by RIP RENSE
(Feb. 8, 2006)
The other night I was
walking to Sav-On to buy some
medicine to keep my excess stomach acid neutralized.
My female superior,
surveying the visual cacophony of evening traffic as dead as Francisco
Franco, and neon spider traps aiming to grow sticky with dollars exchanged
for coffee, tacos, burgers, sushi, sex DVD’s, booze, artificially tanned
“I was listening to a guy
named Saul Landau on NPR.”
(Of course, such pursuits
will soon be punishable with a prison sentence.)
“And he was talking about
shopping as a separate reality.”
I paused for a moment. I
do this a lot nowadays.
“A separate reality? Um.
. .from which one? What did he mean? Who is he?”
She explained that
Landau is a well-known
filmmaker and general crusader against junk culture, religious insanity
(almost an oxymoron), environmental assault, etc. And that he speaks of
shopping as a kind of cultural dementia. Not just holiday shopping, or women
shopping to appease obscure hormonal demands, or men buying cars to appease
obvious hormonal demands, and not just materialism.
“Remember right after
9/11?” she said. “What did Bush tell everyone to do in order to feel
“Why,” I said, “he told
us all to go shopping.”
“Right! And also to go
to Disneyland. Bush knew that shopping is reality for this country, if
not the world, and that’s what would make people feel comfortable. This is
what Landau is talking about.”
“Well. . .” I said.
And I launched into a
little dissertation, a little speech, a little self-indulgent attempted
intellectualizing of the ilk that makes my friend, Scott Paul declare, “Oh,
he’s up on his soapbox again.” But when I finished, my female superior said:
“That was well put.” This is partly why I hang around with her instead of
“Most people. . .like being lazy and unbothered by
everything except how they are going to decorate, feed, and
entertain themselves. Witness Las Vegas, the American Reem."
What I said was something
“Look at ‘em all,
scurrying around. They take their orders directly from Abercrombie and
Fitch, and their favorite restaurant reviewer, and CNN. They think they are
participating in life, but really they are just being distracted by
things and entertainment. Some of them will wake up when they are
elderly and wonder, what in hell did I do with my life? Well, I sure
bought a lot of stuff!”
My female superior
nodded. I took this as encouragement.
"There is another reality
going on, that is created by the corporations and media,
and Matt Lauer and Rupert Murdoch, and used by the government to placate, divert, and mollify.
What you see on the streets here is that other reality---all these lights,
all these business that come and go like toadstools, all these incessantly
new cars and SUVs that everyone rushes out to buy every year. It has
nothing to do with anything related to the earth, air, and sky, except
if you break things down with the commonality of science. This is all
commerce reality, and commerce has become reality for most people.”
“Capitalism,” she said.
“No, not just
capitalism, which is a logical and sound conceit, but capitalism amok;
capitalism without conscience. Recall how terrified we were as kids to see
and hear propaganda about the dirty commies and how they were
practically soulless automatons? Look at all the soulless automatons driving
down Wilshire Boulevard!
“These people think they
are participating in the real world---by buying new Lincoln Navigators,
going out to eat asparagus and arugula pizzas, having lots and lots of sex,
acquiring $750,000 condos or turning old ‘50s crackerboxes into gigantic
sarcophaguses, where they can store lots and lots more accumulated stuff
until they die. It passed the point of ludicrous about twenty years ago.
There is no longer the slightest shame in gathering up material wealth, and
proclaiming it ostentatiously. Everyone is stamped with corporate
logos---literally, on their clothes. Often---and this symbolism is
punishing---right on their asses.
“Theirs is not a world of
ideas, or concepts, except those ideas that talk-radio and Fox and the
government sanction as the water-cooler/cubie/e-mail/Starbucks scuttle of
the day. Theirs is not a creative world, or a thoughtful world, or certainly
not a world where you consider ways to. . .make the world better. Theirs is
a world of consuming and reacting."
"How did it happen?"
“Remember how, when we
were kids, the question was ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, and
the answer did not even consider money? I want to be a teacher in order
to help young people. . .I want to work with handicapped children. . .I want
to be a fireman (firefighter is the contemporary term) to protect the
community. . .For years now, career choice has been largely secondary,
if not incidental, to what it pays. Parents raise children with this as an
example. You see the results all around you.”
Yes, my patient
accomplice added, "but with the average price of a home at $500,000 in
California, people are forced to go for the money."
“Exactly right. That’s
the coporatocracy squeeze, the so-called ‘free market’ turning everyone into
manic slaves of the dollar.”
A Honda SUV whizzed by,
going at least 10 mph, bearing a bumper sticker, “SEEK HIM.”
“It’s the same with the
Jesus folk, at least the enormous and powerful bloc of Armageddonists, whose
belief in the Second Coming removes them from taking this earthly life very
seriously. 'Let Go, Let God' is about the worst thing that ever happened to
a sense of community, and responsibility to that community, in modern
history. Talk about letting yourself off the hook! They're all going to the
Holiday Inn in the sky, so why bother with Motel 6? Dirty it up, leave the
towels on the floor. . .”
“For all their talk of
spiritualism and compassion,
and synagogues support consumer reality all the way.
not? Take a look at the clothing on your average ‘worshipper,’ and check out
the SUV/Mercedes-choked parking lots of humble houses of worship across the
land. Mammonism is the great world religion today.”
