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JWR 2.12 - The American Experience
As Americans and to a lesser extent, Canadians, we don’t really have traditions. Countries like Japan and China and people like the Jews and Hindus have a past and tales and stories thousands of years old. America has existed for a little more than two centuries and honkeys have only been coming here for about five centuries total; first that dirty wop Columbus working for the Spanish, then DeSoto and John Glenn later. (Actually Amerigo Vespucci was the first dirty wop to come to the New World, but he was a really dirty wop so the powers that be decided to say Columbus was the first--he had a better name, after all.)
I had this bullshit class American Minority Groups with Dan tha Playa that described America as a “Melting Pot.” On an incredibly insubstantial level there is truth in that. America has lots of people from lots of places living together and having families together, or more likely, apart. I think a more appropriate metaphor would be to say that America and to a lesser extent, Canada, is a tossed salad with cheeses throughout lightly heated on a hot plate. We as people represent the different ingredients in the bowl more or less tossed into a roughly homogeneous consistency; true, here and there you find small clusters of like ingredients, but we’re all in this together. The cheeses throughout represent, along with the heat, the slow, gradual and even reluctant combining of the ingredients. See, people like to stay with their own. Usually you’d find honkeys marry honkeys and gays marry gays. Most cases are decided upon racial lines simply because people don’t know any better. Religion, sexuality, income, physicality, geography and others play less significant, but significant nonetheless parts in the “melting” part of the now defunct melting pot theory. The bowl represents America and the hot plate represents the abstractivity of the pressures of both the need to break down racial lines as well as the resistance to said desire. And they call it Tone Deaf.
I live in a place with a lot of German-descended peoples; also slavs. Danish, Russian--eastern European, the trash of Europe. Oh, the west is best, ooh. We have France and England and Vatican City and Switzerland. We got monay!!! $$$ Other cities have Irish, Puerto Ricans, Russians, blacks, rich. But you never find Australians in any one area here. Each people has their own culture and traditions forged over time. They brought them here when they migrated, it’s only natural. However, over time you’ll find that the tossed salad with cheeses throughout lightly heated on a hot plate (TSCTLHHP) had eaten away at the traditions of the people who make up the salad. These things don’t mean what they once did; this is America where we did our own things, turned our back on the old world to a large extent. We are the children who moved out in a huff and feel the need to put our beliefs upon those from whom we moved out. Our way is better, faster, newer; like Nuprin, which even I can swallow.
As Americans we’ve defined our existence by war above all else. We’ve had ten major wars in our two hundred-plus years. We like it, not on a personal level, but as a whole, we like saying we saved the world once we entered each of the World Wars, we like having won our independence from the British, we like saying how we ended slavery, we like fighting Communism.
In literature some say that a plot is inconsequential. We always learned that a plot was what held a story together. The plot was, in fact, the story. I think you’ll find in a lot of modern American literature there is less plot and more of an idea or a mood that permeates throughout. Movies are just another form of American literature, just with moving pictures. Hell, most movies come from books, so it’s all relative.
I think there’s this thing called the “American” in movies and books. These are books and movies that explore America, and not in the Lewis and Clark way. Many of these are appropriately named with “America” in the title: American Graffiti, American Pie, American Psycho, American Beauty.
I’m reading, or re-reading this book White Noise by Don DeLillo, yet another dirty wop. It’s a sweet ass book, I know that none of y’all can’t read, so I won’t recommend it to you. But in the introduction to the edition I have, the editor mentions that one of the working titles was The American Book of the Dead. There’s no real plot to it. The final title White Noise refers to that sound you hear when the cable goes out with the salt and pepper on the screen, kind of a shkkkkksshhshhkkkhhsssh. Yeah, that sound is used to treat people with tinnatus, a condition where a ringing is constantly heard by the sufferer. The book often will have a brief transcription from the TV or radio that has nothing to do with what is going on in the book except on a symbolic level. It will be heard by a character almost as an underlying hum if only to symbolize the way all our electronic gadgets permeate everything we do. Stephen King had this very cool novella about a guy who tried to cut off all the electricity in his life. There was this little man who lived in his typewriter who was adversely affected by electricity. A little kid with a battery operated toy gun killed the little man--the nut who saw the little man also saw the scattered grey matter on the viewfinder of the typewriter when the kid killed the li’l bastard. Then the guy went crazy. But The American Book of the Dead brings us back to the “American.” It’s a state of being. Man versus man. Man versus society. Man versus himself. Man versus nature. Stories used to be about one of these. Now you find elements of each of the four struggles in a single story.
