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Escape from the Zombie Food Court
April 23, 2009 8:36 AM   Subscribe

The American Hologram We suffer under a mass national hallucination. Americans, regardless of income or social position, now live in a culture entirely perceived inside a self-referential media hologram of a nation and world that does not exist. Our national reality is staged and held together by media, chiefly movie and television images. We live in a “theater state.”
posted by idixon (207 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
I stopped reading the news a long time ago. Prefer the BBC to American news sources.
posted by kldickson at 8:41 AM on April 23, 2009


Meet the New Rome, same as the Old Rome.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:46 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yup.
posted by Xoebe at 8:48 AM on April 23, 2009


Coming back stateside after a trip of any length south of the border is always a rude shock to the system. I don't think it's quite as bad as all that, though.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:49 AM on April 23, 2009


"Movie and television images?"

Ha ha. Wait til he hears about Twitter. It'll take his semi-coherent, sophomoric, cliched ramblings to a whole new level.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:50 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Didn't Neal Postman say this, like, thirty years ago? And it's not like he was the one that invented it.
posted by box at 8:52 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


A bit strident, but a nifty ramble, thanks idixon.

During the years of discussion and giggles about "Bush's Bubble", I always thought it odd that nobody drew the obvious parallel: Anyone who lives in the USA lives in a surreal bubble of 3D animated, fighter-jet flyover exceptionalism, where our own image of ourselves and our nation is distorted all to hell... but who ever steps outside to notice?

This is why so many Americans honestly can't grasp the notion that they might not always be "the good guys" in the latest overseas resource war.

Bless his heart, Bush was just the ultimate American.
posted by rokusan at 8:54 AM on April 23, 2009 [10 favorites]


Curious lack of citations... seems like a tinfoil milliner to me.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 8:55 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just heard Joe Bageant on a podcast interview the other day, the C -Realm it was. Funny guy. Smart.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:55 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Didn't Neal Postman say this

And Marshall McLuhan?
posted by Miko at 8:56 AM on April 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


And Guy Debord?

This is fun.
posted by box at 8:59 AM on April 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


Doesn't matter how many people have said it before. The message obviously isn't getting through.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:00 AM on April 23, 2009 [19 favorites]


And Plato?

Boom!

What'd I win?
posted by Kattullus at 9:02 AM on April 23, 2009 [32 favorites]


Metafilter: it is not an exaggeration to say that true democracy is dead and a corporate financial state has now arrived

HEY I can use this one for my Metatalk pout sessions. When we cannot favorite deleted posts, it is not an exaggeration to say that true democracy is dead and a corporate financial state has now arrived!
posted by grobstein at 9:03 AM on April 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


> And Plato?


Eh, shamen have been saying it ever since tribal leaders insisted on discreet codes of ethics passed down orallay.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:04 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


(orally)
posted by Burhanistan at 9:05 AM on April 23, 2009


So this is how democracy dies, with thunderous applause supercensorship.
posted by rokusan at 9:06 AM on April 23, 2009


I'd prefer oral. We've been getting too much anal for the last decade or so.
posted by rokusan at 9:07 AM on April 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


O RLY?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:08 AM on April 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


On the one hand, I think this is a big infomercial for the guy's book; on the other, I think it might have worked on me. I don't even know where to start unpeeling this onion of irony.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:08 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Coming back stateside after a trip of any length south of the border is always a rude shock to the system.

Mexico? That's not foreign enough, since half the country is already owned by US corporations and the other half is desperately lobbying to be. It saddens me whenever I'm there, watching another Starbucks being built next to another McDonalds in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Me and the guy with the taco cart can exchange all the sad sighs we want, but it's not slowing down.
posted by rokusan at 9:09 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also meet a new breed of younger people, who get it completely. I meet them in the more advanced psychological venues such as Adler. And especially in the ecological movement.

There are tons more. Perhaps you should try to talk to some of them instead of lamenting your perceived loss.
posted by setanor at 9:11 AM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Doesn't matter how many people have said it before. The message obviously isn't getting through.

Perhaps, then, that reflects more on the message than the audience?
posted by setanor at 9:12 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


It saddens me whenever I'm there, watching another Starbucks being built next to another McDonalds in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Your doing it wrong.
posted by Sailormom at 9:13 AM on April 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


As we said, consuming images, goods or buying your identity at Old Navy or a retro clothing shop takes no real effort or thought. Just money. Text messaging your whereabouts at the mall may be a technological wonder, but you're still absolutely nowhere if you are just one more oral grooved organism in the food court at the mall moving in a swarm toward Quiznos.

I find these kinds of statements to be condescending and simplistic. Yes, improvements in technology have eliminated many of the barriers between communities that allowed for more varied individual cultures to develop. The result is a more homogeneous global culture.

But looking at people who watch TV or buy mass-produced goods as zombies or sheep is offensive. It's only through the dehumanizing lens of an outside observer that this kind of view makes sense, if you actually stop and talk to any individual you'll find that even the most stereotypical American consumers are as unique and differentiated as any other social group.

This is why so many Americans honestly can't grasp the notion that they might not always be "the good guys" in the latest overseas resource war.

A nationalistic sentiment toward war is neither uniquely American nor ubiquitous in American culture. Most people see themselves or the group they belong to as good, regardless of who they are or what kinds of things they do.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:15 AM on April 23, 2009 [51 favorites]


The message is right.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 9:16 AM on April 23, 2009


You are what you eat. I take offense to the idea that it is a national phenomena or even a phenomena of the majority. I'm not in small town West Virginia but I know plenty of people that do live in small towns and they don't exactly fit the Bageantian mold. Sure, people can live an insulated life in any country, America is hardly an exception. Even a foreigner living abroad, whether they be American, Brit, German, or Chinese typically lives in a bubble of their own cultural stew.
posted by JJ86 at 9:17 AM on April 23, 2009


we are unique

we do, as americans, have a choice

we aren't going to help the poor of the world by romanticizing them

you do not have to escape this country to find reality
posted by pyramid termite at 9:20 AM on April 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


The message is right.

Oh!
posted by setanor at 9:20 AM on April 23, 2009


And Chomsky?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:21 AM on April 23, 2009


A nationalistic sentiment toward war is neither uniquely American nor ubiquitous in American culture.

No, you've got it pretty bad though.
posted by Artw at 9:28 AM on April 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


I found this the most thought provoking article linked from mefi in a long time, and was grateful for the posting. I'm surprised at the level of snark, dismissiveness, and hostility in most of the comments.

You guys always surprise me, sometimes pleasantly, sometimes not.
posted by edheil at 9:28 AM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


burnmp3s: blessed sanity. we need more of it. favorited.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:28 AM on April 23, 2009


Wake up, sheeple! Hey, did you know that I know some people who know Lynndie England? Well, did I tell you today?

Look, OK, there are worse people to read than Joe Bageant, and of course Molly Ivins is still dead, so we make do with who we have. But sometimes Bageant (previously, BTW) doesn't seem to realize that college kids still do things like volunteer for the Peace Corps and work for NGOs in refugee camps and things like that. This might be why Deer Hunting With Jesus, which I really wanted to like a lot more than I actually did, got tiresome well before the end, even though it's not a very long book.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:31 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


> I'm surprised at the level of snark, dismissiveness, and hostility in most of the comments.

I'd say that most of us are already aware that nationalistic sentiments are largely based on manufactured illusion. When someone comes along and writes an article like this using language to suggest that he's the first person ever to come to such a realization then this is going to inevitably elicit snark from the post-jaded crowd.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:32 AM on April 23, 2009 [11 favorites]


I found this the most thought provoking article linked from mefi in a long time, and was grateful for the posting. I'm surprised at the level of snark, dismissiveness, and hostility in most of the comments.

Ah, that's because they're yanks.

USA! USA! USA! We don't live in a bubble of media-generated garbage and in general lack the cynicism and critical skills and we hate it if you imply we do! USA!

I swear this has actually gotten worse since Obama.
posted by Artw at 9:32 AM on April 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


From the article:

The purpose of life is to know [the interconnected human experience].

Purpose? I'd say a human life has no one purpose. It is what you make of it.

Capitalism and the consumerism supported by it provide the productivity to give us access to that 35% of the world's resources. Third World Man -- the O.G. Homo Economicus -- has obtained the capital of a weighted net and a basket and if he is lucky can fill his basket by the end of the day, while First World Man has a credit line to pay a team of hired laborers, a boat paid for with borrowed money, filled with 2000 gallons of diesel fuel, communication to a constellation of orbiting satellites to navigate, and the ability to quickly and efficiently strip the sea of as much fish as his boat can carry.

But Capital is a value-neutral multiplier. An x-ray machine multiplies a doctor's ability to heal, and an M-16 or AK-47 multiplies a militiaman's ability to terrorize.

I am a left-libertarian, by which position I hear the essay's implicit criticism of self-satisfied and ignorant Consumerism, and do not believe the present Economics is the best of all possible worlds, yet I also understand that human nature gravitates towards possession and enjoyment of wealth, said wealth in large part being consumer goods that satisfy human wants and needs.

But the left side of me sees that unregulated Capitalism is by its very nature volatile, short-sighted, and horrendously destructive. One have to be a free-market ideologeer lunatic to propose relying on the free market to preserve the existence of the our quickly-diminishing tuna fish stock.

With the recent teabagger affair I recently read somewhere, perhaps here, someone recently bring up the interesting and important observation that the US of A's foundation was facilitated by cold capitalism, and that the first successful colonists brought over by these capitalist were the religious nutballs we call the Pilgrims.

Capitalism and religiousity -- believing our own BS -- is in our cultural DNA.
posted by mrt at 9:32 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised at the level of snark, dismissiveness, and hostility in most of the comments.

I take issue with the persistent thought that I am missing important elements of my humanity or am a sheep in a food court or just so dense simply because I accept and appreciate certain cultural changes I feel blessed to have been a part of.

The sort of reactionary rhetoric as in the linked article exists in as much of a bubble as anything else.
posted by setanor at 9:33 AM on April 23, 2009 [11 favorites]


I was so gratified that his ultimate purpose with this piece was to share that selfless service to others is that pathway out of the trap.

That's the real Secret, Rhonda Byrne. Thanks for the post.
posted by Roach at 9:34 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah, that's because they're yanks.

Yeah, I hear that a lot, too. That's just because you're a whatever the hell you are.
posted by setanor at 9:35 AM on April 23, 2009 [10 favorites]


Interesting piece of work. Coming from a country that also suffers from distorted self-perception, although just in the opposite direction (jepp, Germany), it was very interesting to live in the States for the last 9 months.
I don't really think what Brageant describes is a 100% exclusively US thing, but I have never seen it as extreme as over here. This habit of "proudly living in a bubble" is sometimes very disturbing, even if most Americans I know are quite ironic about it (but i should add that i live in a east-coast college town...)
posted by SAnderka at 9:37 AM on April 23, 2009


Why prefer these expensive earth destroying things over love and laughter with real people, and making real human music together with other human beings -- lifting our voices together, dancing and enjoying the world that was given to us? Absolutely for free.

