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Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Railing Class
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on, loan from Ari.)
"This is 1888, isn’t it? I knew I was Jack. Hats off. I said Jack. I’m Jack, cunning Jack, quiet Jack. Jack’s my name. Jack whose sword never sleeps. Hats off I’m Jack, not the Good Shepherd, not the Prince of Peace. I’m Red Jack, Springheeled Jack, Saucy Jack, Jack from Hell, trade-name Jack the Ripper!" - Peter Barnes, The Ruling Class
or, You Get What You Don't Pay For

     We are all Jack Gurney, whether we like it or not.
     When Peter Barnes' The Ruling Class was made Great Britain's official entry at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, American politics, always a box of spiders just waiting to burst out, was about to become even nastier and tumultuous than it always has been. Nixon's and Lee Atwater's Southern Strategy was about to pay off big time for C.R.E.E.P. (Committee to Re-Elect the President) and Nixon was about to bury Eugene McCarthy in one of the biggest and most humiliating landslides of all time. Liberalism was dead and Nixon was gleefully shaking his flaccid penis over its corpse after pissing all over it for the last four years.
     Then Watergate burst all over Washington like a popped, rancid boil. Its effects would last and reverberate throughout the Capitol and the entire nation for decades and every scandal both great and small, as if through an Act of Congress, had the suffix "-gate" attached to it in some sick political tribute to the most twisted and paranoid leader-freak since King Lear and Macbeth.
     But what Nixon would do, in recruiting the FBI, CIA and his own aides to spy on Democratic National headquarters, break into the Watergate Hotel and even Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office and the subsequent botched coverup, would prove to be a mere Brooks Brothers dress rehearsal for the high crimes and misdemeanors that would follow in the succeeding decades.
     Heinous as they were (as was Iran-Contra, the invasion of Iraq, etc), at least they were crimes with motives and carried out by evil men we could at least understand to some degree. Greed, paranoia, thirst for power: They were all timeless themes immortalized in plays by the Bard of Avon and before him.
     And speaking of plays, I now take you back to The Ruling Class.
     In that movie, the late Peter O'Toole played Jack Gurney, a plainly insane paranoid schizophrenic who had inherited a peerage after the last Earl of Gurney accidentally asphyxiates. At first, Jack seems to be a harmless kook (or what the landed gentry call "eccentric"), one who thinks he's Jesus Christ and insists he will return to Earth a la The Second Coming to spread the Messiah's message of peace and brotherhood. He even sleeps on a cross and, while he's certainly not up to the task of fulfilling his duties to the peerage, he seems nice enough.
     Then Jack convinces himself he's Jack the Ripper. An arranged marriage backfires and the body count rises when Jack murders not one but two women. Before anyone realizes it, Jack's in the House of Lords giving an impassionaed speech about the need for the death penalty and corporal punishment and his peers in the Upper Chamber raucously applaud his conservative sensibilities...
     ...all without once realizing or even suspecting the man they're applauding is hopelessly, irredeemably, incontrovertibly and absolutely quite insane.
     Let me know if this is beginning to sound uncomfortably familiar, striking too close to home like a stalker just under your 13 year-old daughter's bedroom window.

Kings of the Heartless
     Mark Twain once famously said that Congress was the "only distinctly native American criminal class" and our elected officials rarely give us any reason to believe otherwise. Physical assaults on the floor of the Senate were not unheard of, duels were fought and elections were so brazenly and nakedly corrupt that people were encouraged if not forced to vote several times a day. Politics in 19th century America was a snake pit.
     Then the 20th century dawned and politicians, if not made more honest, were at least recognizing the necessity of acting more genteel. However venal, corrupt or duplicitous they were, these men at least were those who knew how to get things done. Railroads were built, frontiers expanded, social programs enacted, infrastructure created and maintained and, despite the greasing of a million palms, shit still got done and we surpassed Great Britain as the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth.
     Then came Nixon but we survived him. Then came Reagan then his milksop Vice President George HW Bush and we survived them. Hell, we even survived his idiot son (barely). Then a funny thing began happening.
     The inmates were given the keys to their own cells and allowed to run the joint.
     I take you to World War One and the movie King of Hearts.
     As with The Ruling Class, this was a box office flop that would later reach cult status. While taking place during two times in history and in two different countries, if one were to combine or juxtapose the two elements one would see a pattern emerging in this country that seems to be metastasizing like a social cancer.
     In King of Hearts, the British army retreats from a small town in France, but they've left behind a nice little surprise for any advancing Jerries who may occupy the town: They leave behind a booby trap, an enormous bomb set somewhere in the small town. And the only person who can stop it from detonating is a lone Scottish soldier, Private Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates), who doesn't know where the bomb is.
     And neither do the inmates of the local lunatic asylum who'd escaped after the townspeople had long since fled from the ticking bomb.
     Eventually, they crown him the King of Hearts and the question of the story is who is more insane? Those who have been diagnosed as such or those who start wars?
     The analogies are as tempting as low-hanging fruit or a large surplus to a Republican. In the first movie, Peter O'Toole plays a man who's elevated to the peerage after a tragic accident and winds up in the upper chamber of Parliament where his insane pronouncements have the ring of lucidity and authority to his peers. In the other, the lunatics at the asylum have taken over an entire town after the regular townsfolk had abandoned it.
     Very much in the same way in which the American voter had abandoned their own democracy, or what passes for it, giving the lunatics free reign. And now we're seeing a new breed of politician that includes in its ranks hypocrites, thugs, racists and even criminals.

