Thursday, February 07, 2008

Empire on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Some things are too hot to touch
The human mind can only stand so much
- Bob Dylan

Reposting the earlier segments together with new material. As it should have appeared in the first place.

People are crazy

I've been thinking a lot this week about last week's leaked internal memo from Associated Press. Frank Baker, AP's LA assistant bureau chief, issued the directive that "Now and for the foreseeable future, virtually everything involving Britney is a big deal." I've been thinking how right and how proper this is.

What should US cable news be doing, other than leading the hour with live updates from Britney Spears' custody hearing? Put another way, what does US cable news do better that it should be doing instead? The answer, my answer, is nothing. It's perfectly tuned by the lords of the manor to service the land of genetically modified bread and circuses. What has it ever demonstrated to justify a higher expectation?

But the failed expectations are not the media's alone. Most responsibility rests with the broken subjects of America's broken media. Does Clinton versus Obama really merit more attention and sober analysis than Spears versus Federline? I don't see why it should. One pair speak of "change," and the other of mood swings, but it's the same, leveled spectacle.

Did the Clinton team hack the New Hampshire vote? Bradblog makes its usual strong case for electoral fraud, but I'm finding it hard to get my indignant mojo working. Because here's the thing: even when the system works as advertised it contemptuously defrauds and disenfranchises citizens who take their politics like detached spectators. Obama and Clinton are two contenders in a fight club of closed ranks and consensus brutality with interchangeable corners. The outcome of this contest for advancement upon our lives - American lives and everyone else with a seat at the arena - will mean just as much as who wins the Super Bowl or the Oscar, should we have any emotional investment in the outcome of those contests. Because the only change to be registered will be how we feel about it. That's supposed to be enough, and it's been that way long enough that for many, it is.

Most everyone loves a good breakdown. At least ever since breakdowns have become public spectacle, and we can revel in celebrities' madness at physical and emotional distance. But even if we're so emotionally removed from the circus that we don't care whether the fallen idol is a danger to herself, we still care should she become a harm to others. So we're relieved when Britney loses visitation rights, so her crazy train can keep chugging along without running over her children. Unfortunately, there's no court that can slap the wrists America's already slashed, whose own breakdown would be far more entertaining with a restraining order.

Times Are Strange

Crazy people see things. Most everyone who's not crazy knows that. You'll likely remember than when it's your turn to see something, and be circumspect about to whom you tell it.

People have been seeing things in America since it was known by other names and hosted other nations. In the early 15th Century, in present-day New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, the first wave of Spain's explorer-conquerors were reportedly astonished to find indigenous people with apparent preemptive knowledge of Roman Catholicism, who had even crafted their own crosses and rosaries. The Europeans were told that a pale figure known locally as the "Blue Lady," had appeared to them many times in recent years, floating above the ground in an azure haze, preaching a foreign faith in their own language. When friars carried the story back to Spain in 1635 it was received with interest by the Inquisition, which was just then trying an abbess named Maria de Jesus Agreda.

About a dozen years earlier, after having put on on the blue habit of the Franciscan order, Maria Agreda had begun experiencing ecstatic visions and "raptures," and told her cloistered sisters tales of her more than 500 out-of-body travels to a distant land where she preached to "savages." She eventually wrote a book detailing her spiritual journeys, and she soon came to the attention of the heresy-hunting Inquisition. The story of the "Blue Lady," and the rapidity with which the Spanish were able to pacify and baptize the inhabitants of the lands she had visited, earned Sister Maria both an acquittal and a place in the court of King Philip. Regardless of the century, secular power always stands ready to recruit magicians, miracle workers and devils to its side.

Maria Agreda's etheric adventures and xenoglossia were understood by both the native North Americans and Spanish Catholics as religious events (the only question for the Inquisition was whether they were divine or infernal). Four hundred years later, what once could be called only either miraculous or fraudulent may be regarded as perhaps another category of the merely human.

Similar to Maria Agreda's recruitment by King Philip and John Dee by Queen Elizabeth, Robert Monroe's astral navigations were weaponized by the Pentagon, which schooled itself in his Virginia institute for bilocation. In Journeys Out of the Body, he writes of "raising himself out of the physical" and whoring about on the astral plane, eventually having "sex" - a "giddy electrical-type shock" - with with a female friend who, the next week, volunteered the information that she had had an erotic dream about Monroe the same night, in which he had given her "a detailed physical examination." In 16th Century Spain Monroe would have been called an incubus, and he would have been burned alive.

Robert Bruce describes witnessing his nephew Matt's first real-time OBE in his book Astral Dynamics, during a two-week visit coaching the boy on projection.

A few days before he was due to leave, while meditating late at night, I clearly saw Matt's projected real-time double float through the wall and come into the room I was sitting in. He waved cheerfully at me and I slowly waved back at him, without breaking my entranced state - no mean feat in itself - immensely pleased that Matt had finally managed to get out of his body. Matt floated about the room, seemingly having some difficulty with movement and directional control, but apparently thoroughly enjoying himself. He soon floated out of my sight and that was the last I saw of him that night.

Bruce writes that the next morning, Matt "vividly remembered" floating through the wall, seeing his uncle sitting below and the two waving at each other. And if we can believe his account, the fact that Bruce himself was in an altered state would have heightened his receptivity to seeing things, which makes me wonder whether the "Blue Lady" first manifested herself among entranced shamans.

Which returns me to America's ongoing manic episode. Which is the greater crazy: to see things, or to pretend that you don't?

All the truth in the world

In movies, America breaks for monsters. In real life, not so much. But since America recognizes itself largely by the false images of pop mythology, it thinks it would know a monster when it sees one, and so never sees one.

