"There's nothing to fear, but fear itself."
—The Fonz, Happy Days S2E6. Also, Oingo-Boingo. And FDR, kinda.
Days like today, with rioting in the streets and drone strikes from the skies, I long for the good ol’ days of my youth when all I had to worry about was being vaporized by the Russians. Or worse, surviving the initial rain of thermonuclear fire only to wander the post-apocalyptic landscape, dodging roving bands of cannibalistic mutants out beyond Thunderdome. I mean sure, I had regularly recurring nightmares of mushroom clouds, being buried alive in subterranean bomb shelters, and the permanent midnight of nuclear winter, but it was just so much simpler to fear the Commies whilst huddled around the TV, wrapped in the flag, and under the banner of the Church than it is to negotiate the murky depths of today's world. One too complex to be explained by lone gunmen or monsters under the bed.
God only knows where kids learn to fear nebulous ghosts, monsters, boogeymen, and all the other personifications of invisible dread. Myself, I think it began when I was taught to pray the words, “If I die before I wake.” Still, those monsters could always be dispelled by a nightlight, a quick check of the closet by Dad, and of course leaving the door open a crack. But when I finally outgrew them and realized that Orcs, Ogres, and slithering tendrils were phobias preferable to sneak attacks from the Red Menace, it was too late to go back and reclaim those kid fears. Instead I was stuck negotiating a world where school showed us "educational" films like “The Day After,” Church proclaimed that Reagan was going to start WWIII to annihilate Mikhail Gorbachev—who was obviously the Antichrist because of that thing on his head—and Pop songs like “99 Red Balloons” and “Forever Young” were thinly-veiled treatises on nuclear terror set to some of the best melodies ever composed.
Ninety-nine red balloons
Floating in the summer sky
Panic Bells, it's red alert
There's something here from somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
And focusing it on the sky
The ninety-nine red balloons go by
Then one day, out of the blue, Gorbachev said the word “Glasnost” and almost overnight everything was fine, the Russkies were our friends. They took down that wall of theirs and Yakov Smirnoff couldn’t sell a ticket to save his life. James Bond stopped saving us from Russian Satellites, and we had to invent new enemies, like Skynet. Yeah, rage against them machines!
Of course the Russians still had their nukes, and in fact they were quite a bit more unstable politically and militarily, and were possibly selling them on the black market, but apparently I didn’t need to be afraid of them anymore? Definitely not. THEY ARE OUR FRIENDS. Overnight the story changed, and everybody just played along with a straight face.
But be afraid of the Japanese, because they are taking over. We would all need to learn to speak Japanese because they were buying up all our debt, our land, and there was a huge trade deficit or something. Whoops! There went the Japanese economy. Well that’s embarrassing, sorry folks, false alarm. But don’t let your guard down because… uh, hang on a sec… would you believe, Pakistan? They’ve got the bomb now. No? OK, how would you feel about… North Korea? They’ve got the bomb now, too. Plus, have you seen Kim Jong Il? Or was that Un? Whichever, that guy does not seem stable.
And so went the 90’s. Bill Clinton destroyed the American Presidency by getting BJ’s in the Oval, and balancing the budget that one year. Acid Rain and the Ozone Layer came and went. Good times. Then the crack babies were all going to grow up to be sociopaths, an entire generation of serial killers unleashed upon us. Not to mention that Y2K was ushering in the End of Days. That one was always kind of a dud for me compared to nuclear annihilation, but I played along all the same because I love America.
But each time since then, when the next threat came and went, it got a little harder to buy in, to really muster the proper enthusiasm for that week's groupthink exercise. SARS epidemic… uh, I mean Avian Flu… no, no, Swine Flu...whoops, I meant Ebola. Nothing? Really? OK, but one of these times it’s gonna be real, and then won’t you feel silly for not getting on the bandwagon?
|Official Ebola Branding Icon.|
So now we’re stuck with
At a certain point—sometime after Y2K and the Great Flu Vaccine Shortage of 2004 (What’s that, you don’t remember the Great Shortage? Shame on you!)—it all began to seem like we were sitting around a campfire telling each other ghost stories for the express purpose of being afraid of something. Anything. Like maybe I needed my Dad to do a quick check of the closet before I went to bed, except I was a grown-ass man now, so maybe I could just do that myself? I mean, how do you stop being afraid of the boogeyman? You wake up fine for thousands of morning in a row and begin to feel kind of stupid about the whole thing. I think they call that "growing up?"
