Public Flogging Off "The Cliff"
"That is the thing you want to remember if you work in either journalism or politics - or both, like I do -- and there is no way to duck it. You will be flogged for being right and flogged for being wrong, and it hurts both ways, but it doesn't hurt as much when you're right. "
- Hunter S. Thompson
Yes, the good doctor wrote that back in 1988 and as usual he had his finger on the pulse. I did not fully absorb the quote until the '90s, but by '88 I had already dropped out of journalism and radio and decided instead to front a rock band to caterwaul seditious lyrics of my own making; horrible things that caused many people to wretch, but others to sing along, and that is when I became aware of what dissatisfaction sounds like en masse. I didn't need television or newspapers; the medium and message reverberated back at me ten-fold.
It is the kind of memory; a complete vision of unfiltered defiance, which provides me the fuel to thrash out these words each week. It's not likely something I will ever be able to strip from my mind. For my money, it's the closest thing to absolute truth I've experienced to date; and it's not like I've stopped looking.
A motivated gathering of restless youth, jacked on several and varied substances in smoky rooms with spastic lighting will provide even the most cynical shitheel a reasonable facsimile of how the delicate balance of emotional impulses could precisely communicate the intellectual conclusion that what's happening outside the place is nothing you want any part of. That's when I learned that whatever twit coined the phrase "youth is wasted on the young" had never actually been young, because we knew, or at least those kids knew -- I only knew that pretty soon I would be trading in those lyrics for a typewriter and run as far as I could from the truth binge -- that the days of railing like a banshee against being sucked into the system would soon end. There was a desperate sense of tranquil recognition that comes from failing to fiercely defy the inevitable. We'd soon be joining the Grand Fuck and there was nothing any of us could do about it.
However, giving in does not mean staying silent for some of us. That generation and the two after it, something called X and this Millennium crew have carved out a throng of bloggers and tweeters and podcasters and anonymous bitchers. The Internet, social media and the like have put the journalism tag on us all, and for good or ill it is here to stay, at least until the government finds some half-assed way to regulate the life from it. For now, everybody's a television; something I wrote as one of those miserably prescient lyrics that found themselves bouncing over distorted guitar lines that spoke more about the chaos of the human experiment than anything I've penned in this space for 15 years.
Public displays of ego warfare are what separate two generations from 1988. Everything that came before, whether politics, journalism or music for that matter, is rendered null and void. Airing our laundry to the masses is rote, not exception. Expressing ideas, but mostly complaints, through the bullhorn of social media, the Internet or calling into the radio rant is the way of discourse. Woody Allen once mused that dissent and commentary would merge to form dysentery, which for my money rivals anything Thompson said about being right or wrong and being flogged for it.
Which brings me to my point, such as it is: this incessant need for the members of Congress and the White House to continue to negotiate, debate and grandstand as a matter of public display rather than the preferred cloak of secrecy, wherein the asinine pitches from both sides can be mocked and argued without the need to defend personal honor or political cloud. Once a stance is made public, it is ever more difficult for the chest-thumping, base-baiting nonsense that passes for opening gestures to be compromised.
Suddenly, this has become -- as did the completely nonsensical debt-ceiling rumble of 2011 -- an ego trip of sound bites and grandstanding; a repeat of campaigns past. Going to the press and or the public to blurt out defiance is no way to successfully to come to this fairly important decision in keeping the nation from the kind of austere measures that might stall whatever plodding recovery this is and plunge us into another crippling recession.
But it is truth; the truth of what humans are capable of when frightened of being perceived The Loser. It lifts the veil on the process, like the 2000 presidential election did; cracks appearing at the foundation of this American experiment.
Of course, it makes no sense to use the press or the cable news networks to hash out a deal in which both sides will have to eat some measure of shit. But it gives the voting public a chance to see what Otto von Bismarck's "sausage making" is all about. And believe me; even people who love sausage want nothing to do with knowing what's in there or how they're prepared.
But what if they did?
What if, for instance, the majority of the voting public came to grips with the fact that this nation has been at war for over ten years without so much as paying a dime more in taxes or lifting a finger to assist in the effort, beyond those families who have given of their young for a concept none of us are really sure of? What if we really knew what was in the Patriot Act or the Affordable Health Care Act or where most of our tax dollars end up?
Maybe it should all have been aired out like Congress and the White House now openly fight for our fiscal solvency. The whole mess is bad mojo for things like progress and compromise, but it's gangbusters for truth.
It leaves one wondering if we can handle it?
My guess is no. We don't "handle" -- we whine like bitches and take to the streets dressed as comic book characters or minutemen.
But hell, I know what's it's like to cringe from truth. I bagged my waltz with that kind of painful crap years ago, and since this is likely to end up as all these things end up, with someone being flogged, right or wrong, I say a few weeks of truth may be ugly and scare the hell out of everyone, but it's sure as shit is fun.