Remember the boy's birthday party video in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs? It was perhaps the film's singularly true fright, and one of its many wrong notes. The alien was glimpsed only fleetingly in the street, and what most impressed was the shock and confusion of the young witnesses. But what is this amateur video from Passo Fundo, Brazil doing making breaking news on US television? Where is the anchor's disarming happy talk and cynical drops of pop culture bombs? ("Plan 9 from Passo Fundo? Some Brazilian youngsters think so -.") I can't imagine the circumstance, not even an unambiguous alien invasion, that would see a newscaster state "all initial opinions are that this is genuine." In our world, the video would go straight to Youtube and the six-foot tall hominid alien would be dismissed as some joker in a green monster suit. Which, of course, is what he was. And the anchor can't see that only because she's in Shyamalan's world.

January's striking UFO flap in Texas, centered over Stephenville, was never serious news, though credible witnesses included a county sheriff who presumably has a stake in maintaining a sober reputation. ("It’s a bit bewildering when upstanding citizens insist they’ve seen a UFO," admits Noel Williams, who also wants to pretend it's just a movie. "They may otherwise be reputable, but their close encounters are probably as fictitious as films like The Day the Earth Stood Still.") If it had occasioned more than novelty profiteering, that would have at least been different. Even for Stephenville. In 1897, the town was reportedly visited by the famous cigar-shaped "mystery airship," and contact made with its pair of apparently human occupants, who identified themselves as contract employees performing a test run for "certain New York capitalists." Perhaps it was a hoax. Perhaps, this was a test run of then black technology controlled by the day's elite. Or perhaps, as has often been the case with extraordinary encounters, contactees are told a story that makes some sense to their cultural markers.

Over the summer of 1692, Gloucester, Massachusetts endured a flap of "ghost militia" sightings - a raiding party of a dozen seeming Frenchmen with the properties of phantoms who were heard to converse in an "unknown tongue." They only menaced; never actually harming residents or property, and no evidence of their campsites were found.

Near the end of July, Gloucester's Ebenezer Babson came upon three of the men when he was gathering his cattle in the woods. Cotton Mather's ecclesiastical history and proto-Forteana of New England, the Magnalia Christi Americana, describes Babson's putative ambush when, creeping within 40 yards of the party, he took aim, fired and nothing happened. He fired 12 times, and still nothing. Then they three turned and slowly began approaching him in an unthreatening manner. They didn't even "take any notice of him, than just to give him a look; though he snapt his gun at them all the while they walked toward him, and by him: neither did they quicken their pace at all , but went into a parcel of bushes and he saw them no more." Returning home, Babson tested his gun several times, "and yet it did not once miss fire. After this, there occurred several strange things; but now, concluding they were but spectres, they took little further notice of them."

Anyone familiar with the literature of contact events will recognize the sudden and inexplicable failure of mechanical devices, notably of those which could inflict damage.

In our world, which may not be ours after all so much as also theirs, the monsters won't get the attention of cable news by walking down the street of a South American city. They won't even hold Larry King's attention by buzzing Texas towns with strange craft, or by hovering over an O'Hare Airport terminal or the Channel Islands. Monsters must go for our culture's big value targets fraught with myth and symbolism. So it's New York City that must be razed, drowned, frozen, nuked, crushed and trampled over and over again.

Signs was shooting in rural Pennsylvania in September, 2001 when monsters from the deep politic attacked New York City. Crop circles can't hold a boxcutter to that spectacle, nevermind that they too are more than a movie and the sum of its many hoaxes. Strange things are allowed to happen in the countryside. It's always been expected, just as it's also more easily tuned out.

Take 1964's "Solway Spaceman." Picnicking with his family six miles out of town, James Templeton snapped a photograph of his youngest daughter Elizabeth picking wildflowers. When developed, the picture also showed the image of a large man in a strange white suit, someone the family was quite sure had not been there. After taking the picture to the police and the Ministry of Defense, "which expressed interest," Templeton was contacted by two men he assumed to be Ministry officials. They picked up Templeton and traveled together to the site, where he was questioned queerly and then left him stranded. They also refused to provide their names, identifying themselves only numerically, one as "9" and the other as "11." Templeton, now 87, is still unsettled about his own, private 9/11, and hopes there may be something in Ministry files to account for it.

Adds up to one big lie

If all the world's a stage, then America must be it's favourite long running production. The Mousetrap, say. And as with The Mousetrap, I don't think I'm giving anything away to say the detective did it.

Britney Spears is not a distraction. That's what politics, and America's national bipolar disorder, is for. Her current boyfriend, photographer Adnan Ghalib, is a British Pakistani who "earned his expertise in weaponry fighting abroad in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Macedonia." Billy Bush, the co-host of Access Hollywood, is George W Bush's first cousin. Not only will John McCain be the Republican nominee, he could have been the Democratic nominee as well, since he was "very close" to crossing the aisle in 2001. Ann Coulter has pledged to campaign for Hillary Clinton, and Rush Limbaugh has defended both Clinton and Barack Obama by acknowledging no substantial difference on "national security" between them and the Bush legacy. In his words, "they are not going to surrender the country to Islamic radicalism or the war in Iraq." Obama's vague sermonizing about the future recalls Jacques Vallee's messengers of deception, and how the "space brothers" have yet to tell us one thing we don't know, and have yet to make good on a single promise. If the Spears' drama distracts from the Audacity of Remulak, then perhaps, when you think about it, it's not such a bad thing.

The salvation-model politics of hope and change finds its happy opposite in the doomsong of Alex Jones, for whom martial law is always one broadcast away. Both come from the same fraudulent dichotomy of salvation and damnation, in which the future redemption or Armageddon never quite arrives. The harder truth may be that this is our destination. And they're not coming for us; they're here already, and they've always had us.

Take Back America. Maybe America belongs to others, and that's what they're doing.