Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.30.7: IT’S NOT SO EASY BEING MEAN [1]

If you can’t think of something nice to say

about someone, then say nothing at all.

                                                                                        (Old Proverb)

If you can’t think of something nice to say

about someone, they are probably not very nice.

                                                                             (Sebastian Gerard)

© 2006, UrbisMedia

© 2006, UrbisMedia

If you got to see Dick Cheney give his chilly explanation of the “facts” surrounding his gunning down of his putative “friend” [2] and Republican fundster who looks after a few beers very much like a quail, you got to see the administration’s Mr. Mean   (remember his resonant “f**k you” to Senator Pat Leahy?) at as close as he can get to a feeling human being.   Not encouraging. Dick likes to play the tough guy (in front of pre-screened audiences). Many photos show him snarling, teeth bared, baleful glare, smoke coming out from his pacemaker.   He was the toughest 5-time deferment guy during the VN war who had “better things to do” (read that as “I’m a chickenhawk that likes to shoot little birds”).   Dick’s good at talking tough and declaring war (for other guys to fight for him).

 

OK, he’s got heart problems these days (if you can find it).   And in defense of “The Dick” he’s not all that out of synch with a lot of today’s visual media audiences—they love MEAN, and can’t seem to get enough of it, and get it mean enough.

 

Remember (you have to be over 40 or so) the television program “This is Your Life”?   Host Ralph Edwards used to find the old friends and family members of the guest and they would surprise him or her by appearing on the show and the whole thing would be a love-in.   If it were reprised for today’s audiences it would be called “This is the Worst Day of Your Life” and those old friends and family members would beat the bejeesus out of you and the studio audience would call for more blood.   What is called “reality TV” would more aptly be called “brutality TV.”

 

To the extent that mass media are a mirror we hold to ourselves ,the rise of MEAN and its icon Darth Cheney bode ill indeed.   This is another fault line in the cultural techntonics that divides America.   Television is rife today with meanness.   Social losers are lured onto sets to be subjected to insult and assault one another over their relationships so that a studio audience can insult them and the home audience can feel superior; a blowhard multi-millionaire auditions young, greedy, obsequious wannabes for a job with him, and he insults and fires them with a wave of his imperious hand; dating shows are reduced to foul-mouthed shouting matches between young men and women that make one wonder who, or what, bred such low-life; ostensibly “funny home video” shows that revel in actual or staged episodes in which men are nearly castrated in various ways to the laughter of studio audiences (if men have felt that our culture has become emasculatory in recent years they have their literal proof on miles of video tape.)

 

There are of course programs that are not overtly mean, but have an undercurrent of meanness.   Sienfeldian deprecation, the playing off of social stereotypes, such as nerds, gays, fat women, and others, in their own ways play against a real-world backdrop in which the social niches of the American social landscape are savaged by one another in sitcoms and stand-up.   Mean guys like Tony Soprano are icons.   And so-called political analysis shows are hosted by blowhards aching for a fight, and in political season there are, of course, negative ads and the likes of The Swift Boat Veterans.

 

Sport comes in for an upgrade in meanness as well.   The California Athletic Commission recently joined several other states in approving what is called “ultimate fighting,”   bloody contests that have been aptly likened to “human cock fights” because they are proving to be immensely lucrative and popular with audiences.

 

Cinema isn’t much better, and more graphic, at representing violent meanness.   They actually felt it necessary to make a sequel to Kill Bill .   Crash, this year’s best picture, had a lot of meanness in it—the gay cowboys weren’t mean enough—but had a couple of uplifting moments.   If Tarantino had directed it the women would have been left in her car to burn and a bunch of crazies would have roasted weenies and made jokes about her screams.

 

Not that I would prefer a prissy, politically-correct, or God forbid (and I think He would ) Christian evangelical programming. No, I haven’t been hanging out with Tipper Gore. But watching all of this is like seeing a fundamental institution self-destruct, like a family, or what was a loving relationship.   America seems to be tearing itself apart, feeding its baser instincts of greed, perversity, racism, intolerance, on a diet of its erstwhile friendships and allegiances.

 

Maybe America never did have the solidarity it likes to pretend it has.   From the Revolution, to the Civil War, to Vietnam, and now with its cultural divide, it never has been entirely at peace with itself.   Maybe when things aren’t going well our first instinct is to get angry, and often that anger is focused downward.   A kid with a few grams of pot can get 25 years in prison (talking about mean places), and Duke Cunningham can steal millions for years and get a few years.   It is downright mean to blow a country wide-open and, when looting and violence follow, for Donald Rumsfeld to say that people will “done some crazy things” when you give the freedom.   That’s mean.   It is downright mean to conduct a war that kills and maims so many innocent “collateral” Iraqis.   I say “so many” because General Tommy Franks said “we don’t count them.”   What he really meant is “they don’t count.”   That’s mean.   Torturing prisoners, keeping them in prison for years without charges, and using the former torture chambers of Saddam Hussein for the same purpose; that’s mean.

 

This doesn’t mean that we have to be pushovers when bad tings are done to us, or even that we should get mean and take some vengeance.   The world isn’t all “This is Your Life” and It’s a Wonderful Life . But it isn’t all the Sopranos and Kill Bill either.   And old political axiom says:   “Don’t get mad, get even .”   That’s because when you get mad—get mean—you usually end up hurting yourself—like we have, at home and abroad.

 

By the time Darth Cheney realizes this (if he ever does or would even care) he will be gone, politically at least, perhaps cardiologically, or just out there somewhere counting the millions he made on his Halliburton holdings while waiting for some little birds to appear so he can blow them away and feel like a “man”.   He won’t give a snarl about the legacy of his own mean spirit and what we have let him do to this country and its international reputation.   Unh, uh, he won’t notice the mess because he’s a guy who “has better things to do,” especially if its that other “ultimate fighting”—going to war.   Dick has got to save some of that meanness for those little birds.

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©2006, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 3.24.2006)

[1] With apologies to Kermit the Frog

[2] Although not enough of a friend to follow or escort him to the hospital, were his friend had a heart attack from one of the pellets.

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