People can be creepy and insufferable. Please pass the Diet Coke and remote control. I have to charge my iPod.
posted by anniecat at 9:39 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why prefer these expensive earth destroying things over love and laughter with real people, and making real human music together with other human beings -- lifting our voices together, dancing and enjoying the world that was given to us? Absolutely for free.

I like to dance to music made by people using electronic devices. Where should I be banished to?
posted by setanor at 9:41 AM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


USA! USA! USA! We don't live in a bubble of media-generated garbage and in general lack the cynicism and critical skills and we hate it if you imply we do! USA!

I swear this has actually gotten worse since Obama.


Well, the arguments like those in the FPP have gotten stupider. For example, he can cite the "Obama kiddie porn ring" slander as an example of the BUBBLE OF ILLUSION that Americans live in, but some of us are reality-based enough to remember that Obama was able to win the votes of the majority of Americans. Bu, but, weren't they in the bubble?
posted by grobstein at 9:41 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Arguably, any well-stocked old age home or daycare is a zombie food court.

I'm wondering what a good alternative to a conventionally mediated understanding of the world would be. First-hand experience with the world would be essential but it's expensive. It's never going to be an option for the majority of people, even those who can afford computers, network connections, and cable television. A stint in the military will work for some people, but it's not without risks and it's even more expensive than a solo jaunt, albeit underwritten by others.

What would happen if a significant percentage of American citizens began traveling abroad regularly? The results would be interesting but I'm not sure that's the same thing as good; popular destinations would have to reshape themselves to accommodate millions of Americans passing through.
posted by ardgedee at 9:43 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


A nationalistic sentiment toward war is neither uniquely American nor ubiquitous in American culture.

No, you've got it pretty bad though.


For the record I'm a pacifist and I have never been in favor of any war or violent military action.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:44 AM on April 23, 2009


Yeah, I hear that a lot, too. That's just because you're a whatever the hell you are.

Okay, please stop being my national representative right now.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:45 AM on April 23, 2009


OK, a little more explanation.

I guess a lot of people read the article as "Americans are mall-zombie sheeple! They suck!" and with some justification. I'd take exception to that too, and snarking on that aspect of the article is pretty darn reasonable.

But I read the article as more like "there's a lot more good stuff in life than the consumer/media culture is ready to admit, and it's available to anyone who's willing to look for it, and a lot of people that we are conditioned to think of as benighted wretches already have it."

The idea that we need to *learn* from the world's poor at *least* as much as we need to educate the world's poor seems provocative and valuable to me.
posted by edheil at 9:45 AM on April 23, 2009 [11 favorites]


Mexico? That's not foreign enough, since half the country is already owned by US corporations and the other half is desperately lobbying to be. It saddens me whenever I'm there, watching another Starbucks being built next to another McDonalds in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Also, going to Mexico can be a rude shock to the system. I've been going semi-regularly since about '83, which was well before the country discovered the screen door, the toilet seat or the liquor law. *sigh* Not at all happy about the Mal-Wartization, either.

Coming back this way, I think the biggest shock was in '05, when I flew from Monterrey to San Antonio, directly over Laredo/Nuevo Laredo at night. You could tell where the Rio Grande was by the divide between the reasonable amount of street lights and the blaring, blinding glare of the US side.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:47 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


edheil, my experience with mefi, and any other website community of critical mass, is that this
mefi in a long time
contradicts
I'm surprised at the level of snark, dismissiveness, and hostility in most of the comments.

i, for one, thank my metafilter overlords for letting me create a filthy mess of snark, in-jokes, and obscure material at their party and dutifully clean up and invite us all back. i suppose the admission fees and adsense makes it all easier to do, but still.

oh, and my opinion of the original link? mehtifilter. i used to write stuff like that when i was 13.
posted by the aloha at 9:47 AM on April 23, 2009


So instead of a daily life in the flesh, belly to belly and soul to soul, lived out in the streets, and parks and public places, in love and the workplace, we get 40-inch televisions, YouTube, Cineplexes, and the myths spun out by Hollywood.

And all these kids on our lawns. Good thing Joe Bageant is here to lead us to the good old days!
posted by TypographicalError at 9:49 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


No matter how smart we may think we are, the larger world cannot and does not exist for most of us in this room, except through media and maybe through the shallow experience of tourism, or in the minority instance, we may know of it through higher education.

Yes, because the world I experience is less real for my watching TV. The sweat that I produce when I'm toiling is more fake than that of people who don't have higher educations? What the fuck does that even mean? There are certainly differences in perspective between industrialized areas and more impoverished ones, but that doesn't in any way invalidate the experiences of one over the other.

Just because some kid in a village can fish with his hands better than I doesn't make him better than me, any more than my ability to swing a brush hook makes me "more real" than a Manhattan-ite who has never had to battle with an encroaching tree line.
posted by quin at 9:49 AM on April 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


So instead of a daily life in the flesh, belly to belly and soul to soul, lived out in the streets, and parks and public places, in love and the workplace, we get 40-inch televisions, YouTube, Cineplexes, and the myths spun out by Hollywood.

Wait, streets? Parks? Those were birthed with the Earth perfectly formed, only for us to enjoy them? Created for joyous dancing and revelry?
posted by setanor at 9:50 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Okay, please stop being my national representative right now.

It's an (obfuscated) analogy. Rest easy. Breathe deep.
posted by setanor at 9:52 AM on April 23, 2009


The thing is, I wanted to like this. I agree with a lot of his basic premises. But the tone is so histrionic and his judgment is overly simplistic and harsh, so by the end, I wanted to drive to the mall in an SUV and eat a Quiznos sandwich while listening to Britney Spears on an iPod and wearing Gap clothes.
posted by millipede at 9:53 AM on April 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's an (obfuscated) analogy. Rest easy. Breathe deep.

An analogy to like...what?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:55 AM on April 23, 2009


Also, the dude is twisting things:

Entering the country shoeless through airport homeland security, holding up my pants because they don't let old men wear suspenders through security, well, I knew I was back home in the land of the free.


Granted, I'm not the high flyingest jet setter around, but I've gone through a few passports in my short adult life. And as recently as February I've never seen US security make people go through the same steps simply to come in the country as they do (as most developed nations do) when passengers go through security to go inside the airport terminal to board. It doesn't work that way. They may give you guff about your luggage and what's inside, but there are no security checkpoints getting off like there are getting on.

It's a minor point, but just goes to show that he's either working off of a shoddy memory or just likes to twist things to make it seem more dramatic. So, he's also living in a hologram of his own delusion, like everyone is. Unless we're on the level of true zen masters or something, we all live in a manufactured reality that references our own selves as the hero in the narrative--a kind of microcosm of the macrocosm he's trying to illustrate.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:56 AM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


An analogy to like...what?

Ok, he said "You (as my cultural stereotype dictates) think X, but that's because you're yanks."

So I sez to him, I sez "You think X (about Yanks), but that's because you're a (whatever, because I don't really know where he comes from but wherever it is that fostered the specific stereotype)"
posted by setanor at 9:57 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


They seem to already know what it took me a lifetime to learn: that each of us is but one strand in the vast organic web of flesh and blood chlorophyll. All things and all beings are inextricably connected at the most profound level. Any physicist will confirm this.

Does any physicist want to confirm this?
posted by TypographicalError at 9:57 AM on April 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


For years I have wanted to see the opposite take place. To see well fed, educated Americans learn from the poor of the earth. Do what Gandhi advised, let the poor be the teachers. Go among them with nothing, one set of clothing and no money, keep your mouth shut, and do your best not to affect anything (which is impossible, I know. But you can come, as they say, "close enough for government work.")


Then just let the world happen to you, like they do in the so-called "passive societies," instead of trying to happen to it in typical Western fashion. Not trying to "improve" things. Maybe practice milpa agriculture with Mayans on the Guatemalan border, watching corn grow for three months. Fish in a lonely dugout, sun-up to sun-down, in the dying reefs of the Caribbean, with only a meal or two of fish as your reward. Do such things for a month or two.


Hair shirts for everyone!

Really. The solution to world poverty, hunger, globalization is simple exposure to how the other half lives. As pyramid termite said, you don't have to go very far to see this. Down the street, on the corner, at a homeless shelter, it's already there. And he has more faith in humanity than myself if he thinks simple exposure will cause a mass cultural transformation.

I'd assume that most people will take a good long look into the abyss, and run right back to their starbucks and SUVs. Why? Because we're selfish bastards.

Sure we can say that:

They seem to already know what it took me a lifetime to learn: that each of us is but one strand in the vast organic web of flesh and blood chlorophyll. All things and all beings are inextricably connected at the most profound level. Any physicist will confirm this. We are bound by its every wave and particle, all of us -- the lonely night clerk at Motel 6 and the leviathans of the deep, the sleeping grandmother in New Haven, Connecticut and the maimed Iraqi child in Kirkuk. It can be understood by anyone though, simply by owning one's own consciousness. And in doing so we find that ownership and domination are both temporary and meaningless. And that the animating spirit of the earth is real and within us and claimable.

Going beyond the "What the @#$@ do we know" science psychobabble, this is just a plea to the unknowable, and cold comfort when knowledge of mortality and man's insignificance presses. This is his answer to the above? And what the hell is the "animating spirit of the earth"?

I'd say a greater number of people don't live in a Hologram created by a corporate state. They just don't have the mindfulness to live like a Buddhist monk, and so just ignore the screams of the world, just as they ignore the bum begging on the corner. And any exposure to how the rest of the world works would be a temporary fix at best.

To close, I'm terribly tired of people using the current state of the world to champion the tearing down the status quo, throwing any babies that might in there, without even a glimpse at what they would replace it with, and how they plan to get there.

You don't want snark, provide solutions.
posted by zabuni at 10:02 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


So I sez to him, I sez "You think X (about Yanks), but that's because you're a (whatever, because I don't really know where he comes from but wherever it is that fostered the specific stereotype)"

Okay. But the stereotype of Americans is that we're douchebags who think less of everyone who isn't also an American, and so by disparaging someone else's nationality, you've in effect just played into a stereotype of Americans while failing to slam your opponent at all, and actually made his point for him. So I dunno, maybe don't try to be so clever? Because it clearly is not working out for you.

(Unless this was some multi-layered sarcasm thing wherein you're attempting to debunk the American stereotype by acknowledging it in a daring act of rhetorical judo)

(...I kinda doubt that, though)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:03 AM on April 23, 2009


edheil: "I'm surprised at the level of snark, dismissiveness, and hostility in most of the comments."

I found the link unreadable - and I like Bageant. I'm going to blame it on the commencement-address format - which tends to bring out the worst in people.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:07 AM on April 23, 2009


I swear this has actually gotten worse since Obama.

Well, the arguments like those in the FPP have gotten stupider. For example, he can cite the "Obama kiddie porn ring" slander as an example of the BUBBLE OF ILLUSION that Americans live in, but some of us are reality-based enough to remember that Obama was able to win the votes of the majority of Americans. Bu, but, weren't they in the bubble?


