Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
It’s nostalgia time on premium cable. I mean, it’s always nostalgia time on premium cable. But, man, Mohammed Ali. Got me listening to The Motorbooty Affair. This is Howard Cossell, reporting live from The Motorbooty Affair.
Hey, remember when Mohammed Ali, the boxer, refused to go to Vietnam and fight against the North and the VC? Remember why? Because it was a racist war, he wasn’t getting treated like a human being by the official society here in the USA, and he didn’t like that much, so why should he go do the same thing to some strangers on the other side of the world who’d never done him any harm? Remember that? Or something like that? That was when refusing to go to war wasn’t easy. You were forced to go to war. If you refused, you went to jail. You lost your championship title. There were consequences. Nowadays, they can’t force you to go to war. They just make you so poor you have no choice but to join the army. But it is a choice. Isn’t it?
Remember back when? When the world was sort of different, although since then the cruelties have shifted around, from public sector to private sector, from overt coercion to subtle, tacit coercion? Here and there, now and then? Nostalgia is unnecessary. You really just need the proper tools of interpretation, and you are instantly transported from the enlightened present to the benighted past. Watch The Handmaid’s Tale and you are back in your worst colonial collective memory. Just by rearranging the emphasis on intention, you can travel back in time while staying in the same place. To colonial times. Or to yesterday in Alabama.
Nostalgia didn’t used to be a dead end, but nostalgia is a dead end, especially now. We are approaching the future, and it looks like crap. Yet we are compelled to think of the past, because, eh, it’s the only thing we can remember. We are prisoners of our mental deficiencies. Look, it happens. It happened in Rome. It happened in Medieval Europe. It happened in 20th Century Europe. It happens because our institutions are adolescent. They’re stuck in a puerile stage of development. They repeatedly promise reform, because the people and the obvious awfulness of the situation demand it, but, like lazy teenagers, they continue the same behavior that burned the house down and wrecked the car, last time and the time before. They haven’t got the maturity to address their issues in an honest way. It’s a story as old as time. Caveman teenagers were just as bad. It’s not the teenagers’ fault. It’s the fact that our institutions must be indulged and endured as if they were recalcitrant puberty-sufferers, lying for the sake of convenience, just wanting to get high because life in the suburbs is so stultifyingly boring.
I was walking up a hill, among some trees, just after a rain, a bird twittering amid the foliage beside the path, and I had a great sense of being in North America. Remember North America? And of course, I was and am in North America, but I had a deep sense of it. And I had just been listening to a podcast about Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, and one scholar had been talking about the landscape descriptions in the novel, the Scottish landscape, the Tyrolian, the Swiss, the Alpine landscapes, how nature was thought of back then, and Rousseau and the notion of the noble savage and how the Creature was a tabula rasa at birth but society’s intolerance made him a monster.
The natural world is conjured up in Chernobyl. On HBO. So nostalgic. So bucolic. It all reminds me of the woods around Eastport Michigan, near Torch Lake, where both Eminems, Marshall Mathers and Michael Moore, have habitations. Remember Eminem? Imagine his nostalgia. Nostalgia for the Detroit of his youth, which was the Detroit of my high school years. Which was like the Detroit of today, but with fewer highways, high-end cafes, and combination bicycle/watch/baseball mitt shops.
Did Eminem ever go to the cider mill, do you think? Can you picture a young, urban, and white Eminem, chilling at the Cider Mill with his posse? Eating a bag of crunchy fried doughnuts, a brown paper bag stained with doughnut grease? Drinking brown cider out of a Styrofoam cup, a waterwheel behind him, wheeling water from the Rouge River? I bet he said a lot of stupid things, a whole mess of blarney, as they called it in the Ireland of someone else’s youth. How dizzy I get from the vapor of nostalgia for the Ireland of someone else’s childhood.
Just beautiful, all this memory and current existence. This pink slime of time’s guts.
It was a different world when Aretha Franklin and Mohammed Ali were in their 20s and 30s and 40s. It was a different world. There was something to live for. Soul. Bravery. An end to a racist war. These days, soul is on the market, bravery is scarce, and racist, capitalist, imperialist wars have proven themselves never-ending. Bravery is impossible, there’s just no room for it, the Spectacle has evolved to devour and assimilate even the most radical gesture. Even the community work of Nipsy Hustle is quietly savored and swallowed, melting in the mouth of the beast like a throat lozenge.
Not to say we haven’t made progress. We’re much closer to the world predicted in the movie, Soylent Green. Remember that movie? Spoiler alert, it was made out of people. That’s where the phrase, “Soylent Green is made out of people!” comes from.
Remember those apocalyptic movies of the late 60s-early-70s? Looking back, how naïve, yet how prescient, were their predictions of the future. Of course, you can’t remember the future, you can only remember the past. So the only future I can remember is the one predicted by Rollerball and Soylent Green and Planet of the Apes. That future is all in the past.
The very idea that we even have a future is passé. The future itself, the time reached after time has passed beneath our feet, brushed past our cheeks, or streamed through the sky over our heads, is a time whose time has passed. The future is a time whose time has passed. The present is all the past was lumbering toward, it’s the barrier all our hopes crash into, where they pile up in a heap of garbage, because they can’t go any farther.
So we should either climb over the rubbish heap of the past into the future, or get serious about clearing it away. We can’t keep standing here, admiring it, picking out this and that thing we want to salvage. But we’re going to. We’re going to linger here. Sadly, we must face the fact that the generation that got us to this point is not the generation to lead the way forward. No one over 35 today can see their way out of this wilderness, because we’re stopped at the barrier, we worship the barrier, we buy and sell the barrier, we’ve set up camp here like Milo Minderbinder or Mother Courage, living off the barrier, running our little concessions, this and that, recycled Q-tips, bicycle wheels, reclaimed rags, crackers made of people. I suggest we use a chair as a table, a table as a bed, and a walk-in closet as a gym. Just selling each other the same trash, over and over. Wasn’t there some rumor that we were in a new millennium? It’s hasn’t taken yet.
Clustered around the trash heap of the past, wheeling and dealing like money-changers in the temple. The next generation is here, though. We need to let them pass, at least not prevent them from clearing a path through the accumulation of mistakes and sins and habitual failures. We may be doomed to resurrect our leadership from the graveyard of failure, but there is another generation coming up. The least we could do is put on our hazard lights so they know they can go around. Wave them around. Go around! Go around! Leave us here. We’re happy here, you go ahead, we’re going to worship some old jackass and keep eating cold, leftover French fries out of this to-go container, building our huts out of corrugated plastic and plywood. We’re used to it, we dug a groove in the album, we’re fine, just leave us here. You go on ahead, make something of yourselves. Make something besides Soylent Green of yourselves.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!