by Jerome Grapel
Over the last ¼ century or so, what seems to have taken residence at the core of the American narrative is fear. We are all supposed to be afraid of so many things — Arabs, North Koreans, Moslems, hackers, terrorists and mischief makers of various stripes all hell bent on bringing down the virgin purity of the drive-thru life style. Ergo, since our nation is the undisputed leader in the Disneyland happiness the rest of the world can only envy and resent, they are trying to destroy us because we are so wonderful. The price for being wonderful is an unavoidable ration of fear. They go together like Brad and Angelina. Get used to it.
After so many years of listening to this narrative, I’m finally becoming afraid. It is a fear that is beginning to inch its way almost imperceptibly into my organism, a malevolent presence I’ve never felt before in my almost 70 years of life. Terrorists? ISIS? North Koreans? Putin? No. They’ve never elicited the least bit of fear from me with those kinds of things. What I’m beginning to be afraid of are the people creating the American narrative. I’m beginning to be afraid of us!
All nation-cultures have a narrative to tell, one that almost always enhances the product. As long as this narrative can maintain a reasonable amount of objectivity, it does not have to be a negative thing. There is not one culture anywhere that does not have something positive to offer and there is nothing wrong in emphasizing such. But when your cultural narrative begins to harden into a piece of petrified stone that people yield cult to mindlessly, you have made the jump from “narrative” to “propaganda”. Once you’ve made that jump, you begin sailing on a smooth sea before a freshening wind towards a landfall in “totalitarianism”.
America is beginning to wallow so deeply in its own narrative — freedom, liberty, democracy — it is finding it more and more difficult to question anything. We are becoming ostriches with our heads stuck up our asses. We refuse to see the system’s hypocrisy, its failures, its dark side. We refuse to admit when it is not living up to its promise. We deny any need to monitor it. We have arrived to a point where we just “can’t handle the truth”.
The most important news items in America’s most recent history have left behind the fetid stench of the rot of its morality. If we try to give some chronology to these items, we should start with the ominous sounding National Security Agency and the revelations of its spying on American citizens. We are not talking about judicially approved surveillance on carefully chosen suspected evil doers, but the listening in on the “private” lives of — well — all of us! This was soon followed by the CIA torture report from the United States Senate, where it was conclusively shown (as if we didn’t know) the United States of America tortures people, just like our cinema versions of the krauts, commies, Japs, Ayrabs, and a whole host of other “bad guys” who are not as free as we are. This, in spite of the fact that we have signed treaties outlawing such practices and are firm believers in the “rule of law”. And now, just to round it all out in a neat display of freedom loving democracy, we’ve been blistered with multiple reports of police excess from around the nation.
These 3 stories, each in its due time, became the headliners in the vaudeville of Big Media news. But they should not be looked upon as separate news items. They are the Siamese triplets of the contemporary American cultural panorama, attached emotionally in their contempt for the American narrative. In all 3 instances, something patently un-American has been used to protect American values. Random spying on us all? Torture? Arbitrary police action? In all 3 stories, the American public, following the clues set forth by its corporate media, has decided, “yes, as long as it protects our freedom and air conditioned house, it’s OK”.
In rebutting these assumptions, I am going to set forth something almost mathematical in its consistency: you cannot protect your freedom using totalitarian methods. At times, these opposites flirt with each other, but any attempt at consummation can only lead to disaster. You can look it up. Adolf Hitler was democratically elected, but with a wink here and a nod there — y’know, because it was necessary — and before you could say Gestapo, welcome to the jungle. Once you start down that ski jump, there is no turning back.
This embryonic feeling of fear that has begun to trickle into my consciousness had a well defined moment directly related to the spate of questionable police actions that have headlined the news recently. Three of these incidents became national in scope. 1) The Michael Brown-Ferguson killing. 2) The shooting of a 12 year old boy in a deserted Cleveland park. 3) The death of a middle aged man on Staten Island in New York. The common thread running through all these incidents is the death of an unarmed black person at the hands of white police. (I’d say there is a racial element in play, but, considering what I’ve seen and heard of police behavior in general, to rule out white on white examples of this nature would be naïve). Without a doubt, the Ferguson affair was the most ambiguous, but it was just this ambiguity that cried out for a public resolution of the matter. Considering the anxiety and tension caused by the death of Michael Brown, to not have had some open judicial process as the final verdict was a travesty of justice with some kinship to a totalitarian action.
