Monday, December 7, 2009

The People Have Spoked [16 March 2008 ]

If you’re on a budget cruise ship somewhere in the western Caribbean, as the missus and I are as I write this, your choices are CNN, kidvid, and endless repeats of the purportedly hilarious hairy chest competition held on lido deck our second day at sea. So you watch a lot of CNN, which seems fascinated by the possibility of Democratic superdelegates overruling the popular vote, and which has inspired a great many of our fellow viewers to email the network to express their outrage. I wonder, though, if said fellow viewers would be so quick to defend the idea of the sanctity of The People’s will if they were surrounded by them, as we are.

A quarter-century ago, having run out of ideas of things to try to talk to her about at dinner, I made the very foolish mistake of asking the first of my mothers-in-law whom she intended to vote for in the imminent presidential election. Ignoring the increasingly emphatic kicks to my ankles my first wife was administering beneath the table, I invited Big Mama to explain her dismaying choice of the Republican incumbent. She glared at me excoriatingly before revealing, “There’s just something about that Mondale I don’t much like.” His record in the Senate? Maybe his performance as Jimmy Carter’s vice president? His positions on critical issues? “I don’t need to explain myself,” she snarled defiantly as my shin surely came to resemble a raw hunk of liver.

It was deeply sobering to realize that Big Mama and her dim but scrupulously obedient spouse had between them exactly as many votes as the heads of the political science departments at Harvard and Stanford.

And I’m supposed to feel outraged by the prospect of the will of The People being countermanded?

Taken as a whole, The People are deeply scary. It is my policy to presume that everyone I meet is a good egg — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, brave, and clean, if not necessarily reverent, thrifty, or obedient. But the experience of being on The Beautiful Carnival Victory, as its crew and staff are apparently compelled to refer to it when speaking over the public address system, has served to remind me how much I loathe…folks.

And this hot on the heels of the Waukesha gun show I attended, for strictly anthropological reasons, a couple of weeks before the cruise.

I’d honestly never seen so much flaccid sallow flesh in one place. In the hideous dim fluorescent light, many of these guys — there were only a few women, mostly shriveled biker chick types with faces full of creases deep enough to have concealed dimes in — appeared to be melting. And their souls as ugly as their bodies and faces; these were the sort of people whose idea of a good time is to go into the woods and kill something. A seller of racist, misogynistic, and other cryptofascist bumper stickers that, for instance, depicted Hillary Clinton beside the inscription Life’s a Bitch — Why Vote for One? seemed to be doing a brisk business.

Compared to the grotesques at the gun show, our fellow passengers on TBCV looked like the cast of a soap opera about aerobic instructors studying for certification as cosmetologists. But it took them only about 45 minutes to remind me of my great disdain for The People.

The People are without wit; the closest they come is memorizing the catchphrases of largely idiotic sitcoms. Don’t go there! they recite with expectant smirks, or yudda yudda. But it gets worse, as when they imagine themselves hilarious for imitating the zany antics of the casts of commercials. Wassup? dozens of millions of American bozos have been rasping at one another in greeting for years in the manner of the late-90s Budweiser commercial. Roll over, Oscar Wilde, and tell Dorothy Parker the news!

Of course reciting sitcom catchphrases is a step up from buying a T-shirt like that sported by a good old boy out on lido deck a few minutes ago. You’d Better Buy Me Another Beer Cause Your Still Ugly, it drolly suggested, all in initial caps, very nearly getting you’re right.

Never mind that Budweiser and the other mainstream American brewskis taste like beer-flavored soda pop; the commercials have sold TBCV’s male passengers (and their brothers and buddies ashore) on the idea that to be both American and masculine is rarely, in a recreational setting, to be glimpsed without a bottle of the stuff, talisman-like, in hand.

If the popular lite version is indeed light, I wonder, how is that a huge majority of those who drink it have huge bellies? For a growing percentage of The People, the idea that rich food plus much beer, lite or otherwise, plus no exercise equals bloatedness seems no more easily grasped than that too much lying in the sun without protection equals excruciating sunburn. You should hear the plaintive lowing in their staterooms as we head down the long corridor each evening for dinner!

The Great American Folly: give some belching numbskull lacking the brainpower even to come in out of the hot Caribbean sun as many votes as Noam Chomsky.
Lacking the imagination and foresight to go to the library (thinking, probably, that libraries are for wusses) or to a store offering substantial discounts, what The People read while they sustain their sunburns is crap for which they paid full price at the airport, Danielle Steele, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Stephen King. Crap in, crap out; they are for the most part unable to make judgments finer than that something sucks on the one hand or, on the other, is either awesome or cool. Ours is a country in which probably 70 percent of the populace imagines that they are expressing indifference to something by saying they could care less about it.

The People have an implacable sense of entitlement — to big, comfortable, environment-jeopardizing cars, to guns with which to protect their ghastly homes, to good health in spite of their appalling diets and aversion to exercise, to winning seasons by whatever gang of mercenary athletes has consented to play for their municipalities’ home teams, as they do to the vote — but lack any corresponding sense of obligation. My hunch is that only a tiny minority of the slim majority who can spell Iraq could find it, unmarked, on a globe. But they don’t need to explain theirselves.

In 2004, The People re-elected Bushandcheney. In 2008, countless millions of them will hear John McCain say that he wants both to continue our dreadful misadventure in Iraq, though the daily cost of doing so is something like $175 million, and to lower taxes, and will exclaim, “Lower taxes? Awesome!” The election will be decided primarily on the basis of who comes up with the more frightening attack ads (from which The People will infer summations along the lines of Frees rapists) or, less gloomily, on whom the average joe would sooner knock back a couple of lite brewskis with.

Plato was right; democracy clearly doesn’t work. And if you demur, you suck.

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