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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?”

Soothsayers, Seers, and other Specters of the Skeptical Mind

I remember the last time I consulted a soothsayer. ‘Twas in the early of the year, and sorrow had wont to call upon my home.

Where, I thought dimly, shall I find succor now my very rooms themselves speak to me of tragedy? Aye me, the pains of a soul lost in this ill-lit world of dark delirium!. Fain would I press forward, if only I could find some wane and wanton hope, yet such seeking brought only more sorrow.

Strolling the thoroughfare, my hobnailed, haggard shoes tapping out a beleaguered fugue upon the chipped and sullied cobblestones, I saw what I mistook, I do admit, for a white and luminous dove: my fated angel, strange savior, black and white winged,  read all over.

Lo, ’twas nay a bird, but a breeze-blown bit of newspaper! How odd that this scrap could become so like an oracle to me, proof of providence in that strange synchronicity. Upon it, writ in print full clear, this message, which would become so dear to my heart:

Online Psychic Readings – 3 Million 5-star Ratings Don’t Lie.

Huh? When, exactly, was the last time you encountered a “soothsayer”? Perhaps down the street, next to the local smithy, or across the way from old Elias Nottuman the Tanner? What century are we living in again?

Still, someone out there is encountering them, at least according to a recent piece at Yahoo! News titled “Psychic Devastates Dead Student’s Family,” which highlights the failure of a couple of self-proclaimed psychics to solve missing-person cases and then holds this up as an example of a supposed pervasive plague of psychism and superstition infecting Western culture: Read the rest of this entry

Shame for Fame: The New Path to Stardom in the Age of the Status Cult

The Extinction Papers – Chapter Two

 

I am routinely wrong about many things.  The enduring popularity of televised talent shows.  The assured success of former Raider Bill Callahan as the new head coach of my 2004 Nebraska Cornhuskers.  The viability of something called Twitter.  While the second one caused me more pain (barely edged out by the first), the last might be my biggest miss as a cynical and formerly smug prognosticator.

From what I knew of Twitter at the time, I just couldn’t imagine that this insignificant and seemingly limited tentacle of social media would be embraced, let alone last long enough to metastasize into a societal norm, and even a verb (“tweeting” <shudder>).  Allowing one to send out uninteresting life updates in 140 characters from the line at the grocery store (“Ugh! I’m SO ANNOYED by people who pay for their cat food with checks!  FML!”), or the gym (“Just ripped off 15 reps at 230 on bench, bruh . . . Feeling pumped”), or from their own living room (“Watching re-runs of ‘Cagney & Lacey’ on Oxygen, y’all, and gotta’ admit, Tyne Daly is at the top of her game”), just didn’t seem to have any cachet, let alone meaning.  Even with the proliferation of insipid reality programming, I still didn’t foresee the voracious interest in the mundane minutiae of the lives of everyday people.  I had no idea that sharing random thoughts on traffic lights or a blurring phone pic of what one is about to eat for lunch would enthrall a nation, let alone a world.  One would assume that a so-called enlightened civilization would have more important things to occupy their hopefully expanding brains than your college roommate’s recent sock purchase at Target.

But, I was wrong.  Lords of Light, was I ever wrong.  People dig this shit.  CRAVE this shit.  JOIN IN on this shit.

So I sat, baffled — with my quiet, unintelligent phone stowed somewhere in my bag — by the explosion of Twitter and the flood of tweets that were now an essential part of seemingly everyone’s daily lives.  And baffled I remained, until I remembered that in the 21st century, EVERONE wants to be famous and recognized, even if only amongst a small group of friends, family, and online acquaintances.  This is the era where fame trumps all, trampling the desire for talent, happiness, and stability, and just barely edging out success.  Fame is king, queen, emperor, and god.  As such, it attracts acolytes of the Status Cult, who routinely have sacrificed and will sacrifice anything upon the freshly stained, newly hewn titanium altar to achieve immortality, which these days can last only a few minutes, falling far short of that promised Golden Fifteen.
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