I was beginning to think about the psychic underbelly of homogenized America, the gated communities in which the houses look all the same but not many people can relate to their own neighbors. There’s this undercurrent of steady, unspoken fear running through all of these people toting their status symbols and wearing the fasionable uniforms of first-world privilege. It’s a fear that became horribly, surreally captured by the constantly looped playbacks of 2 passenger planes slamming deliberately into the twin towers. It’s a fear, of course, fed by the nightly news and the Pentagon propaganda machine. But it also, disturbingly, seems to be a fear fed by a prescient collective awareness, a subconscious inkling of what is to come.
Think of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, walking from their parked, polished SUV down 6 city blocks to the opera house. Yes, a rather far distance to traverse by foot in this day and age–but Mr. and Mrs. Smith are fit, trim, health-conscious Californians who eat lots of fruit and vegetable based cuisines paired with red wine. The night is brisk, Mrs. Smith locks up the car and sets the alarm with a push of a button, and they stride, fashionably attired, down the sidewalk. Mr. Smith walks with his arm protectively at his wife’s back, both guiding and establishing ownership. He is afraid of the downtown streets at night, the lounging, leering homeless and drugged, the muttering alcoholics, the catcalling perverted insane. Mr. and Mrs. Smith become aware of how their appearance presents them here as targets, as possessors of objects of desire. Their status–their class–is given heightened clarification–they become uncomfortably aware of how they have set themselves apart, of how their very lives, their unconcious thoughts and habitual modes of being have set them apart. Because here on the street there is dirtiness–and they are clean. Because here there is ugliness–and they are desirable. Because here there is poverty–and they have money to spare. Their fear is palpable, an intensity in the air. They walk a little bit quicker, unspeaking, Mr. Smith’s hand at Mrs. Smith’s lower back, prodding onward, hoping to just be there, to be safe, to be enveloped by the glassed fortress walls of the opera house.
That was a re-enactment of the way it might have looked. Scanning the local section of the paper the next day, you just see another crime in the city, two murders downtown, not even very late in the night, when people are out and about and business is still mostly legit. What’s going on with this world? you wonder.
Because somehow this fear extends beyond simple paranoia. Yes, it has a lot to do with the fear of loss–because when you own something, then you also gain the fear of losing it, you’ve got to start worrying about protecting it, securing it, guarding it. But it’s more than just that. There also is an element of awareness that maybe some of these things do not belong to you in the first place. There is an element of awareness that it is not just about things at all, that it has to do with what is taken for granted. Yes–there it is:
That your very way of life subsists on what is taken for granted.