At present, 46 percent of the
American people hold the delusion that Saddam Hussein was involved in the
planning and execution of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
comes to light as ABC/Disney aired a drama based on 9/11 that contains the
corresponding degree of historical accuracy regarding the circumstances that
led up to the tragic events of that day as an average episode of The
Flintstones in depicting daily life during the Stone Age.
What are the
cultural circumstances that allow such mass deceptions to be perpetrated with
seeming impunity? Will these Rovian prevarications, so rife within the
corporate media bubble, continue to define our life and times? Will our
destinies, both individual and collective, continue to be determined by these
pervasive deceits -- these pernicious narratives, concocted by cadres of
elitist fabulists, perpetuated with the intention of frightening and
distracting that portion of our population comprised of gullible, anxious, oversized,
over-aged, dim children?
Sadly, there is not
a granule of novelty in this: All nations, tribes, and families tell tales
composed of sacred lies. Most of us are compelled to find rationales to live
with ourselves and to tolerate the presence of those close to us. On a personal
basis, these tales serve to repackage self-deception as self-confidence. On a
mass scale, a nation's acts of aggression can be recounted as epic tales of
selfless valor and heroic sacrifice. As Jean Renoir piquantly put it, "You
know, in this world there's one thing that's terrible, that everyone has their
When the events and
circumstances of our lives become terrifying, daunting, and unbearable, we are
prone to create waking dreams of deus ex machina: of risen and returning
saviors, of eternal feasts and attentive virgins in paradise, of communion with
space brothers, and decisive, time-ending wars that will forever banish all sin
and suffering. During times of trauma and uncertainty, we seek narratives of
reassurance -- even clinging to ones that are spurious -- even preposterous.
Ergo, George W. Bush will restore "dignity to the White House."
Right! And druggy Rush Limbaugh will restore dignity to the crack house.
Thus, for nearly
two decades, the anxious minds of post-Reagan conservatives have had an
obsessive need to believe it is possible to return to a fictional past, to a
golden era populated by well-turned out, obedient children, dutiful wives, and
docile minorities. All of whom were lorded over by morally upright white men
who wielded their righteous power guided by the grace, mercy, yet perpetually
brittle temper of the All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Ever-Lasting, Long-Bearded,
Bony Ass, White Man in the Sky.
Wingers go weak at
the knees for this kind of hokum. In the 1980s, they swooned, gazing upon
Ronald Reagan's stiff, Pomade-lacquered pompadour � which he held high and
steady against the changes that blew in the wind from the odious 1960s. Then,
as now, believing: The Gipper's fine head of 1940s' hair should be carved in
stone on Mount Rushmore where it would defy rain, snow, and lashing wind -- and
would be, axiomatically, impervious to the reality of change. That is, until,
the ineluctable ravishing of impersonal, amoral, and apolitical time reduce
even mountains of ancient rock to rubble.
But all monuments
to delusion need not be as epic as that. Even objects as quotidian and
seemingly innocuous as neighborhood street signs can and will deceive us. Names
can be misleading. Moreover, these everyday -- seemingly trivial --
misapprehensions can diminish our lives.
A sampling of such:
The Manhattan neighborhood where I reside, the East Village, is a misnomer.
It's name was created by real estate hustlers, who, acting on the presumption
that the property values of the area, located north of Houston Street and east
of Second Avenue, known previously as the northern section of The Lower
Eastside, or The Alphabets � or simply DON'T GO THERE! -- would be enhanced by
said name change. The connotations of the name, The Lower Eastside, would have,
at that time, had a tendency to scare off the sort of tenants who had the means
to afford the newly jacked-up rents being asked for the former tenement
apartments comprising a large percentage of the area.
The marketing move
was contrived to attract faux hipster careerists and those radical until daddy
takes away his Platinum Card- Trust Fundafarians, whose pretensions and
vanities led them to believe the designation "Village" invoked an
artistic cachet to their corporate-controlled lives, but who would not abide
the risks and squalor inherent to the sorts of neighborhoods that have been
forsaken by all but poor working families, squatters, drug addicts, the
mentally ill, non-conformists, as well as, by those renegade creative types too
engaged in creating the future of art, music, and poetry to be overly concerned
by the risks of such environs, nor troubled by the attendant low status their
address held among uptown trendies.
For the next case
in point, I'll travel southward and back in time, a number of decades.
I was born in the
Deep South, industrial city of Birmingham, Alabama, another example of a place
in possession of a fraudulent name.
founded by steel and coal barons from Pittsburgh, who -- in an attempt to
ameliorate the worldwide perception of American southerners as being dumb as
dirt, backwoods, genetic retreads, too ignorant to hit the ground with their
own piss yokels -- christened their colonial creation with the name
Birmingham, in order to brand it with a proper "city of industry"
bloodsucking, Yankee bastards (I mean, visionary captains of capitalism), who
were known in Birmingham as the "Big Mules," went about the business
of exploiting (of course, they would say, giving gainful employment to . . . )
every dumb as dirt, backwoods, genetic retread, too ignorant to hit the ground
with his own piss yokel who had the requisite physical stamina and motor
skills required to sacrifice their bodies and souls for substandard wages.
As the riches,
plundered from the Appalachian Hills, flowed northward to Pittsburgh, what the
laboring classes received in return was a life of ceaseless toil and perpetual
debt. These harsh realities made the people of Birmingham hard and mean. In the
early 1960s, the city was unofficially re-christened "Bombingham."
