It is my belief that Americans are presently living through an era of such complete and total cultural malaise that there is no chance it will be forgotten any time soon. No, like the 1970's, the first decade of the 21st century has been so unbearably rotten so far that the very memory of it will send a chill through the souls of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This country doesn't need a new political establishment, a great musician, writer, or visual artist so much as it needs an exorcism. I am talking about a spiritual and cultural dry-rot which is eating away at the foundations of democracy in America. I truly believe that and I will go into more detail about it later. For now, what foul putrefaction would be sucked out of our souls if an exorcist were to show up and start cleaning house? Consider the following:
Paris Hilton would shrivel up and die like the Wicked Witch of the West in a bubblebath.
Dick Cheney would be magically transported back to Cody, Wyoming where he would resume the life he was always meant to live.
Condoleeza Rice and George W. Bush would run away together, leaving Laura the freedom to finally find a man who will stay up past eight o'clock.
The Bush Twins would meld themselves back into the Olsen Twins from whence they emerged and get jobs telemarketing in Crawford.
Simon Cowell would find his mouth sewn shut like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, unable to ever utter another word.
Janet Jackson's boob would pop back into its bustiere, setting off a reverse chain of events which would culminate in Howard Dean becoming President.
In other words, whose idea was all this - the last five years, I mean. Who put these people in charge of the rest of us? Is there an American alive who really feels comfortable being represented internationally by such luminaries as George W. Bush, Paris Hilton, and Fantasia? I'm not trying to complain so much as trying to point that there is a fundamental lunacy at work here -- which reminds me of that quote by Howard Zinn, "All of the wrong people are out of prison, and all of the wrong people are in prison. All of the wrong people are in power, and all of the wrong people are out of power." I'm also not bashing America. At its best there is a brilliance to the American way of life which is simply the genius of the human spirit unleashed. That's why there is something so wrong with capitalism gone awry - a system which promotes the worst and suppresses the best, a reverse meritocracy in which nearly everyone works to support the excesses of the few who do not, a dismal commemoration of mediocrity, banality, sentimentality, and endless cliches.
I also do not think that there are many who would disagree with this assessment - which makes it doubly odd that the present state of affairs has continued even for as long as it has. The problem is powerlessness and that is difficult to reverse. My hunch is that we Americans lost our mojo after 9/11 and that most of us are only vaguely aware that something has gone wrong and have no idea how to fix it. I don't really have a solution either. I tend to think in political terms and thus I believe that a new political establishment would go a long ways towards reversing the damage. But there has been too much damage done to think that things are just going to get better in 2008. Americans are in for a long, hard-fought struggle against our worst impulses, our least inspired excesses, our worst fears about ourselves. That struggle is this generation's responsibility. It's not exactly defeating fascism or surviving the Great Depression, but if we can give our children something better than what passes for American public life in 2005 - reality TV, stagnant wages, unaffordable housing and health insurance, an authoritarian regime run by a foolish head of state - then we will have succeeded.