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  (Feb. 8, 2006)

 The other night I was walking to Sav-On to buy some medicine to keep my excess stomach acid neutralized.
          My female superior, surveying the visual cacophony of evening traffic as dead as Francisco Franco, and neon spider traps aiming to grow sticky with dollars exchanged for coffee, tacos, burgers, sushi, sex DVD’s, booze, artificially tanned skin, remarked:
          “I was listening to a guy named Saul Landau on NPR.”
          (Of course, such pursuits will soon be punishable with a prison sentence.)
          “And he was talking about shopping as a separate reality.”
          I paused for a moment. I do this a lot nowadays.
          “A separate reality? Um. . .from which one? What did he mean? Who is he?”
          She explained that Landau is a well-known filmmaker and general crusader against junk culture, religious insanity (almost an oxymoron), environmental assault, etc. And that he speaks of shopping as a kind of cultural dementia. Not just holiday shopping, or women shopping to appease obscure hormonal demands, or men buying cars to appease obvious hormonal demands, and not just materialism.
          “Remember right after 9/11?” she said. “What did Bush tell everyone to do in order to feel better?”
          “Why,” I said, “he told us all to go shopping.”
          “Right! And also to go to Disneyland. Bush knew that shopping is reality for this country, if not the world, and that’s what would make people feel comfortable. This is what Landau is talking about.”
          “Well. . .” I said.
          And I launched into a little dissertation, a little speech, a little self-indulgent attempted intellectualizing of the ilk that makes my friend, Scott Paul declare, “Oh, he’s up on his soapbox again.” But when I finished, my female superior said: “That was well put.” This is partly why I hang around with her instead of Scott Paul.
“Most people. . .like being lazy and unbothered by everything except how they are going to decorate, feed, and entertain themselves. Witness Las Vegas, the American Reem."

          What I said was something like this:
          “Look at ‘em all, scurrying around. They take their orders directly from Abercrombie and Fitch, and their favorite restaurant reviewer, and CNN. They think they are participating in life, but really they are just being distracted by things and entertainment. Some of them will wake up when they are elderly and wonder, what in hell did I do with my life? Well, I sure bought a lot of stuff!
          My female superior nodded. I took this as encouragement.
          "There is another reality going on, that is created by the corporations and media, Oprah Winfrey and Matt Lauer and Rupert Murdoch, and used by the government to placate, divert, and mollify. What you see on the streets here is that other reality---all these lights, all these business that come and go like toadstools, all these incessantly new cars and SUVs that everyone rushes out to buy every year. It has nothing to do with anything related to the earth, air, and sky, except if you break things down with the commonality of science. This is all commerce reality, and commerce has become reality for most people.”
          “Capitalism,” she said.
          “No, not just capitalism, which is a logical and sound conceit, but capitalism amok; capitalism without conscience. Recall how terrified we were as kids to see and hear propaganda about the dirty commies and how they were practically soulless automatons? Look at all the soulless automatons driving down Wilshire Boulevard!
          “These people think they are participating in the real world---by buying new Lincoln Navigators, going out to eat asparagus and arugula pizzas, having lots and lots of sex, acquiring $750,000 condos or turning old ‘50s crackerboxes into gigantic sarcophaguses, where they can store lots and lots more accumulated stuff until they die. It passed the point of ludicrous about twenty years ago. There is no longer the slightest shame in gathering up material wealth, and proclaiming it ostentatiously. Everyone is stamped with corporate logos---literally, on their clothes. Often---and this symbolism is punishing---right on their asses.
          “Theirs is not a world of ideas, or concepts, except those ideas that talk-radio and Fox and the government sanction as the water-cooler/cubie/e-mail/Starbucks scuttle of the day. Theirs is not a creative world, or a thoughtful world, or certainly not a world where you consider ways to. . .make the world better. Theirs is a world of consuming and reacting."
          "How did it happen?"
          “Remember how, when we were kids, the question was ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, and the answer did not even consider money? I want to be a teacher in order to help young people. . .I want to work with handicapped children. . .I want to be a fireman (firefighter is the contemporary term) to protect the community. . .For years now, career choice has been largely secondary, if not incidental, to what it pays. Parents raise children with this as an example. You see the results all around you.”
          Yes, my patient accomplice added, "but with the average price of a home at $500,000 in California, people are forced to go for the money."
          “Exactly right. That’s the coporatocracy squeeze, the so-called ‘free market’ turning everyone into manic slaves of the dollar.”
          A Honda SUV whizzed by, going at least 10 mph, bearing a bumper sticker, “SEEK HIM.”
          “It’s the same with the Jesus folk, at least the enormous and powerful bloc of Armageddonists, whose belief in the Second Coming removes them from taking this earthly life very seriously. 'Let Go, Let God' is about the worst thing that ever happened to a sense of community, and responsibility to that community, in modern history. Talk about letting yourself off the hook! They're all going to the Holiday Inn in the sky, so why bother with Motel 6? Dirty it up, leave the towels on the floor. . .”
          “For all their talk of spiritualism and compassion,
churches and synagogues support consumer reality all the way. Think not? Take a look at the clothing on your average ‘worshipper,’ and check out the SUV/Mercedes-choked parking lots of humble houses of worship across the land. Mammonism is the great world religion today.”
          She broke into a chorus of “Oh, Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. . .”

