At present, 46 percent of the American people hold the delusion that Saddam Hussein was involved in the planning and execution of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
This statistic came to light as ABC/Disney aired last weekend a drama based on 9/11 containing the corresponding degree of historical accuracy regarding the circumstances leading up to the tragic events of that day as an average episode of The Flintstones in depicting daily life during the Stone Age.
What are the cultural circumstances that allow such mass deceptions to be perpetrated with seeming impunity? Will these Rovian prevarications, so rife within the corporate media bubble, continue to define our life and times? Will our destinies, both individual and collective, continue to be determined by these pervasive deceits -- these pernicious narratives, concocted by cadres of elitist fabulists, perpetuated with the intention of frightening and distracting that portion of our population comprised of gullible, anxious, over-sized, over-aged, dim children?
Sadly, there is not a granule of novelty in this: All nations, tribes, and families tell tales composed of sacred lies. Most of us are compelled to find rationales to live with ourselves and to tolerate the presence of those close to us. On a personal basis, these tales serve to repackage self-deception as self-confidence. On a mass scale, a nation's acts of aggression can be re-accounted as epic tales of selfless valor and heroic sacrifice. As Jean Renoir piquantly put it, "You know, in this world there's one thing that's terrible, that everyone has their reasons."
When the events and circumstances of our lives become terrifying, daunting, and unbearable, we are prone to create waking dreams of deus ex machina: of risen and returning saviors, of eternal feasts and attentive virgins in paradise, of communion with space brothers, and decisive, time-ending wars that will forever banish all sin and suffering. During times of trauma and uncertainty, we seek narratives of reassurance -- even clinging to ones that are spurious -- even preposterous. Ergo, George W. Bush will restore “dignity to the White House.” Right! -- And druggy Rush Limbaugh will restore dignity to the Crackhouse.
Thus, for nearly two decades, the anxious minds of post-Reagan conservatives have had an obsessive need to believe it is possible to return to a fictional past, to a golden era populated by well-turned out, obedient children, dutiful wives, and docile minorities. All of whom were lorded over by morally upright white men who wielded their righteous power guided by the grace, mercy, yet perpetually brittle temper of the All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Everlasting, Long-Bearded, Bony Ass, White Man in the Sky.
Wingers go weak at the knees for this kind of hokum. In the 1980s, they swooned, gazing upon Ronald Reagan's stiff, Pomade-lacquered pompadour -- which he held high and steady against the changes that blew in the wind from the odious 1960s; then, as now, believing The Gipper's fine head of 1940s hair should be carved in stone on Mount Rushmore where it would defy rain, snow, and lashing wind -- and would be, axiomatically, impervious to the reality of change. That is, until, the ineluctable ravishing of impersonal, amoral, and apolitical time reduce even mountains of ancient rock to rubble.
But all monuments to delusion need not be as epic as that. Even objects as quotidian and seemingly innocuous as neighborhood street signs can and will deceive us. Names can be misleading. Moreover, these everyday -- seemingly trivial -- misapprehensions can diminish our lives.
A sampling of such: The Manhattan neighborhood where I reside, the East Village, is a misnomer. Its name was created by real estate hustlers, who, acting on the presumption that the property values of the area, located north of Houston Street and east of Second Avenue, known previously as the northern section of The Lower Eastside, or The Alphabets -- or simply DON'T GO THERE! -- would be enhanced by said name change. The connotations of the name, The Lower Eastside, would have, at that time, had a tendency to scare off the sort of tenants who had the means to afford the newly jacked-up rents being asked for the former tenement apartments comprising a large percent of the area.
The marketing move was contrived to attract faux hipster careerists and those radical-until-daddy-takes-away-his-Platinum-Card-Trust-Fundafarians, whose pretensions and vanities led them to believe the designation "Village" invoked an artistic cachet to their corporate-controlled lives, but who would not abide the risks and squalor inherent to the sorts of neighborhoods that have been forsaken by all but poor working families, squatters, drug addicts, the mentally ill, non-conformists, as well as, by those renegade creative types too engaged in creating the future of art, music, and poetry to be overly concerned by the risks of such environs nor troubled by the attendant low status their address held among uptown trendies.
For the next case in point, I'll travel southward and back in time, a number of decades.
I was born in the Deep South industrial city of Birmingham, Alabama, another example of a place in possession of a fraudulent name.
Birmingham was founded by steel and coal barons from Pittsburgh who, in an attempt to ameliorate the worldwide perception of American southerners as being dumb as dirt, backwoods, genetic retreads, too-ignorant-to-hit-the-ground-with-their-own-piss yokels, christened their colonial creation with the name Birmingham, in order to brand it with a proper "city of industry" cachet.
Subsequently, the bloodsucking Yankee bastards (I mean, visionary captains of capitalism) who were known in Birmingham as the "Big Mules" went about the business of exploiting (of course, they would say, giving gainful employment to…) every dumb-as-dirt, backwoods, genetic retread, too-ignorant-to-hit-the-ground-with-his-own-piss yokel who had the requisite physical stamina and motor skills required to sacrifice their bodies and souls for substandard wages.
As the riches, plundered from the Appalachian Hills, flowed northward to Pittsburgh, what the laboring classes received in return was a life of ceaseless toil and perpetual debt. These harsh realities made the people of Birmingham hard and mean. In the early 1960s, the city was unofficially re-christened "Bombingham."
Birmingham was one hateful, little colonial outpost. If a white man complained about low wages and poor working conditions, the bosses told him, "If you don't like your job -- there are ten niggers who will take it for a fraction of your pay." It's self-evident why Birmingham was not exactly known as a beacon of racial harmony.
