attempts by artists to navigate this country we find ourselves inhabiting.
There are those who answer my first question as to the starting point of the crack-up by pointing to the October 17, 2004 off-the-record Karl Rove interview with Ron Suskind, in which the term, “reality based community” was introduced to the cultural lexicon.
(Rove) said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
Rove of course was referring to his understanding that “the facts” that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was only relevant to “the reality based community”. To the rest of the country with their own media-sphere (Fox News and Rush Limbaugh), they were no more important than the “fact” of Kim Kardashians wedding or Rebecca Black’s musical talent. Why even bother naming it as fake? We are all in on the joke.
Here is the problem. Life in America in 2012 is no joke. And we have the Republican Party to blame for that, no matter what nonsense Karl Rove will spend $300 million spewing into our collective consciousness for the next 11 months. Here are the facts.George Bush and the Republicans accomplished two things between 2000 and 2006 (when the Democrats retook the Congressional majority): They cut taxes for the 1% and they started the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is what happened.
But in lying us into a war in Iraq that led to at least 100,000 deaths and a couple of trillion of our tax dollars down the drain; and lying to the people about who was really benefitting from Bush’s Tax cuts–in all this, the Republicans have brought us to the brink of another great depression.
Why did we forget that Eisenhower had told us this moment would arrive?
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
It was Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich and all their K Street friends that Ike was warning us against.
So if we are going to wake up from this “consensual hallucination” (Bill Gibson’s depiction in Neuromancer of The Matrix, which was the other signpost of our reality distortion field), we must have a strategy for coming to the struggles we are going to face with honesty and compassion. It has been the continuing obsession of this writer that we are in the midst of a historical/cultural “interregnum”; a time when “the old is dying and the new cannot be borne.” These interegnums, like the twelve years after King Charles I beheading when Cromwell ruled the British Isles, can get pretty crazy and near the end comes a crack-up.
We are in that moment but we are not alone. Call it faith, meditation, transcendentalism, yoga, spirituality, church, song, gospel, prayer—there are ties that bind us. We need to start talking about that, out loud, not just in our churches or our private prayers. I know I’m making lots of my secular/academic friends uncomfortable when I say this, but I really don’t care. I came to the civil rights movement in January of 1963 when the Chaplin of Yale ,Bill Coffin came to my school and said that the Civil Rights Movement was “the moral issue of our time”. There was no distance between faith and justice. I don’t know how this plays out , but Alex Bowles sent me this link which we both thought signaled some interregnum moment.
So the way forward seems rather clear to me. Sixty years of this nonsense has to be stopped.
This election should be fought on this pie chart. Where are we going to spend our collective wealth? On guns, jet fighters and tanks or on schools, hospitals and roads. This will mean that the Democrats will have to have the courage to fight the “soft on terrorism” brickbrats thrown by Newt or Mitt. Ron Paul is already used to hearing this bullshit, and it doesn’t seem to be bothering him.
As I said, we live in strange times.
The choice is ours if we wake up.