She broke into a chorus
of “Oh, Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. . .”
Anchormannequin Laura Diaz than peeled her lips back to expose her gigantic,
ultra-violet light-whitened “everything-is-okay” choppers and added, “very
“You see, Bush told
everyone to go shopping because---yes, he was afraid the
going to take a huge hit---but also because this was the way to most
directly reach people. To get to their hearts, because their hearts have
become their pocketbooks and wallets, and the malls their churches. This is
the corporate-produced reality that most everyone buys into---literally and
“And the media reinforce,
package it, sell it. They have a symbiotic, parasitic relationship to
government and corporations---and of course, most media are now owned by
massive corporations. There is money in pushing the buttons of people
conditioned to consume. Commercial sponsors love it, corporate media owners
love it, and government really loves it, because it keeps people distracted
from what it is really up to. Keeps them from thinking. So
everything becomes produce, sell, consume, produce, sell, consume. Nothing
“I mean, look at the
so-called news. It’s news for children. Okay, kiddies, the big
pwezzident said today that freedom is good, and meanies are bad. Then the
big Senators got mad at the big pwezzident. And then more people were bwown
up in Iraq. . .An’ the big money guy says that there’s not enough money, an’
there’s a big storm. . .There is no examination of the machinery behind
all these things! No critical or analytical look at the corporatocracy in
mainstream media. Not even simple reporting on the relationships between
lobbyists and government. That died largely when Bill Moyers left his PBS
program, “Now," during an 'anti-liberal' harassment campaign by discredited right-wing plant in the
Corporation For Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson. Perish the thought.
"That's it. Perish the
thought. Thought itself is perishing.
"Of course, some would
snicker and say that money has always been the determining priority in media
and all else---but
the thing is, there are no other priorities anymore! Everything has been
leveled by the desire to acquire money. And all discrimination of worth has
come down to a single test: is it cool, or not?”
"What do you mean?" my
patient and indulgent partner asked.
"Cool is like a shunt
directly into the bank account. It’s Pavlovian. Say 'cool,' and consumers
prick up their ears. 'Cool' is the ultimate reductive device, an equalizer
in the worst sense of the word. If something is baptized 'cool' by the
media, there are exactly two possible reasons: 1) it is worth money, or 2)
it is baffling, and therefore threatening. If it’s worth money, then it’s
platinum. If it is threatening, it must be neutralized. How to take the
intimidation out of something, like oh, classical music? Declare it 'cool.'
Hardly. One night on Channel Two 'News,' they closed with a story about the
discovery of a Beethoven manuscript. When the 20 or 30-second piece ended, anchormannequin Paul Majers
said, 'Cool.' Anchormannequin Laura Diaz than peeled her lips back to expose her gigantic,
ultra-violet light-whitened 'everything-is-okay' choppers and added, 'very
"Think Majers and Diaz go
home and listen to Beethoven’s late quartets?
"This is how commerce-reality deals with substance. Trivialize and neutralize it by
declaring it 'cool.' Don’t explore it because it’s interesting or worthwhile
or there is something to learn from it. Perish the thought! Annoint
it cool, and the marketing/ demographics people come sniffing around to stamp
its ass with Abercrombie and Fitch.
“People no longer have a
sense of citizenship. They have a sense of consumership. This is what Bush
was addressing in his post-9/11 message of, um, inspiration.”
My partner continued
humoring me: "Then," she asked, "we’re just screwed?"
“Most people don't think
so. They like being lazy and unbothered by everything except how they are
going to decorate, feed, and entertain themselves. Witness Las Vegas, the
"But there is a reaction to
consumer reality, although it is pretty feeble. The whole
Waters concept of food is a reaction to it: participate in the actual
world, and with your community. Pick locally grown food, prepare it
yourself, share it with others over good conversation at your table. Such
traditions are the stuff which make societies strong and healthy---and
this one strong and healthy.
citizens do that anymore in this country? Everything is processed,
microwaved, and ingested over television, X-boxes, cell-phones, Blackberry
Wireless devices, in cars, etc.
is a lovely program by a woman named
Wanda Urbanska, called 'Simple
Living.' You see it on some lesser PBS affiliate late at night once in a
while, and it is all about getting back to community, efficiency,
conversation, the earth, personal responsibility. . .
“The astonishing irony
here is that I even have to say any of this. If the events of the ‘60’s were
worth anything, they were a statement of rejection of false values, of
materialism as a measure of success. What I am expressing here used to be
very mainstream observation, and that was a cause for hope. Now the
right-wing demagogues and mad-dog pundits and
Jesus tyrants are busily
denigrating anything associated with stereotypical ‘60’s ideology, from
environmentalism to anti-war activism.
“The only hint of
those values seems to live on among
so-called anarchists, environmentalists, vegans. They are a reaction to
consumer-reality, but they have practically been labeled 'terrorists' by the corporatocracy that they threaten. The FBI actually
spies on vegans
and environmentalists! They
collect data on them from so-called right-wing
“think tanks.” Imagine that. The government seems as afraid of vegans as
Al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, thinking and sentient people who reject
consumer reality must co-exist with it, and it is heartbreaking and
debilitating to the spirit to have to do so."
We had arrived at Sav-on
so I could by my weekly jar of Rolaids and Pepcid.
consumer reality can be very hard on the stomach.
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