TBH I wasn't so much thinking of the republicasn loonies and the wingnuts, whose weird insularity is a given, as to all the left-leaning types who were questioning Americas role in the world a little during the Bush years and and have now retreated solidly into "Out president is Jesus, we have fixed racism forever, let us tell the world what to do" territory.
posted by Artw at 10:08 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think this piece was important and doesn't require the amount of snark its getting. Sure, its short on solutions and isn't addressed to us, the "post-jaded," but on its merits it is excellent. I agree about the commencement speech format not doing it any favors. Also, it is collected from three different speeches, who knows how it was spliced together.

I don't think that the media bubble is quite as powerful as he believes it to be. I think that if a coherent enough counter-narrative is presented, the sheep or zombies in the food court will be able to process it. Because they are neither animals nor the undead, they are humans.

Now, the guilt associated with running the environment into the ground, funding Grapes of Wrath style agricultural-worker slavery and sweatshops, and of killing innocents in Iraq just because Der Leader said Iraq was dangerous, that's where the resistance will be.

But more than us "post jaded" folks know that the really important things can't be bought. Time spent with your family and friends. A lot of people know that. Some folks really try for fulfillment by watching TV or playing video games (alone) but somewhere inside they feel lonely. The fifties housewife knew she was lonely with the kids in school and the husband in the office no matter how often she watched a perfect woman in pearls vacuum a perfect house on the television. I think that they parrot the pundits because its easy, not always because they are in perfect agreement. That's human nature.

The real problem will be convincing people that they're not getting the whole story from their information sources. And that the information they're getting is not always in their interest.

The important part is the counter narrative. Some of that is going to come from the Transition movement. We really do need to remind people that music can come from you and your friends, not just from your iPod. We need to remind people that growing vegetables in your front yard is more satisfying (and tasty!) than buying them at the store (shipped "fresh" from South America) and mowing a god-damn lawn. I think these media illusions are fundamentally weak, and they are only able to exist only because oil is still cheap.
posted by wires at 10:09 AM on April 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


And, you know, there's several million of you lot, so you'll forgive me if I use generalities.
posted by Artw at 10:09 AM on April 23, 2009


all the left-leaning types who were questioning Americas role in the world a little during the Bush years and and have now retreated solidly into "Out president is Jesus, we have fixed racism forever, let us tell the world what to do" territory.

The people who did the first thing are still mostly distinct from the people who are doing the second thing.
posted by setanor at 10:10 AM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


My wife is a physicist and, while she is currently not available, I can confirm that she would roll her eyes most emphatically.

Of course, she's not an American, so she's not programmed to assume that physics confirms mystical bullshit.
posted by Michael Roberts at 10:11 AM on April 23, 2009


The people who did the first thing are still mostly distinct from the people who are doing the second thing.

You'd think so, but that has not been entirely my experience.
posted by Artw at 10:12 AM on April 23, 2009


Argh, sorry, my comment above was in reference to Typographical Error above (this thread is moving faster than I thought).
posted by Michael Roberts at 10:12 AM on April 23, 2009


Some of that is going to come from the Transition movement. We really do need to remind people that music can come from you and your friends, not just from your iPod. We need to remind people that growing vegetables in your front yard is more satisfying (and tasty!) than buying them at the store (shipped "fresh" from South America) and mowing a god-damn lawn. I think these media illusions are fundamentally weak, and they are only able to exist only because oil is still cheap.

So, you're recommending a different media bubble (different medium, but still) that is... in our best interest? Don't like those things, like these other ones!
posted by setanor at 10:13 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


The idea that we need to *learn* from the world's poor at *least* as much as we need to educate the world's poor seems provocative and valuable to me.

His talk about "my village" where "real people" live in a "non-conditioned reality," and "sing and dance on the sand in front of my shack" should tip you off to who is really benefitting from the exchange he's advocating.
posted by otio at 10:15 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks for this. I always enjoy a well-written rant.
posted by empath at 10:19 AM on April 23, 2009


For instance, as university students, you are among the 20% or so of Americans indoctrinated and conditioned to be the administrating and operating class of the American Empire in some form or another. In the business of managing the other 75% in innumerable ways. Psychologists, teachers, lawyers, social workers, doctors, accountants, sociologists, mental health workers, clergy -- all are in the business of coordinating and managing the greater mass of working class citizenry by the Empire's approved methods, and toward the same end: Maximum profitability for a corporate based state.

Bageant will never become mainstream because he tells the raw truth in paragraphs like that one. We'd rather listen to the village idiot blathering on with comforting lies and bullshit.

So be it.
posted by metagnathous at 10:21 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


So instead of a daily life in the flesh, belly to belly and soul to soul, lived out in the streets, and parks and public places, in love and the workplace, we get 40-inch televisions, YouTube, Cineplexes, and the myths spun out by Hollywood.

Yeah, I will meditate on this at tonight's little league game. In between innings, of course.

Remember -- all generalizations are wrong!
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:24 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


20%?

I wish it was closer to 100%.

Imagine what would happen if at least a majority of the country was educated.
posted by kldickson at 10:26 AM on April 23, 2009


Didn't Neal Postman say this

And Marshall McLuhan?


And Dougen Zenji?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:26 AM on April 23, 2009


Often people who leave relatively rich countries to live in relatively poor countries, and then think they've somehow gone native and off the grid, have really only stumbled upon their own reflections. It amounts to a kind of hippie colonialism, and the exoticism of what lured them there turns out to be a mirage; the people they meet in their new surroundings are not "slumming" it, and a lot of them have the same dreaded middle class aspirations that the interloper sought to leave behind. I'm not discouraging people from going to these places, but I am saying that the simplicity people sometimes seek there is its own kind of presumptive and patronizing fetish.
posted by ornate insect at 10:27 AM on April 23, 2009 [25 favorites]


I wonder how many of the poor Central Americans he references would just love to be able to afford SUVs and iPods and food courts. Or just food. Why does anyone want to come to the US if being poor in your own country is more noble? Why is there a crush of immigration? Note: I am not anti-immigration in any way.
posted by desjardins at 10:28 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not just that it was said by Postman, McLuhan, Debord, and Chomsky. It's that it was said better. And it's that this guy writes as if none of them ever existed and he's the very first person to be granted these extraordinarily lucid insights into the American character.

I also find it tendentious when figures like Michael Moore make the case for the particular authenticity and rectitude of their argument via their self-proclaimed and avidly flaunted working-class (or here, "redneck") status -- eg the "aw shucks, imagine a schmuck like me at this gathering of fancy folk" introduction. It's the intellectual equivalent of faux populism.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:28 AM on April 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


PS The cappuccino at European airports is better.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:29 AM on April 23, 2009


Ah, the baby boomers. Having shit upon the generations before, and now the generations after, perhaps they manage a small word of hope as they leave the stage.
posted by fleacircus at 10:30 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


metagnathous: Bageant will never become mainstream because he tells the raw truth in paragraphs like that one. We'd rather listen to the village idiot blathering on with comforting lies and bullshit.

Nope. It's actually because we stop reading after seeing his crap metaphor and generalized statement in the preceding paragraph.

You are as conditioned as any trained chicken in a carnival. So am I. When we go to the ATM machine and punch the buttons to make cash fall out, we are doing the same thing as the chickens that peck the colored buttons make corn drop from the feeder. You will not do a single thing today, tomorrow or the next day that you have not been generally indoctrinated and deeply conditioned to do -- mostly along class lines.
posted by trueluk at 10:30 AM on April 23, 2009


Bageant will never become mainstream because he tells the raw truth in paragraphs like that one. We'd rather listen to the village idiot blathering on with comforting lies and bullshit.

An undergrad psych class? Really? If someone had come in and said this to us we'd have eaten it up. As is, most of us had to wait for Intro to Cultural Anthropology just before lunch break to hear it.

Bageant's problem is that he weaves excellent points on about three different topics together with a thread of selective andecdote and sentimentality. The reality tv audience doesn't want to hear it, but undergrads (even arts students) and Metafilterites tend to like a bit more rigour in their rants.

or on preview, what foxy_hedgehog just said.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:30 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, speaking of Abu Ghraib, I am a friend of Ray Hardy, lawyer to Lynndie England, the leash girl of Abu Ghraib. He has copies of thousands of other, far more grisly Abu Ghraib photos. Believe me, they picked the gentlest ones to release.

Wait, wouldn't this be privileged legal information? Why would some friend of the lawyer get to see these? Smells like BS to me.
posted by desjardins at 10:31 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


metafilter: the post-jaded cro...wait. Why am I still doing this?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:32 AM on April 23, 2009


Nope. It's actually because we stop reading after seeing his crap metaphor and generalized statement in the preceding paragraph.

Exactly. Let's see what this looks like...

You Some people are as conditioned as any trained chicken in a carnival. So am I I am one of them. When we I go to the ATM machine and punch the buttons to make cash fall out, we are I am doing the same thing as the chickens that peck the colored buttons make corn drop from the feeder. You I will not do a single thing today, tomorrow or the next day that you I have not been generally indoctrinated and deeply conditioned to do -- mostly along class lines.
posted by setanor at 10:33 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I should add however, as Bageant does, that the fact that the fact that America has almost no social safety net, and has worse health care than a lot of the so-called third world, is a national disgrace.
posted by ornate insect at 10:34 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


All things and all beings are inextricably connected at the most profound level. Any physicist will confirm this.

Does any physicist want to confirm this?


No worries. This is the sort of befuddlement that happens when any reasonably smart lay-person reads a book about gravity. It's a pretty widespread phenomenon, but it seems harmless, at least in my case. The main side-effect is increased navel gazing.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:35 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Daaamn. Preview ain't what it used to be.

Yes, and lazy generalizations.

Also: psychologists do not prescribe medication; psychiatrists (ie: the ones who go through med school) do. Extremely minor point, but when you're talking to a class full of psychology students, something you probably want to remember.

desjardins -- yeah, that made me wince. Fabrication or betrayed confidence. You decide!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:38 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Me and the guy with the taco cart can exchange all the sad sighs we want, but it's not slowing down.

Cheap energy has allowed it to exist.

What happens when energy stops being cheap? Does the state die and revert, or morph into something else that makes today look like the good old days?
posted by rough ashlar at 10:38 AM on April 23, 2009


They seem to already know what it took me a lifetime to learn: that each of us is but one strand in the vast organic web of flesh and blood chlorophyll. All things and all beings are inextricably connected at the most profound level. Any physicist will confirm this.

Does any physicist want to confirm this?


I'm a physicist, and I do *not* want to confirm this. See, in America, when you complete your Ph.D. in physics, you have to swear an oath to the World Banks not to let the the secret out: Drop-out hippies preaching cobbled-together metaphysics apparently know more quantum mechanics than all the worlds leading researchers put together.
posted by TomStampy at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


I like to dance to music made by people using electronic devices. Where should I be banished to?

Chelsea.
posted by rokusan at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


if you actually stop and talk to any individual you'll find that even the most stereotypical American consumers are as unique and differentiated as any other social group.

1) You are a beautiful and unique snowflake, just like every other 'flake.

