There’s no fool like an old fool. I’m starting to think about the U.S. this way, like we’ve passed through adulthood, and are sliding into senility characterized by regression to childish behavior – still in the early stages though. How much of this feeling is based on the broader insights the internet gives us into previously dark corners of the country is tough to say, but we don’t seem to be cleaving to our higher angels.
(Author’s Note: This thing spins wildly out of control coherence-wise: consider yourself warned.)
Two streams of thought got me into this head-space; a review of the film “Black Mass”, and memories of some bat-crazy things I’ve heard about at some of my workplaces.
The Wish Fulfillment Gangster
We’ve always loved gangster stories, whether they be murderous dusty cowboys, violent bootleggers or soft-spoken Godfathers. One of my favorite podcasts is Filmspotting, a weekly film review program, this week they reviewed “Black Mass” and smacked it around for being repetitive and dull, and Depp for being showy. They seemed particularly stuck on the idea that such movies glorify crime, which in turn reminded me of the old axiom that it’s impossible to make an anti-war film – the inherent danger, camaraderie and high-stakes being like catnip to adolescent male minds. Is this true of crime stories too?
The more I thought about it, the more I came back to the “infantilized senility” opinion I started this post with. People like gangster movies because, like kids, they get upset that they aren’t getting what they want even though they play by the rules. Gangsters (like their fictional opposite, superheroes) do what they want, don’t take any shit, and punish those who cross them. The less mature the person, the more this appeals to them. This goes for nation-states too.
Being on sabbatical can get me nostalgic for the workplace. I like working, I like the people I work with, and I do miss them when I’m gone. Then I remember how working in the same place too long can drive people straight-up nuts, how real or imagined slights can fester, and being repressed for the sake of your mortgage then erupt in horrible ways. I think one of the many reasons the gangster myth is so appealing is that in real life, payback is elusive, and can drive people to bizarre places.
- A man rises to speak at a organization-wide “town hall”, and promptly begins accusing the agency head of covering up malfeasance from ten years ago in a spittle-flying monologue.
- Someone (I’m guessing a man, I’m sexist like that) defecates in his cubicle, smearing feces on the walls – unknown grievance.
- A man repeatedly stands on, then urinates on the car of the agency head, only coming to justice when a sting operation is arranged. Again, rationale unknown.
I was going to add the lunch time sex-ring that used conference rooms for weekly assignations, but now that I think about it that was more about opportunity than revenge. Anyway, my point is childish people love being outraged, it adds drama to an otherwise drama-free life. And drama let’s them ignore all the things they could actually be doing to live enriching, full lives.
An Inconclusive Conclusion
Okay, my point isn’t that people are weak, repressed, vengeance seeking babies – it’s that I think this is a new phenomena. I think we used to be weak, repressed, vengeance seeking adults.
As tumultuous as the 60’s and 70’s were, popular culture (not all, but a legit percentage) wrestled with large social themes of coming to grips with our shortcomings – and possibly rising above them. The 80’s began the slide backward (I think Reagan was the fulcrum, not the man, but how people reacted to the man – a dream of daddy when daddy was still an alcoholic, not a coke fiend), but it was still an adult ethos of debauchery, the age of excess was one fueled by a very adult greed. The 90’s hit the gas accelerating toward regression – now youth had become the greatest good. A byproduct of advertising discovering the holy grail of easy credit and the lack of impulse control we have in our teens and twenties – vampirically adults were feeding off the financial futures of the young while giving them the illusion that they were the most important things in the world.
Now in the 21st Century, the digital revolution seems to have not only put the sum of human knowledge at out fingertips, but simultaneously provided us with the tools to distract us from it. Like putting a candy bar next to a bushel of wheat – one’s nutritious and hard to process, the other sweet and immediate. All the while, reinforcing the notion that the young can gain knowledge without the pain of experience.
Caveat and Apology
Okay, I just reread what I’ve written, and clearly I’ve gone off the rails – normally I’d shelve this post till I remembered what point I was trying to make – but I have a feeling that’s been permanently lost.
I think I was headed in the direction of embracing maturity, more particularly the process of maturation, paying attention to the things we do that are childish and those that are generative, self-correcting with each step – both as individuals and as a nation. Evidently I’m incapable of communicating this…I guess short term memory IS the first to go.
My apologies for the incoherence, but in my defense, I think some interesting ideas cropped up and I hope I’ve given you some food for thought in the process!