Phil Rockstroh: America Has Left the Building
America Has Left the Building: An Open Missive of Anger and Hope
by Phil Rockstroh
Recently, we've been plied and pummeled with the absurd proclamation that "the system worked" -- that our congressional representatives listened and took note of the collective, antiwar fulmination of the people, registered in our faux republic's latest, sham plebiscite. Yes, I suspect, the political classes of Washington did hear the people's thunder -- and then went running for cover within the comfort zones of their sheltering smugness, constructed of the brick and mortar of arrogant power and inequitable privilege. Just ask Joe Lieberman. He's the self-satisfied fellow seated comfortably upon the large, plush lounge chair, stuffed with campaign dollars, nearest the door with access to K Street.
But we must not let ourselves -- the true beneficiaries of empire -- off so easily: Our national tragedies (from all the corpses amassed, buried and forgotten in our imperial wars to our intransigence and denial regarding Global Warming) are a collaborative effort with our leaders -- a joint and living lie of the mind, made manifest by collective desire and remorseless pursuit.
Upon the occasion of our cultural confabulation of colonial hagiography dubbed "Thanksgiving," a tradition when we stuff our overweight bellies by devouring big, growth hormone-injected, flightless birds in order to celebrate, what in truth was a Thanks- taking of this land by our ancestors from its original inhabitants (but a hearty salutation of "Happy Genocide Day" doesn't exactly stimulate the appetite, does it?), I will address the following missive to you my fellow unindicted (perhaps even unconscious) co- conspirators in the crimes of our country.
Let's begin with the things nearest to us: The structures and objects we see before us, everyday. And it's not a beautiful sight to behold.
Due to the banality, blandness, and flat out ugliness of the stripmall/big box store/fast food outlet, prefab nowhereland of our contemporary landscape, life in the US under corporatism is as seductive as the glare of florescent tube lighting in a convenience store.
The architecture of the US looks as if Adolph Eichmann grew bored endlessly calculating the human weigh capacity of death camp bound boxcars, rose from Hell, and went into the prefab structure design business.
Now, don’t get ugly, you admonish.
Tell me, what is truly ugly: the composition and dissemination of a heartfelt, political jeremiad (or even an angry rant) or the squandering of the passing hours of our finite lives within ugly suburban subdivisions, oversized, ugly-ass motor vehicles, soulless stripmalls and sterile office parks?
Man, have we let ourselves go. And it's not only the sprawl around our middle, it’s the phony way we comport ourselves in manner and deed. Our shallowness -- our hollowness -- our lack of conscience, self-awareness and conviction . . . all of which, the architecture and accoutrement of our commodified nowhereland merely reflects.
Worse yet, we no longer even see it. We are inseparable from our environment in the same manner e-coli bacteria are inseparable from feces. The nowhere-scape before us exists in equal measure to the nowhere-scape within . . .
It seems as though our landscape has become so vapid and banal, it can't even rise to the level of being tacky. Whatever the case, even an attempt at tawdriness would show some kind of low-grade involvement. Instead, there is an overall feeling of flimsiness -- a sense of a world devoid of substance. And the pervasive unsubstantiality creates an underlying aura of anxiety -- the feeling that all of it can and will be leveled and scattered in some approaching cataclysm. In this way, we hear the death rattle attendant to a closed system in entropic runaway. The system is still replicating itself, exponentially yet, in equal measure, it bears and spreads the seeds of its demise.
This is why I have come to squat in your comfort zone, until you take notice.
Because the manner we're living is as salubrious as a tsunami.
And is about as sustainable, body and soul, as Elvis Presley's final binge.
Our emptiness is compensated for by the gigantism we see everywhere around us: from an epidemic of obese children to bloated McMansions. But whether its wooly mammoths or SUVs -- or Elvis, stuffed into a sequined jumpsuit -- or the fate of unwieldy armies of over-extended empires, bogged down by local insurgencies, gigantism is a precursor to extinction. Worse, at present, this phenomenon is transpiring on a global basis.
Corporatism has rendered us analogous to the last days of Elvis. Puffy, bloated . . . we wheeze our way through our set. Guarded gated communities are our own private Graceland where we die in excess and isolation. The electric lights sequined across the entire planet now glow from space like one of Elvis's Las Vegas costumes. But does no one see the dying man beneath the jeweled jumpsuit? The land and The King are one.
America has left the building.
Because, like any disorder of the psyche, being the organic system a culture is, pathology will increase, exponentially. Inevitably, a collapse will come. Then it can and will get even uglier: Homegrown Brownshirts emerge, brandishing bibles and automatic weapons (convinced when Jesus returns the first thing he'll do is apply for membership to the NRA and then saddle up and ride a Cruise Missile, Slim Pickens-style, aimed at the false god idolizing hordes of the Muslim world). Then will come detention camps, built by Halliburton and guarded by Blackwater rent-a-thugs. In time, the sky will be darkened from the floating ash of the furnace-devoured flesh of those pushed into the flames lit by collective psychosis.