2) Plenty of people thought Adolf Hitler was charming and nice, same with Joe Stalin and poles indicated GW Bush was the kind of guy people wanted to have a beer with. (AKA the human condition has many basic grounds of agreement)
posted by rough ashlar at 10:42 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


America: We Taser Naked Wizards at Outdoor Rock Festivals.
posted by ornate insect at 10:44 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


i considered writing a well rendered position on this, but decided the name-dropping game looked like more fun:

and baudrillard!
posted by barrett caulk at 10:45 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Granted, I'm not the high flyingest jet setter around, but... I've never seen US security make people go through the same steps simply to come in the country as they do... when passengers go through security to go inside the airport terminal to board.

It might be more common on departure, but if you're returning to the US from overseas, and flying on a US-based airline, you can go through the "entering the country" shenanigans he describes, which are pretty much the same as those departing from the US on any international flight, yes.

And as someone who's partaken of the services of.... eleven different airlines to and from four other countries this year (so far) I do have to endorse that US security remains the most annoying, dehumanizing, irritating and flat-out stupid. I have to hold back so much snark.

"Oh, will my shampoo hurt the airplane if I don't put it in this magic plastic bag first? Do I have to take my shoes and hat off now, or is this a sane nation?"

I swear my tongue ends up bleeding every time.
posted by rokusan at 10:46 AM on April 23, 2009


When we go to the ATM machine and punch the buttons to make cash fall out, we are doing the same thing as the chickens that peck the colored buttons make corn drop from the feeder.

Yeah, but chickens can't buy iPods with their pellets. And even if they could, they wouldn't be able to hold them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


This rant, warts and all, is worth it even if all I remember from it is "theater state", which is a nice logical extension of airport security theater.

It really has been creeping over everything, in that slow-boiled frog way that we just accept.

Those posters on the subway? The security cameras on the street? The tacit understanding that all your phone calls and e-mails are recorded and scanned?

Go back 20 years and this would all seem like an Orwellian joke. And yet.
posted by rokusan at 10:48 AM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, you're recommending a different media bubble

With the removal of analog TV and *casting one can select their own bubble to exist in that conforms to ones own beliefs.

Or at least beliefs you want to have.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:50 AM on April 23, 2009


Yawn. Banality mixed with wankery (We're conditioned by society!? Really!? Perhaps we'd be better off hunting and gathering in a state of nature!)

And he says 20% of kids are on Ritalin? I find that hard to belive. But I can't find (at least not in 10 or 20 seconds) the number of kids actually on Ritalin, because there's so much hyperbolic nonsense out there. According to this somewhat questionable source the number might have been 4 million at some unspecified point in time after 1990 (looks like maybe 1995). And hey you can read all about the dastardly ritalin-aspertamine chromosome damage!! if you want.
posted by delmoi at 10:51 AM on April 23, 2009


Go back 20 years and this would all seem like an Orwellian joke. And yet.

Ok, I do understand what you're getting at, but...

I swear mass-market dystopian science fiction has destroyed our ability to be reasonable about things like this. When you see a sattelite, do you instantly assume that we're headed towards an Asimov-ian tomorrow of linked planetary systems and a Galactic society?

Lots of things go too far. Some things do not. They are not all representative of a certain destiny.
posted by setanor at 10:51 AM on April 23, 2009


Didn't Neal Postman say this

And Marshall McLuhan?

And Dougen Zenji?


And Joseph Goebbels?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:52 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


With the removal of analog TV and *casting one can select their own bubble to exist in that conforms to ones own beliefs.

Actually, it might be rather novel, but I can do that now.
posted by setanor at 10:52 AM on April 23, 2009


golly, since it's metafilter and all, i guess i could put a little effort into it. for those fans of nearly indecipherable french pomo theory:

and baudrillard!
posted by barrett caulk at 10:53 AM on April 23, 2009


Also: psychologists do not prescribe medication; psychiatrists (ie: the ones who go through med school) do.

Nit-pick: This is true unless you happen to live in New Mexico or Louisiana.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:54 AM on April 23, 2009


It's a neat little essay, but after reading the first paragraph I heaved a tired sigh. It's ironic that a writer whose main point that America is living in hologram doesn't seem capable of zooming in to any finer details of the country in question, or of seeing other broad elements on the surface. To deem one admittedly strong aspect of the American psyche to be the American psyche does a disservice to everyone not buying the consumer culture, to people living informed lives, to those taking the road less traveled. I just thought, "Really? We're going to do this again? Is there nothing new to add?"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:56 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


pretentious gibberish, as though the writer is somehow enlightened and the rest of us not.
posted by Postroad at 10:56 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


You are a beautiful and unique snowflake, just like every other 'flake.

translation - "i am a mediocrity who desperately needs to drag other people down to my level"
posted by pyramid termite at 10:57 AM on April 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


You will not do a single thing today, tomorrow or the next day that you have not been generally indoctrinated and deeply conditioned to do -- mostly along class lines.

Yea - right. The class lines tell me I should go tend to my beehives. Or write a program. Or even post here on Metafilter. (Bonus points - what 'class lines' does posting on the blue satisify?)

vast organic web of flesh and blood chlorophyll. All things and all beings are inextricably connected at the most profound level. Any physicist will confirm this.

Does any physicist want to confirm this?


In the sense that all humans are the result of photons striking the earth and plant chlorophyll being involved - sure. " blood chlorophyll" - what the heck? No one can confirm what does not exist. "profound" - Meh. basic works better but cuts down on scrabble score.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:59 AM on April 23, 2009


It's a neat little essay, but after reading the first paragraph I heaved a tired sigh. . . . I just thought, "Really? We're going to do this again? Is there nothing new to add?"

Which means it's not a neat little essay. We don't need to be nice about it just because some crank posted it on the Internet.
posted by grobstein at 11:01 AM on April 23, 2009


Curious lack of citations... seems like a tinfoil milliner to me.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 10:55 AM on April 23


Then try Thomas Friedman:

"Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. The ugly, low-ceilinged arrival hall was cramped, and using a luggage cart cost $3. (Couldn’t we at least supply foreign visitors with a free luggage cart, like other major airports in the world?) As I looked around at this dingy room, it reminded of somewhere I had been before. Then I remembered: It was the luggage hall in the old Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport. It closed in 1998.

The next day I went to Penn Station, where the escalators down to the tracks are so narrow that they seem to have been designed before suitcases were invented. The disgusting track-side platforms apparently have not been cleaned since World War II. I took the Acela, America’s sorry excuse for a bullet train, from New York to Washington. Along the way, I tried to use my cellphone to conduct an interview and my conversation was interrupted by three dropped calls within one 15-minute span.

All I could think to myself was: If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than us?"
posted by plexi at 11:02 AM on April 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


It might be more common on departure, but if you're returning to the US from overseas, and flying on a US-based airline, you can go through the "entering the country" shenanigans he describes, which are pretty much the same as those departing from the US on any international flight, yes.

Then he is referring to a domestic transfer flight, and not simply the entry process. They are distinct, if minor points. His article is full of little distortions that undercut his credibility in my opinion.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:03 AM on April 23, 2009


pretentious gibberish, as though the writer is somehow enlightened

Well he *IS* a published author.
(from B&N) Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War (Reprint) by Joe Bageant (Paperback) * Sales Rank: 20,594
* Tower.com Sales Rank: #65132 in Books (See Top 100 Books Bestsellers)
* #1539 in Politics & Current Events (See Top 100 Politics & Current Events Bestsellers)
* #432 in General (See Top 100 General Bestsellers)

not bad numbers.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:07 AM on April 23, 2009


popular ≠ enlightened
posted by setanor at 11:10 AM on April 23, 2009


"I like to dance to music made by people using electronic devices. Where should I be banished to?"

Well, I have a cubase-based DAW with a sweet interface and monitors. You could always be banished to my place, but I have to warn you now, I like goa and psy trance, where all the electronic hippies have been hanging out.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:12 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Curious lack of citations... seems like a tinfoil milliner to me.

Today I have to write a paper for a class on Taoism. When asked what style of citation we should use for the paper, the professor cringed. "You should only cite the Tao," he said. "You can spend your entire life talking about what other people have said, or you can have an original thought for a change."
posted by shii at 11:19 AM on April 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


"Oh, will my shampoo hurt the airplane if I don't put it in this magic plastic bag first? Do I have to take my shoes and hat off now, or is this a sane nation?"

The "magic bag" encloses a specified volume, is leakproof, and is easily obtainable by the travelling public before arriving at the airport. It is a good workable solution to the security challenge of allowing liquids on carry-on.

The shoes & hat steps are to reduce the possibility of something sneaking through security.

While I think the overall fears of terrorists taking out aircraft are way disproportionate (if a team of 2 islamicists wanted to kill 200 people they could just work over any given crowded movie theater), I understand they are the creation of Bureaucratic Man free to make the rules as if his job were on the line, which it, of course, is.
posted by mrt at 11:20 AM on April 23, 2009


That was one of the least original rants I've seen in a little while. I'd probably have been very impressed by it back in, say, high school.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:21 AM on April 23, 2009


Well, I have a cubase-based DAW with a sweet interface and monitors. You could always be banished to my place, but I have to warn you now, I like goa and psy trance, where all the electronic hippies have been hanging out.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:12 PM on April 23


Do you have sandwiches? Because I want a sandwich.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:27 AM on April 23, 2009


metagnathous: Bageant will never become mainstream because he tells the raw truth in paragraphs like that one. We'd rather listen to the village idiot blathering on with comforting lies and bullshit.

Nope. It's actually because we stop reading after seeing his crap metaphor and generalized statement in the preceding paragraph.


Blah! Well, whatever. I would respectfully suggest going back into his archives and read some of that. I, too disagree with him on certain things, but I think you can learn a lot by reading such people.

As for crap metaphor and generalized statements - well, if you're on the internet you're probably soaking in it right now.

Best of luck to you (I mean that sincerely.)
posted by metagnathous at 11:29 AM on April 23, 2009


Then try Thomas Friedman

Uh, no thanks. There are plenty of obvious reasons why, say, we don't have bullet trains, newer airports, and uniform cell phone service, that don't devolve to "if we're so smart why aren't we rich?"

Well he *IS* a published author.

You know who else is a published author ...
posted by me & my monkey at 11:30 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


To deem one admittedly strong aspect of the American psyche to be the American psyche does a disservice to everyone not buying the consumer culture, to people living informed lives, to those taking the road less traveled.

His rant fails not just with respect to those who "take the road less travelled," but also to those who understand the culture, and willingly embrace it. By definition, those folks aren't deluded by some "bubble" -- they see the world for what it is, and have no problem with it (or at least view it as their best option). I don't care how many dirty villages or fishing communities you stick most Americans -- even intelligent, conscientious Americans -- in, they will still prefer the convenience and comfort of their own culture. On the other hand, I'd be willing to bet that a good percentage of the enlightened, happy, chlorophyll-connected third worlders would choose these first world comforts over their hard lives if given the opportunity to do so. As several posts have indicated, he's really just saying: "This is how I prefer to live. Anyone who doesn't agree with me is deluded."
posted by pardonyou? at 11:37 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I almost made it til the end, but when he got to the rewards of those who seek enlightment:

...he or she learns that the truth is not relative...