"The Appearance of Democracy Must be Upheld."
     As Boss Tweed famously tells Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, "the appearance of the law must be upheld." The same applies for the sham that is our democracy, a Potemkin village of sorts dredged up every two, four and six years. It's a rickety construct nonetheless propping up one of the oldest fallacies on the planet earth, that our Republic's democracy, our Great Experiment, is a successful ongoing one. If this persistent lie were to be abandoned for even one election cycle, our entire House of Cards would come crashing down around our ears.
     But a recent Princeton/Northeastern study recently discovered, after sifting through mountains of data and 1779 policy positions, that the moneyed elite really call the shots through Economic Elite Domination and Biased Pluralism, leaving Majoritarian Electoral Democracy and Majoritarian Pluralism gasping in the dust. Coincidentally, the report comes out just a week after the now-infamous McCutcheon VS the FEC ruling by the Supreme Court that allows those selfsame moneyed interests to pump unlimited amounts of money to unlimited numbers of candidates. As Americans are famously suspicious of politicians, the conclusion of the top 10% having much more political leverage than the bottom 90% hardly comes as a surprise.
     And it's those candidates, many of them getting into Congress, that are the focus of this article. Moreso than ever, we're seeing fringe lunatics, Tea Bagger thugs, morons and even convicted criminals sliding into the halls of power, so many Stuart Bests accepting money from astroturf outfits, 527s, right wing think tanks and, most conspicuously, money from billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Kochs. To give just a sample of what I'm talking about:
     Former Congressman David Rivera once ran a truck off the road in 2002 that just happened to contain campaign fliers for his opponent that attacked his character. Fellow Florida Congressman Allen West was kicked out of the military after firing a pistol near an innocent Iraqi policeman's head. Anti abortion extremist Rep. Scott DesJarlais pressured both a mistress and an ex-wife to have abortions. Unlike Rivera and West, who both got voted out the same night after one term, DesJarlais actually won re-election. A week and a half after getting sworn into the Senate, Mike Lee of Utah already began calling for the abolition of child labor laws.
     And one shouldn't need documentation to prove the staggering ignorance and sheer stupidity of people like Sarah Palin, Louis Gohmert, Michelle Bachmann, Steve Stockman and Joe Barton, just to name a few. It's not enough to say this is merely Overton's Window at work, that this is the shifting landscape of politics, the pendulum swinging, etc. It's outrage fatigue and understandable apathy on the part of the American electorate who had long ago come to the conclusion, long before the Princeton and Northeastern academics, that nothing they want or believe in, not even their vote, counts for shit. And it's this weary, jaded mistrust of not only politicians but the very concept of government itself, that gives counterfeit currency to the blatherings of deadbeats and moochers like Cliven Bundy and his homegrown terrorist sympathizers.
     At least Stuart Best had a conscience and only reluctantly read from the position paper given to him by these lunatic fringe groups. People like Bachmann, Gohmert, Cruz and Stockman actually believe in these philosophies. And they are now in power, listening to the soft whisper of riffled money rather than the vox populi.
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Anonymous Syrbal/Labrys said...
The very opening of the post sent me, not to a Peter O' Toole movie, but to the trippy novels "Vellum" and "Ink" about a dystopian future where a "Jack" springs forward and backwards in time battling reactionary, homophobic hate that raises itself to self-made godhood.

Because yes, the forces at work in America do act a bit "There can be only one" -- at least in the economic sense!

Anonymous Brian said...
Peter O'Toole made a lot of movies in his lifetime, but this is one of the unjustly ignored ones.
I liked King of Hearts as well but The Ruling Class is the more interesting of the two.

Blogger Buttermilk Sky said...
McGovern, not McCarthy.