Reflections On America

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Posted by farid from ( on Tuesday, June 17, 2003 at 12:21PM :

Reflections On Assyria

You should take a look at some old time movies from around the Depression and back. I saw one of them last night, Frank Capra's, "Meet John Doe". It stars a young and achingly handsome Gary Cooper plus Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Brennan (that guy must have been born around 50 years of age) and a host of excellent players. It's as full of "Capra Corn" as his other films, but no matter how sentimental, there is usually an edge to them...something about the common man, the decent guy, the average fella who just wants a fair shake in life and never means no harm to his neighbor...a John Doe beset and hornswaggled by the rich and power hungry.

The film is set during the Great Depression, the one in the 30's I mean...and tells the story of a power mad rich fellow, DB Norton who made his money in OIL, who thinks there's too much "talk" going around in America, too many "concessions" been made, that people need and want a strong hand...someone to tell them what's right and wrong. The guy even has his own private motorcycle guard...sort of fledgling Storm Troopers.

The film begins with him buying out a decent newspaper, "The Bulletin" to turn into a propaganda organ for himself with which to express the nation's "need" of him to save it. He plans to run for president as soon as the time is ripe. The old-timer staff is being fired off including a resourceful female reporter, our heroine, who has a mother and two sisters to support after her idealistic doctor father died. Lots of other people, all of them sympathetic and most of them too old to get other jobs, are also being let go. You have to keep in mind this was before Roosevelt and unemployment benefits or health care of any kind...when you got your last paycheck, that was "mollycoddling" of the masses who'd worked their asses off to make the few so damn rich. There was "Relief" but it's presented clearly as degrading...something hurtful to the Human spirit and especially to the resourceful, hardworking Americans who built the goddamn wealth in the first place and don't know why they have to stand around idle when all they want is to be put to work, even at a cut in pay.

Before all of this begins there is a great openning shot of the sign outside the building of the old newspaper. Under the name of the paper are the words...carved in stone (raised letters no less), "A Free People Need A Free Press"...or something like. Before you can quite read it all a guy steps up with a jackhammer and starts chiseling the words away...till you can just see the impression they leave behind as you read the last words. Next scene shows some hand installing the new, sleak, metallic sign over where the old one reads, "The NEW Bulletin, A Streamlined Paper For A Streamlined Age." "Streamlined" is code for firing a bunch of faithful old "Downsizing" is in ours.

In desperation to keep her job Barbara tries everything to convince the henchman sent by the big boss to set up the new paper, but nothing works. He tells her they want to increase circulation...that they need "Fireworks"! As she stomps out he reminds her she owes one more column or else no final check. She writes one in a controlled rage in which she pretends to have received a letter from a "John Doe" who expresses his disgust at the way the world has turned out, corrupt, venal etc. and promises to jump off of City Hall on Christmas Eve, a couple of months from then.

That starts pandemonium in all the big wig offices with the People clamoring to hear more from this guy...there are job offers, women want to marry him...everyone wants him to reconsider and not kill himself. The reporter gets her job back with a bonus and all she has to do is find a John Doe who will play along..which isn't hard because so many men are out of work. Mr. Big...DB Norton realizes he's sitting on a gold mine and figures to ride the Populist Wave into the White House, paying off the corrupt Union and Business leaders who help get there...after which he'll dump the John Doe Movement...sound familiar?.

After auditioning all sorts of sad sacks she lights on Gary Cooper, a bush league pitcher who was on his way to the majors when his arm gave out...he's been tramping the country since, trying to scam the money for an operation that will fix his arm so he can pursue his baseball career...he travels with another hobo, Walter Brennan whom he calls The Colonel (Brennan gives an inspired and funny speech about how a guy is free until he makes money...and then the helots, only he prounces it "HeeLots", Lots Of Heels, descend and ruin his peace). It all sort of works out to a happy ending for Gary and Barbara. The Big Guy isn't so much exposed as something happens to make him sick of himself...not enough to change appreciably, but he looks awful constipated and yet sad and noble by the end.