I disagree, violently.
posted by Sova at 11:43 AM on April 23, 2009


People should just stick to Adorno and the other critical theorists instead of trying to update it with new age crap.
posted by clockworkjoe at 11:43 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Isn't this just the Invisible Rucksack repackaged as Plato's cave? Which isn't to disparage it, because it's not, like evolution or universal gravitation, the sort of thing which is discovered and can't be undiscovered. Rather it's the sort of thing which is undiscovered every time a child grows up without visiting a farm and ends up thinking that eggs come from the supermarket. And, for that matter, the controlled, school-trip-style visit (farming as children's entertainment) is hardly better. Let some 10 year old get cold looking after animals or vegetables, then make them kill a couple, like we've been doing for millennia.

While it's easy to intellectually grasp for those of us who have the benefit of being able to read Chomsky etc., I don't thinking he was touting it as a great feat of reason, but rather one of consciousness. In much the same way that I can comprehend that the laws of physics don't stop at my skull, and therefore I don't have free will, and I can read about epiphenomenalism and all that stuff. I am still in no way conscious of being an automaton. Much the same for people who can juggle all of the weird global interdependent catastrophes in their head and still buy coke from narcostates, Coke from evil corporations, and take holidays in unspoiled wildernesses. They know but they're not conscious.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:45 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


me and my monkey,
when godwins, you lose.
posted by the aloha at 11:46 AM on April 23, 2009


I spent a year in (what was then) West Germany as a high school exchange student back in the late 80s. (Yes, I'm old.) It was really shocking to learn that a Westernized country like Germany could have SUCH a different way of life than the US. It was a bit overwhelming to have to answer for foreign policy decisions being made by Reagan, to answer for the violent content of American movies and television shows... The students in the high school with me had such an excellent working knowledge of world politics, were concerned with seemingly very deep issues for their ages, and I felt out of my depth and "young" compared to the 15 and 16 year olds around me. As an 18-year-old, I had really no clue what the culture shock was going to be like going over there.

But what I really REALLY was unprepared for was the reverse culture shock upon my return. The homogeneity of US culture really had never been apparent to me before. Neither was how much of everyone's conversation was being driven by what was on television. Everything felt flat and shallow. The Cosby Show had premiered during the year I was away, and the groupthink it inspired was shocking. Especially since there were ZERO media equivalents in the German culture.

I still am trying to reintegrate, on some level. It's a struggle to look outside the protective dome the US is under, but I do try. Most around me do not, and this only serves to enforce the (now over 20 year old) gap I often feel with my surrounding culture.

Fish probably don't know they're immersed in water. That goes for US citizens and their culture.
posted by hippybear at 11:52 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


It seems to me like he's attracting criticism mainly because this analysis doesn't go far enough. It's radical enough to be upsetting, but also wrong and therefore easy to attack or dismiss.

Super-short thumbnail response: Americans are not "pawns of a corporate state." We are simply products. The economic relationship of Americans to corporations and goods has shifted dramatically, and no one's quite up to speed on it yet. But it boils down to the fact that the "person" (in the sense of economic actor) in our economy is the corporation now. This was inevitable when you realize that the corporation is the perfect capitalist rational actor. It always (by law!) pursues its own interest and seeks (by law!) to maximize profit.

People, now recast as "consumers," (and endlessly divided and divisible -- commodified -- by demographic type) are generally the goods that corporate persons buy and sell amongst themselves, along with the more traditional non-human commodity goods.

He misses the mark when he says: "[t]hat we look to them for so much makes us a corporate cult, and makes corporations a fetish of our culture." A "fetish" is an object. Corporations are the subjects of our culture. If anything we're a corporate culture with a person fetish. But I don't believe that either, because it elevates the human commodity as above and distinct from other commodities in a way I don't think is the case.

His treatment of media as determinist ideology is also kind of weak and predictable. I don't think the actual content of the media matters very much. When's the last time American media coughed up a truly original story? I mean, our global archetype is Disney, which has never done so. The content of American media is the stories people have always told ourselves, which are comfortable and comforting. They're the soft burble of a bedtime story. Basically white noise. He makes almost the same point with "[s]o we tell ourselves the Little Golden Book fairy tales..." but somehow wants that to be a facet of American exceptionalism. Our fairy tales come straight from European fairy tales, come straight from Middle Eastern fairy tales... etc. The content is irrelevant except to the extent it's familiar.

The interesting thing about American media is that it is the primary marketplace where the human commodity is traded. Bageant treats it like an overlord that commands us to do things. "'It's Christmas! Time to shop!' Or 'it's election season, time to vote.' Or 'it's football season, let us rally passions and buy beer and cheer.'... 'It's time to make war! Again.'"

I don't see these as commands, because, after all, who is there to command? They're more like buy and sell orders on the stock exchange. Movements of commodity-persons from one corporate subject to another. The fact that someone like Bageant can so easily whip out a surface condemnation like this based on his misunderstanding of who is what in this system is presumably not a mistake. His role as the Dissenter is perfectly fine -- allowable, or even to be encouraged -- because it reinforced the misunderstandings that enable the system to chug along just fine as it is.

And his conclusion? Dedicate yourself to service? I.e. Drop Out, man! Total failure. I mean, go ahead. It changes nothing. If I drop one lump of coal off the dock, it doesn't change the price of coal. If a whole coal barge sinks, it still probably won't change the price of coal. More importantly, it won't in any way make coal somehow suddenly not a commodity.

Here's my simple recommendation for breaking the modern corporate-person capitalist system: change the law so that corporations are not people, and remove the personal liability-shielding function that they serve. If they weren't legally considered people, they wouldn't be able to effortlessly step into the role of "person" in the economic system, where they can so effortlessly crush any attempted challenge by ordinary mortal flesh and blood people.

But suggest that, and see what a shitstorm will rain down upon you. It's much safer to take the frightened people and suggest they just drop out.
posted by rusty at 11:52 AM on April 23, 2009 [18 favorites]


Here's my simple recommendation for breaking the modern corporate-person capitalist system:

Expanded year-long exchange student programs, greater exposure to international news, manufacturing a demand for media which comes from outside our borders...

All of those would go a LONG way.
posted by hippybear at 12:00 PM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


pretentious gibberish

Not really. As others have noted above, he is relaying an old, important message. You can take your pick from which messenger you like the best.

My favorite, lately, is Thomas de Zengotita, who frames it as "real vs. optional"--we are living in a profoundly optional way in North America, and the opposite of "real" isn't phony--it's having options.

It's not an unmixed curse or blessing, this optionality, but if you miss the not-optional or avoid it, I think you're missing a lot. A lot a lot. YMMV, HAND, BBC, ETC.
posted by everichon at 12:02 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rather it's the sort of thing which is undiscovered every time a child grows up without visiting a farm and ends up thinking that eggs come from the supermarket

Mitchell & Webb (audio NSFW)
posted by mrt at 12:09 PM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


USA! USA! USA! We don't live in a bubble of media-generated garbage and in general lack the cynicism and critical skills and we hate it if you imply we do! USA!

So anyone who denies the existence of this bubble thereby proves said existence?
posted by oaf at 12:10 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I feel sorry for this shallow asshole who has mistaken his own jaded inability to see humanity in his fellow countrymen as some sort of insight into them. He speaks of nothing but himself.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:18 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


And I see that Burhanistan mentioned it already, but this is an outright fabrication:

Entering the country shoeless through airport homeland security, holding up my pants because they don't let old men wear suspenders through security, well, I knew I was back home in the land of the free.

You do not go through an airport-security screening when you enter the U.S. at an airport (possible exception being if you're flying in from Port-au-Prince or Lagos or someplace currently on the FAA's shit list).

If you're changing planes, then you have to go through security again, because you've had access to your checked baggage; that's a no-brainer. But if the final leg of your journey is the one where you enter the U.S., you go through customs/immigration, walk right out the door, and never have to deal with the TSA.
posted by oaf at 12:24 PM on April 23, 2009


Our fairy tales come straight from European fairy tales, come straight from Middle Eastern fairy tales... etc. The content is irrelevant except to the extent it's familiar.

But in our versions of the fairy tales, for some reason, the world always ultimately turns out to be a good place. (Almost as if we're constantly being groomed to become the ultimate, credulous patsies.)

Our versions of the traditional fairy tales leave out all the gore, moral ambiguity and darkness.

Our Big Bad Wolf doesn't actually eat Grandma or Little Red Riding Hood; nor does he get hacked to pieces by The Hunter or boiled in a pot at the end. In our version, the wolf gets chased out of the house with a broom or set afloat on a river. Maybe he even learns to see the error of his ways and joins Grandma, The Hunter, and Little Red for a picnic dinner.

And nobody hacks off the ingenue's tongue with a butcher's knife in one of our fairy tales, as for example happens in the traditional version of the Little Mermaid--and the hero in our version of that story would never willingly take her own life in a grimly fatalistic gesture of resignation to unrequited love.

Nope. In our version, the Little Mermaid grows legs, finds love, launches a Barbie spin-off toy and lives happily ever after.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:26 PM on April 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


"You can spend your entire life talking about what other people have said, or you can have an original thought for a change."

There's having an original thought and then there's what this guy spends a lot of time doing, which is making up vaguely scary truthy-sounding snippets about Ritalin, Prozac, global warming, the bailout, and physics. These are studied, measurable things and he's using them to support his argument with a few textbook logical fallacies like appealing to consequence of belief, the biased sample, and appealing to anonymous authority.

Agreeing with conclusions doesn't justify rushing to the defense of a poorly made argument.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 12:27 PM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


These kind of articles make me think the very self absorbed nature of the writing's obsession with the USA points to a lack of knowledge of how the rest of the world operates.
posted by tarvuz at 12:28 PM on April 23, 2009


The "magic bag" encloses a specified volume, is leakproof, and is easily obtainable by the travelling public before arriving at the airport. It is a good workable solution to the security challenge of allowing liquids on carry-on.

How is allowing liquids in carry-on a security challenge? Disguising an explosive liquid so that it like water to explosives-detection equipment is pretty much impossible.
posted by oaf at 12:28 PM on April 23, 2009


Our versions of the traditional fairy tales leave out all the gore, moral ambiguity and darkness.

All the burble to murble burble mumble shhh sleep now.
posted by rusty at 12:34 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Disguising an explosive liquid so that it like water to explosives-detection equipment is pretty much impossible.

It is my understanding that one can keep the precursors separated and mix them up in the loo; I don't think the liquids restriction is theatre, though of course it is a colossal significant PITA.
posted by mrt at 12:42 PM on April 23, 2009


On a side note, a common idea in these kinds of missives is an appeal to a sort of down-to-earth, old-fashioned human brotherhood. While it's tempting to believe that the "answer" to our modern social ills is more intimacy and empathy with our fellow man, the truth is that human intimacy and connectedness are not magical social panaceas. Most of humanity's cruel history has been spent in close-knit tribes and small networks where brutality was the everyday norm, not in our modern "alienated" societies stuffed with safety padding both physical and mental. It's not just spur-of-the-moment crimes of passion; some of the worst traditions of systematic human rights violations occur among people most intimate with each other (ex: family honor killings, foot binding, etc). The very connectedness that comes with intimacy also serves as an excellent enabler for control and abuse within the tribe.
posted by PsychoKick at 12:43 PM on April 23, 2009 [10 favorites]


He hits some interesting stuff in here, but like a man firing blindly into the dark, he doesn't seem to know what he's aiming at or why. He seems to suffer from as many biases and assumptions as he accuses Americans of holding.

