October 08, 2005

Falling Apart

Dick Head Cheney.jpg

The Judas Priest line “Like the lion within the cage / we begin to shake with rage” comes off so fuckin’ cornball, but also tragic because of how nostalgic it sounds, a message from some golden era long ago when we expressed anger. In Hal Hartley’s Surviving Desire (1991) there is this amazingly prophetic exchange between the college professor character, Jude, and his intellectual friend, Henry. For anyone who has never seen a Hartley film, it’s almost as if all the dialogue comes from the inner head, like what is spoken is what the characters are secretly thinking. The outer head never comes into it much at all. Even the action is mostly surrealistic, extra realistic to the point where a lot of bullshit is cut through to get at the point. At heart the movie is an attempt at catharsis when such a revelation seems more ludicrous than anything else. Everyone hits a wall. “Knowing,” the professor writes on the chalkboard “is NOT everything!” It is something, granted, but “not” everything. At issue is the circuit between Faith, Knowing, and Experience. The discussion repeatedly comes back to these terms. By the time Jude and Henry run into each other at the campus watering hole desperation and hysteria have reached a fever pitch. The bartender has already chimed in with the deadpan truism that “what Americans want is a tragedy with a happy ending”. All that is left to Jude is to deliver the somber message of a generation. Henry is the philosopher, for him ideas come first, without cultural value all is lost for him. So he is understandably frustrated by Jude’s wayward faith.

“You know, Jude, you don’t believe in anything”
“That’s a problem?”
“Of course it is.”
“Seems to me the people who believe in things are the problem.”
“How do you mean?”
“People who bomb embassies usually insist that they believe in things. Rival terrorist organizations machine-gun people in supermarkets because they believe in things. Elected officials shut down hospitals and vote increases in the defense budget usually because they believe in things. No, I would rather not believe in things.”

In post-WWII America the CIA were hard at work trying to figure out how to control mass psychology. What they came up with came to be called Cognitive Dissonance. As opposed to the Totalitarian method of withholding information, the idea was to bombard the masses with information, a kind of information overload. Not anything approaching some idea of full disclosure, mind you, simply a barrage of contradictory information. The CIA saw clearly that if there was enough contradiction available, there was no way for anyone to make an educated decision. No one talks much about Cognitive Dissonance anymore, but it is clear that one way or another the definition of objective reportage has been stretched way past any rational idea it came out of when official opinions are given equal or more weight than actual facts. In a recent interview Kurt Vonnegut, looking every inch like a modern day Mark Twain, called Dubya a “twit”. Vonnegut was bemoaning what he described as the criminal incompetence of the Bushevik administration. His well intentioned remarks, he explained, were based on his belief in “Humanism”. To make his point about the present administration Vonnegut quoted the Beatitudes as a simple reminder of Humanist principals, the very same principals on which Democracy is based, in order to easily contrast them from the dubious values of those currently in power. It was one of those moments when ideals are expressed in such a simple way that one really wonders why there is any confusion on this issue at all. Vonnegut might be right about Dubya being a “twit”. The thing about the Bushevik administration, however, is that they have not only exploited Cognitive Dissonance like few, if any, prior administrations, they have invented their very own method of confounding simple truths. If anything, this administration, is defined by how preposterous its policies are, each more over-the-top than the last. An overload of information can surely overwhelm belief and shut down a discussion, but a constant state of crisis is ultimately the surest way to make certain no discussion ever takes place. As Chris Kraus put it in Aliens and Anorexia, you come to "one of those points where you can no longer count on any of the mythologies you've believed in, and you do not have any new ones to replace them. Things don't come out," she writes, "They fall apart."

Posted by dmb at 01:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack