"You, Aaron, are what it's all about. You're real. Your room is real. Your friends are real. Real, man, real. You know? Real. You're more important than all the silly machinery." - Russell Hammond in the movie Almost Famous
Having been on tour for more than a month and now having my first day off (and having been reunited with my dog Monty), I've gained a bit of perspective that I don't think I had before this whirlwind began. This post is probably going to be a bit rambly, a bit reflective and more than a bit personal (which is a departure for me) -- so if you don't like that kind of thing, don't fill up the comments section with overwrought complaints, just stop reading right now.
I've spent the last decade in professional politics and journalism. In both progressive and conservative politics and media, there is a premium on all the worst human traits - conceit, ambition for personal glory, arrogance and greed. This has always been the case - but it is exacerbated by television, the 24 hour news cycle, starfucker-ism, the rise of the Internet, and the supercharged "me" culture as epitomized by Time magazine's famous person of the year. Spend enough time in politics and the media, and these traits will creep into the behavior of even the most decent people.
Outside of this arena - in the places I've been traveling all over the country for the last month - I have sensed a deep sense of sadness among many people I talk to, whether they are local political activists, local journalists or working people just grinding away at their jobs. The feeling transcends any one political issue, primarily because while political junkies think in terms of "issues," most regular people don't. It's not that people are unhappy or morose - but underneath our society there is an ever-present thrum of despair, and I can't help but think it has at least something to do with the sense that major institutions and voices are no longer are just passively incompetent, but are actively trying to harm/ignore regular people as those institutions and voices become consumed with the self-absorbed narcissistic media/political culture that I just described.
Since the last uprising of the late 1970s, this sense of persecution - or subjugation psychology, as I call it in my book - has been aimed at the government. That was thanks, in part, to effective demagoguery by the conservative movement. But today, the subjugation psychology impacts everything. Polls show the country has lost confidence in big business and banks. They also show people think the media is a joke. The list goes on.
As this alienation has intensified, the insularity of the political and media Establishment has gotten worse - thus intensifying the alienation even further.
Turn on a television, and watch typical news coverage, and you will get a frantic update on the latest kidnapping of a white kid, and no coverage of the ongoing violence that plagues minority communities. If you get political news, you'll manufactured outrage at a candidate's latest statement, followed by three mindless bobbleheads speculating on its impact - a "journalism" that requires no actual "journalism" or expertise. Quite literally, a 12-year-old could be put on television and perform the same "journalism" as Candy Crowley or David Gergen - the kind that has absolutely nothing to do with viewers' daily lives. If you are particularly unlucky, you'll turn on the TV and be treated to the newest mutation of this "journalism" - the "media on media" phenomenon whereby a media pundit says something outrageous (like when Coca-Cola spokesman James Carville said something about Judas), and then three pundits are called on to "analyze" their fellow pundit. If ever they put the term "media masturbation" in the dictionary, this would be the definition.
Worst of all, those of us in the Netroots then jump aboard, spending hours and hours fulminating about what this or that horrible pundit says. The criticism is certainly valid, but the dogmatic focus on the political/media fantasy-land - the reflexive need to always attack idiots like Bill Kristol or David Brooks - actually validates the entire circus as something important in the first place, at a time when most Americans think it's all irrelevant.
During my long drives over the last month between places ignored by our D.C.-obsessed politics and media - from Denver to St. Louis, from Louisville to Nashville, from Burlington to New Haven - I've been struggling with how to make sense of all of this, and how to actually try to use my life to make a positive impact. I've realized that in becoming so immersed in traditional politics and media, I've probably displayed some of those horrible traits inherent in those arenas - and more disturbingly, that my value system has been distorted.