This is too scattershot to really address coherently. However one of the things I did agree with him on is the frightening insulation that seems to separate the public from comprehending human misery. It's sometimes hard even to watch the Daily Show, because it seems like John Stewart is losing perspective too. Waterboarding a man six times a day for a month is horrific torture; ironic humor alone just isn't sharp enough to puncture that kind of darkness. Sustainability seems to have become a tired buzzword, instead of the crucial keystone for the near-future survival of the ecosystem as we know and depend on it. Global warming is real, but from watching the media and the public, it just doesn't seem that real anymore.

I think some of the ideas about emulating "older" or "more natural" cultures are ridiculous pieces of cultural relativism. I think he's right that there is a problem, but I don't think he has any particularly good ideas about how to solve it, personally within oneself, or on a societal level.

Thanks for the post though - it was very thought provoking!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:44 PM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


But if the final leg of your journey is the one where you enter the U.S.

unwarranted assumption. After one arrives after having spent a year abroad in a nice peaceful foreign place, it is indeed possible, if not likely, one will be grabbing one's ankles while in the TSA's process queue soon after arrival to this great land of the free and home of the brave.
posted by mrt at 12:46 PM on April 23, 2009


And Gautama Buddha?
posted by Foosnark at 12:48 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


> unwarranted assumption. After one arrives after having spent a year abroad in a nice peaceful foreign place, it is indeed possible, if not likely, one will be grabbing one's ankles while in the TSA's process queue

Since we're splitting hairs, it's extremely unlikely that the TSA will do that then, but rather US Customs and Border Protection.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2009


mrt: I don't think the liquids restriction is theatre

What He Carried. Previously.
posted by hippybear at 12:57 PM on April 23, 2009


Thanks for this. I disagree with parts but that's some good writing.
posted by Kirklander at 1:03 PM on April 23, 2009


In a peculiar parallel.... Elsewhere.
posted by hippybear at 1:03 PM on April 23, 2009


As an atheist who also realizes the extreme danger posed by unchecked corporate power, it's a drag to see stuff like this that mixes some good points with new age baloney. Claiming that we are all parts of the giant cosmic chlorophyll or whatever isn't necessary. If you just agree that extending the human species for as long as possible with a reasonably comfortable physical, mental, and emotional standard of living is a good goal, then it's pretty plain that we aren't going about it the right way.

Rusty above has it about right. Getting rid of the idea of "corporation as person" is a good start. And that doesn't mean we'd never be able to buy any stuff again, regardless of what the corporate libertarians might think. People had things before every movie had McDonald's tie-ins and credit card companies could charge you 30% interest. Try reading When Corporations Rule the World by an MIT/Harvard economist for a non-loony, ironclad argument that corporations by their nature squeeze humanity out, and for some good ideas on how to solve the problem without living in caves or communes.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:06 PM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Our versions of the traditional fairy tales leave out all the gore, moral ambiguity and darkness.

Is that a US thing or more of a 20th century thing? Do kids in the UK, Germany, France, etc. still get the gory old versions?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:13 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you look Joe Bageant's columns now and then in the months to come you'll have a better idea of who the man is and what he's pissed about. This one essay is not his best. I'm pretty sure, after reading his book and his column for some time, that he is a compassionate and intelligent man, not a New Age asshole, as many of you think.

Of course, I may be a New Age asshole myself, so how would I know?
posted by kozad at 1:16 PM on April 23, 2009


Non-locality implies that particles that were once entangled can influence each other's behaviour at any distance without any time lag.

EPR seems to show that there are either hidden variables or non-locality. And experiments seem to rule out hidden variables.

So I don't think that "physics says we're all connected" is as fallacious as a lot of you seem to think.

I feel sorry for this shallow asshole who has mistaken his own jaded inability to see humanity in his fellow countrymen as some sort of insight into them. He speaks of nothing but himself.

You might not like the article, but calling Bageant a "shallow asshole" says more about you than him. I might also add that commencement speeches traditionally have an older individual giving advice from his own experience...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:20 PM on April 23, 2009


Wait wait wait! I want to play! Marcuse.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:22 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is my understanding that one can keep the precursors separated and mix them up in the loo...

Not to further derail, but this has also been debunked. This threat is entirely fabricated on hollywood weapons that cannot physically exist.
posted by odinsdream at 1:24 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


My younger sisters, at least, were brought up on the traditional Die Märchen der Brüder Grimm (and I was too, when I lived there), but I can't really say if the practice of cleaning-up traditional fairy tales is any more common nowadays in Germany or elsewhere than in the states. My impression, from conversations with my mom, is that the tendency to white-wash away the uglier features of traditional fairy tales is more an American thing. But that's anecdotal.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:25 PM on April 23, 2009


> Not to further derail, but this has also been debunked. This threat is entirely fabricated on hollywood weapons that cannot physically exist.

Everyone knows that the ban on liquids was perpetrated by the evil airport vendor lobby. They own more congressmen than Israel.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:29 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Came for an "And Philip K. Dick?"

Left disappointed.
posted by gimonca at 1:50 PM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


This threat is entirely fabricated on hollywood weapons that cannot physically exist.

That assertion seems rather categorical. If one is concerned about hazardous liquids -- either flammable or actually explosive -- in the cabin then restricting each passenger to 3oz bottles in a single "magic bag" makes a lot of sense is arguably a reasonable precaution. Otherwise you get people bringing all kinds of crap on board the plane. Hell in 2000 I tried to carry a large bottle of aerosol airbrush paint propellant [don't ask] in my backpack when travelling from Tokyo to LA.Article saying the TSA is revisiting the policy later this year, allegedly due to better screening technology.
posted by mrt at 2:07 PM on April 23, 2009


So I don't think that "physics says we're all connected" is as fallacious as a lot of you seem to think.

It's fallacious not because there are no true statements it tenuously could be about, but because it's a kind of woo-woo generality that's invoked to dull the critical faculties and lend legitimacy to ideas that actually have zero support (like, physics is just re-learning the lessons of eastern mysticism, dude). It's perhaps possible to say "physics says we're all connected" without committing these sins, but it would be awfully unusual.
posted by grobstein at 2:31 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


As many others have pointed out, he's not the first guy to say this. And he's right: many people go through the motions, and live an inauthentic existence where they're doing what's expected of them instead of living their own lives.

But for Pete's sake, don't blame McDonald's! Why is corporate America the only thing that can desensitize you to the realities of life? Everyone starts out needing to find themselves, and there was never some magical time when everyone just hung out and loved life. Blaming your culture is too easy: discovering what it means to live is part of the nature of existence. Always has been, always will be.

And who is he to claim he knows the meaning of life? I can have my own meaning, dammit! Why does he get to condition me but the corporate tools aren't allowed?

/sartre
posted by goingonit at 2:40 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Non-locality implies that particles that were once entangled can influence each other's behaviour at any distance without any time lag.
EPR seems to show that there are either hidden variables or non-locality. And experiments seem to rule out hidden variables.
So I don't think that "physics says we're all connected" is as fallacious as a lot of you seem to think.


It's *exactly* as fallacious as I seem to think it is. What he, and yonderboy by extension, have done here is essentially extend a "god-of-the-gaps" argument to new-age spirituallity. Non-locality happens on immensely small space-time scales. You can't just extend the "small-scales" theory to the world because it's convenient.

Going from EPR to a interconnected chlorophyllic lifeform requires saying "and then Jesus" for step-2. Even underpants gnomes are required to disclose phase-2. I should disclaim that I don't actually disagree with most of Bageant's critiques, but I don't think he offers tangible feasible solutions.
posted by TomStampy at 2:51 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


kittens for breakfast: "On the one hand, I think this is a big infomercial for the guy's book; on the other, I think it might have worked on me. I don't even know where to start unpeeling this onion of irony."

Don't dissect it too much, kfb; it will only make you cry.
posted by defenestration at 2:56 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


My perception of the author is that he is a bit of an asshat.

There are an upteen number of people today (and throughout history) who have discussed about one's perception of reality not being "real." There are entire spiritual systems with millions of followers that serve to help us with trying to overcome our biases and experience "true reality." Anthropologists have discussed the "alternate realities" people of other cultures experience. Assumptions people had that are, well, just plain wrong. It's not something new or central to the U.S. It is something probably more prevalent in extremely wealthy societies where people have enough time to constantly amuse themselves. But hey, there are shitty zombie-like poor countries too. Is he saying people in the Pyongyang and worshipping "dear leader" are living any "closer to the truth?"

My sense is that the author feels like he just realized something so very new about human nature. His own lack of knowledge of history, philosophy, and world religions--in sum, his own ignorance--has made him write an essay where he feels the need to tell us, "look guys! look what I discovered! you've got it all wrong!" Meanwhile a great many of us have our hands over eyes, cringing.

The essay is an embarrassment.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:15 PM on April 23, 2009


After one arrives after having spent a year abroad in a nice peaceful foreign place, it is indeed possible, if not likely, one will be grabbing one's ankles while in the TSA's process queue soon after arrival to this great land of the free and home of the brave.

This has nothing to do with arriving from abroad, of course, and everything to do with coming from a public area and wanting to board a flight.
posted by oaf at 3:48 PM on April 23, 2009


Is he saying people in the Pyongyang and worshipping "dear leader" are living any "closer to the truth?

Bageant's a redneck lefty populist of sorts, not a communist ideologue, for shit's sake. He's been around long enough and is generally observant enough to be someone who is well worth lending an ear (or eye) to. He's not the ultimate authority of 'truth,' nor does he represent himself as such, but he is well worth paying a little attention to.
posted by metagnathous at 4:02 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why prefer these expensive earth destroying things over love and laughter with real people, and making real human music together with other human beings -- lifting our voices together, dancing and enjoying the world that was given to us? Absolutely for free.

I know this kind of thing sounds good, but I tend to think the results of a values system of this sort are bad. Anti-technological and anti-commercial values systems tend to be anti-intellectual as well. From there it's a short walk to ignorance and all its associated problems, and one hugely important thing that education accomplishes is dropping the birthrate. Unless you defuse the population bomb, it doesn't matter how simply you live - either you destroy the environment or death rates rise to meet birthrates, the same as if you destroy the environment by making big-screen TVs and stupidly large cars. Furthermore, without research and progress, there's no hope of discovering solutions to your ecological problems.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:36 PM on April 23, 2009


I keep coming back to this thread, and keep re-reading the original article, trying to figure out if I've missed something. Everyone is so angry about what the author is saying! Surely there's a section to the article or something which I've somehow missed which is sparking all this fury.

But no. I agree, the article itself isn't all that well written, and the author could have made his points with a lot more elegance. But my experiences with living outside of the United States for a year and returning support his arguments. Granted it was in the Cold War era, but even then, the bubble of unreality surrounding the US was pretty clear to me, despite my youthful naivety.