Anchormannequin Laura Diaz than peeled her lips back to expose her gigantic, ultra-violet light-whitened “everything-is-okay” choppers and added, “very cool.”

          “You see, Bush told everyone to go shopping because---yes, he was afraid the corporatocracy was going to take a huge hit---but also because this was the way to most directly reach people. To get to their hearts, because their hearts have become their pocketbooks and wallets, and the malls their churches. This is the corporate-produced reality that most everyone buys into---literally and figuratively.
          “And the media reinforce, package it, sell it. They have a symbiotic, parasitic relationship to government and corporations---and of course, most media are now owned by massive corporations. There is money in pushing the buttons of people conditioned to consume. Commercial sponsors love it, corporate media owners love it, and government really loves it, because it keeps people distracted from what it is really up to. Keeps them from thinking. So everything becomes produce, sell, consume, produce, sell, consume. Nothing more.
          “I mean, look at the so-called news. It’s news for children. Okay, kiddies, the big pwezzident said today that freedom is good, and meanies are bad. Then the big Senators got mad at the big pwezzident. And then more people were bwown up in Iraq. . .An’ the big money guy says that there’s not enough money, an’ there’s a big storm. . .There is no examination of the machinery behind all these things! No critical or analytical look at the corporatocracy in mainstream media. Not even simple reporting on the relationships between lobbyists and government. That died largely when Bill Moyers left his PBS program, “Now," during an 'anti-liberal' harassment campaign by discredited right-wing plant in the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson. Perish the thought.
          "That's it. Perish the thought. Thought itself is perishing.
          "Of course, some would snicker and say that money has always been the determining priority in media and all else---but the thing is, there are no other priorities anymore! Everything has been leveled by the desire to acquire money. And all discrimination of worth has come down to a single test: is it cool, or not?”
          "What do you mean?" my patient and indulgent partner asked.
          "Cool is like a shunt directly into the bank account. It’s Pavlovian. Say 'cool,' and consumers prick up their ears. 'Cool' is the ultimate reductive device, an equalizer in the worst sense of the word. If something is baptized 'cool' by the media, there are exactly two possible reasons: 1) it is worth money, or 2) it is baffling, and therefore threatening. If it’s worth money, then it’s platinum. If it is threatening, it must be neutralized. How to take the intimidation out of something, like oh, classical music? Declare it 'cool.'
          "Ridiculous example? Hardly. One night on Channel Two 'News,' they closed with a story about the discovery of a Beethoven manuscript. When the 20 or 30-second piece ended, anchormannequin Paul Majers said, 'Cool.' Anchormannequin Laura Diaz than peeled her lips back to expose her gigantic, ultra-violet light-whitened 'everything-is-okay' choppers and added, 'very cool.'
          "Think Majers and Diaz go home and listen to Beethoven’s late quartets?
          "This is how commerce-reality deals with substance. Trivialize and neutralize it by declaring it 'cool.' Don’t explore it because it’s interesting or worthwhile or there is something to learn from it. Perish the thought! Annoint it cool, and the marketing/ demographics people come sniffing around to stamp its ass with Abercrombie and Fitch.
          “People no longer have a sense of citizenship. They have a sense of consumership. This is what Bush was addressing in his post-9/11 message of, um, inspiration.”
          My partner continued humoring me: "Then," she asked, "we’re just screwed?"
          “Most people don't think so. They like being lazy and unbothered by everything except how they are going to decorate, feed, and entertain themselves. Witness Las Vegas, the American Reem.
          "But there is a reaction to consumer reality, although it is pretty feeble. The whole Alice Waters concept of food is a reaction to it: participate in the actual world, and with your community. Pick locally grown food, prepare it yourself, share it with others over good conversation at your table. Such traditions are the stuff which make societies strong and healthy---and helped make this one strong and healthy.
How many citizens do that anymore in this country? Everything is processed, microwaved, and ingested over television, X-boxes, cell-phones, Blackberry Wireless devices, in cars, etc. There is a lovely program by a woman named Wanda Urbanska, called 'Simple Living.' You see it on some lesser PBS affiliate late at night once in a while, and it is all about getting back to community, efficiency, conversation, the earth, personal responsibility. . .
          “The astonishing irony here is that I even have to say any of this. If the events of the ‘60’s were worth anything, they were a statement of rejection of false values, of materialism as a measure of success. What I am expressing here used to be very mainstream observation, and that was a cause for hope. Now the right-wing demagogues and mad-dog pundits and Jesus tyrants are busily denigrating anything associated with stereotypical ‘60’s ideology, from environmentalism to anti-war activism.
          “The only hint of those values seems to live on among free-thinkers, so-called anarchists, environmentalists, vegans. They are a reaction to consumer-reality, but they have practically been labeled 'terrorists' by the corporatocracy that they threaten. The FBI actually spies on vegans and environmentalists! They collect data on them from so-called right-wing “think tanks.” Imagine that. The government seems as afraid of vegans as Al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, thinking and sentient people who reject consumer reality must co-exist with it, and it is heartbreaking and debilitating to the spirit to have to do so."
          We had arrived at Sav-on so I could by my weekly jar of Rolaids and Pepcid.
          Co-existing with consumer reality can be very hard on the stomach.

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