The wedge issue that has split America in half like a jackhammered lemon is not race, nor class, nor religion. It is not political affiliation. It is a fundamental disagreement about the very nature of reality. For one half of America (a half comprised of approximately twenty percent of its citizens, mostly white, comprised of the very wealthy and clinical sociopaths, two groups that are largely interchangeable), everything is wonderful. We’re skull-fucking the darkies and Jesus H. Christ is on his way. For the rest of us, for whom the Savior is not coming, for whom the preservation of the natural order on Earth is important, for whom such abstractions as peace and justice act as tangible safeguards, things kinda suck. It has come down to the Real World versus the Happy People. It is with no relish I confess to membership in the much-maligned reality-based half of this equation.
I just attended the 78th Academy Awards ceremony at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California. In a kilt. Commando, since you ask. Now in ordinary times I’m not particularly interested in these industry fetes, primarily because my chances of winning an Oscar are similar to my chances of being hit in the neck by a salad fork dropped from the International Space Station. But on this occasion my girlfriend (perfect in every regard except for miserable taste in men) happened to be nominated for one of these brassy little fellows, so bethought me I it would be in good taste to flash my nose about at the festivities.
We strode the red carpet, which for the record is not true red but Pantone 201 C. My knees got on Japanese television. The ratio of extremely famous people to trogs such as myself was approximately two-to-one, but because I have no idea who anybody is, it wasn’t particularly intimidating. The women are tall and the men are short. For a few delirious hours, we were part of a select group of Happy People, the movie business’s elite, admired by all. I could see the attraction in it, surrounded by security people facing the other direction, never having to open a door or pay for a drink. And I could see how, after extended exposure to this sort of treatment, one could lose one’s grasp of what real life is about. When you’re rich and famous, there are no rough edges. You start wondering what the commoners are bitching for.
She won the Oscar, by the way. That and (at the Vanity Fair party, naturally) the opportunity to congratulate Graydon Carter for keeping Christopher Hitchens from becoming homeless, were for your tragic little correspondent the highlights of a glittering evening. But reality, that endless queasy medium in which us ordinary folk are suspended like aphids in agar, rushed in by morning to claim us again. What has changed? Now my girlfriend can’t get renter’s insurance and there’s this little gold man parked on her kitchen counter next to the microwave. Otherwise, nothing. We both went back to our respective jobs the next day, alcohol-poisoned but intact. My respect for Hollywood folk in general has increased, though. To live in that world all the time and still remain above-average in the social consciousness department (to the degree that they’re hated by Washington) is no mean feat.
Meanwhile, for the Happy People, every day is Oscar day. They get into their fancy cars and drive in HEPA-filtered comfort from their attractive homes to their enjoyable activities, untouched by poverty, illness, bad schools, job insecurity, malnutrition, or a transmission that won’t go into third. These are the people that are setting our national priorities. I quote from a February 27, 2006 letter to the Boston Globe written by one of the happiest of the Happy People, yclept Linda Gosselin:
“It would be difficult to consider yourself happy if you are convinced your country consists of imperialist occupiers trying to take over the world. But if you realize the true road to freedom happens when democracies lead to thriving societies, you’re feeling pretty good right now.”
See, this is what I’m talking about. It’s as if somebody macerated a bunch of Republican talking points in a blender, then decanted the resulting ooze into a clyster and injected it in the author’s right ear. Even Thomas Friedman couldn’t garble a sentence that badly. Ms. Gosselin has never lived in a nation occupied by a foreign army, I suspect. Nor has she ever been investigated for sedition.
“We have a choice each morning we’re lucky enough to open our eyes. We can look at our lives and society in a positive manner and work toward making a better world for our children or we can endlessly dwell on every negative aspect of life we’ve ever witnessed.”
The key phrase here is ‘look at’, which I’m pretty sure is all Linda does with her life and society every day. Except maybe once a year writing a check to Unicef or sending some clothes down to the Salvation Army. And when she says, “a better world for our children”, she means specifically her own children, Tiffany and Jack Henry, for whom life’s main passage so far has been getting the braces off their teeth in time for the Homecoming Ball. And I’ll bet Linda is white. I could be wrong– she could be a poor black sharecropper working the tobacco fields of Braintree. But there’s privilege in her remarks. She has never, I’m certain, had bad teeth or a bounced rent check or an itchy asshole because the water got turned off and she hasn’t had a shower in four days. She has never left her kids with neighbors because she couldn’t get out of work in time to put them to bed. For that matter, she has never watched her babies get eaten alive by rabbits, but this is happening less and less in all strata of American society since the barbaric practice of lettuce-baiting has ended.
“Could it be”, Linda postulates in a reflective mood, “that we conservatives have a more positive world view? How about a more positive national view? A more positive view of religion? A more positive view of our careers? A more positive view of the future?”
These are excellent questions, to which the obvious answer is “no, you conservatives are living in a delusional bubble of smug self-congratulation, go fuck yourself”. But this isn’t positive thinking. It would be better to say, “yes, Linda, you conservatives have more positive views. Did you know your daughter is dating a black man?” But the real answer is this. Linda is right. If you’re a real conservative, meaning wealthy (there are a lot of false conservatives that are actually minarchists, that is, persons interested in a small government the role of which is strictly to protect the rights of its citizens), life is pretty damn good. You can afford the best medical care, education, and organic food; you can (like ‘President’ Bush) afford to have a sustainable ranch with the latest in resource-efficiency technology, and you can afford to live where the common folk can’t spread disease on you and there are no riots or liquor stores or homeless people.
I, too, would have a more positive worldview, like Linda, if I got the Oscar treatment every day. But I suppose I could be happy happy happy like her even if I wasn’t rich and sheltered. After all, like she says, we have a choice each morning we’re lucky enough to open our eyes. I question, however, whether her eyes have ever really been opened.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.