I'm still astonished at the vitriol expressed toward these ideas in this thread. Is this like telling a junkie in denial you've noticed his track marks?
posted by hippybear at 4:43 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Speak for yourself old timer. You sit on your porch in the Caribbean for most of the year and then whine for dollars when you toddle through customs. Twaddle and poppycock.

I'm going outside to whittle and then play mumbletypeg.
posted by pianomover at 5:18 PM on April 23, 2009


This has nothing to do with arriving from abroad, of course, and everything to do with coming from a public area and wanting to board a flight.

His original point was that a US citizen is quite likely exposed to one of the worst state abuses of liberty one can point to right off the bat after coming into this country from a different land.

It's quite a contrast from our PR and what we say & think we are -- the ideological water we masses of fish inhabit -- as a nation.
posted by mrt at 5:18 PM on April 23, 2009


But in serious, intelligent people, experiencing non-manufactured reality usually gives lifelong meaning and insight to the work.

Everyone, everywhere experiences a manufactured reality. He's just showing preference of one over another. It is no less manufactured, no less a myth, and probably just as unsophisticated and full of superstition.
posted by eye of newt at 5:33 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I spent a year in (what was then) West Germany as a high school exchange student back in the late 80s..... It was a bit overwhelming to have to answer for foreign policy decisions being made by Reagan, to answer for the violent content of American movies and television shows. -hippybear

Yeah I'm old too, and spent a summer in The Netherlands around the same time. They complained to me about disco music. My answer? "Why do you even know about disco music? Because you listen to it, that's why." The same is true with violent American movies and television.

posted by eye of newt at 5:40 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The next day I went to Penn Station, where the escalators down to the tracks are so narrow that they seem to have been designed before suitcases were invented.... Along the way, I tried to use my cellphone to conduct an interview and my conversation was interrupted by three dropped calls within one 15-minute span.

All I could think to myself was: If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than us?"
--plexi

Somehow I don't think Bageant is arguing that we don't have enough technology in the US.
posted by eye of newt at 5:41 PM on April 23, 2009


O essay I wrote after returning to the US from my year abroad! I thought I'd never see you again!
posted by chinston at 5:55 PM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah I'm old too, and spent a summer in The Netherlands around the same time. They complained to me about disco music. My answer? "Why do you even know about disco music? Because you listen to it, that's why." The same is true with violent American movies and television.

They have no choice. We export our culture all over the world, and never accept anything in exchange. We mock foreign films when they arrive here because they have subtitles and we "have to read the movie", and yet we refuse to allow modern dubbing techniques to translate these films into our native tongues because we find it freakish when the lips don't match the sounds. Why do we find that freakish? Because we don't live in a country where the native production houses don't have the firepower to create as much media as in the US, so we never have to look at anything which isn't produced in our own tongue.

And I am not certain that complaints about "disco" music while in Amsterdam in the mid-to-late '80s were all that serious. I know all about European pop music, which is light and fluffy and used like kleenex. Modern Talking? One of the biggest groups EVER in Europe. But Jebus, it's awful tripe. And besides, have you paid any attention to what Europe has created as far as dance music in the intervening 20 years? They've learned the lessons of disco and dance better than anyone here in the US ever could.

And a whole summer? Were you living in the native language, with native families, attending a native school? Not sure a summer spent as a tourist counts as "cultural immersion."
posted by hippybear at 6:45 PM on April 23, 2009


And a whole summer? Were you living in the native language, with native families, attending a native school? Not sure a summer spent as a tourist counts as "cultural immersion." -- hippybear

I didn't mean to claim any substantial immersion (though I was staying with native families and working at Philips, but everyone there is immersed in English in school, so it was unfortunately too easy to get by without learning much Dutch).

They complained about disco because it is fun to complain to the American about annoying American things (in a friendly way). I refused to make any comment about Reagan, however, except that I didn't vote for him.

And, my goodness, want to start a nasty argument, just mention the word 'socialism'. You don't have to say anything else, just that word, and you'll have an argument. It is a very emotionally filled word and there is a lot of (probably justifiable) anger toward how they think the concept is used by Americans.

The one thing I really agree with is the concept of American insularity. We really ought to encourage a more international outlook. Maybe encourage summers abroad, or just linking kids in US schools with kids in schools in other countries. The rewards for the US and the world would be tremendous.
posted by eye of newt at 7:18 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


His original point was that a US citizen is quite likely exposed to one of the worst state abuses of liberty one can point to right off the bat after coming into this country from a different land.

And where would you not have to go through airport security in order to board a flight? And since you think it's possible to combine innocuous liquids to create MYSTERY EXPLOSIVE OF DOOM, why shouldn't you have to go through airport security in order to board a flight?
posted by oaf at 7:25 PM on April 23, 2009


> I'm still astonished at the vitriol expressed toward these ideas in this thread. Is this like telling a junkie in denial you've noticed his track marks?

From what I gather, people in the thread, myself included, are not in disagreement with Bageants points. Rather, it's the sophomoric way he presents them, and the fact that this kind of thing has been said for as long as people have been identifying with nation-states. I'm willing to extend a bit of charity to his piece, because it given in the context of an older, presumably worldly, writer giving affirmation to college students. Even still, it's so full of arrogant turns of phrase and distortions that it his main point about living in illusion is overshadowed. He's not saying anything new, not saying anything particularly clearly, and the audience here on Metafilter is for the most part a bit more world weary than he is.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:25 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


eye of newt: Great counter-post. Completely 180'd my opinion of our interaction in this thread.

I couldn't have possibly formulated a discussion of "socialism" in 1987 when I was in West Germany; I had no context for it, and still don't, mostly. (If socialism is so rampant in the US, why do we even have a stock market? Why have I had no health insurance since the early '90s? For that matter, why do we allow our children to attend any kind of school they and their parents desire, when they should be tracked into different programs based on their abilities and according to the needs of the workplace?) We have our heads SO far up our collective ass when it comes to the concept of what "socialism" is on a layperson basis...

All that aside, yes. We are too insular a country. We barely even admit that Canada exists. We have Univision and Telemundo available in nearly every major market, but nobody with my shade of skin ever watches it. Just now, on my television, a program, on PBS just began called "World Focus" just started. But even then, the reporting has a uniquely US slant to it, and it's on PBS. It is not as if this kind of global outlook is being featured as part of the news which is consumed en masse every evening.

Our ignorance builds walls of intolerance, and causes misunderstandings. The rest of the world doesn't understand why the US is so self-centered, and the US doesn't understand that it IS self-centered. Until we move beyond our own myopia, we will continue to run roughshod across a planet which resents our actions.
posted by hippybear at 7:39 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan: I don't read world-weariness in most of this thread. Many of the views expressed are outraged at the ideas or in outright denial that any of them may be true. And yes, it is a clumsy article which may squander any good-will towards its concepts because of its tone, but that doesn't account for much of what I read here.
posted by hippybear at 7:43 PM on April 23, 2009


...one of the things I did agree with him on is the frightening insulation that seems to separate the public from comprehending human misery. It's sometimes hard even to watch the Daily Show, because it seems like John Stewart is losing perspective too. Waterboarding a man six times a day for a month is horrific torture; ironic humor alone just isn't sharp enough to puncture that kind of darkness...

I just realised: I missed tonight's episode of "Daily Show" while reading this thread. Actually, reading this thread was time better spent.
posted by spoobnooble at 8:26 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


And where would you not have to go through airport security in order to board a flight?

This is apparently getting off-track; his opening paragraph was talking about his experiences in the Houston airport after having spent several months in Central America:

"Entering the country shoeless through airport homeland security, holding up my pants because they don't let old men wear suspenders through security, well, I knew I was back home in the land of the free. "

This observation is setting up his theme of indoctrination and acculturation of the masses. We are told were a freest country on the planet evers, before every ballgame we sing a song extolling our natural bravery while under enemy attack, yet we are still all willing to bend over for the man in mostly disproportionate, questionably unnecessary, and highly invasive inspections when told to do so at TSA security checkpoints.

People here have asserted that he would not have experienced the TSA inspection upon international arrival, which is true, but in the first paragraph it says he stayed at the airport for at least two hours so from that context it's safe to assume he was on a connecting flight out of Houston.

Granted, he [most likely] wasn't literally "entering the country" for this bullshit TSA treatment, but experiencing it so soon after arrival is close enough for speechifying IMO.
posted by mrt at 8:28 PM on April 23, 2009


it's possible to combine innocuous liquids to create MYSTERY EXPLOSIVE OF DOOM

Now, I don't know shit about chemisty but I do know that given ten minutes and some space one can combine separate chemicals and get new chemicals. I also know that sniffers in airports are designed to suss out particular chemical signatures, both in the air and via xray, plus whatever tomographic crap they're working on now no doubt.

And as far as mystery liquid explosives, there's stuff like Nitroglycerin (NG), (United States spelling) also known as nitroglycerine, (UK Spelling), trinitroglycerin, trinitroglycerine, 1,2,3-trinitroxypropane and glyceryl trinitrate, is a heavy, colorless, oily, explosive liquid obtained by nitrating glycerol. Since the 1860s, it has been used as an active ingredient in the manufacture of explosives, specifically dynamite, and as such is employed in the construction and demolition industries. Similarly, since the 1880s, it has been used by the military as an active ingredient, and a gellatinizer for nitrocellulose, in some solid propellants, such as Cordite and Ballistite. dot dot fucking dot

So limiting passengers to 3oz bottles that can fit within a 1qt clear plastic envelope seems like a reasonable precaution. Unlike, say, fingering my nuts to make sure I'm not carrying a ceramic knife there.
posted by mrt at 8:38 PM on April 23, 2009


So limiting passengers to 3oz bottles that can fit within a 1qt clear plastic envelope seems like a reasonable precaution.

None of what you wrote explains the logic behind making me check my carry-on bag when I have a couple dozen 4 oz cans of chopped hot green chile in them. Because I was in my home territory of southern New Mexico and had been craving hot green chile for months, and needed to take some home with me. And somehow, these cans of green chile were going to allow me to overpower the flight crew on the airplane and allow me to fly the jet into some important location located between NM and WA. I had to go through security TWICE that day, because they didn't like the sealed cans of chile in my luggage. I was told if they had been 3 oz cans, it would have been fine. How is THAT keeping anyone safe?

It's theater, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't make me feel safe, it makes me feel annoyed.
posted by hippybear at 8:45 PM on April 23, 2009


You could bring more than enough hydrofluoric acid on board in that little quart-sized ziploc to eat a hole in a few windows and cause an incident that at the least would rip a big hole in the fueslage, and possibly even cause the whole upper section of the passenger cabin to shread apart, killing everyone on board.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:46 PM on April 23, 2009


And a whole summer? Were you living in the native language, with native families, attending a native school? Not sure a summer spent as a tourist counts as "cultural immersion."

My Junior Year Abroad was better than your Junior Year Abroad.

I think that the poverty tourism Bageant advocates in his essay is icky and kind of racist. Other countries/people do not exist just to teach spoiled Americans lessons about life.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:54 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


when I have a couple dozen 4 oz cans of chopped hot green chile in them

YOU say it's chili, but it could be repackaged riot agent for all they know, or the liquid its packed in ould be a nitroglycerin precursor. Point being that after 9/11 I don't find it abusively restrictive to limit shit people take on planes to the bare necessities. Even in 2000 I didn't get my noise bent out of shape when the security lady at Narita took my can of aerosol propellant away.

