Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Unhinging of My Country

I know I'm fatally behind with my comments, but last week was just so over the top with mind-blowing stuff that my entire cognitive apparatus was "on steroids," to use a favored current expression. Of all that was happening, some of it was more than I could swallow, much of it more than I could digest. In short, there was so much going on, and so much to metabolize, that I could hardly think straight.

Let's start with the big government "rescue plan," aka "bail-out," for the failing economy. Even surrealism racks its brains for the answers to questions such as these: Is our whole financial system really in the process of collapsing? (Most likely.) Will the newly crafted rescue plan actually work? (Nobody knows for sure, but probably not.) Is there a better way to go about this than holding the taxpayers hostage? (Anybody's guess, really, but not happening anyway.) Is this economic "emergency" really a financial 9/11 in disguise, as some have intimated--a version of the new "disaster capitalism" (Naomi Klein)--being cynically used in a timely manner by the administration to help John McCain regain his footing in the election? (Democrats think so.)

At this point anything seems possible. Surrealism, as Annie Dillard points out, "wrenches objects from their ordinary mental settings until at last (it hopes) it unhinges the mind itself." This was, without a doubt, one of the most surreal, unhinging, mind-fuck weeks in U.S. history. And by the end of it, most Americans no longer knew which they feared most: systemic economic collapse or deceitful manipulation of their minds and their money by their government. Brother, can you spare a trillion? One thing is clear, however: there IS a lot of fear--and rage--out there.

Enter world-class spook, John McCain, "suspending" his campaign, getting everybody all riled up, poking his prick into everything, ordering Barack Obama to man the decks like he was boss of the world, postponing their debate--and now, waiting eagerly in the wings to claim "victory" for his part in whatever legislation finally gets passed. "Victory" and John McCain are inseparably wedded. God help us.

First McCain said he'd fire Christopher Cox as Chairman of the Securies and Exchange Commision for mismanagement and greed. Then the Wall Street Journal editorial board struck back, defending Cox and pointing out it was unpresidential behavior and illegal besides. The president would not have that right.

Then Gail Collins wrote a great parody of all these shenanigans in the New York Times:

"One thing we now know for sure. Electing John McCain would be God’s gift to the profession of journalism. A story a minute.

Imagine what would happen if a new beetle infested the Iowa corn crop during the first year of a McCain administration. On Monday, we spray. On Tuesday, we firebomb. On Wednesday, the president marches barefoot through the prairie in a show of support for Iowa farmers. On Thursday, the White House reveals that Wiley Flum, a postal worker from Willimantic, Conn., has been named the new beetle eradication czar. McCain says that Flum had shown “the instincts of a maverick reformer” in personally buying a box of roach motels and scattering them around the post office locker room. “I can’t wait to introduce Wiley to those beetles in Iowa,” the president adds.

On Friday, McCain announces he’s canceling the weekend until Congress makes the beetles go away."

Frank Rich, today, writes in the same newspaper:

"What we learned last week is that the man who always puts his “country first” will take the country down with him if that’s what it takes to get to the White House...When John McCain gratuitously parachuted into Washington on Thursday, he didn’t care if his grandstanding might precipitate an even deeper economic collapse."

In the middle of all this financial freak-out, cryptographic artist Damien Hirst sold 223 works for over $200 million at a Sotheby's auction. Talk about surreal! This even has to beat Franz Kafka turning a character into a cockroach.

They say it's not over 'til the fat lady sings. Up next this coming week on "American Idol" is Sarah Palin. "Andy Warhol," Patricia Williams writes in The Nation, "would have loved Sarah Palin. She really is the ultimate soup can. For anyone who never quite understood the point of an art form in which the iconicity of a mass-produced object becomes an end above and beyond its contents--well, welcome to the fame factory...What Warhol did with Mao Zedong and Marilyn Monroe is precisely what the Republican Party has done with Sarah Palin." She then likens listening to Sarah speak to the absurdity of being addressed by, say, the Maalox Max bottle, or Mr. Clean, or Mrs. Butterworth. Or, worse yet, Karl Rove in designer glasses and a skirt.

We can only hope that in the case of Sarah Palin, Warhol (were he still around) would get it right: fifteen minutes in a controlled context, and the fame problem will take care of itself. Stay tuned.

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