Birmingham was one
hateful, little colonial outpost. If a white man complained about low wages and
poor working conditions, the bosses told him, "If you don't like your job
-- there are 10 niggers who will take it for a fraction of your pay." It's
self-evident why Birmingham was not exactly known as a beacon of racial
When my family left
Birmingham, we moved to Atlanta, Georgia, a city (or more precisely, a
contrived collection of corrupt zoning practices and real estate developer larcenies)
that also bears a contrived name and was (and remains) a center-devoid
simulacrum of a city, inhabited by a citizenry whose) personal styles and
cultural sentiments, for the most part, reflect Atlanta's phony name to a
Birmingham's fraudulent name was meant to evoke an aura of industry, Atlanta's
was meant to conjure an image of the ancient grandeur of a great city of
antiquity. Call it Classical Age Cracker.
Illustrative of the
cultural confabulation and communal delusions that Atlanta residents term as
their way of life are the lives, fates, and legacies of two famous residents of
the city, Blind Willie McTell and Margaret Mitchell, both of whom resided there
in overlapping intervals during the first half of the twentieth century.
I first heard the
music of Blind Willie McTell, in the mid-1960s, when in tow of my father, I
visited friends of his who comprised the half dozen or so members of Atlanta's
They were flopped
in a run-down, mafia-owned building at the intersection of Peachtree and Tenth
Street, bizarrely enough in the building that contained the apartment that
Margaret Mitchell had christened "The Dump" -- the location where she
had conceived and written Gone With the Wind.
Upon the turntable
of a battered record player, belonging to the building's resident manager, the
late Bud Foote, a professor at Georgia Tech., author, poet, musician, and all
around Beat polymath, spun rare and exquisite LPs. It was at The Dump, I first
heard the works of Mctell and other Blues, Folk, and Jazz greats.
The building was
located a short distance from where, according to local bohemian (all seven of
them) lore had it, an aging, increasingly disconsolate from poverty, racism,
and his own obscurity, McTell used to busk for change from redneck Babbits and
country-come-to-town parvenus, shortly before he gave up playing the blues and
took up lay preaching and gospel music.
Mitchell House, as it has been subsequently dubbed by the Atlanta Tourism
Board, is now a city landmark. Both obtuse locals and gullible tourists seem
oblivious or indifferent to the fact that the building, thrice burned to the
ground and rebuilt by the city, doesn't, at present, in any way, shape, or form
resemble the original structure where the epic racist, bodice-ripper, Gone
With the Wind, was hallucinated and inflicted onto the page.
Not far down the
road exists a bar named Blind Willy's, a place that, on any given night, is
populated by the sort of folks, who, had they lived in McTell's era, would have
ignored or spat upon him when he was busking on Ponce De Leon Avenue.
The irony shields
of the city of Atlanta are impenetrable when there are dollars to be made from
the creation of a safe, business-friendly, false mythology out of the stuff of
the city's racist and tawdry history.
Perhaps if we were
to take a closer examination of these sorts of everyday misperceptions,
distortions, and lies that, over time, grow into cultural delusions -- it would
reveal a great deal about not only Atlanta, Birmingham, and Manhattan's East
Village -- but our present day lives within that hack-conjured narrative know
as the present day United States of America.
Is it possible for
some scion of the corporate state to wail-out the blues of the present era --
for some bluesman born of the hybrid lawn-seeded soil of our nation of vast
suburban subdivisions and weaned on its pharmacological subsistence crops --
perhaps going by the moniker Medicated Willie McMansion -- to sing out, "I
got the medication blues/ from my iPod head to my sweatshop-shod shoes . . ."
But more likely,
the progeny of Margaret Mitchell, now newswriters and producers at CNN, will
continue to contrive the spurious narratives of the times: storylines that are
about as accurate as the one their forbearer, Miss Mitchell, confabulated,
within the pages of Gone With The Wind, regarding the Civil War era American
South; both tales are vain, shallow, narcissistic, self-serving spectaculars --
inane, melodramatic m�langes, riddled with cultural clich�s and casuistry,
reality-denying rationalizations, and pulp novel plot devices serving to mask
the realities of brutal classism, blood drenched racism, and wars waged on
behalf of a corrupt ruling class.
So where does this
leave us? Are we condemned to live out our lives in the enthralling dazzle of
these glittering fragments of self-serving lies?
Or worse: What of
the dreaded Law of Eternal Poultry Return (LEPR) -- which is known, in everyday
parlance, as the "chickens coming home to roost"?
I'm having this
recurring vision of flocks and then more flocks of returning, roost-seeking
chickens. There will be so many flocks of roosting, rampaging, revenge-reaping
chickens (Also known as: the collective enmity of the people of the world beyond
our shores . . . peck, cluck, cluck peck; ad this to, our nation's financial
insolvency (personal and collective) . . . cluck, cluck, scratch, peck, scratch
peck; those � combined with the increasingly apparent realities of Global
Warming . . . peck, peck, peck, scratch, CLUCK!; as well as, our Nation's
crumbling infrastructure; plus, the vast catalog of other ills looming over us
. . . CLUCK! CLUCK! PECK! PECK! PECK!) � returning chickens, all . . . thronging
the streets, boulevards, Interstate highways, back roads, and private driveways
of the U.S.A. Such a proliferation of barnyard fowl blowback -- it will look
like Col. Sanders, OD'd on bad acid, having a vision of his eternal damnation
Are we utterly
defenseless against these pervasive and pernicious narratives? I don't believe
so -- if we practice the imperative of the free: That being: Question
everything -- from street signs to sacred assumptions; from the cant of local
boosterism to the hagiography of the famous, both living and dead. There may be
hope for us yet: If we face down and call out those everyday, soul-grinding,
life-defying lies that begin the process of acceptance of -- hence complicity
in -- the preventable tragedies that have come to define our times.
Phil Rockstroh, a self-described, auto-didactic,
gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York
City. He may be contacted at: email@example.com Rockstroh
is a contributing editor to Cyrano's
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