Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Babes in Arms


I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of Main Street, wherever it is. Main Street is the American Brigadoon, a place mythical not by what it does represent but what it doesn't. Long cherished for its simple domestic values--hearth, home, and Thanksgiving turkeys--it might well be redefined as a xenophobic and insular cocoon lacking in the subtextual democracy that underscored its original thesis. Main Street as we knew it, in its Rockwellian apotheosis, was never a dictatorship.

Main Street would house not those characters of homespun simplicity and simple values but the "corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy" of George Mason's famous insight. Once the Supreme Court decided that the inhabitants of Main Street were not merely people but corporations as red, white, and true blue as you and I, the foundation upon which mythical Main Street rested crumbled.

Those alarmed by what appear to be war-mongering, dictatorial remarks on the part of Sarah Palin might do well to remember that the manufacture of war is nearly a presidential privilege. If Woodrow Wilson had his First World War then we have had hundreds since, in the form of subversion and invasion, all undertaken fairly gleefully. We aren't old enough to remember that America didn't especially want Wilson's war, but we will certainly remember any newly engineered antagonism and will decry it as uselessly and plaintively as we decried Wilson's swelling of the American military that led to the necessity of finding something for all those soldiers to do. We might also cite the examples of Lincoln, two Roosevelts, and Johnson etal while we're at it. Why is our collective memory so short at the same time our illiteracy is so high?

America has been in trouble since 1776. Granted, we occasionally gave the appearance of health, but that was over 50 years ago and since then we have done little more than to take to our sickbeds, complaining of the twin diseases of borrowing and lending. Now that we are nearly on our deathbed, we forget that a terminal disease can take a long, long time to kill, and that it kills as easily as a bullet or a bomb.

You can now see the effects of the disease everywhere, but it is at its most exciting in those areas where it has not traditionally struck. Wrongly thinking that we--the middle class--were immunized against it, we are only horrified when we see its marks on our bodies and feel its wheeze in our lungs. Therefore, the news that Karthik Rajaram shot himself, his wife, his children, and his mother-in-law over financial worries is somehow more meaningful and ominous than the death of innocent Iraqis because it occurred in a gated community in a suburb of Los Angeles and because it wasn't supposed to happen to those who bought so heavily into the American Dream and were given play money to do so.

It goes without saying that such a tragedy should never occur in a protected environment or within Los Angeles as a whole, the original cartoon city of the nation, the home of our mean way with a fiction. Tragedy like this belongs to people who look tragic to begin with, isn't that right, and not to people who ring around the home of Andy Hardy. Remember Andy? Mickey and Judy at the soda fountain and an honest-to-goodness Main Street that was, it turns out, nothing but a facade, a false front, of stores that sold nothing more than soda bubbles for the price of a matinee ticket. And it was only one block long, which is one block farther than most of us are presently willing to extend our optimism. Shame on us! Let's trot down to the drugstore and have a vanilla phosphate and toast to our new American motto: Live free of debt or die trying!

You're supposed to be clever in the face of the economic downturn. The clever will be championed while Main Street, in theory, repaves itself in a more streamlined model where the ultimate profit will be a hot lunch, not a guarantee of security or, God forbid, reasonable home ownership and a good pair of shoes. The rest of us suckers will have to bemoan our individual lack of creativity while allowing our government to be just as creative as it wants to be, all under the guise of the national good.

You've got to applaud the showmanship, though. There's been a lot of that lately under the name of political theatre. As with any good theatre, human tragedy hits hardest when it hits closest to home. We can only stand by and watch as our Main Street is stripped of its bricks, one by one, and we are stripped our of dignity, laid naked, and forced to submit. Isn't it odd how peculiarly infantile we have become in a time of crisis? The military mustn't disarm, but (except as debtors)we have had to, and we now must accept the concurrent and perfectly explicable lack of prosperity that follows. Don't believe otherwise. We are children, chillun, and we have a lot of growing pains ahead.

We can't keep up with our own empire, so how can we be expected to keep up with our own backyard? To hell with Main Street. Leave that to the poets and the madmen. To the rest of us, let's not forget that the day we gave power to Asia the debtor nation became the debtor prison, and that we are merely in the middle of a life sentence.

4 comments:

enc said...

It's exhausting thinking how much trouble we're in.

I must take to my bed!

K.Line said...

Serious post, S. Depressing, but apt (perhaps)...

a. said...

so right, as always.

Suzanna Mars said...

a., It is wonderful to see you again! I missed your comments and hope you are enjoying the Bay Area. Drop me a line at suzannamars@cox.net; I know the Bay Area well--spent much of last year in the East Bay. Left there in June.