When my family left Birmingham, we moved to Atlanta, Georgia: a city (or more precisely, a contrived collection of corrupt zoning practices and real estate developer larcenies) that also bears a contrived name and was (and remains) a center-devoid simulacrum of a city, inhabited by a citizenry (who, for the most part) personal styles and cultural sentiments reflect Atlanta's phony name to a fault.
Whereas Birmingham's fraudulent name was meant to evoke an aura of industry, Atlanta's was meant to conjure an image of the ancient grandeur of a great city of antiquity. Call it: Classical Age Cracker.
Illustrative of the cultural confabulation and communal delusions that Atlanta residents term as their way of life are the lives, fates, and legacies of two famous residents of the city, Blind Willie McTell and Margaret Mitchell, both of whom resided there in overlapping intervals during the first half of the twentieth century.
I first heard the music of Blind Willie McTell, in the mid-1960s, when in tow of my father, I visited friends of his who comprised the half dozen or so members of Atlanta's "beatnik" community.
They were flopped in a run-down, mafia-owned building at the intersection of Peachtree and Tenth Street, bizarrely enough, in the building that contained the apartment that Margaret Mitchell had christened "The Dump" -- the location where she had conceived and written Gone With The Wind.
Upon the turntable of a battered record player, belonging to the building's resident manager, the late Bud Foote, a professor at Georgia Tech, author, poet, musician, and all around Beat polymath, spun rare and exquisite LPs. It was at The Dump that I first heard the works of Mctell and other Blues, Folk, and Jazz greats.
The building was located a short distance from where, according to local bohemian (all seven of them) lore had it, an aging, increasingly disconsolate from poverty, racism, and his own obscurity, McTell used to busk for change from redneck Babbits and country-come-to-town parvenus, shortly before he gave up playing the blues and took up lay preaching and gospel music.
The Margaret Mitchell House, as it has been subsequently dubbed by the Atlanta Tourism Board, is now a city landmark. Both obtuse locals and gullible tourists seem oblivious or indifferent to the fact that the building, thrice burned to the ground and rebuilt by the city, doesn't, at present, in any way, shape or form resemble the original structure where the epic racist, bodice-ripper, Gone With The Wind, was hallucinated and inflicted onto the page.
Not far down the road exists a bar named Blind Willy's, a place that, on any given night, is populated by the sort of folks, who, had they lived in McTell's era, would have ignored or spat upon him when he was busking on Ponce De Leon Avenue.
The irony shields of the city of Atlanta are impenetrable when there are dollars to be made from the creation of a safe, business-friendly, false mythology out of the stuff of the city's racist and tawdry history.
Perhaps if we were to take a closer examination of these sorts of everyday misperceptions, distortions, and lies that, over time, grow into cultural delusions, it would reveal a great deal about not only Atlanta, Birmingham, and Manhattan’s East Village, but our present day lives within that hack-conjured narrative know as the present day United States of America.
Is it possible for some scion of the corporate state to wail out the blues of the present era -- for some bluesman born of the hybrid lawn-seeded soil of our nation of vast suburban subdivisions and weaned on its pharmacological subsistence crops, perhaps going by the moniker Medicated Willie McMansion -- to sing out, "I got the medication blues/ from my iPod head to my sweatshop-shod shoes..."
But more likely, the progeny of Margaret Mitchell, now newswriters and producers at CNN, will continue to contrive the spurious narratives of the times: storylines that are about as accurate as the one their forbearer, Miss Mitchell, confabulated within the pages of Gone With The Wind regarding the Civil War era American South; both tales are vain, shallow, narcissistic, self-serving spectaculars -- inane, melodramatic mélanges, riddled with cultural clichés and casuistry, reality-denying rationalizations, and pulp novel plot devices serving to mask the realities of brutal classism, blood drenched racism, and wars waged on behalf of a corrupt ruling class.
So where does this leave us? Are we condemned to live out our lives in the enthralling dazzle of these glittering fragments of self-serving lies?
Or worse: What of the dreaded Law of Eternal Poultry Return (LEPR) -- which is known, in everyday parlance, as the "chickens coming home to roost"?
I'm having this recurring vision of flocks and then more flocks of returning, roost-seeking chickens. There will be so many flocks of roosting, rampaging, revenge-reaping chickens (Also known as: the collective enmity of the people of the world beyond our shores . . . peck, cluck, cluck peck; ad this to, our nation’s financial insolvency, personal and collective, . . . cluck, cluck, scratch, peck, scratch peck; those -- combined that with the increasingly apparent realities of Global Warming . . . peck, peck, peck, scratch, CLUCK!; as well as, our Nation’s crumbling infrastructure; plus, the vast catalog of other ills looming over us . . . CLUCK! CLUCK! PECK! PECK! PECK!) Returning chickens, all … thronging the streets, boulevards, interstate highways, back roads, and private driveways of the U.S.A. Such a proliferation of barnyard fowl blowback -- it will look like Col. Sanders OD'd on bad acid, having a vision of his eternal damnation to come.
Are we utterly defenseless against these pervasive and pernicious narratives? I don't believe so -- if we practice the imperative of the free. That being: Question everything -- from street signs to sacred assumptions, from the cant of local boosterism to the hagiography of the famous, both living and dead. There may be hope for us yet: If we face down and call out those everyday, soul-grinding, life-defying lies that begin the process of acceptance of -- hence complicity in -- the preventable tragedies that have come to define our times.
Phil Rockstroh, a self-described auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Phil Rockstroh
Made of Lies: Rage, Grief, and the Chimera of the American Dream