Speak Out: The Time Is Out Of Joint
By Joseph P. Griffith
arttimesjournal February 8, 2017
Some years ago I wrote several articles in this space about the increasing control over our lives by government, corporations and the capitalist system. (I’m a bit of a socialist, but actually more of an antisocialist.) The things I railed about included the ever-increasing price of movie tickets, the advent of digital TV forced down our throats and the need to replace all your light bulbs with more efficient and expensive ones. Along the way I also wrote about how the newspaper industry was dying, or at least the “paper” part was.
Since then, the more things have changed, the more they have remained the same. The movie tickets I complained about at $7 are now about double that. This newspaper went the way of many others; that is, online. And digital TV has more channels than it had then, but compared to cable, it’s sometimes like having no TV at all. But I’ll get back to that.
For me personally, the changes have not been good. We live in a culture that worships youth, and when you hit a certain age, you may as well be dead. Age discrimination is one of the dirty secrets of America. I lost my last full-time newspaper job more than eight years ago, and there’s no turning back the clock, especially in an industry that is itself in deep trouble, both economically and politically. I have seen my colleagues lose theirs as well, one by one or en masse. Finances have been strained, to say the least. Retirement, the great American dream, has become a nightmare for many people. They get aged out too early to collect Social Security or Medicare, and while they need a job to survive, they cannot find one.
I used to work with an old-time newspaperman, a tall, ruddy, strapping Texan who said he once played in the Rose Bowl for Ohio State. He had once been a serious, well-regarded journalist, and he was full of funny war stories, and booze, which cost him his last job at the end of his career. Even at his advanced age and state of inebriation, he could still write stories and headlines full of dazzling wordplay, but it was too late. The last time I saw him, he was piling boxes on the sales floor of Macy’s in Manhattan’s Herald Square. There but for the grace of God, thought I, loath to think I might end up that way. But now, even Macy’s is closing 100 stores and laying off more than 10,000 workers. I couldn’t work there if I tried.
I have had to cut back drastically on everything. Eating out is out. Those $14 movie tickets? Forget it. And the cable ... Karl Marx said religion is the opiate of the masses, but that was long ago supplanted by television. It keeps them dull and tame. As I wrote previously, if they didn’t have it, they’d have too much time on their hands to think about the raw deal they’re getting. I was doing too much of that even with TV, but now, having been forced to give up cable, I have been relegated to the ghostly graveyard of digital TV, whose offerings consist mainly of game shows and sitcoms from the ’70s. A place where pictures pixelate, flicker and fade every time you walk by the antenna. (The shopping channels seem to come in fine.) It is like watching TV in a third-world country. I have been to third-world countries with better reception.
I have an Internet-based device that provides many shows and movies, but some of them look as though they were recorded on a cell phone in a theater. One film was completely different from the one I thought I was getting, though the subtitles were from the correct film. I don’t know anything about orange being the new black; all I know is that this is my new normal, and it’s not pretty.
I can’t go for a drive to take my mind off things, because I start thinking about the price of gas. A vacation, even a weekend trip, is out of the question. The government is taking back the health care it had given me, and wants to tax everything from soda to the plastic bag I take it home in. Website commenters who probably have jobs and health insurance insist that their taxes shouldn’t have to pay for mine. Bullying has moved from the schoolyard to the mainstream. Everywhere I turn, I am bombarded by images of gorgeous young, overpaid models, laughing their way from one celebrity gathering to the next. Commercialism is rampant; everything is for sale, and everybody is trying to sell it to me. It’s wham, spam, thank you, man, all fake news, all the time. Leonard Cohen is dead, Bob Dylan is singing Sinatra, and they want us to believe that we won’t get fooled again.
How did we get to this sad state of affairs? How did America become so cold and heartless, with the “Me Me Me Generation” so uncaring about the common good, a country divided against itself? What happened to the spirit of compromise, of John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism, the greatest good for the greatest number? It is certainly not a new phenomenon. Thoreau withdrew from a country he saw as overrun by the desire for material things (this in 1845). Henry James, one of the most elegant writers America ever produced, abandoned us for England, sickened and saddened by our rampant commercialism. Whenever it seems we have reached a point beyond all imagining, some new, greater outrage swims into view.
I feel now as though I am living in that reverse “Bizarro” world of the Superman comics, where everything is backwards. Perhaps a better, more ominous comparison is with Ray Bradbury’s famous story “A Sound of Thunder,” in which time travelers who have inadvertently altered the course of history return to the present to discover the world gone completely wrong, and the wrong man elected president.
Yes, the time is truly out of joint, and cursed spite, there seems to be nothing, at last and forever, that I can do to set it right.
(Joseph P. Griffith is a freelance writer in Yonkers, N.Y.)