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A Yard Sale in Chernobyl

By       Message Joe Bageant       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   3 comments

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opednews.com Headlined to H1 8/3/09

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It's only a system," she said, as we floated through the sprawling supermarket's gleaming commodity lined indoor streets.

"THE HELL IT IS! It's a goddamned air conditioned zombie hell of waste and gluttony," I thought to myself, before the usual vertigo completely enveloped me.

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Just back from Central America's simple, comprehensible mercados, bodegas and street cart vendors, the effect of this most common American shopping venue was, as always, one of vertigo. Head splitting light beats down on pyramids of plastic eggs, as if to incubate their hatching of the ladies stockings within, dozens of kinds of toothpaste, well scrubbed dead chickens, lurid baskets of too-perfect flowers, plastic wraps, tissue for faces, asses and wrapping gifts, row upon row of polished vegetables and fruits standing like soldiers waiting for the annihilation of salads or the ovens of casseroledom.

Flickr image by gab

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And all those hushed and not so hushed shopper cell phone conversations, this one consoling someone at the home base pod:

"Oh I am so sorry, baby, but I think they've quit making the Ranch flavored Pringles. Yes I know you don't like the jalapeno Pringles. I am so sorry. Really I am." Both parties seemed genuinely distraught.

And I imagine Allen Ginsberg in this supermarket, as he once imagined Walt Whitman in a supermarket in California and wonder, as Allen wondered, "What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate their brains and imaginations?"

The meat department workers in blood stained white smocks recite their corporate programmed litany: "Welcome to Food Lion. How can I best serve you today?" I cannot help but politicize such moments, so I say, "Humiliating, isn't it, to say that a thousand times a day to people who just want to be left alone to shop." Once in a while I get a knowing glance back, but usually they do not respond, because cameras cover every inch of the place.

Only the Mongoloid bag-faced boy seems happy to be here. His smile is a deep mysterious void. What it must be like to be so unfazed, to be in another country of the mind? What sphinx rules his Republic of One? Does it have the same unknowable corporate face as governs our obedience to this one?

It was to the spectral triumph of corporatism Allen Ginsberg referred in the epic poem, "Howl": Moloch, whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

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The world at that time, 1956, understood what Ginsberg was saying. Around the planet, Howl, remains the most well-known American poem of the twentieth century. Here in the Republic of Amnesia though, "Howl" is all but lost amid the crackling digital noise=2 0of the immediate moment. Allen's hairy assed existential yalp for humanity just doesn't go well with the body waxed de'cor of our current American aesthetic.

President Obama understands the featureless not-so-new American aesthetic. So well that he had the world's most politically correct, authority sanctioned, but absolutely worst poet, Elizabeth Alexander, read at his inauguration. ("We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed, words to consider, reconsider") Like the soothing, ambiguous language of the Super Corporate State, it sounds as if it means something. Which is close enough for government work. More importantly, she has been vetted by proper authorities and is credentialed and licensed by Yale University to practice poetry. The marketing theme of the event was Obama's s alleged blackness. Alexander is a sorta black too, but not black enough to scare away business. Welcome to the domination of the business aesthetic. Literate people all over the world found Alexander's reading to be like one of those eye watering farts you just wait through until it blows away. Still, millions of Americans listened and cried, in accordance with the marketing theme almost on command, "happy to be born in America, where a black man can be elected president." Personally, I was sorry as hell I'd sworn off bourbon for the month.

If you ask, you will find that most of our citizenry are indeed "happy to be born in America" -- Fat City, the beacon of bacon. The great 24/7, all-you-can-eat buffet republic, where you can walk in without a cent in your pocket and buy a car, or, until the credit meltdown, even a house. People immigrate here for just that: to possess more commodities and goods than previously available (as in none, zilch); or to accumulate money to ensure such goods in the future. Or to escape political machinery that deprives them of goods, and sometimes kills them if they object. "Your basic lack of democracy," as we're constantly reminded. I've met a few genuinely starving people in my day, and to be truthful, democracy was the last thing on their minds.

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Joe Bageant is the author of a forthcoming book from Random House Crown about working class America, scheduled for Spring 2007 release. A complete archive of his online work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class (more...)
 

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