Beast Banner March 2007
ISSUE #114
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Features

ArrowSchlep Boys
Failing forward in one act

Allan Uthman

ArrowThe Britney Budget
Matt Taibbi

ArrowEeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe
Blogger and journalist Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog on the hijacking of democracy and more

ArrowObama
The best BS artist since Slick Willy

Matt Taibbi

ArrowSweet Nothings
Lies my paper told me

Allan Uthman

ArrowMenace in Seat 36F
Based on a True Story

Michael J. Smith

ArrowBEAST gets poetic on dat ass!
Saul Williams schools us on Hip Hop and our choice of lunch

ArrowCelebrity Buttholes Will Be the End of Us
A. Monkey

ArrowThe BEAST Melanin / Electability Index

ArrowThe Truth Spin
Sometimes, honesty really is the best policy

Allan Uthman

ArrowTV Highlights
CBSs Numb3rs signals the end of the end of the American Empire

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Departments
ArrowKino Korner: Movies
The Abandoned, Wild Hogs, The Number 23, Zodiac, Reno 911!: Miami, Amazing Grace, Black Snake Moan, Shooter, The Astronaut Farmer, Inland Empire

ArrowBEAST-O-Scopes
As divined by your ethereal guide

Arrow[sic] - Letters
The Pussy of the Christ, How Great We Art, Dumb Shit, PhD, All You Need is Loathe and more

 

Menace in seat 36F

continued - page 2

George W. Bush recently reminded us that “The enemies of liberty come from different parts of the world, and they take inspiration from different sources.” Our darkly suspicious person might fear that some of those enemies come from right here at home – and their “inspiration” is the hope that their power and wealth will grow if the rest of us are reduced to something more passive and tractable, more fearful and grovelling, than free citizens of a free country.

I'm old enough to remember when flying was a thrill. To step into an airplane was to step into the future – a future of once-unimaginable freedom and almost godlike exaltation, where ordinary Joes and Janes could lean back and sip a Martini among fabulous Tiepolo clouds, en route to some exotic destination their parents never heard of. 

Now we've come full circle: airplanes and airports no longer suggest a gleaming future, or trail any clouds of our Golden Age glory. They look more like outposts of the booming prison sector. The emblems of triumph have become the insignia of degradation.

The story of this reversal can be summed up in one word: blowback. Imperial ambition made us do this to ourselves.  We sought to be top dog, and now we have agreed to be treated like dogs.

Among their other over-determined functions, our grotesque airport liturgies are what anthropologists call apotropaic magic—rituals to ward off evils that we can't otherwise control. On the practical level, airport apotropaia is an ineffectual response to a rare threat. But we are not seeking practical answers to practical problems. We are seeking something that's not available in the real world.

We can't acknowledge the fact that the totems of  our once-golden way of life are vulnerable, like all things human. If we charge through the world like Lizzie Grubman in her SUV, the world has ways to hit us back – but we're not yet ready to hear that. The imperial mystique still has too strong a grip on our imagination.

It's not enough for us to take reasonable precautions, and reduce our risk to the prosaic, low but non-zero level that we tolerate in daily life when we cross the street or ride in a taxi. Instead, we have to convince ourselves that like Superman, defender of the “American way," we are invulnerable – because otherwise, we would have to reckon up the real costs of empire, and ask ourselves whether it's worth what we're paying for it.

We still don't want to make that reckoning. So instead we make more and more costly sacrifices to the Moloch of security, and prostrate ourselves before a priesthood of cops and security guards, to enter an illusory paradise of perfect safety. Of course these rites don't really reassure us – on some level, we know better— and further exertions are always needed. Now we have to take our shoes off, and stand barefoot like Moses or a Spanish penitent; what will we take off next?

Personally, I'd rather divest myself of the empire, and hang on to my Swiss army knife – and my privacy, and my dignity, and my shoes. And I'll happily take my chances with all my shiv-packing, or even dynamite-shod, fellow-travellers.

Mumblety peg, anyone?

Michael J. Smith lives in New York City, and when he is not carrying deadly weapons on airplanes, he spends his time trying to undermine the Democratic Party on his blog, stopmebeforeivoteagain.org.

 

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