Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It doesn't matter what colour your parachute is.

In the seventies the addictive boogie man was heroin.  In the early eighties, it was cocaine.  By the end of the eighties it was crack, or super economy cocaine, for the layman.  There was a six week period, when journalists, lacking a new drug, tried to manufacture a new epidemic.  They called it parachute.

No drug user or addict ever called it this.  It consisted of some mad scientist concoction that combined heroin and cocaine.  It was predicated on a tried and true combo that addicts sometimes used, called the “speedball”, when it was called anything at all.  For rough and ready end zone players, it provided the budda-bing of blow, cancelled the crash and instead provided the endless blue simmer of the nod afterward.  It was pretty awesome, but sometimes killed people; like cars, shellfish and football.

But I digress.  All these drugs are paltry compared to the overwhelming success of television.  Maybe The Shield was cocaine, and Six Feet Under was heroin.  Perhaps sitcoms best represent crack.   We deride, we equivocate, and we watch.  We get our fix.  Personal appetite or choice is unimportant, just tuning in.  These are unreported narcotic epidemics.

Recently, I am seeing a formula that must be the elusive parachute that journalists so wanted to be on the forward wave of.  I’m talking about the caustically funny yet dramatic soap opera.  Otherwise known as the jab-jab-deep hook to the solar plexus that really hooks viewers.  Almost everything in primetime now combines the mighty forces of humour and pathos.  It’s brilliant, in a Brave New World way.

There is a really evocative scene in Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy.  Our anti-hero and anti-heroine are traipsed languidly across a hotel bed.  Perhaps it was a cigarette toss, I’m not sure, but the whole room lights up in flame.  Foul mouthed Nancy sleeps away, and slack jawed Sid idles his head to the side, takes note of the flames climbing the drapes, and then attempts to drag, unsuccessfully from a cigarette and finally subsides.  This scene may have been confusing to some.  I get it, and I have the skin grafts to prove it.  But more so, I really get a good analogy.

There are nearly one billion people who live the lap of luxury, largely based on colonialism and imperialism.  Today, they do not worry about it, because it is simply efficient neoliberal business.  The mantra is that it creates a rising tide that raises all ships.  Who cares if it is true?  Seinfeld is on.  Both a good show and a celebrity bonfire are passions that drown out anything else.

There is a domino thing beginning in North Africa and the Middle East right now.  It has more to do with food and security than a sudden fed-uppedness with ugly regimes.  And it doesn’t end in far away places.  Less bullety, the “western” world is witnessing every socially progressive thing that has happened in the last three hundred years collapse.  And, newsflash, it isn’t because the republicans are evil and the democrats are lazy stoned leftists.  It is because there are no new continents to exploit, no new ‘niggers’ to enslave, and no magic technologies to fix things.

Hindu farmers are committing suicide.  Union workers are fighting in the streets of Wisconsin.  Panhandlers are murdering in Toronto.  Terrified politicians are fortifying wealth in ways no one alive has ever seen.  Small minded people fear we will move back to a feudal system; they have no imagination about what is coming.

It’s kind of like the colossal fuckstorm that is an addict’s life.  They deny everything, and try and hold the edges together with lies and short term fixes.  Some even whistle innocence when everything goes down.  I hate to say it, but addiction is a perfect analogy to understand a citizen or civilization today.

There are two schools of thought on political power.  One is numbers—say like the Hindu and Chinese(like ants, they can overpower the “evil” elites), and the other is the monetary base. History suggests that the numbers create revolutions that end in crazyhorse regimes, and that a middling monetary base hashes out whatever improvements it feels it needs to, gradually,  and things improve.  I ask where the west is now.

And I come back to Parachute.  Not the cocaine-heroin parachute; keen as it was, it just doesn’t play well with the majority.  But man, tv, tv is gorgeous sexy tits orgasm when it comes to consuming people.  Will the will of a marginally powerful people force civilization to make sensible decisions about the future?  Not in a 500 channel universe.

I explicate the clumsy analogy of drugs because drugs are a billion dollar industry that disengages millions of people, most of them poor (and we all get that picture), while entertainment, with all it’s royalty is a hundreds billions dollar institution that nullifies the senses of an enormous chunk of those western people who are supposedly politically empowered.

There is a famous sound bite from Marx, “religion is the opiate of the people”.  Setting aside that that quote is way out of context, I would say that opium is the opiate of the people, not religion.  In other words, religion is a community institution that binds people together and often encourages them to ‘do good’ for communities far beyond their own back yards, while opium just puts us to sleep, alone in our armchairs.  TV is opium.  Doesn’t matter how clever it gets, how slick production values are, how wicked CGI is, it’s all about being on the nod.  This is far more opiumous than religion.  I’m not making this up, I went through a ‘church’ phase, and every one of them from sensible to wacky, to conservative to transcendental, they were all busy trying to make this supposed temporary earth better.  That is not the sedating activity of a batman movie, or a new forensics crime procedural on tv.

What we consider “the world” is going down right now.  It’s going down with a shortage of phosphorous, nitrogen and peat (if that doesn’t register, the other word is FOOD. and if you don't worry about fertilizer, compare the amount of articles that document a 5% increase in the price of oil versus the 300%-700% price increase in various fertilizer chemicals in the same period).  It’s going down with an end to drunken energy.  It’s going down with the rainforests that regulate oxygen.  It’s going down with ocean life that rules earth’s food chain. It’s going down with the kind of war you can expect after three quarters of a century of wealth built on distributing arms to people who are angry and hungry.  It’s going down to an atmosphere congested with pollutants that will not kill the earth, but will make it a piss poor home for life as we know it.

And on top of all that, now you have to worry about Two and a Half Men being canceled. And the Oscar awards again awarding the wrong nominees, or failing to nominate the right ones at all.  And House jumped the shark too far.  And Sidney Sheldon started writing a different kind of junk book.  And Lady Gaga is too mannish for your late Madonna fantasies.  And goddamn it, I can’t find DVDs of Thundarr.

The journalists who thought up ‘parachute’ were logical in their metaphor.  They were just inaccurate because they weren’t users.  We are all in our parachute addiction.  We are pushing heart failure and lung failure, pushing at every end, and we want every benefit minus every cost.  We want to burn white hot, and then be carried gently down.  I’ve been hooked on everything that has a hook, and I am very impressed with the hook entertainment has.  Imagine, it doesn’t just suppress revolution, but voting and even basic thought processes—and it doesn’t stop you from going to work in the morning--if you still have a job.


  1. Nicely done. I cannot disagree with you assessment of televisions effect on the masses.

  2. Brilliant piece man. Sad as it is.

  3. So, what do I win 'coz I don't watch any TV at all?