Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Letters at 3AM

By Michael Ventura

There's a glowing thing in your home, a drastic space, the drastic encased in plastic. Turn the volume down, hear its true sound: a barely audible hiss. The glow-hiss-thing-that-talks-and-kills-and-kisses, it always circulates just a wee current, as quiet as the whisper of a fly. Remember the end of The Fly, that movie in which the tiny bug with the man's face is caught in a spider web? Saw the original when I was a kid, never got it out of my sleep, that housefly with the face of a weary but very crazy man. Well, it's as though the man-fly wasn't crushed or eaten, as the movie would have us think; no, it escaped into that drastic-space-box that you buy, I buy, everybody buys and places prominently in our favorite rooms. A fly stuck to the circuitry. Near our beds. Where all it can do is whisper or hiss or sing or scream. (How would we know the difference?) And through that bug the picture is projected. Leno and Friends and Michael Jordan and Sam Donaldson and Sesame Street, take your pick, it all comes through that fly. What a way to live.

What is the nature of the drastic in that drastic-space-box? That, not jive about abortion or the deficit, is the basic question of our time. Because that drasticness is what we all share most intimately (aside from 99% of our DNA and certain biological or bio-illogical imperatives). Hey, it's just a theory but:

All the images are going on at the same time, all the time. And once an image is shown it's always there. On the screen. (The fly-circuit sees to that.) Even when the thing is off. That's the secret physics of the drastic-space-box. So when you're showing your kids Sesame Street, say, there's also The Twilight Zone and operations on ER and Auschwitz footage and Sandy Koufax pitching the World Series and Dennis Rodman grinning and lions fucking on National Geographic and Kennedy's funeral cortege and The Brady Bunch and Davy Crockett fighting at the Alamo and people confessing masturbation fantasies to Oprah and every kiss that's ever been kissed in every movie and every inch of flesh that's ever gotten past the censors and Seinfeld's boyish sneer and that Gulf War missile that was always blowing up the same Gulf War bunker and the ever-present Hitler who's shown 50 times a day on the History Channel and Martin Luther King, Jr., saying "I have a dream" and everybody who ever got slaughtered in every cop show is getting slaughtered right now and every riot and earthquake and murder trial and tornado is right there on-screen invisible as you're watching cartoons or Masterpiece Theatre or Candice Bergen or Peter Jennings or the weather. The fly-circuit sees to it.

There is a verifiable physics that parallels this, see. Those images don't stop at your box. Everything ever broadcast, every image and sound, continues at the speed of light forever, polluting the entire universe, which is the real Big Bang, this explosion of grotesque imagery from this maddened race on this soiled planet.

Welcome to peace and prosperity in the Nineties.

My friend George said it better, in two words. That drastic-space-box (he called it a "television")? He said it "empowers absurdity."

The empowerment of absurdity is what the peace and prosperity of the Nineties is really all about.



illustration by A.J. Garces

And from where does most of this hiss-glow fly-circuitry emanate? From a city called The Angels (put that on your frou-frou New Age calendars), I wish we'd say it in English more often, not Los Angeles but The Angels, a city on the seismically active watery western edge of a country that doesn't know its own name anymore, not really. On my map it's called "The United Free Markets of Hillary Gingrich."

I seem to remember it used to be called something else, but that was a long time ago. Now the country's named by the drastic-space-box that pulsates from The Angels.

A little urban icono-geography: There's a bus in The Angels that begins its route in East L.A.... This bus lumbers through Chinatown ("See, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that in the right time and the right place they're capable of -- anything.")... the bus then proceeds through funky streets where more than 400 tongues are spoken, with signs in Spanish, Korean, Thai, Farsi, Hebrew, Japanese, even English, neighborhoods with suggestive names like Echo Park and Silver Lake and Los Feliz... then this bus honks and smokes its way through the most suggestive name in these United Free Markets of Hillary Gingrich, or Nike-Microsoft-Disney-USA-Inc, or wherever we are: That name is Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood, where there are 10,000 teen runaways, the papers say... then gay and bohemian West Hollywood, blond young ladies who just stepped off a billboard and muscle-molded young men straight out of the gym and Russian immigrants speaking their multi-voweled tongue, Russian signs in the delis, and old Hasidic men in black suits and hats with their tiny Hasidic grandsons in black suits and hats, and, oh yes, three or four older guys with graying ponytails (one is me)... then there's this invisible wall, it goes deep into the fault lines and up to the moon: Beverly Hills, with its multi-room mansions, and Brentwood, more of the same, and Santa Monica (who was St. Augustine's mama, in case you're wondering), the affluent glowing with health foods and "facilitation" jargon... what an immense journey through castes and languages and styles that bus takes every day.

