Wednesday, August 01, 2012

THE JOY OF NOISE

Never underestimate the joy of noise — even the annoying shit, especially the annoying shit, the tics and itches in life's soundtrack: the upstairs neighbors yelling at each other, the motorcycles potatoing through the parking lot at 2 a.m., the whiny brat inhabiting the seat in front of you at the theater, the booth next to you in the restaurant. I'll take that kind of dry-skin noise every time over the truly terrible sounds of reality: an adored one's voice twisted ugly with anger, saying goodbye. A loved one's last breath. The final sigh of civilization.

Some noise, any noise, is what the human needs. That's why we talk to ourselves when we're alone. We turn on the radio ("for the cats," some friends say, showing their insanity). We sing snatches of songs that we used to listen to, until those songs started reminding us of the past, so I don't listen to them anymore, it's just too painful, I don't want to talk about it, won't you please stop talking?

Anything to keep the silence at bay, because quiet drives us batshit crazy. It causes otherwise-lucid people to think — and once that starts happening, it's much easier to embrace the logic of swallowing 20 Ativan instead of two. Thinking forces the sane into a place where only seasoned professional risk-takers should venture. You must be this high to ride the ride: I'll drink to that.

Noise bollixes up the straight lines to destruction — a shame, really, given our unfortunate natural tendency to destroy the stuff in our lives. Smooth paths to dystopia would cut out a lot of the agonizing wait, not to mention a few phone calls and texts that in hindsight probably shouldn't have happened. Wins for everyone around — except the psychotherapists. Why think and agonize over the downward spiral? Just ride that sumbitch all the way to the bottom, preferably with a whoop, or at least a holler. It's noise you're looking for, noise to blot out the roar of the void.

Unfortunately, it's easier than ever to live in silence. The interwebs thing is designed for one rider, unless you're one of those glommers who wants to be in a photo with their three besties, all crowded around the phone and voguing. TV isn't a family affair or a couple's appointment — it's earbuds and a tablet. People invite friends over so everyone can diddle with their cell phones.

In the silence the straight lines grow wider in our minds. There is no nonsense, no bullshit, no attempts to sugarcoat the looming perils of a sham economy and a bleak Ginsberg future: You can't win. You can't break even. You can't get out of the game.

Don't think about it too hard or you will come to the conclusion that what used to pass for madness is now vivid reality. If you allow yourself the luxury of listening to the silence you will realize that we are the Fucked, living in a country that makes very little and consumes mass quantities. We are the weak, relying on gadgets and goodies to make us feel special because we are special — we've been told so all of our selfish lives — and we will be damned if some complicated economy disaster messes up our ability to go shopping on our phones.

Protesters are tuned out. One-percenters? They suck but I want to be one. Shh, don't bother me; can't you see up I'm updating my Facebook status? The nation burns but I like Ashley's new photo album. Don't need to cross the office to tell her in person. The silent way will work best when society falls apart and we're all left to fend for ourselves and our supposed buds turn out to be hollow, glad-handing shams. In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream when you're unfriended.

The future looks full of fear, uprisings, repressions — and silence. Even wars will lose their shock-and-awe soundtracks, as soldiers use heat-rays and sonic-sickness weapons to force the insurgents' flight. About the only thing you might hear is screaming as someone thinks they're being boiled alive under their skin; don't worry, it's only a temporary sensation, now shut up or we'll do something that will really make you scream.

Silence in the future will be platinum and mandatory. Saying your mind, speaking your piece: especially stupid and potentially hazardous to your health. We have cultivated a culture where fear of offending is a virtue, not a vice, and everyone should be on the lookout for potential offensive behavior. That guy at work said something to someone else that wasn't aimed at me but I don't really like: tell the boss. That joke was sexist: Shame the teller. That woman's yelling at her kid: report her.

Stupid freedom-loving capitalists that we are, we don't eradicate offensive people for monetary reward or to kiss the ass of some cog in The Man's Machine. We do it for awkward feel-good causes — inclusion, acceptance, The Children. When in doubt, cue The Children. We'll do anything for those bastards, anything to shield their ears from the annoying noises of reality. Taunted at school? Let's tell Anderson Cooper. Told you look like a stork? Get the other kid kicked out of school. Teacher not cutting you slack because you don't feel well? Get Mom and Dad to call someone on the school board. Do it for The Children. It's a free pass.

Never mind that our culture of correctness is incorrect. A nation offended is a nation not worth defending. We're too afraid of the rough patches, the abrasions that happen when humans rub up against each other and someone's bound to get upset. So we retreat into the digital bubble, where we find others who bolster our pigheaded delusions — see, she thinks bullies are bad people who should be put in prison, too! He thinks it's wrong to use the word "niggardly" even though it doesn't mean what it sounds like because even the sound of it is offensive. They think I'm right. I must be right.

Anyone who deviates from the accepted is trouble and deserving of a close eye. They're probably the parents of a bully, or maybe they're racist. Or both. Anyone who would question common wisdom, using facts as weapons, is a threat, because facts don't matter anymore, it's feelings that count — the way we feel, the way the oppressed feel, the way The Children feel. If you feel offended then you are offended, and everything must be done to stop you from feeling that way, no matter the facts. Those pesky things might make you think, and if you think you might come to your senses and we wouldn't want that to happen.

We are not far from the place where discussing uncomfortable topics will be banned and punished — so very European we're becoming in this land of no-prior-restraint for journalists. It's easy to blame liberals for this ill state of the union because, frankly, they're the ones who started insisting on political correctness. As a confessed former liberal I cringe at the expressway to hell we paved with our good intentions. It wasn't bad because we thought we were doing good, right?

Wrong. We created this land of pussies and victims. We made a place where no one's a loser and self-esteem is just as important as raw ambition, where Mary's "D" doesn't reflect how hard she's working and Emily's "A" isn't that important because both of them showed up and tried and that's what counts, right, girls?

The conservatives didn't help. Once they saw the mess the liberals made they started claiming victimhood, too (it is more difficult to be taken seriously when you're a white man claiming your rights are being trampled, but for some there is no shame, no hope).

Everyone's a victim now, and when we act like victims our feelings follow. Victims are afraid, fear breeds silence, silence breeds crazies, and you can't use logic or reason on crazies. All you can do is put a spike through their diseased brains so they won't bite you and turn you into a crazy, too. Or maybe that's zombies, but you know, same-same.

In the future the Crazies run the world, and they will wield the levers of power with the feverish certainty of prophets touched by God. They will make sure we know how lucky we are to live in the USA USA USA, the greatest country in the history of the world, just listen to us and don't look at the balance sheet. Disagree and you'll be sorry, so be careful what you say, bucko.

Silence. It will be sweet, the lack of dissent. Maybe you'll be afraid but at least you won't be talking about it, so that'll be nice. Only at night, if the wind is just right, might you be able to hear the distant, faint shouts of those who cursed the silence and the silent.

— February 2012

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