October 16, 2016

The Satirical Age


An actual headline that appeared on a legitimate news site this morning read: “Skittles Joins Tic-Tacs in Denouncing Trump.”

            The history of human civilization has been measured out in a series of Ages, each marking, for better or worse, a revolutionary advance in technology or shift in consciousness. So as a species we’ve passed through the Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, the Dark Ages, the Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, the Industrial Age, the Atomic Age, the Space Age, and the Information Age. And now—you read it here first, remember—in the early Twenty-first century we have officially entered the next dramatic Age in the continuing de-evolution of human consciousness, the Satirical Age.

            For centuries, from Aristophanes through Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Celine, Thurber, Kurt Vonnegut, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, through The Groove Tube, Kentucky Fried Movie and Saturday Night Live, satire has been a weapon wielded by thinking individuals to take the piss out of the power structure and expose human folly in general. But over the past decade and a half we’ve experienced a radical cultural shift.

            It first became apparent to me back around 2004 or so, when I was working on a novel called Unplugging Philco. Much of the story was inspired directly by what I was seeing around me and hearing on the news every day, as has been the case with all my novels. For comedic purposes, of course, it was my intention to amp things up a bit, exaggerate things to absurd levels in order to point up their inherent, well, absurdity. But as I was in the process of doing this, it seemed what I was hearing in the news was making a concerted effort to outdo what I was describing on the page. The world, it seemed, was going to make my book outdated and irrelevant long before it was released. No matter how ridiculous (or so I thought) the situations and technologies I was imagining, reality put me to shame at every turn, and with increasing frequency.

            Back then it occurred to me, with so-called “reality shows” dominating the airwaves, so-called “smart phones” becoming not only a standard human appendage but the dominant sensory organ for most people, sleazy celebrity tabloid journalism usurping the actual news, attention spans measured in milliseconds, politics, warfare, terrorism and weekly mass shootings presented as merely a few more meaningless reality shows, and any memory of a pre-2001 world dead and gone forever, what the hell was a satirist to do? Lord knows there was no topping the unfathomable popularity of the Kardashians in terms of eye-gouging nonsense. Might as well be writing ad copy for some pharmaceutical conglomerate.

            Jump ahead to the present and the situation has only grown much much worse and almost too silly for words. Think about it. What do you do with a world in which party clowns have replaced terrorists as the American public’s number one fear? How do you satirize Trump and Clinton when they’re already cartoon characters? How do you point up in comic terms how simultaneously alienated and narcissistic people are when they already spend three-quarters of their waking hours posting inanities on social media sites, fully convinced they’re being “sociable”? How can you exaggerate the righteously hypersensitive when respected universities are taking drastic steps to avoid “trigger words” and “microaggression”? And for godsakes, if you needed any more proof America has gone completely batshit Bizarro World, I recently had a piece run in the fucking Wall Street Journal. In short, this whole ugly planet of ours has become one never-ending satirical sketch comedy show with any number of recurring gags. We’ve got five thousand twenty-four-hour channels, all of them blasting out Sugar Pops. And most amazing and damning of all, everyone seems to be taking it all so deadly SERIOUSLY.

            Part of the shift, I’m tempted to think, can be blamed as per usual on the young, those smug, snot-nosed hipsters who chortle derisively at the special effects in low-budget Fifties sci-fi movies, but willingly suspend disbelief and accept as the complete truth not only everything they hear on the news, but everything they read online. They’ve become so gullible and uncritical they simply accept as direct commands everything the corporate marketing departments feed them, lining up like sheep around the block to be among the first assholes in the neighborhood to shell out hundreds of dollars every eight months for the latest incarnation of iPhones or Nike sneakers. More hilarious still, they think they’re really smart for doing so. That may help explain why there’s been such a marked rise in mass hysteria and superstition in recent years, at times reaching levels not seen since the Seventeenth century.

            As my friend Don Kennison puts it, “This is exactly and precisely the sort of idiot folk thinking that makes this country so vulnerable to charlatans, professional criminals, and demagogues. No wonder power of all stripes is seemingly so infinitely entrenched.”

            And that, in turn, got my innate paranoia cranking again in terms of uncovering root causes behind the rise of the Satirical Age. Maybe there was something far more shadowy and sinister here than simple human stupidity. What if, right? What if at one of their annual meetings early this century, the members of the Bilderberg Group agreed they were sick and tired of all these smarty-pants satirists making fun of them all the time? They’d show them! With a little media manipulation, a few fancy new gizmos plunked into the hands of ninety-nine percent of the population, they could make the whole fucking planet one big colorful distraction far more insane and absurd than anyone could have dreamed. And while the masses are hopping all about over party clowns, some buffoonish presidential candidate, the latest celebrity gossip and this year’s threatened deadly pandemic, the Bilderbergers could go about their insidious business in peace.

            It’s a plan that has worked like a charm for over half a century. If some innocuous cultural force, from rock and roll to low-budget genre films, seems to pose any kind of a threat to the corporate power base, simply co-opt it, sanitize it, make it part of the mainstream consciousness, and all your troubles are over. Granted, this latest shift took a bit more effort than, say, just getting a few major record labels to sign a couple of punk bands. It was worked out on a much grander scale, but damn it, it was necessary. No one was going to make them the object of fun again!

            Ah, but ultimately the joke’s on them, see? Because even though they may have cost me my livelihood, they ended up once again solidly proving all my nihilist theories. So thank you, Bilderbergers! And welcome to the New Age.


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