July 27, 2007

Wet Dream State


When asked why he has agreed to accompany the villain into the Fourth Dimension, government agent James T. West answers: “I want to make sure it’s not a national security threat.” If you like dwarfs, giants, and an unending supply of bizarre freaks and diabolical geniuses The Wild, Wild West (1965-1969) was the show for you. Every episode was practically identical. The parade of exotic villains was practically never ending. But every week the hero West and his intrepid sidekick Artimus Gordon saved our young country from some outrageously fanatic scourge of anarchy and lawlessness, each threat more preposterous and inventive than the last. There was always a beautiful assistant of the arch nemesis who fell for West and miraculously secured his last minute escape from the sure clutches of doom set in motion by his more intelligent foe. Gordon was the brain behind the good-guys and West the brawn. It is an amazingly succinct picture of our law and order fantasy. Intellect is acceptable, but only when it comes to gadgetry and comic relief. Gordon plays the vaudevillian fool to West. Every clever disguise he dons lands him deeper in trouble. While West, who is portrayed as an indomitable ball of gymnastic energy and a lady-killer to boot, costumed in an extraordinarily tight fitting Western get up that was uncomfortably tailored to accentuate his butt cheeks, is left to save the day. Mostly the evil plots are boilerplate. An egomaniacal villain at the fringes of centralized government in our country wants to undermine and subvert the existing power structure. As a show, it is fascist paranoid propaganda light, a comic book foreshadowing the imminence of our National Security State. One of R. Crumb’s most famous illustrations is “A Short History of America” in which he records the changes in our country over twelve panels. In the first we see a view of our bucolic landscape the way it once was. By the time we get to the last one our country has been transformed into an industrialized nightmare of power lines and corporate logos, utterly alienating and practically unlivable. Back when The Wild, Wild West first aired the suspicion of the Fourth Dimension might have come off as a hilarious goof. By the time the show went off the air two Kennedy boys and Martin Luther King had been publicly assassinated. The Neocons like to talk about the failure of The Great Society. What they fail to say is that the lunatic rightwing fringe in our country, officially or not, had to resort to outright heinous murder in order to make it fail. By those standards, West’s fear of the Fourth Dimension as a possible threat to the powers-that-be doesn’t seem all that impossible. Crumb’s cartoon about the decline, or ascent of our culture, depending on your point of view, offers a parallel view of what we have come to accept and have chosen to turn a blind eye to where the encroachment of the state’s paranoia is concerned. It’s no secret that the US has more per capita prison inmates than most countries in the world, irrelevant of how despotic those other countries are. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. might have been one of first satirists to project the big business applications of our penal system: The Prison State. He had enterprising Japanese corporations running our prisons for-profit. These days in our global economy it's no secret that if you order something from your favorite catalogue by phone you are as likely to be talking to someone in India as you are to be talking to a prison inmate in our own country. Criminalization, which was once an unfortunate side-effect of hard line political and judicial rhetoric, is now big business. It portends, among many other things, a big shift in the way our legal system opperates. Kafka’s fears of a bureaucratic police state in which everyone is guilty until proven innocent promises to be a hell of a lot more lucrative than any idealistic system of law our founders had in mind! Hence laws like “Three Strikes” which are specifically designed to send minor criminals to jail no matter how insignificant the crime. We have effectively normalized the idea that underpriviliged folks in our country have no rights while the Darth Cheney’s and the rest of the Bushevik Administration, a.k.a., those in power, are totally above the law. Apparently, they don’t even need to acknowledge legal subpoenas. What The Wild, Wild West, like all the rest of the law and order propaganda, before and after, prays upon is our fear of loss of control. The show was a classic example of action adventure. Nightmares are mostly about performance anxiety. Dreamers freak out because they are powerless in these unconscious pickles. Horror movies exploit the helplessness of nightmares. In horror, supernatural forces are the stand in for our fear of losing control. Action adventure, as a genre, is about the exact opposite. These heady narratives are equivalent to our wet dreams. We are impervious to physical reality, made superhuman, and nothing can stop us. The world is saved, the hero gets the girl, etc. Total control is maintained. Where dreams differ from these spectacles is that they are rarely if ever moral. Horror tends to transform performance anxiety into a Christian ethic of right vs. wrong, while action adventure does the same with the wet dream. In horror our frailty and lack of control becomes an allegory for the seduction of evil, while in action adventure our fantasy of complete and flawless command over the situation is reconcieved as a false sense of moral righteousness. Good guys always win despite the odds. Dubya comes on like some tough talking suit-and-tie superhero who will save the world from itself; US soldiers are impervious to death, revered and beloved the world over; etc. The moralized wet dream in action adventure is the delusion of those who wish for total control. The myth of the action adventure superhero has had a creeping effect on our culture for many decades. So much so that Federal agent West’s suspicion of the Fourth Dimension is in this day and age almost believable. When it becomes accepted doctrine that every citizen is open to suspicion and our legal institution fails us, it only follows that such an unfettered paranoid police mentality will turn against anything and everything it fears it cannot dominate, even something that is on the face of it so essoteric as the dimension of time. After all, the Fourth Dimension might provide safe-haven for terrorists. Someone should probably look into it. There’s no room for gray area in our police mythology, no room for uncertainty in the law and order fantasy. Nobody wants to live in a permanent State of performance anxiety. But, as attractive as the spectacle of the unreal wet dream fantasy is, once you scratch the surface, it's a miserable and paranoid alternative. Both are, in fact, two sides of the same ideological coin. The joke is that the Action Adventure State is the preferred mythology of the kind major screw ups, like our administration and intelligence community, like to shroud their legacy of disastrous failure in. Their desublimated nightmares of impotence become our reality.

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