Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dystopian images

Sometimes I think Jon Stewart might be brilliant.

Then I reflect on it a little more, and conclude that Jon Stewart, usually, is brilliant.

I was watching The Daily Show earlier tonight, and they showed a series of clips wherein Fox News anchors and similar figures denounced the many evils of the teachers of the United States, among which included being overpaid and under-worked (as the son of two teachers: ha, bloody ha, I say).

Now, I don't doubt that The Daily Show edited all those clips together to appeal rather directly to my education-loving, moderately socialist, diet pepsi-slurping liberal sensibilities, but as I watched their edited series of clips I couldn't help but feel a certain deep unrest. Something felt very, very wrong, as I watched purported purveyors of information and news (had to resist the urge to use another "p"-word) tell not only outright lies, but lies which would specifically harm their country. That might again be those liberal sensibilities at work, but I doubt it takes a great leap of the imagination to conclude that an underfunded education system will result in ill-equipped kids, which one day means an ill-equipped country. Except of course for parents who can afford to send their kids to private schoo--


That's what's so bloody unsettling about American news. It feels like something right out of 1984 (the Orwell book, not the year). I remember reading 1984 at around 15 or 16, and being struck by more than a few things about the book, but most of all I was stunned by the sheer unconquerable, pervasive, ingrained nature of the Party. They managed to exert control over that part of ourself that we'd most like to believe our own, our mind, and did so by strictly controlling and regulating the flow of truth. What was the truth, in 1984, was whatever the Party told you it was. To my young teenage mind, that was the most devastating reality I could imagine, a world where a human being could no longer judge what was real.

But I was assured. No such system could ever come into place in our world. People would notice. Such a political uprising would never happen, not one that would allow such complete control. No Party could ever take such an obvious hold. I mean, the Party had such dramatic power that they started to literally transform language such that "the people" would ultimately be incapable of revolt.

That remains to be one of the most deeply disturbing ideas I have ever been presented with. Ever since I read 1984 in high school, I doubt that much more than five books have affected me in such a profound manner. Lately, by which I mean over the past couple of years, I can't help but see the spectre of Big Brother in Glenn Beck's rosy-red cheeks, his quivering jowls of frothy rage, his placating, comforting smile, his teary-eyed wrath. He all but runs his own hate hour. He all but tells people how to think (in fact more than once he's literally told people how to think; remember the social justice fiasco?).

Beck is, of course, just the easiest example at which I can comfortably lob vaguely poetic potshots. The broader swath of conservative pundits imitate his righteous crusade, just in a more insidious, faux-intellectual way. I suspect even armchair rednecks at least somewhat question Beck's sincerity, even if they aren't really consciously aware of it. But when someone comes on a television show and assures you that oh, those teachers' unions are just silly, it's a little less obviously crazy as balls.

Is it more than a little dramatic to relate the news trends of American television to the political dominance exerted by the Party in Orwell's famous book? Well, yeah, and it probably says more than a little bit about my own preoccupations, but I think it's pretty valid. What is true has become as relative as it has ever been, and what people are allowed to think has become a mandate of pop-culture TV and news.

It occurs to me now that this is something I'd like to dig into a bit further in another blog post, when I'm not writing at 2:30 AM. I have absolutely no delusions that no one has ever said this before, and certainly none that no one has said it better. I just can't help but remember how stunned I was, the day I started (and finished) 1984, and how my only comfort was the firm belief that it could never happen. The idea that something even vaguely similar could be creeping its way--or indeed, have already crept--into Western culture is one of the more disturbing things about today's world.

Maybe that's why people like me love Jon Stewart so much. If nothing else, he'll give you a few laughs for your trouble.

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