Saturday, September 12, 2009
This Week in TV
The past week has been a strange one in US politics. A pair of speeches by President Obama shook loose a big bunch of crazy that has apparently been sitting at home, polishing its guns since the inauguration. I have been at this activism thing for a long time so I probably shouldn't be surprised... but the outrageous lies told by conservatives about the President, his proposed reform of health care and even his address to American schoolchildren, have shocked me. Or rather, the fact that such obvious lies (as opposed to the more subtle partisan distortions that characterize day-to-day politics) would be entertained so seriously. It seems that the conservative crazies did not go away when the Bush Era finally ended. If anything they seem oddly empowered by the notion that they are now cultural underdogs, a position that suits the aggrieved nature of their philosophy. The lies conservative leaders tell are easily debunked yet still effective because their followers do not need the truth, they need to have their suspicions confirmed. For the first time since Obama entered the world stage members of the mainstream media are openly questioning the racist motivations of his detractors, which gives some indication of how blatant they have become. The entire week has been a horror show of televised faces twisted into a ghoulish parody of righteousness, from Glenn Beck to Joe Wilson to nameless tea baggers screaming into every camera pointed their way. And there have been plenty.
So instead of watching the news I am watching a special on female serial killers.
A lady criminal profiler with the over plucked eyebrows and glossy black hair of a Romulan is telling the stories of women who have perpetrated horrendous (if imaginative) murders. One suburban woman was a psychopath who murdered elderly women to pay for expensive beauty treatments, another a Victorian nurse-- sexually aroused by poisoning her patients-- who cuddled them as they died, and a third was a schizophrenic babysitter who smothered children in her care when they cried. But as I listen to the hushed voice over narration about lack of empathy, detachment and narcissistic self-aggrandizement I find myself thinking about the angry pink faces of the town hall yellers whose bizarre pronouncements literally make no sense outside of their own heads. It seems that there is no refuge from these people even amidst killer moms, nurses and babysitters. Perhaps because they have so much in common.
It may seem like an extreme comparison, but is it? In 1968 Charles Manson built a complex philosophy around the notion of a coming race war. His young, white middle class followers were enthralled not only by the notion that Manson was a Messianic figure but by the idea that Black people were secretly plotting to overtake the United States and subsequently slaughter whites. When Manson, trotted out like a dancing bear a few times a decade to say weird things to interviewers with furrowed brows, talks about racist conspiracies we take it as proof of his madness. How then should we consider the racist paranoia of, say, Glenn Beck? When magnified to an epic scale by moist-eyed figures like Beck can we not describe racial hatred in terms of pathology?
When people cling to political ideology that supports policies and legislation that are clearly against their best interests, isn't that insanity?