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THE DECAY OF AMERICAN MEDIA — Patrick L. Smith on the decline and fall of American journalism; Peter Lee on China and its Uyghur problem; Dave Macaray on brain trauma, profits and the NFL; Lee Ballinger on the bloody history of cotton. PLUS: “The Vindication of Love” by JoAnn Wypijewski; “The Age of SurrealPolitick” by Jeffrey St. Clair; “The Radiation Zone” by Kristin Kolb; “Washington’s Enemies List” by Mike Whitney; “The School of Moral Statecraft” by Chris Floyd and “The Surveillance Films of Laura Poitras” by Kim Nicolini.
Nothing in the Kitty

A Fork in the American Road

by BEN TRIPP

The United States of America recently came to a fork in the road of history. One path led to the fulfillment of the promise that America has made to the world: that it would champion freedom, justice, and opportunity by its own example. The other path led to slavery, violence, and futility. Did we, exergasiastically speaking, choose to soar to the stars, or instead embrace a plunge into the fetid depths of a swamp composed entirely of decaying lamprey excrement? Let’s just say this would be an excellent time to possess an aqualung.

I am neither a pessimist nor an optimist, weighing the evidence more or less as it comes. Thus I do not see the glass as half full or half empty, but rather twice the required size. The impending 40th anniversary of my birth is not an occasion I anticipate with dread or delight; 40 is as old as a rhinoceros gets, but a Galapagos land tortoise of the same age would still be a teenager, gerontologically speaking, driving around bashing mailboxes with a baseball bat and huffing glue out of paper bags. I admit that it might be better to be two 20-year-olds than one 40-year-old, particularly if one of them is a showgirl, but what I’m trying to say is you can’t go around being glum just because life is a mixed blessing. It sure beats being some rocks. But the America I grew up believing in has turned out to be a fairy story, like Santa Claus or the Easter Hedgehog .

The pisser is, we had the chance a few years ago. We could have turned this thing around. When a fanatical group of architecture critics attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with passenger aircraft, the world reached out to America, and America reached out to its president. He took an immense, writhing dump on America and the world. But it wasn’t just this one man, this bumptious, ebriectious little sociopath, that ruined everything; it was his entire bureaucracy of fawning courtiers, the febrile, limp-wristed Democratic party, the fascistic Republican stormtroopers, the patrician 18th Century gents that opposed him in elections so obviously rigged one could have mistaken the process for professional wrestling ­ and most of all, it was a luciferous amalgamation of fear-crazed, gullible citizens and the corporate military/media complex filling their heads with likely stories. So here we are, the fork in the road now behind us, our feet treading the rocky path to perdition. What next?

In such a situation, hemmed in on all sides as one is by incompetence, greed, stupidity, and a kind of quantum tackiness that borders on schlock, one might well despair. After all, only ten percent of large ocean fish remain, and five percent of coral reefs, and we reached peak oil several years ago, and the only half-decent delicatessen in all of Los Angeles is in Glendale. There’s chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq has spiraled into civil war, and everybody in Iran is going around with one of those sniper rifle laser dots on the back of their heads. Plus, I’m almost 40. Where’s the good news that allows me to remain calm? Because this all sounds pessimistic. Hope is a matter of perspective.

The reason it’s so disappointing that America stalled out, at least for this disappointed American, is that the American narrative was always about the next great thing. We’ve gone down the wrong tine of the national roadfork before. Sure, we wiped out an entire continent of indigenous peoples, but those transcontinental railroads were a hell of a thing. Maybe we clung to slavery longer than some folks, but on the other hand, if we’d gone around emancipating everybody, would we have jazz today? The Great Depression begat the Great Society. I could go on, and if I was Ken Burns, I would. The nut of the essence of the meat of the matter is that from our most appalling failures as a nation, Americans have subsequently wrested our greatest achievements. We rebound with style from the most dreadful gaffes. So generally I’d be going around aggravating people by claiming that great times were ahead, and America was going to do something impressive and once again snatch up the torch of liberty, instead of what Bush has done, which is torch up the snatch of liberty. But we’re out of resources. As Gramps used to say, there’s nothing in the kitty but catshit.

So I don’t know what we do next. The disaster is still unfolding. There is an election coming up, the results of which will dictate whether America descends into a new crisis or continues descending into the present crisis. A new terrorist action has got to be well into the research and development phase. Debt, Christofascism, global warming, the privatization of fresh water, the ongoing rape of New Orleans, you name it, the pooch is in mid-screw, and there remains a myriad of days on George W. Bush’s watch, unless somebody dethrones him. It’s too early to start looking around for a suitably American rebound narrative. But it would be refreshing to come up with something plausible. Maybe we could legalize pot and become a vast, mellow land, like Amsterdam without the weird fruit beers. Maybe we could welcome immigrants to our shores and become known for that, or we could get national healthcare for all Americans, or we could start a pet grooming business. Something needs to be imagined, anyway, because it’s a long, dark path ahead, and for many of us, the next forks in this road will be a pitchfork, applied devil-fashion to the posterior lobes. I’m not that worried, though. Let the devils come! After five years of this administration, I’m thoroughly accustomed to getting a prick in the ass.

BEN TRIPP is an independent filmmaker and all-around swine. His book, Square In The Nuts, may be purchased here, with other outlets to follow: http://www.lulu.com/Squareinthenuts. His favorite animal is the rhinoceros. Mr. Tripp may be reached at credel@earthlink.net.