Now is the Winter of our Discontent

And oh, look! It’s started to snow!

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson
November 12th 2011

Matt Tiabbi hit it out of the park with a piece this week entitled “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests” (available at the Rolling Stone magazine site here:
Tiabbi summed up the motivation behind the Occupy protests succinctly: “People don’t know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values.”
Tiabbi wrote, “There’s no better symbol of the gloom and psychological repression of modern America than the banking system, a huge heartless machine that attaches itself to you at an early age, and from which there is no escape. You fail to receive a few past-due notices about a $19 payment you missed on that TV you bought at Circuit City, and next thing you know a collector has filed a judgment against you for $3,000 in fees and interest. Or maybe you wake up one morning and your car is gone, legally repossessed by Vulture Inc., the debt-buying firm that bought your loan on the Internet from Chase for two cents on the dollar. This is why people hate Wall Street. They hate it because the banks have made life for ordinary people a vicious tightrope act; you slip anywhere along the way, it’s 10,000 feet down into a vat of razor blades that you can never climb out of.”
He addressed the issue of how the police have come to represent, not law and order, but a mandated sense of conformity and sameness, not for social order, but for simple control. He noted that hundreds of peaceful demonstrators were arrested for every Wall Street banker.
Tiabbi wrote, “This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become.”
This isn’t exactly an earth shaking development. One can find dozens of quotes from Greeks of 3,000 years past bemoaning the crass materialism of society. Any society that can afford luxuries develops a problem with materialism. That’s just human nature.
But, partly because of the nature of mass media, what we’re seeing now is different. The way in which is was different coalesced for me back a bit over 11 years ago, when I was watching the so-called “Millennium Celebrations” on TV. A couple of days later, I wrote;
“Ninety minutes later, [commercial television] coverage hit the east coast and went rapidly downhill. American celebrations, with the exception of Washington, were garish, over-commercialized light-and-noise shows. The role of humans was purely secondary, there in the role of enthusiastic crowd noise.
“No graceful dances, no choirs of children, no humble old men lighting peace candles in former jail cells. No pride in costuming, or wonderful compositions from earlier in time. Just an inchoate roar, funded by the garish commercial signs that lit the faces of Americans the way that joy and pride lit the faces of people in the rest of the world….It was a sobering and saddening reflection on what we have become…We have become bystanders in a corporate culture. We need to stop doing that.”
Of course, we haven’t. Instead, it’s just gotten worse. Television journalism became a sad parody of itself, beginning with the 2000 election. It had been deficient before. Now it is just a travesty. As time went by, and Faux News sprung up and other cable stations abandoned journalistic principles to jump on the money-making bandwagon, America’s free press was, for most Americans, just the voice of the corporate structure.
For most of the corporate media, it wasn’t even conspiratoral. Faux may have been established for the purpose of propagandizing, but CNN and ABC were not, and the main impetus there wasn’t control of American minds politically as it was market share and control of American eyes. CNN started copying Faux News because Faux News was making a profit.
Most corporations are not particularly evil. Certainly, some are, and I’m sure I’ll see all of the ones I consider evil mentioned in responses I get to this piece. With most, it’s simply that their own interests don’t coincide with those of the American people; and they wield power far beyond what they properly should, and so when interests conflict, Americans get the short end of the stick.
Any Canadian understands this. Americans aren’t evil, and few of them have malign designs on Canada. But Canadians describe the relationship as “sleeping next to an elephant”. The elephant provides warmth and security. But he may also roll over in his sleep…
Americans are in the same position with corporations that Canadians have been with America. Made uneasy by American influence on culture, politics, government policies and daily life, Canadians were reserved and leery, and rebelled against the persistence of American culture, in an understated way. (These days, Canada has the same problem with corporations America does, and mostly American corporations at that. When a restaurant that has stood in the same spot for 200 years closes because of the proliferation of American fast-food chain restaurants in the neighborhood, there is ample cause to worry about the effect of major corporations on the culture.)
Americans are uneasy because they feel they no longer control their own culture.
They have the same fears about government. Yesterday, I posted a quote from that piece of shit Senator John Cornyn about how civil rights “cost too much” Every day right wing Luddites assure us that solar and wind power will never work, even going so far as to ask if we know the sun goes out at night. They blindly oppose automobile regulations that would mandate the same CAFE standards that they have in Japan, Europe, and Canada. As a result, they build cars to spec in those countries, and build shit for Americans because shit is what Americans have been led to believe is what they deserve. The fact that Cornyn wasn’t ridden out of town on a rail for saying such a thing is evidence of that.
The police, once seen as friends and protectors of neighborhoods, are now inhuman domestic soldiers, gasmasked and shielded and armored, and clearly ready to fire on American civilians the moment the order is given. The government insists it has the right to surveil private conversations without warrants based, not on content, but key words. Just saying “Obama is the bomb!” could get attentive feds reading your twitters and checking your voicemail.
Between the captive media and the captive politicians, the message to Americans is, “You don’t deserve any better.” That’s what informs Senators who think civil rights cost too much, and that’s what informs right wing bloviators who call for the police to just gas and arrest all the Occupy protesters.
The full message is, “We’re doing it for you. You don’t deserve it, but we’re doing it for you.”
Americans are uneasy because they feel they no longer control their own government.
Like everyone, I’ve been following the ghastly child molestation case at Penn State that burst into the public eye when Jerry Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts of child sex abuse. There is little doubt that the molestations did occur, and there is little doubt that not only did authority figures at Penn State know of at least some of them, but were involved in covering them up. Not least of which was coaching legend Joe Paterno (what an ironic name, when you think of it!).
Bad as it was, it got worse when following Paterno’s firing, a large demonstration protesting the firing formed. There was violence and disorder.
Now, I seriously doubt that any of the protesters were thinking, “So what if a bunch of children got buggered? He brought us a winning football team!” I hope nobody there was consciously thinking that.
Many simply disbelieved the charges, or that Paterno could have had any role in such a situation. And certainly the man is entitled to a fair trial. But guilt notwithstanding, the university saw that he was putting the university in an extremely negative light. I suspect they’ve read the grand jury report, which flat-out states that the testimony given by Paterno and others simply isn’t credible. They weighed that against the risk of future lawsuits, and made their decision.
But there were a lot of demonstrators, who were very angry. They were angry because Paterno was a hero, nay, a god to them. They all but worshipped him. How could the media pull down such an important media icon?
And that’s all Paterno was. A media icon. What he did was of no benefit to anyone, except to bring money to major networks and the university. When the final history of America is written, nobody is going to give a shit how many times the Penn State football team went to the Preparation H College Bowl. It won’t matter then because it doesn’t matter now.
But Paterno is a media-created hero, like Lady Gaga or Charlie Sheen. People have been trained to idolize him for doing very well something of no particular use to society in general.
We saw it during the Nixon Watergate scandal, and while we understood the presidents’ supporters at the time, we were astonished at those who still supported him after his guilt was made manifest and he resigned in disgrace. What the Penn State staff did was far more vile, far more black-and-white, then Watergate was in its complexities and shades of gray. How could people riot for THAT?
Americans are uneasy because they feel they no longer control their own values.
That unease has coalesced, and that is what is driving the Occupy Movement, and more importantly, the public support for the movement. It isn’t just thieving bankers and morally bankrupt corporations; that’s distant and remote. It’s how alienated Americans have become from all the things they believed their country, their culture, their government and their values to be.
It isn’t going to go away, either. We have entered the winter of our discontent. And it’s beginning to snow.

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