Friday, April 9, 2004

Angst v. Apathy

I used to be apathetic,

but now I just don't care

Remember buttons? Though you can still get buttons, and people still wear buttons, they aren't quite the fad they were about ten or fifteen years ago... back in the late eighties and early nineties you used to could spend a good deal of time simply reading new acquaintances' jackets. Nowadays such witticisms are reserved for overpriced t-shirts that I never see anyone wearing but always enjoy reading in Castro or Telegraph store windows.

I used to have a green tweed sportcoat that was liberally crusted left and right with buttons and brooches of various sizes, each button bearing an amusing little saying or epithet or picture. There was a big white button with an excerpt from a gay porn novel on it, a jazzy pink one that read "Queen of Outer Space," a vivid yellow one that read "Eat Well, Stay Fit, and Die Anyway," a tiny green one from Venice picturing the lion of San Marco that I found on the sidewalk, and a medium-sized blue one that simply read "BITCH." And of course I had a number of pink triangles, one of which was worked into the American flag, as well as fan-pic buttons of Nick Rhodes, David Bowie, and Cyndi Lauper to name but three. But my favorite one was the one cited above, "I used to be apathetic, but now I just don't care" (followed closely by "I'd probably like you better if your head were on a stick").

I was thinking of this yesterday as I lay on the living room floor, sort of shell-shocked, trying to digest Bowling for Columbine. Yes, I know, I must be the last left-leaning person in the free world to see this film, but you know I've never really been cutting-edge and have always had a strong aversion to documentaries. But my nephew had to watch it for some class of his, and he's picked up my horrible habit of buying things cheap instead of renting them, and so we have a DVD copy of the film laying around the house... and since I was also laying around the house and had nothing better to do, I popped it into the machine and had a look-see.

Of course, I was appalled. I don't think anyone could watch this film without being appalled. I'm sure that was Mr. Moore's intent: he meant to appal. And as I lay there being appalled, I absolutely longed for those bygone days when my relationship with news, information, and politics was one of complete and comfortable apathy. I had no idea what was going on in the world, outside of the spheres of fashion and entertainment or my own social and family circles, and I simply couldn't care less.

Nevertheless, I always voted, considering it my solemn civic duty from the time I turned eighteen. But I tended to not investigate candidates or issues very deeply, basing my decisions on the voters' sample ballots and my own psychic impressions of the personalities involved. Of course, in the days before the Information Superhighway, there wasn't that much to investigate... unless you could stand watching TV news and reading news magazines, personal appearance was all we had. I'm almost (but not quite) sorry to say that I often voted Republican in those days, simply because the personalities of the Republicans were more reassuring and stately than the Democrats, who often came off as whiney and shifty (they still do, to an even greater extent now that their powerbase has been so thoroughly undermined by terror and third-parties, but in the current atmosphere I find myself preferring whiney-and-shifty over belligerent-and-shifty).

What Bowling for Columbine did, though, was remind me that the Republicans are not the only warmongers among us. I had forgotten about all the deadly international meddling that went on during the Clinton Administration, where US "peacekeeping" troops went around killing civilians in Eastern Europe and Central America and Africa. Well, I didn't forget the events, I hadn't forgotten that it happened, but I hadn't ever before linked those events in my mind to the Democratic Clinton Administration. Clinton's foreign policy was by no means any better than Dubya's or his daddy's, characterized by continuous flip-flopping and media misdirection and literally fatal intelligence mistakes.

The only difference, as far as I can see, is that the Bush wars seem more organized and have much better PR. The Bush motives are more transparent, and their operations are more transparent. Evil, certainly, but visible to the naked eye. We no longer refer to our killing of civilians as "peace-keeping" (though just imagine how peaceful the world would be if everyone were dead)... we come right out and call it "war." It's still wrong, but at least it's a little more honest.

What really grills my asparagus, though, is how blind my countrymen (and family members) are to this perfectly transparent and very-nearly-honest evil. Why should the corporation that Vice President Cheney used to chair be given a multi-billion-dollar contract to rebuild a country with which we are at war? Well, why shouldn't it? is the question with which the first question is supposed to be answered (the current media/government style seems to delight in answering specific questions with vague questions, as if your ignorance of the answers should prevent you from asking the questions in the first place).

Doesn't anyone see an inherent conflict of interest there? Doesn't anyone know what a system of checks and balances is for? Doesn't anyone care that government programs like welfare and Medicare are being privatized, that even the idealistic social work that government is supposed to conduct is being turned over to profiteers? Don't people get that a corporate mentality and actual coporate operators are taking over our government? Don't people understand that profit-motive has no place in institutions of education, social care, or government?

Deep breath. I get overwrought sometimes.

Anyway, the point is that I miss not caring about all of this (...we can never go back to before). I miss being able to sigh a fatalistic "Ho-Hum" and go back to the current issue of Vogue. This frustration from feeling unable to change things, this anxiety that things are actually going to get worse instead of either getting better or muddling along as they are, this anger that people can actually be so stupid and evil (and I really do believe that stupidity and evil are two sides of the same coin), it all roils around in my heart and makes me terribly unhappy.

But there is always hope. I hope that this climate of media-driven terror will dissipate, that Americans will return to (or begin) thinking about things logically instead of merely reacting, I hope that The People will eventually realize that they are being led around at the nose by corporations that have absolutely no moral compunctions, I hope that diplomacy will someday be allowed to do what self-serving commerce and destructive war cannot. I'll keep on hoping, too, and working for change, and voting my conscience.

Still, I'd rather have not known, I'd rather I didn't care so much. Life could have been a dream.

Sh-boom, sh-boom, sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na.

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