“There Goes America”

People will probably die of exposure this weekend as a Noreaster dumps a foot of snow on New York and New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. People are still without heat and have been dumped out into the streets, or mercy of family/friends and homeless shelters. And I have to ask myself, are we really willing to turn so blind an eye to the plight of an entire region so quickly?

In less than two weeks, it seems that the passing mentions of real Sandy problems have failed to mobilize a response across the country.  Americans are a battered and weary people, I get that. We’re used to having things easy, we’re now reaping the returns on generations of lavish spending and quick fixes. We’ve under-invested in infrastructure, and over-invested in getting things cheap and easy.

I’d like to get into the ethics of storytelling and media, but I’m not going to, because that’s a long and complicated article I still haven’t untangled in my mind yet. SUffice it to say I feel this: While marketing and advertising have taken to narrative and storytelling as cultural artifacts to increase sales and enculturate purchases into experience, media has moved the opposite way, removing storytelling from practice, parsing information into soundbytes and news clippings. Regardless, I’ll just tell some stories and ask some questions.

This article tells some of the story:

Forecasts for colder temperatures only added to the tension, since many in New Jersey and elsewhere have been using fuel-powered generators to run lights and heaters while waiting for utilities to repair downed power lines.

 

At a Hess Station on late Thursday night in Fairfield, New Jersey, people waited more than three hours to fill-up their cars and gas cans. Four police officers directed traffic.

 

“This is a pretty apocalyptic situation. How far do we have to go to get gas – Tennessee?” said Ricardo Meehleib, 30, as he waited in line.

 

While power was expected to be returned throughout Manhattan by Saturday, it could be another week or more in suburbs and more distant towns along the coast. About 4.5 million homes and businesses in 15 U.S. states remain without power.

 

While fucktards like Donald Trump writhe in anger and tweet about the death of America, I’m looking at him going “yep, there goes America.” We’re so caught up in an election we can’t even apply the brake to give a shit about people who could possibly freeze to death.

These are not the systematically homeless who have been under attack and reviled by all sorts of city and state governments in the past year, and these are not freeloaders, but the displaced, who by no fault of their own have lost homes, jobs, savings, workplaces, cars, food, gas, and heat.

In my opinion, the crown jewel of this country is NYC. I grew up in Los Angeles, but I’ve always been fascinated with New York. As election tensions rise and the GOP tries to find a new identity, I can’t help but wonder why the fuck no one cares about the real problem in this country. It’s not the elephant in DC, it’s the elephant in everyone’s living room, the callousness with which Americans go about their daily lives unimpeded by inconvenience, carrying on, unhindered. It’s the way we ignore the personal dimension, and the highschool made morgue in a hurricane demolished Staten Island. Media & cultural negligence runs rampant in a world trying to sell commercials.

While we throw confetti at the shit show that is Washington, what we should be doing is asking about the soul of America. Where did our collective compassion go? Where did the America that had the guts to care about integrity go? I believe we have to ask whether it ever really existed, but what we can do to move towards that as a society. Occupy Sandy is outperforming all the major organizations and doing it with a nimble, fast-paced model of mutual aid that’s more effective than traditional charity, yet is ignored because of the political stance Occupy Wall Street has taken. The death toll is severely underplayed while reports indicate that the morgue at the local university was filled to capacity.

These and other stories continue to haunt me. That these stories remain untold cements in my mind the age of doublespeak as reality. Adam Gopnik wrote about Obama’s Political Intelligence, when I think we should all ask ourselves if this same stoicism and unreality on a mass scale is not only dubious but in fact an indication of the broken, hollowed out core of our society. Can we really handle cultural stoicism? I think it’s not stoicism at all, but the begrudging and jaw clenching insecurity we face as a culture. The unreality of Obama is only symptomatic of the constructed fictions we now inhabit as an entire society. From myths about a war hungry America hating planet, to the myths of our own impenetrable greatness, to myths about our economy, our culture and how we rule the world, or lead it in freedom, we live in a perpetually expanding unreality.

Perhaps we have grown thin skinned as a society, unwilling to face the facts of a world where we’re no longer on top. Perhaps we’ve grown too callous to recognize maybe the way we do things isn’t the best. Really, the reasons don’t matter, as long as we do soemthing to change it. As Jeff Daniels said in HBO’s the Newsroom, “the first step to fixing any problem is recognizing that there is one.”

I think we have a long hard journey ahead of us, and while some people are bitching about the impending civil war over Obama’s re-election, the stock market dive and all manner of bullshit…I feel like I’m on the other side asking that bigger question, the real elephant in the room, “Where the hell is our cultural soul?”

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5 thoughts on ““There Goes America”

  1. Wonderful post, Eli. You touch on a lot that I’ve been thinking about (just as an aside, I’m from NYC, and I was living in Hoboken until a little over 2 years ago, and my son’s father and many friends are still in Hoboken, and I’m horrified about what’s happened to them, and to my cities). The last line of your post says it all. I’m sick of hearing about taxes and economic plans and the price of gas. Those things matter in some respects, but I kept waiting (without a great deal of hope that it would happen) for someone during the election to talk about the poorest of the poor, the homeless, the vilified (and “reviled and under attack”) people for whom taxes and mortgages are meaningless and always will be.

    One thing I kept thinking about during and after Sandy (and I know it’s not over yet) was that it was probably an easier time than usual for the homeless, as (I assumed!) they would be assured shelter (I hope I’m not wrong on that).

    I do have a problem with the “freeloaders” versus “through no fault of their own” comparison that is so freely and often callously and without thought thrown around. When we try to make those judgements on our own, and act on them, I think that we’re bound to fail and to fall on the short side of compassion.

    Just my own thoughts, inspired by your post…

    Nancy

  2. I wrote that line just to distinguish, and drive the point home with some of my conservative readers. ANd the casual passerby who might be on the GOP’s anti-everything kick.

    What I believe about poverty is simple: You should make wars on poverty, not poor people. You should combat lack with opportunity but also the training and assistance to make the most of that opportunity.

    The way “opportunity” tends to be framed in discourse is that it’s ground level and everyone can just go grab it. However, in reality, often someone has to step on 3-5 people to reach it, or have someone invest the time into making those opportunities accessible in the right way.

    We really need to build an Open Data system that tracks the ROI of civic services and shows everyone how ensuring a school with a high nutrition rate improves performance across the board, etc.

    I didn’t mean to assist in calling the shots, but highlight the gravity of the situation in a society armed against compassion.

  3. I actually didn’t think that that was your thinking; I just hear those “qualifying” phrases so often, from people who actually DON’T think about them (not “just to distinguish”) that I guess I felt the need to say that. “Freely have you been given; now freely give” has come to have a lot of meaning for me.

    “A society armed against compassion”…yes. Well said.

    Nancy

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