As for the latter 2 incidents, there is no ambiguity. We’ve all seen it. Something went horribly wrong that cried out for some form of accountability. As I write, the police in the Staten Island case have been exonerated in the exact secret way the Ferguson case was resolved, and the Cleveland case seems to be getting swallowed in the same quicksand.
Perhaps one of the clumsiest defenses I’ve heard for what these policemen did came from the head of the Police Benevolent Association (how sweet) in Cleveland. While being interviewed on TV, he was asked a host of questions as to what the police could’ve done, should’ve done, or what the proper procedure is for this or that. He soon became frustrated and said this: “Look, how about if the people listen to what the officers are asking them to do, respond to their commands, and don’t cause trouble? Why don’t you ask that?”
My response is this: “If not for people misbehaving, there’d be no need for police. It’s a fact of life; people don’t always behave and that is why we the people hire, pay, and train professionals to protect us. Unlike death, which is a singular state of being with no nuances, bad behavior comes in many varying degrees of “bad”. You wouldn’t throw a person in jail for jaywalking or littering, just as you wouldn’t kill every criminal suspect not behaving exactly as the police want. If the civilians paying your salary cannot ever question your actions, we have exchanged Shirley Temple and apple pie for a police state. Recently, we the people have seen, with our own eyes, police actions that must be questioned. Rather than be offended by such scrutiny, you should welcome it as a part of your job description in a continuing attempt to get better at what you do. We the people, your bosses through our elected officials, realize the vast majority of our police do a good job we are grateful for. But, just as in the civilian population, some people do not always behave properly. There must be accountability”.
It is encouraging to see that a broad cross section of the American population has asked for just that. Large, multi-racial, poly-faceted demonstrations took place all over the country in a display of disgust for what they’d seen. For about a 2 to 3 week span, this call for justice ruled the airwaves and police practices were on the hot seat. And then —
— a mentally ill black man in the complete throws of his inability to function rationally, gunned down 2 thoroughly innocent New York City policemen.
Years ago, while writing about September 11th, I expanded upon a familiar saying and coined the phrase “The Military-Industrial-Media Complex”. This is not the space for a detailed discussion of media’s role in the status quo, so I’ll simply repeat something I’ve said before in my essays: our most influential forms of media — Big Media — have become little more than the public relations sector for the corporate capitalism controlling our lives. They form an essential part of this tyranny and are cut in on a large part of the booty for doing this job.
A big part of what policing and “law and order” are all about is the protection of private property (and rightly so). Those with the most to lose are the most indebted to the forces of order. In a sense, for those at the very tip of the economic pyramid, the police are “their” police more than anyone else’s.
I mourn the loss of these unfortunate policemen as much as I mourn the loss of anyone who falls victim to police excess. But the media, in representation of the status quo they work for, seems to have pounced on this sad incident as if it were a windfall bonanza to turn this police-under-attack story completely around. “Yeah, what luck, let’s shut these protests down, let’s change the subject, enough of this insurrection”. But there’s more. “And hey, while we’re at it we can heap some crap on a political figure who does not sympathize with the 1% as much as we’d like.”
The ease with which this was done is what has begun to frighten me (now that I think of it, something similar happened to me while ingesting Big Media’s performance leading up to the second Bush Oil War). Not only were the protests wiped off the board, it seemed as if the questionable police actions were being vindicated — all because a mentally ill black man, acting alone and out of his mind, killed 2 policemen. And DiBlasio? F him too.
When you put this all together with the spying scandals and the torture episodes; when you recognize that a good percentage of Americans (a majority?) approve of these tactics, this is cause for fear. And I can begin to envision a knock on the door — “Are you Jerome Grapel, aka PCM?” “Who are you?” “You’ll have to come with us —“
It is not impossible.
I began writing essays in the early 90’s, the collection “Because You Never Asked” being a fractional but representative cross section of an output that is still in progress today. I restrict their content to anything that may be relevant since the dawn of time to the end of eternity. They’ve given me a kind of therapeutical way to voice my objections to the paradigm of our culture and the negativity it is leading us into. All cultures attempt to inculcate their constituents into someone’s narrow minded, self serving version of reality and this book is an attempt to translate these subterfuges into the truth. Although a number of my earliest essays are included in this collection, the vast majority of them are more contemporary. Regardless of their chronology, they should all still be pertinent to whatever is happening at this moment.
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