There were a lot of movies like that, asking some difficult questions about where America was headed. That was before the Motion Picture Code was instituted, which was supposedly about getting risque material out of films so the People wouldn't be corrupted...but it aimed just as hard, even harder, at ideas that were deemed too dangerous.

It wasn't long after the 30's that we went to war and you all know by now you have to be patriotic during a war, which means you don't was only right after the war we discovered that many Americans were secret Commies, like our recent ally Russia, which had just saved Europe's ass by defeating Hitler... and then we didn't dare question anyone cause we might be called the same...and we could see what happened to Commie sympathizers...they went to jail or had their lives ruined, same as Terr'ist Sympathizers do today.

With the birth of the idea that any American who asked a question of his government was "anti-American" and not merely exercising his democractic right and duty...we became a nation of chickenshits and PROUD of it. Our Education system took a hit when anyone with an idea not in the mainstream was isolated, lost a job, even got driven out of small time-minded America.

The Korean War washed right over us like it wasn't one gigantic crime against the time of the Vietnam War people dared ask questions and got jailed for being traitors, sympathizing with the enemy etc. Ronald Raygun came along straight out of Central Casting in California to gut one of the finest University systems in the world and THE best in America...and went on to become president and wreck and ravage some more...and it will never be known if he got Alzheimers BEFORE his second term or after he left the White House..

The Republicans found a gold mine in drumming up fear...fear of anything...fear of Crime...fear of Communism, fear of sympathy with Communists, fear of peasant revolts, fear of land reform, business reform, church reform, fear of Sex...Fear of Drugs. They saw it was a sure fire way to get votes, on the flimsy promise that they would "take care of" the very fears they planted in the populace...sort of like a priest who teaches sin then sells you salvation...or a doctor who injects you with a disease, then sells the cure, no...wait, that last one is illegal.

And now we make war on children, in our Fear. We see the death by starvation and disease of innocent children, to the tune of 500,000, as a legitimate "policy" goal...because their broken hearted parents might be induced to do what we "failed" to do...remove a tyrant we've described as worse than Hitler...that's right...the grieving parents were supposed to do it...although when the one uprising came in Iraq, the US did nothing and 200,000 additionl IMPEDIMENTS to Saddam's continued rule were killed.

It's an old story. We're so addled with fear...afraid of dirty bombs, of airplanes, of loud noises, that we'll vote anyone into office if he or she will just play to our weaknesses...what a come down from where we started. The one thing we don't seem to be afraid of is losing the very heart and soul of what made America in the first place. But then we're too paralyzed with fear to know the value of Courage.

Happens to all empires eventually...that pioneering, can-do spirit gets replaced in time by the our case a quaking fear that people out there hate us and envy us...for what, I can't imagine...we get used to soft comforts, to turning away when we spy an injustice, even though its next victim might be us.

Yet changing it is as simple as Campaign Finance Reform...the cure starts there...the disease started almost with the birth of this nation...with the ridiculous notion that a multi-billion dollar International Corporation is just a plain old "John Doe" who just happens to be able to buy and sell people and offices... and this is pawned off on us as a precious part of our Democractic away with that, we are warned by the Rats themselves and the entire country will...will what? Become riddled with fears and insecuity...will feel unprotected? Will the American people have LESS of a voice if money is taken out of politics, out of the election process at least and we the people paid the entire bill?...COULD the American people have less of a voice than they do that all the corporations have been free to remove restrictions against buying up our news sources...our trees, the air we breathe...even to pawning our children's future (who do you think gets the interest on those "loans" taken out in our name when there is, "Oh Horrors"...a DEFICIT? What better collateral could there be for these loans made to glorified loansharks than the blood and sweat of the people of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA?) for a "war" that stands to enrich these same private corporations?

No need to see the're in it.

-- farid
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