We’re a culture where death fascinates us just as much as war; they are related, as you are to your parents. I think death is white noise just as TV or radio or internet transmissions are. Every death hits us, stronger or less severe depending upon how many people it passes through before it gets to us. We like death, we like stories of death, we like seeing death, we like hearing death, we just don’t want it to be a personal thing. And by “we” I mean some of us, by all means, not all of us. So, no letters, please.
The only other thing that even comes close to fascinating us the way death does is sex. Hot sex, cold sex, ginicomtwig, monkey love, fratting, sweet-sweet lovin’, the nasty fandango, indoor sedging, hibbidy-dibbity, nub, shamma lamma, the business, bickity-bam, rumbusticate, fuckin’ & suckin’.
I think sex may even be getting less important, giving way to death. Maybe not.
Poetry has two major themes. I know they say you can write about a table and it can be poetry, but have you ever read a poem about a table? Yeah, they suck the sweat off a dead man’s balls. Although I went to this poetry reading and this guy read a poem about a table and when he comes in, he listed all the things he puts upon it. See, it was a symbol of coming in the door to your house and putting the things you carry on yourself through the day on the table--metaphorically. He put everything on the table. Or there’s this short story called “The Things They Carried” about American troops during the Vietnam war and it listed in great detail the things they carried down to the weight. Then it began getting surreal as well. Things tend to if you’re not careful.
So, I think it’s only fitting that a book like White Noise, which is much like an epic poem, should contain elements of both of the major themes of poetry: death and sex. And even in some funny, crazy, icky ways, they begin to overlap as the protagonist searches for the answers to his questions, he’s thrust into circumstances that deal with both sex and death.
There’s all this modern pop culture language scattered through the pages from this man’s children and step-children from his four marriages who all, somehow, live under the same roof with his newest wife, Babette, between whose breasts we often find the protagonist. She’s afraid of death. She wants to die first so she doesn’t have to be alone. He’s afraid of death. He wants to grasp onto every second of life he possibly can just so he won’t die.
George Carlin talks about death and getting older in his stand-up routine more now than ever because, well, he’s getting...“OLDER. Bullshit, I’m getting old.” He talks about these people who act all tough, “‘Man, if I’m ever in a coma, pull the plug on me.’ Fuck that, leave my plug the fuck alone.” Simply put, how do you know? Pull the plug, you have no idea. Are you sure? Maybe your mind is still alive despite the lack of neural transmissions. Science says. God says.
"Give us this day our daily discount outlet merchandise.” -Billy Joel
“Jesus Christ, why don’t you come save my life... Deaf and dumb and blind and born to follow.” -Tool
Candles burn only so long. The sun also sets.
I saw the tail end of a documentary on PBS about commercialism and the music industry. What caught my eye was the Insane Clown Posse (ICP) who have a couple interestingly funny songs such as “Santa Clause is a Fat Bitch.” You know: “Santa Clause is a fat bitch/ Another year and I ain’t got shit/ If he lands on my roof/ I’m gonna kick him in his to-oo-oo-oo-ooth.” Then they went into how Limp Bizkit’s rise was engineered from Interscope Records and MTV. Then they came back and mentioned that ICP signed with a major label and the fat clown was on WCW wrestling--in other words, the band that could not be marketed and commercialized has been. It doesn’t change the fact that they’re cock smokers. And what’s the dilly-o with the ICP/Eminem rivalry. Is this supposed to hold anybody’s interest? This is not a 2pac/B.I.G. thing; this is a bunch of suck-ass rappers. Nobody cares. I’d have more interest in a rivalry between Peter Straub and Judy Blume...Exactly!
But commercialism is in all nooks and crannies of life. You can’t walk outside for more than five minutes without being assaulted by a free advertisement for whatever can be sold. Billboards tell you what food to eat, what hospital to get cut at, what beer to drink, what skank club to get hard and unfulfilled at. T-shirts scream bands and labels and designers and clever sayings that relate to a product. “Whassup!” “Make 7--Up Yours.” “Keggy Says - ‘Don’t Spill.’”
In White Noise the full permeation of products is shown as one of the main character’s daughters says “Toyota Celica” in her sleep over and over. Products such as cars are given names that are pleasant sounding. Datsun, now Nissan, just sounded cool. Aztec brings you back to an ancient culture which people like thinking about, just not learning about. Lexus. Acura. Benoit.
Most of my clothes are plain colored. I actually have a Pepsi shirt on now. I’d rather it be a Y2J shirt, but you can’t have everything. On the back of my jeans they say the brand. My car says what it is. My shoes have the names stitched and attached. My watch has is on the face. Everything has a label.
I shouldn’t be so picky, I’d sell out for $14.50. I’d kill to fuck. I’d wear whatever you want. Except Abercrombie and Fitch. That’s for homos.
“I’d sell my soul for a donut.” -Homer Simpson
Copyright © 2001 John Lemut