Who rides that bus? Various shades of brown people whose English is pretty shaky, and who may or may not possess cards of green and who do the shit work and baby-raising for the white flatulent affluent who serve the drastic-space-box, who can run the country (or run it ragged) but can't make their beds or mind their children... the people on the bus do it for them... and this bus runs on Mother-of-Saint-Augustine Santa Monica Boulevard, which used to be Route 66! Says so on the signposts: "Historic Route 66," the road the Okies rode during the Depression, all-American refugees who came to California to do shit work (things haven't changed so much after all)....

And this is what the bus looks like: It's one solid advertisement, a diesel-spewing billboard in brilliant colors. What is it advertising this week? An airline to take the rich non-stop to Singapore, cute submissive-posing Asian gals in stewardess garb grinning suggestively from the bus. Understand: This isn't just a sign on the bus; the entire bus is painted, even the roof, the bus is the sign.

How many of those brown manual laborers and child-tenders queue up for that flight to Singapore? Not one. They ride to and from their labors wrapped in a metal ad for something so far from their means that it might as well be an ad from another planet. That ad means nothing until it gets to Beverly Hills and Brentwood, where the bus pulls up next to people in BMWs and Lexuses talking on their cell-phones, that ad is meant strictly for the flatulent affluent, the we-make-hisses-on-the-drastic-space-box people. Who are so arrogant that they encase the poor in this symbol of their riches. It is hard to see the minimum-wage-or-less people on the bus as anything but slaves transported to their slavery in a smoke-spewing, cough-inducing symbol of their servitude.

And the air stains your lungs. The tap water is not safe to drink. If there's anything else you need to know about The Angels, consult the Bible. Sunday school quiz: Name the Biblical cities to which gawd-awful things don't happen.

Yet there is no city more imitated in the land. The freeways your city is building are L.A. freeways. The divisions your city is creating among its people are L.A. divisions. The dirtier air you breathe is L.A. air. The drastic-space-box in your home is an L.A. creation. So you don't have to come here. The Angels are coming for you. The drastic-space box is their messenger and your teacher. And your city is learning well.

And in the circuitry there's a tiny fly with a human head that makes all this possible. It communicates all this as "information" and "entertainment." A tiny fly with a human head. (Rent the movie, read the comic, buy a fly swatter.) And we've purchased that drastic-space-box and we've put it in our homes. We've not only permitted it, we've invited it.

Let's just say we've got a lot to answer for. For it is we who've empowered the absurdity.

But only a fool would lose hope now. Or someone too weary or too jaded to consider.

Consider: We live now in a state of corporate anarchy. Old-timey capitalism needed freedom in which to function. Corporate anarchy depends not upon freedom but upon confusion. Our confusion. The drastic-space-box, like the Internet (and the two are soon to wed), is a messenger of that confusion. All that's really being broadcast is confusion. Not laughter, not drama, not news, not tabloid confessions, but a cacophony of absurdity: confusion. Its purpose is to befuddle and to gobble your precious time. But there is a virtue to any chaos, even this one, and that virtue is:

There is no longer any single place or clique to determine what is right or wrong or acceptable. They want you to fear this fact. This fact is being advertised on the drastic-space-box as something insidious. But what if you don't fear it? What if you use it?

If you turn away from the fly with the human head, and the shit upon which it breeds, and you stop believing what it says (which is, in short, that money is everything)... then you are the only limit of your possibilities.

(In two weeks: freedom, etc.)







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