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Return to New Orleans

Dimming Nation

by LINH DINH

When one of our senior statesmen, and former Presidential candidate, no less, calls a foreign leader a monkey, we should wince, but, no, our citizens merely jump online to declare that this is an insult to monkeys. Such is the state of American witticism and, uh, statesmanship. In the late 80’s, a Japanese minister had to apologize for branding the Chinese “cave dwellers,” but America needn’t say sorry. We’re way beyond that, and, besides, the insulted party was only the President of Iran. Long demonized by our corporate media, Iran is open to all insults and assaults.

Like Ray Lewis, a super power must strut, swagger and attribute its success to God’s blessings. As for murders? What murders? Like George W. Bush, Lewis knows God upside down, can read his mind, and has his unequivocal backing, “When God is for you, who can be against you?” And, “the way God works, he don’t use people who commits [murder] for his good. No way. It’s the total opposite.” Yo, Ray, Christ was a murder victim, not a murderer, but by your logic, worldly success indicates grace and righteousness, while failure means that God is not on your side. With this reasoning, banksters are imploding the world with God’s dynamites, and bombing victims and war refugees are justly punished. Reelected, drone happy Obama is the Second Coming, as trumpeted already by Newsweek. Filled with killers who thank God before, during and after butchering, we are a nation of sanctimonious psychos, but don’t forget to support the troops, y’all!

In any case, you don’t have to be Job, Solomon, St. Gerome or the Hunchback of Notre Dame to know the Christian stance on fortune and misfortune. Or take the Jewish born Simone Weil, “The perfect Christian life is that of a slave.” And, “Christianity is the religion of slaves par excellence, that slaves cannot not adhere to it.” In short, Christianity is a religion of the wretched, of losers and losing, of getting blown out on every playing field, including war. This hardly makes Christianity unique, by the way, but enough of my theological noodling and dumplings. Praying neither in church nor on artificial grass, I wouldn’t know Jesus if he grabbed me by the face mask.

O Beelzebub, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? In the Super Bowl ad, William DeFoe’s devil flaunts a Masonic ring. Cute, and a cute fuck you to us all. The pitch itself is asinine, and familiar. Having the right car means you’ll get social status, ecstatic freedom and sex. Car after car commercial. Drinking the right beer, too, will make you humongously popular and swarmed by top heavy chicks. As Americans, we spend most of our waking hours in a virtual or actual isolation cell, whether Huyndai, Porsch or Ford, but on this bombastic day, we gather to celebrate speed, domination, land grabbing and pizzazz. The Super Bowl is America’s biggest commercial, concert and film festival, with a football game, by the way, during intermissions. But it was good this year, you protest! Yes, it was good, but to an uncomprehending world, one that couldn’t tell a linebacker from Operation Linebacker, this day was just a full fledged, no holds barred, asskicking demonstration of American prowess and sexiness, but as 232 countries and territories stared at us, rapt, bored or bugged eyed, our fuckin’ lights went out! Half of them, anyway. With no sound, the camera scanned the darkened ceiling of the super power’s Superdome.

Joe Flacco got flacks for being overheard blurting “Fuckin’ awesome!” on air, and upright citizens griped over Alicia Key’s jazzy rendition of the National Anthem. Led by our cynical and sinister media, we sure know how to scrutinize, carp and fine tune our moral, civic and aesthetic standards. Whenever Pentagon troops are shown, we cheer, as if consenting to their killing or being slaughtered for the same ruling elite that are destroying us here, back home. The military has been thoroughly woven into our lives. After winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens paraded in Humvees chauffeured by soldiers.

With its specific tint, tone and irreplacable meaning, each word has its place, and none is obscene if used properly, but any word can rape the ear and mind if spewed by hypocritical assholes. When the President of the United States of America intones “freedom,” “democracy,” “shining example,” “beacon” or “security,” for example, you best duck and dive into your bunker.

In the Superdome, poor, helpless citizens were abandoned by their uncaring and negligent government not long ago, but for this big bash, tickets went from $850 to $1,250, with fans coughing up much more on the black market. New Orleans is back, they keep saying, but poisoned by the BP oil spill after being slammed by Katrina, the entire region is still in distress. It hasn’t been wrecked by nature, as much as greed and bad government. With its French, Spanish, Creole and black-infused culture intact, New Orleans remains one of America’s most alluring cities, for sure, but there is no denying its widespread poverty and extremely high crime rates. With The Times Picayune published only three days a week, it is also the only one without a daily newspaper.

The homeless are all over this city. They sprawl in Marigny, Faubourg Lafayette and the Warehouse District. In the French Quarter, they pick leftover drinks and food from trash cans. Scavengers collect cans and bottles. Less than a mile from the Superdome, there was a homeless encampment of up to 200+ people, near the Amtrak Station, but it was cleared in November. You wouldn’t want fans arriving by train to see so much desperation and squalor, would you? Nearby, New Orleans Mission has 252 beds, but it costs $5 to get in for the night, though you’ll get dinner also.

The homeless are all over this country, and blackouts will become more common, just like in the Third World. Living in Vietnam in 1999-2001, I experienced a blackout nearly every day. Lights, fans and computer would suddenly wheeze out and stay off for a couple hours, sometimes longer, occasionally less, eliciting cheers, literally. Sweating, I’d lie down on the tiled floor, fan myself and mumble, “Am I in the Superdome during Katrina or what? Who’s winning? What’s the score? Where’s my Corexit appetizers?”

So you steer your Kia to the levee, but the levee is broken. The good old boys are downing your life saving and mine, singing, “This is the day America dies.” As the US wheezes out, your house, too, will abruptly turn unbearably hot or cold, if you’re still under a roof, that is, and not camping out under the Pontchartrain Expressway.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union