I would find it odd if you could take a couple of dozens of 3 oz cans of whatever on-board, though.

You could bring more than enough hydrofluoric acid on board in that little quart-sized ziploc

you're also limited to 3oz bottles. Good luck with that.
posted by mrt at 8:55 PM on April 23, 2009


you're also limited to 3oz bottles. Good luck with that.

mrt, I realize you're the big expert here but you can cram about seven 3 ounce bottles into one of those bags, and since HF doesn't react with plastic all one would need is a makeshift reservoir to hold it against the glass, and maybe cover it up with a pillow. It would be a suicide mission, obviously.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:01 PM on April 23, 2009


Other countries/people do not exist just to teach spoiled Americans lessons about life.

Agreed. The essay pretty much veers into "noble savage" territory.
posted by oaf at 9:01 PM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Our versions of the traditional fairy tales leave out all the gore, moral ambiguity and darkness.

Yeah, that always pisses me off. Sanitize the fairy tales and they become mediocre at best. To think that kids "can't handle" dark stories is retarded. What's going to damage them isn't being shown that The Big Bad Wolf ate grandma, rather than stuffed her in a closet, what's going to damage them is being read the same story and then charged $9.99 to watch The Big Bad Wolf: THE MOVIE!

The media insidiousness when it comes to children's programming is just awful. Most of the stories are drippy, dull, and condescending. The packaging is flashy and half of the shows are just long ads for tie-in toys. Just today, I had to help the elder Schmoop with her phonics workbook... her BARBIE Phonics workbook. Barbie now teaches phonics.

Learn your alphabet, kids, because S is for SHOPPING.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:21 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Point being that after 9/11 I don't find it abusively restrictive to limit shit people take on planes to the bare necessities.

And this is called "letting the terrorists win."

Seriously. It was fucking New Mexico. And I'm carrying GREEN CHILE. In sealed cans. I mean, honestly. The 9/11 terrorists didn't purchase special equipment like custom canning and labeling machines to carry out their plots, they had box cutters in their pockets. Period.

I'm not talking about even having a can opener in my luggage, I'm talking about carrying sealed cans of green chile with me. If you don't understand how important that can be, that's because there's a cultural gap surrounding green chile which is geographically bound to southern NM which may be bound to having grown up in that region.

This was not about safety, it was about arbitrary rules. It's security theater. They've invented new things every few months / years make us think they have new information and are keeping us safe. First it's search the luggage. Not feeling scared enough? We'll have you take off your shoes. Still not scared enough? We'll have to restrict the liquids you carry. Still not scared enough? We'll invent a list of phrases you may NEVER say while going through our screening process.

If you violate any of these at any time, you can be denied the travel you paid hard-earned money for, and will NOT be given a refund. Our inspection process will also be used to hide theft of valuables in checked luggage by airline employees, because you may NEVER question what is done in the name of security.

Seriously, I have no qualms with submitting to a search which will keep the "bad guys" from bringing things onto the airplane which they shouldn't. But that is NOT what is happening.

It sounds like you enjoy the performances, however. Do you clap loud and throw roses?
posted by hippybear at 9:37 PM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


^ clear rules make their screening job easier. If they've got to deal with random things on a case-by-case basis then they'll have to spend more time and resources screening the thousands of passengers that flow through the system every hour. Yes there are still weaknesses in the system, but as it stands now the patdowns and invasive body scanning get me worked up more than the limits to carry-on.

FWIW I think it's somewhat stupid worrying about terrorists taking out an airliner when they could easily produce a mass-casualty event on the ground, or for that matter derail any given freight or passenger train they wanted to, but the history of it is what it is and IMO the politics of the situation demand the executive Do What's Necessary to protect the public.

The shoe stuff is fecking annoying but I assume the shoe bomber story went down as it did so the present hassle isn't invented theatre. As for theft, that's why we have a representative government and not a dictatorship. Any failures here are political deficiencies and not executive overreach.
posted by mrt at 10:22 PM on April 23, 2009


mrt: yes, and no. I mean, remember Pan Am Flight 103? That was a bomb in checked luggage.

Theft? Most of the cases go unresolved as the airlines and the TSA fight about who has jurisdiction. And that's accounted for by representative government HOW, exactly?

How far, exactly, are you willing to allow this to proceed? No carry-on baggage at all? Full mandatory body-wanding (or more) for every passenger? Fingerprint scanning before you can proceed? How about a full background check before you can even purchase a ticket?

What outrages me about this kind of encroachment isn't that it is taking place, but that people think it should be allowed to proceed unchecked, "in the name of safety", without any data to back up that it actually increases the aforementioned safety.

And don't feed me that "we haven't had any more incidents since we put these measures in place therefore they are working" canard. If you want to make that argument, I'd need to see the list of people which have been caught by the system with terrorist weapons on their persons (liquids which can be made into bombs, shoes which have plastique soles, etc). Give me enough names on that list and I might believe you. And after the past 8 years of governing more on image than reality, I'd have expected to have heard a whole list of "apprehended terrorism suspects" who had been caught by the net by now.

They don't exist. Because they never existed to begin with. Reactionary security theater is just that: theater. And it might make some feel better, but it makes me feel creeped out. Maybe if the US has a few Harrods-IRA style bombings, EVERY shopping mall in the US will have screening centers before you can enter?

If you feel like security checkpoints that are anything less than full-intrusion body cavity searches with full disassembly of luggage and full background / fingerprint checks make you safer... then you've bought into the theater, and terror has found a place in your heart, and "they" have won.
posted by hippybear at 10:53 PM on April 23, 2009


Burhanistan: Your acid on airplane windows is a little suspect. First, you would have to put in a bit of work to do that, and wouldn't easily go unnoticed. Second, they are often double paned. Last, just because a cabin starts to depressurize doesn't mean it automatically will rip apart. Link and link.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:48 AM on April 24, 2009



But what I really REALLY was unprepared for was the reverse culture shock upon my return. The homogeneity of US culture really had never been apparent to me before. Neither was how much of everyone's conversation was being driven by what was on television. Everything felt flat and shallow. The Cosby Show had premiered during the year I was away, and the groupthink it inspired was shocking. Especially since there were ZERO media equivalents in the German culture.


Um, guess you missed the Eurovision thing back then. I think that here in Sweden, 75% of the population or something ridiculous watches the final. ITS THE WORST MUSIC EVER. Most of you Americans can't even imagine how horrible it is. Consumer culture here is pretty bad too. Most people view consumer goods as completely disposable and chain stores that sell such goods are everywhere. I have trouble finding shoes built to last even a few months.

Guess I'm just griping because I managed to end up in a country more homogeneous and groupthinky than the US. In comparison to Sweden, America looks so vibrant and interesting to me.


But I digress. I'm quite involved in many movements Bagent would be sympathetic to, like the lawns-to-gardens, community gardens, sustainable agroforestry systems, communal potluck dinners with local food, etc., but I can't get on his page because he's so anti-technology. We need technology to make these things work. For example, it's vital to test the soil before making lawns into gardens because of all the dangerous chemicals and heavy metals that may have accumulated. Also, a lot of people in these movements utilize high technology to plan and manage their crops with really good results.

The whole organic/local = religious anti-science thing bugs me to no end and does no justice to the many many scientists currently using things like computer modeling to help organic and local farmers increase yields.
posted by melissam at 1:52 AM on April 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Cute. I remember the first time I saw Fight Club.
posted by Pronoiac at 1:57 AM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dude, a couple cans of green chile can make any pilot land somewhere unexpected. In a hurry.
posted by rokusan at 2:08 AM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I seldom have only a single magic plastic bag of 3oz containers. Last week my carry-on had three such superbaggies. So this silly rule is not doing much to limit overall volume, is it?

The six pens I carry could be much, much better weapons than the fingernail clippers I have to re-purchase twelve times per year, and a two ounce bottle of mercury paste could do a lot more damage to an aircraft than two quarts of gasoline. The fact nobody ever checks my ID after security to see which flight I get on, if I even board at all, tells me how much they aren't really trying.

It's high theater of the first order, the purpose of which is to make us feel safer, especially those of us who watch 24 and imagine some airplane bathroom chemistry magic. There's no sane way any* of the post-9/11 "improvements" actually make anything safer.

And I'm helping the digression now. I am a bad person.

* okay, reinforcing cockpit doors. That was a good idea. But that's it.
posted by rokusan at 2:15 AM on April 24, 2009


I remember the first time I saw Fight Club.

Metafilter is my favorite collection of single-serving friends.
posted by rokusan at 2:16 AM on April 24, 2009


since HF doesn't react with plastic all one would need is a makeshift reservoir to hold it against the glass

...after stealthily replacing the plastic windows with glass ones.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:19 AM on April 24, 2009


> ...after stealthily replacing the plastic windows with glass ones.

Well, those little plastic screens are just there to make windows appear flush with the other interior panels, but I'll admit that it's a stretch anyway.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:40 AM on April 24, 2009


YOU say it's chili, but it could be repackaged riot agent for all they know, or the liquid its packed in ould be a nitroglycerin precursor. Point being that after 9/11 I don't find it abusively restrictive to limit shit people take on planes to the bare necessities. Even in 2000 I didn't get my noise bent out of shape when the security lady at Narita took my can of aerosol propellant away.

Okay, look. You've admitted in this thread to not being a chemistry expert. In fact I think the wording was that you don't know shit about it. This is fine. I am certainly not an expert in the field either. However, you are making ridiculous claims that have been disproven by experts. I'm simply pointing this out to you because you are making yourself look ridiculous by continuing to put forward these movie-plot threats as if they're realistic.

If this wasn't such a perfect example of what's wrong with airport security (i.e., TSA officials who also don't know shit about chemistry making rules specifically about chemistry) I wouldn't be picking on you about it. I don't mean it personally, either, I would just really appreciate some level of honesty in the discussion. If you don't know anything about explosives or chemistry, say so. Don't follow it up with "...but NITROGLYCERIN!!!"
posted by odinsdream at 8:16 AM on April 24, 2009


Well, those little plastic screens are just there to make windows appear flush with the other interior panels

I think you'll find that the actual cabin windows are perspex, not glass.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:08 AM on April 24, 2009


> I think you'll find that the actual cabin windows are perspex, not glass.

So they are. Back to the drawing board!

just kidding. I have no wish to perpetrate any sort of violent incident and my above comments were just in service of chasing down a hypothetical tangent.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:28 AM on April 24, 2009


Look, given the threats to our way of life, the increased airport security is required to keep America and our freedoms safe. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance... or $128 a year, your choice.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:20 AM on April 24, 2009


This kind of essay, indeed this whole line of thought, usually falters on the "what is to be done?" part. In his 1988 "Comments on the Society of the Spectacle", Debord pretty much said it's hopeless, and then he killed himself.
posted by bonefish at 12:54 PM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.—Albert Einstein
posted by No Robots at 3:04 PM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just put on these special sunglasses before I kick your ass.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:16 PM on April 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


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