Hyperbolic, you say. No, it's an understatement. Remember we're speaking about the country that committed the most sustained, large- scale holocaust in human history, right here on our own soil -- the genocidal destruction of the Native American Nations. Happy Thanks- taking, America. Holocaust museums should be as prevalent as shopping malls, upon the blood-sodden soil of this land. In addition, while we're chronicling the carnage, let us not forget that we're the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons as an act of war (the most massive terrorist attack of all time) wherein we killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians for no other reason than to put Stalin on notice that we were to be the lone colossus bestriding the decimated post-war world.
As the years have passed, we Americans now stand before a contemptuous world: bloated in our subdivisions, waddling through Big Box retail stores, languishing in ignorance and anomie -- living caricatures of the grotesques of doomed empires. Therefore, we must take a long, revealing look at ourselves. Our breath stinks of carbon monoxide -- it's like we've been French kissing the tailpipe of a Humvee. Sometimes, I wish, America, you'd just wrap your lips around that tailpipe and commit suicide by internal combustion engine fellatio. (I mean it's coming to that anyway. But must we take the rest of the world with us when we go?)
Or, the process of awakening and renewal can begin. It's our choice, collectively. It's our responsibility, personally, to be aware of and then widely proclaim the stakes involved.
First and foremost, it's up to political activists, artists, online pamphleteers, et al to agitate against the neo-feudalist order of corporatism.
The present order is anathema to the soul-making of creative endeavor.
Art movements, from Paris in the 1920s to the Beats and hippies, to the flannel-clad, guitar-poet wretches of the Northwest in the late 1980s and early '90s had one common factor, in all those flowerings of life-vivifying creativity -- cheap rent.
Rilke once said something along the lines of: Everybody has a letter written inside their heart and if you don't live the life your heart yearns to live, you won't be allowed to read this letter before you die. Hence, we might infer: There exist, across the land, dead-letter offices, vast and cavernous, where our mail awaits, unopened and unread.
Ergo, one of the prevailing miseries of our era is: Most of us are to busy earning a living to live. As rents go down, levels of risk and inspiration rise. Moreover, we need the reflective power of art to end this impasse. It is imperative that we awaken to the realities of this death-dreaming empire.
Apropos, forgive me (or don't) for the angry tone of this missive -- for I am overwhelmed by the immensity of our nation's collective capacity for denial, casuistry and flat-out lying in regard to the death and destruction that has been inflicted in our names.
We must begin to grasp the unsettling knowledge that the things we as a nation inflict upon the world, we will eventually inflict upon ourselves. It is imperative that we start to ask ourselves this question: When so many external and internal forces work to thwart, degrade, and destroy our essential selves -- hence the world -- what can help to restore us?
Therefore, I’m calling you out -- the hidden side of our national character -- right here, right now. Show us who you are. Reveal to us your blank face, in all its banal symmetry and -- finally, and at long last -- give us an accounting of yourself.
I'm not naive. I realize you feel you’re under no obligation to do so. You feel no more need to explain your actions than does Death itself.
Although you have many faces, deep down, we know who you are: You're a clean-shaven lobbyist, a sharp-elbow careerist, a public relations expert, a land-decimating real estate developer, a rent-inflating landlord, a cunning advertising executive, a weapons designing technocrat, a pentagon planner, you're the bastard driving the SUV who is perpetually tailing my ass in traffic, you're my blank-faced, next door neighbor, lacquering his hybrid lawn in insoluble pesticides. In short, you're all the quotidian and respectable, therefore, highly deceptive faces of Death. You're our own face, personal and private, individual and collective: yours/ours is the murderer's countenance of empire.
Even though we all know the truth about you and our own complicity in your crimes, we push the knowledge from our minds, as we trudge though our days. And this is the reason: You promise us safety -- even as, you deliver us, incrementally and ineluctably, to destruction.
How do I reach you -- how do I beseech you to cease the madness?
You name the place where I can confront you: On a thronging sidewalk on Fifth Avenue, during evening rush, as we’re brushed and buffeted by the squalid grace of crowds. Perhaps, you might take the barstool next to mine and speak too loudly in my ear, jabbing my chest with your bony index finger to punctuate the pointless palaver of your self-justifying lies. How about: Let's take a cross-country drive, you and I, and see the fever dream of our sick nation unfurl before us through the dusty windshield of a grasshopper green, 1975, AMC Gremlin ... so that we might have time to talk this all through.
Because, I want you to realized this: There are hidden reservoirs of hope within us. Reservoirs as boundless as the reach of your ruthlessness. These waters are as deep and potent as you are, at present, shallow and shameless. Yet, they're inaccessible to you -- as long as you insist your drink of choice will continue to be oil and blood, mixed with the runoff of melting Arctic glaciers.
What you do not know is this: From these inner reservoirs emerge rivers of renewal that run between all of those who turn away from the dry, dead landscape of your lies.
These streams of inspiration and renewal silently flow between those who have glimpsed this: That each generation must struggle against the soulless seekers of absolute power, that each era is a wasteland, that every person learns life is unfair, yet must seek to drink from the waters of hope -- so that our tongues will not wither to cynical dust.
Empires rise and fall, but hope remains, flowing through time and place, bearing all things to the sea and back again, perpetually returning, bringing new life to the dry, dead land, slaking our thirst, cleansing our wounds, delivering to us the strength to make and remake the world anew, and, at day's end, lulling us to restful sleep to the timeless cadences of its ceaseless currents.