It occurred to me one day that it wasn’t just us sitting around that campfire telling ghost stories, but a special class of professionals telling us their tales. For the sake of discussion, let’s call them “journalists.” These are the people we actually pay to make us afraid. Angry and horny, too. They tell us the part of the story that fits into soundbytes and 140 character tweets, interspersed with horrible images and Sarah McLachlan or U2 music montages. They edit video and audio recordings so you get the inflammatory part without context; they call them “rioters” in the burning streets when it’s about racial issues, but “celebrants” in the burning streets when it’s about a sports team win/loss.
You can just see them absolutely salivating over a good disaster, because it means they’ll get to put on the hip-waders and stand in the floodwaters of Anytown USA, mis-remembering the RPG fire they were nowhere near. Or relive the old glory-days of Hurricane Katrina, when they whipped-up imaginary Lord of the Flies scenarios of mass rapes at the Murder-Dome, and torrents of poisonous sewage killing the huddled masses while FEMA just sat back and watched, because George Bush hates black people. They never met a rush to judgment they didn’t like, and you can almost hear them just off camera calling, “Get upset about this!” Because if you aren't in an absolute STATE about something, they might have to wait until next month to buy that new satellite or vacation home in the Hamptons.
Then they break up the laundry-list of injustices, tragedies, and kidnapped little blonde girls with commercials for products that will help you get it up, put you to sleep, or make all those pesky feelings go away. At the end of their 22-minute spiel, they wrap it all up with a puff-piece about the panda born at the zoo so it doesn’t all seem so depressing. Otherwise, you might not tune in again tomorrow, and their sponsors Pfizer and Monsanto, wouldn’t like that.
When I consider every rumor of war that never materialized, every Global Warming benchmark that expired without swallowing the coastlines of every continent, every End Of the Word Prophetic Deadline that passed like any other day, every Population Bomb that never detonated, I begin to think that the whole thing is just a story we’re telling ourselves to hear the sound of our own voices. That if the day ever came when literally nothing happened, that would be the story: "The Horror of The Day That Nothing Happened."
It's funny to look back on the hysteria that surrounded all things communist when I was growing up, a continual subtext of fear that you had to buy into to be a Good American. Now we're all so urbane and sophisticated as to dismiss those trite concerns and instead reminisce fondly about them as if they were simpler times. In turn, with a straight face, we are so obtuse as to buy right into the next litany of terrors without a trace of reflection on the length of our days or the sum of our fears. There’s a reason the string of each day’s events are selected, filtered, spun, and packaged for easy consumption—whether by preachers, teachers, pundits, politicians, or journalists: it works. It doesn't even matter if you’re outraged, afraid, uplifted, or offended, as long as you keep coming back like a Good Citizen.
Sitrep (for today): Gorbachev...not the Antichrist. The Pope is the Antichrist. I'm sorry, what's that? Oh. Well...This just in, the Pope has been downgraded to Marxist False Prophet. it seems that a certain Kenyan Islamo-Fascist Terrorist—who shall remain nameless—has been elected as this generation's Antichrist to usher in the End of Days. Wow, you gotta a Cinderella story like that, out of the blue! Hometown kid (OK, Kenyan Muslim, whatever) makes good.
So as I was saying, please remember that Russia isn’t the enemy, except when they are (Pipe down, Crimea, I’m talking here!). It’s China… whoops, North Korea again! Not to mention
Al-Qaeda ISIS, Ebola,
Zionist Whatever, Artificial Intelligence, Gay Marriage, Christian Bakeries,
the Koch Brothers, George Soros, AntiFa, Black Lives Matter, Agenda 21, the NSA,
the Military-Infotainment Complex. Or some shit like that. Stay
tuned for millisecond-to-millisecond updates from the 24-Hour Fear Mongering... Uh, I mean
"News"... Cycle. And by all means, remember to put on your tin-foil
hat and take your medicine.
But for God's sake, don't take the red pill. Just sayin'.