Dread! Dismay! Zeitgeist!
Funky Winkerbean, 3/26/09
Via The Comics Curmudgeon
Now is the time, I think, for me to join the chorus of spring break posts. You, my gentle reader(s), may have noticed a certain paucity of posting from me recently. I have no explanation. I do have, however, plenty of pressure to write something. Maybe two weeks ago, I was told in no uncertain terms by one of the supervisors of this blogging project to post something--anything. And let's not mention the clamoring for posts from my most committed readers (read: my mom; hi mom!).
I have a couple other posts on the back burner, but, for some reason, I can't seem to finish them. So, in the spirit of the medium--this most delightful, off-the-cuff medium: blogging--I will endeavor, with this post, to leave it unfinished, and just get something posted. How exciting!
I did nothing this spring break. I sat back, mostly sans human contact, and allowed Hulu and a steady intake of blogs, newspapers, and magazines to turn my brain to rot. So, while my most exciting story from break involves toilet paper and a moment of pure dread--in short, unpublishable information--I think that I may have stared at the computer screen long enough to capture the present zeitgeist.
This, then, is the subject of my post, to wit, these dark and depressing times.
Of course, there is a certain strangeness to writing about the culture of America-at-large while so firmly ensconced in a place like Oberlin. In many ways, the College community and culture is immune to the goings-on elsewhere. Sure, the outside world pokes makes itself felt from time to time, viz.: the closing of Downtown Pizza and Missler's grocery store, the recent kerfuffle with the union contract negotiations--about which I will say nothing, even though I'm a union man (I was in AFSCME for about three months), because I know who signs my paychecks... But, in general, the Oberlin bubble limits the influence, at least for the students, of the spirit of the times.
For me though, this last week spent immersed in the cultural miasma has given me new perspective. It started with the premiere of the sitcom Better off Ted. For those of you who haven't seen it (which I imagine is just about everyone), Better off Ted is a new one-camera, no-laugh track sitcom on ABC. Its protagonist is, unsurprisingly, named Ted, and he's a middle manager at a huge and soul-crushing corporation.
Where, with other office-based comedies in last few years (The Office, Office Space, Arrested Development, etc.), we've been treated to companies that are just bumbling, ineffectual, and stupidly bureaucratic, the corporation in Ted is needlessly and pointlessly evil. And, where once the office everyman was there to bear witness to the company's stupidity (i.e. Jim in The Office), the employees in Ted are so downtrodden, the most they can muster is stealing creamer and writing a children's book about a toaster that "just doesn't want to make toast anymore."
The script and acting is solid enough, but it's Ted's relevance that makes it so engaging. We are, of course, living in the age of the monolithic and sometimes-evil corporation, a fact thrown into sharp relief by the recent economic collapse. The days when we could simply laugh at corporate-speak and our idiot boss are long past. Corporate America isn't funny anymore; it's malevolent, hence the rage over the golden parachutes for executives and the AIG bonuses.
But it isn't all fun and sitcoms. The anti-politics championed by Jon Stewart & company has a new competitor: faux-populism. Whether in the guise of Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann's literal call for an "armed and dangerous" revolution or Glenn Beck's frightening and wild claims about the coming American Ragnarök (including his insistent rumor-mongering that Obama is maintaining secret concentration camps), it seems that some on the Right have found a new voice, eerily reminiscent of the anti-government wingnuttery of the early 90s.
This blind and dangerous idiocy, this total rejection of fact and reason, is a reflection of the terror of the times. We've got influential people denying global warming, people ignoring modern medicine, resurgent neo-creationism. Welcome to the age of American political Pentecostalism.
Yes, while we Oberliners frenetically write papers and frantically dance at the 'Sco, the world around us is in terror. But not all of us are immune. In particular, I'm thinking of those of us who are graduating. It's a bleak and cold world out there, and as our time in the artificially-stimulated culture of Oberlin comes to a close, it's harder and harder to slough off the chill.