Sacred Cows, Tinctures, Zombies and Chomsky

From reading a compelling review in TLS’s In Brief to tucking into Mark Dery’s I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts was an interval of three days. I’m one foreword, an introduction and a single essay in, and I’ve got that familiar, but rare, tingle. I know IMNTBT and me are going to pleasurably commingle.

Bruce Sterling’s foreword intrigues but Dery’s introduction promises thrills ahead.

The ethos of Thinking Bad Thoughts isn’t synonymous with the wilful perversity of Christopher Hitchens’s contrarianism, or with H. L. Mencken’s lifelong devotion to spit-roasting the sacred cows of the booboisie, or with the nothing-is-true, everything-is-permitted libertinism of William S. Burroughs, or with the liberators cynicism of punk rockers like X, or with Orwell’s ability to confront hard truths without flinching. Yet it contains a tincture of each.

Dery’s introduction is a manifesto for this intellectual onslaught on the ‘friendly fascisms of right and left’ and an outright refusal to ‘recognise intellectual no-fly zones’, inspires.

His first essay Dead Man Walking contrasts the reanimating of the zombie myth in contemporary literature and film to its previous incarnation in the 70s and 80s.

In the postwar decades, as suburban sprawl and mall culture metastasized across America, Hollywood cast the zombie as the decaying face of popular ambivalence toward amok consumerism. Implacable consumption machines, the mall-crawling dead of Georg Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) liberalised the infantile psychology of consumer culture, with its oral fixation, insistence on instant gratification, and I-shop-therfore-I-am sense of self-worth, indexed to how pricey your status totems are-the sheer bodaciousness of your insatiable orality implied by market capitalism’s redefinition of citizens as consumers-“wallets with mouths”, in the cynical parlance of Madison Avenue is instructive.

Now that the econopocalypse has thrown millions out of work,triggered an upspike in homelessness, and eaten the braaains of consumer confidence, the zombie has undergone a role reversal, incarnating American fears that the republic is a shambling shadow of its former glory, Left 4 Dead by the near meltdown of the financial system. Zombies are the Resident Evil of an economy whose moribund state confronts us everywhere we look in a landscape littered with dead males, “ghost boxes” (dark, shuttered big-box outlets), and “zombie stores”-retailers forced by dismal sales to reduce their inventory to its bare bones, with the ironic consequence that their emaciated stock and empty floor space scare consumers away, accelerating their death spiral.

Is that enough to tempt you to dive in and read along? I could just have quoted Dery’s listing of “Noam Chomsky’s Top 10 List of Things You Can’t Say on Nightline: “The biggest international terror operations that are known are the ones that are run out of Washington; if the Nuremberg laws were applied then every postwar American president would have been hanged; the Bible is one of the most genocidal books in the total canon; education is a system of imposed ignorance…” but that would be too easy, and I assume you’ve all seen Manufacturing Consent.

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