A Happy Family in a Barnum & Botox World

President Bush and his entourage have undertaken a nation-building project and some in the Administration (like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and other “neo cons) want to do more: kick out the undemocratic, old fashioned, non-market oriented, Islamic zealots and substitute the happiness and harmony that our middle classes enjoy. I found a typical example that Bush spinners might want to employ to export this 21st Century model of family bliss and psychic stability.

My daughter’s friend’s mother looks almost as young as her seventeen year old well, like her slightly older sister. She produces soap and shampoo commercials. Her husband is a VP for a marketing firm. The corporation he works for orders its executives to vote Republican and to contribute generously as well. But the couple appreciated good Democrats like Bill Clinton who except for that silliness with Monica — “really knew how to govern.” Clinton gutted welfare and committed the country to free trade, they say, and “created an atmosphere of freedom and creativity in the corporate world.” Clinton’s tax cuts made more sense than the extreme measures of Bush, they opine. If you push the poor too much, they might rebel bad for business; disturbing to stability. On the other hand, Bush’s tax cuts mean a few thousand more to spend each year.

They bought a split level home in suburban Los Angeles for less than a million. It’s worth more now. They still pay less than $2000 a year in real estate taxes. Modern BBQ technology in the manicured yard works well for their frequent parties. “My husband keeps his staff and the other VPs happy,” his wife boasts. “We spend thousands on booze and steaks, but it pays off. You know how the corporate world is.”

The children, the elder a senior at the suburban high school, and the younger a freshman at a private, faith-based school, after being caught with a bag of marijuana, spend significant parts of their $400 a month each allowance on clothes. President Bush would approve of the youngster’s new school. The father hoped the kid would find redemption through God. Neither he nor his son have yet found that sense of Christian certainty that Bush exudes.

The older girl drives a 2003 SUV, a birthday present and a reward for getting a B average. Her father does not know or pretends that she smokes weed with the other kids, drinks at weekend parties and does more than heavy petting with boys. If he knew, he would take the SUV away and ground her.

Based on overheard conversations (arguments) she speculates that dad fools around. But, that’s how families behave on HBO movies. Does mom reciprocate? Why does she work so hard to look so young? Just to please dad?

On Sundays, the family attends a fundamentalist church, but doesn’t follow the orthodox dictates of the preacher. “He’s a good counselor,” mother said after he recommended that they remove the boy from public and place him in a “faith-based” environment. The preacher eschews drinking, but the father wouldn’t even consider this prohibition. His fellow fun-loving executives would goad him mercilessly if he showed such puritanical behavior.

The family has learned to live with contradictions. Indeed, they rarely talk about morality. Shopping, however, absorbs endless hours for motherand daughter. Often, they venture together to sales and spend the better part of a Saturday or Sunday afternoon at up scale stores at the nearby malls.

On Saturday morning Dad golfs from eight to noon. His low 90s score seemed more than passable. He doesn’t love golf like some office mates, but it’s pleasant being outdoors on the green. He felt a mild resentment against the group of environmentalists who had waved placards at his windshield last month, complaining of something related to the amount of water used to maintain the golf course. Occasionally, a global warming headline disturbs him. But he long ago stopped reading the newspaper. The unpleasantness of “news” diverted his thoughts from his marketing job and from his aspirations to become CEO and accumulate his fortune.

At home, he eats weight conscious lunches (usually salad) and on Sundays, from September through January, after church, he sits in his $1500 leather recliner and watches professional football on his $2000 plasma screen TV. He sips beer, even martinis if his business buddies join him. He disciplines himself with alcohol as he does with food. He knows that exceeding limits could affect his career.

He enjoys seeing the expressions on the faces of the players after they get hit with bone crushing tackles. “The Superbowl,” he philosophizes, “represents one of the greatest occasions, the day when the strongest and the most athletic compete in the world’s most scientific and interesting game.”

His son watches with him. He has for three years invited his neighbors to see the spectacle with him on his high density TV. They held lengthy discussion before and during the Superbowl during commercials about the relative virtues of the Carolina Panthers and the favored New England Patriots. All noted that Patriot quarterback Tom Brady attended President Bush’s State of the Union address.

Once in a while, a neighbor will say something about Iraq or other current news. “Saddam was one SOB,” a real estate accountant offered. The others assented. “Good that we got him,” another remarks. Heads nod in agreement. The war has made Dad uncomfortable; not the actual bombing and invasion, but the daily killing and wounding of Coalition forces. “I thought this would be cleaner,” he confided to one neighbor.

“We should get out of there. We did wheat we had to do. Now let someone else clean up,” another said. All agreed with that as well. None showed interest in the failure of investigators to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or links to Al Qaeda terrorists.

During the game, mom and her friends conversed for hours about their skin, figures and diets. They compared Botox doctors and liposuction clinics. “I can’t help gaining weight,” one neighbor confided, “and my husband complains that my boobs and butt are too big. But it doesn’t stop him,” she laughed.

Mom has undergone liposuction and gets regular botox treatments fro wrinkles, but doesn’t admit it. She leaves the room and puts on another CD of what she calls “cool jazz.” Her daughter calls it “elevator music.”

The women discussed “kid” problems, especially dangers related to drugs, alcohol, sex and cars the four perils of adolescence in suburbia. “I hardly remember the early 1980s,” says a perky blond with three teenagers. She doesn’t work, but her husband sells houses in the Rancho Cucamonga area. “I smoked a little pot and I sure did drink. Hey, all of us did things we shouldn’t have done in the car.” She giggled. The others smiled nervously, worrying about their kids and perhaps regretting stupidities of their own adolescence.

The football game ended and the women went home to “fix” dinner. The men continued their Superbowl conversation as the murmuring sounds of “60 Minutes” mixed with background music. “New England had offense and defense…” One of the neighbors had drunk too much.

The family ate greasy, take-in Chinese food. The daughter retired to her room “to do homework.” She looked in the mirror, made a face and said a prayer: “Please God, don’t let me be pregnant or worse.” She regretted that she had allowed herself to get talked into unprotected sex in the back of her own SUV, no less. “Too much booze,” she explained to herself.

The brother played his new hip hop CD, locked his door and pulled the new Playboy from between the pages of his Algebra text.

The mother applied creams and moisturizers in her bathroom. She stared at her youthful face and her model’s figure. “What will happen to me when I start to look my age?” she asked herself, trying to subdue the rushing waves of panic that she felt every day.

The father checked his agenda before slipping into his silk pajamas. He had not yet figured out how to cover up his recent mistakes at the office or how to shift blame onto his subordinates. He reran a few plays from Superbowl in his mind. “There are always different options,” he said silently. He fantasized about manipulating the foxy, new buyer into an after-work drink; maybe a roll in the motel bed. He switched on the bedroom plasma screen to HBO channels, flipped past Bill Maher’s “Real Time” and Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and settled on “Real Sex,” something that might direct his thoughts toward his wife. The overweight woman on the screen explained the therapeutic effects of orgies. He locked the bedroom door. He didn’t want his son walking in and seeing his father watching such smut.

He said a quick prayer. “Please, God don’t punish me for bad thoughts.” He felt better immediately. The desire for his wife had dissipated. He relaxed, assuring himself he would sleep peacefully.

Iraqis might one day enjoy the spiritual depth of the American way of life practiced by a family that thought of itself as very typical.

SAUL LANDAU’s new book is THE PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH’S KINGDOM. His new film is SYRIA: BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE. Look at www.progreso.com for his essays in Spanish. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona Univeristy and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies

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SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

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