Bobcat Goldthwaite: Why have a civilization if we’re no longer interested in being civilized?

A couple of years ago when I watched the movie God Bless America, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite (whom I once had the pleasure of seeing live when he was doing standup comedy), it didn’t turn out to be as good in its entirety as I had hoped. The trailer (see below) had been awesome, and the advance buzz about the movie had been highly encouraging, since it made it sound as if Goldthwaite had borrowed cues from both Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers and the likes of Morris Berman’s The Twilight of American Culture to make a movie that would channel the rage, horror, and sadness many of us have felt as we’ve watched America transform itself into a cruel, decadent, and degenerate “society of the spectacle,” to borrow Guy Debord’s useful and accurate term.

The finished film didn’t quite live up to the buzz or the trailer, since the pacing was off and the third act, including the climactic scene, felt particularly off-kilter. Nevertheless, it contains several scenes and sequences that fulfill the promise of the buildup, and none is better than the one below, where protagonist Frank, played by Joel Murray (yes, Bill’s brother), goes to the office one morning and delivers an immortal rant that, in my estimation, ranks up there with Howard Beale’s prophetic condemnations of America’s mass mediated lunacy in Network. And just as Beale was basically a mouthpiece for screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky’s personal views, so is Frank a mouthpiece for Goldthwaite’s.

Fair warning: Use with care. This clip contains NSFW language and some (intentionally) shocking violence. It also contains a compressed diagnosis of America’s (and the whole first world’s) cultural disease here in the early twenty-first century that’s incisive enough to start a revolution.

“Nobody talks about anything anymore. They just regurgitate everything they see on TV or hear on the radio or watch on the Web. When was the last time you had a real conversation with someone without somebody texting or looking at a screen or a monitor over your head? You know, a conversation about something that wasn’t celebrities, gossip, sports, or pop politics. Something important or something personal. . . . This is the ‘Oh no, you didn’t say that!’ generation, where a shocking comment has more weight than the truth. Nobody has any shame any more. And we’re supposed to celebrate it! I saw a woman throw a used tampon at another woman last night on network television, a network that bills itself as ‘today’s woman’s channel.’ Kids beat each other blind and post it on YouTube. I mean, do you remember when eating rats and maggots on Survivor was shocking? It all seems so quaint now. I’m sure the girls from Two Girls, One Cup are going to have their own dating show on VH1 any day now. I mean, why have a civilization any more if we are no longer interested in being civilized?”

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD and GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES.

Posted on May 8, 2014, in Arts & Entertainment, Society & Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. It’s being done on purpose, Matt . When I was shooting messages to you guys on the death of the novel the other day.. I was talking about how Japan experimented, in a humanistic way, with animated film and videogames . When I think of the greatest videogames, I immediately think of Metal Gear Solid, and I immediately think of Japan. When I think of the greatest animated films, I immediately think of something like Akira, that is asking larger questions about the nature of apocalypse and transcendence than a lot of other films . Not that I don’t think there are great American videogames, or great American films to do with transcendental themes and so on.. but I get the sense that the people responsible over the media, which is RADICALLY different than the people promoting the videogames industry.. really don’t give a shit about culture, really don’t give a shit about civilization, really don’t give a shit about the humanities, and so on… and anyone to speak of the novel, the humanities, and blast digital media and videogames in the same breath, is our enemy.. videogames have been the great resistance to the decline of western civilization. Sony cares deeply about player engagement, telling a good story, and global peace . No other publishing company in the world has supported civilization in the modern world for the new generation as much as Sony has. This is a fact.

  2. At least for a while when I was a kid, Japan was legally prevented from building up a military to respond belligerently to disputes in other countries . For this reason, Japan was able to nurture the humanities and civilization in a way that wasn’t possible in the western world . The western world is in a perpetual state of warfare, and have lost all rights to the humanities . In this way, the novel.. English writing.. is dead . The only humanistic response to English culture and civilization is reflecting nihilism and depravity . So yeah I will repeat emphatically, the novel is dead, dead dead dead. In the current state of affairs, might be dead for the whole of my life . The only response that I really identify with coming from western culture, along with horror, is black metal . Dissonance, noise, the sound of screams and the tearing of throats, agony, and suffering . That’s the humanities today.

  3. When I say the novel is dead I mean that if I read a novel it better be about death . There is no future .

  4. because I can’t take many novels written in the present time very seriously, and because I don’t want to spend my whole life reading dystopian stuff reflecting the state of the world today.. I rely on esteeming other forms of art, besides writing and besides the novel, to translate for me from other cultures with civilization what is unspeakable to me . and videogames, player engagement, music, are ways of doing this . so the novel is dead in that sense as well, that i don’t understand the words anymore of the mainstream culture . it’s nonsense .

  5. I like your writing and Richard Gavin’s, a lot.. it’s just that I also do feel that much of what is in the mainstream is off the rails , the horror that I grew up with was tempered with some morals of common sense, the bad guys were the bad guys and they attacked people smoking pot and making out in their cars, and there was a humour to that and a wink . now the wink is getting lost and our sense of right and wrong is being diminished . torture porn , example . and i’ve honestly been really disturbed by some recent films i have watched that aren’t even torture porn . I wish I have seen more dramas like Nana . I wish when i sat down in the movie theatre I felt uplifted more often . and I think that basically I stand by what I said I think the novel is not as popular because we’ve been in a pit of nihilism .

    i’ve been trying to express this for a while i would read a numinous novel, in the sense that Nana is subtly numinous, if it was on Oprah and touched upon a sense of woe , catharsis, i don’t know how to explain it… if some big news program promoted some book that everyone started reading, that came from authentic emotions and was moving, i’d consider reading it . i don’t like a game of thrones . it’s very nihilistic. i like it and i dislike it . i wish i liked it more than i do . that’s just the temperature of the time , the novel is dead because i think there are irreconcilable problems in the culture at large that people are not dealing with .

  6. to all you North Americans: there is no need for this self-flagellation, vulgarity is a global pandemic.

    The concept of ‘shame’ is already becoming a quaint notion. Maybe the technological assault on privacy has something to do with it.

    Of course, no one can force you to participate in a social sphere devoid of culture. You can stay away from ‘contemporary sensibilities’. Borges never watched soap operas.

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