Man, somehow I woke up this morning and walked into the mid ‘80s. That’s how it felt, anyway, after I found a pamphlet from Mother Jones, circa 1981. For the record, 1981 predates me—not by much, but a bit—and so I count reading such material as history, normally. But this time…I don’t know. This little pamphlet delved into the issues its liberal authors saw as plaguing America: the rapid rise of Political Action Committees (with their undue effect upon legislation that may not be in the public interest), a recent tax act that heavily favored the wealthy and business interests at the expense of the still-a-lot-larger-then middle class, the harmful effects of jobs being shipped overseas, the rise of government debt, the disposal of nuclear waste, American dependence on oil, the backlash against contraceptives and abortion, disproportionate crime rates among young black men…
Um, any of this sounding familiar?
Oh, sure, there were some indications of how dated the thing was—predictions that the next big war would be nuclear, terminology that gave computers and robots equal weight as concepts, a foreign citizens’ language guide that included Yiddish but not Chinese or Arabic or Russian—but these paled in comparison with the stark, blinding and frankly terrifying similarities.
The eighties theme continued with Brazil, a film from 1985 that has actually nothing to do with South America’s largest nation. The movie is the disquieting story of a totalitarian state, and there’s much ado in all the reviews and synopses you’ll read about the similarities to Orwell’s 1984. If you happen to be watching 23 years later, on the other hand, it’s impossible not only to identify the dehumanizing effects the system portrayed has on its inhabitants, allowing for the existence of a procedure of torture for those suspected of terrorism.
(As a side note, one of the most chilling themes in the film is that when the terrorists—who do seem, somewhere, to exist—detonate big bombs in public places, no one rushes to help the wounded. Although the world’s hot spots for exploding buildings don’t yet seem to have reached this soulless state—and I am of course thinking of Israel and Iraq here—it’s very, very scary to imagine that such a day might come.)
Surely, this is all anecdotal and not worth a lot as hard evidence of anything. And yet, I don’t they can be ignored. And I’m starting to get pretty seriously worried here, folks. Rick Warren is the one who’s getting the candidates-to-officially-be to sit at the table together. (He opened by quoting Scripture, y’all. The hell?) Gallup has McCain and Obama tied. I’d say it was the end of the world, but I think it’s worse—I think it’s history, coming back to bite us in the ass again. And with the 2008 election looming ever closer, we need to be extra vigilant.
So let’s make a pact, all of you with longer memories and more experience. How about you all start talking to us young ‘uns. Tell us the stories of what happened—political battles fought and won (or lost), nightmare scenarios and dreams for the future you once had. Help us identify issues and problems that have appeared before. The news media isn’t helping our institutional memory, and we’ve abandoned most of the civil institutions that might help. And then, we can help draw up the new plans, because clearly, something has got to change.
If we don’t stop this political cycle, who knows? Big hair might even come back into fashion, and I’m not sure the nation could survive that.