Custom Search

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

DFW and John McCain

Over the last two days, I have been nose deep in the work of David Foster Wallace who, unless you don't own a computer, killed himself Friday evening. David suffered from severe depression and had obviously decided that all the medications and electro-shock treatments were not doing anything but prolonging his pain. We at Shambollocks know all too well the staggering difficulties faced by those who suffer from mental illness and their loved ones, and our deepest sympathy goes out to Mr. Wallace's family and friends.

I attended college in what may be called the 'DFW Epoch'. In 1996, Wallace's Infinte Jest was published, and it had the kind of impact in the literature world that Pulp Fiction (at which Wallace sneered) had on cinema. I started university taking creative writing classes and never even having heard of DFW. Everyone loved it! It was everyone's favorite novel, and everyone wanted to foot note their short stories. To an died-in-the-wool, conservative modernist like myself (yes, that's me-light years away from pure nerddom, orbiting an nebulae of academic arcana about which no one cares except lit majors), it was a travesty. I got Wallace. In fact, I believe Jest is fairly ingenious. But the truth was that his work was often too aware of itself, and that awareness made most of it so arch you wanted to watch two hours of commercials after reading him.

Wallace was brilliant. He had an ability to observe and communicate the differences in American society on which yet another political campaign cycle is feeding in order to create the dissonance so necessary for their brand of destructive, electoral vote calcuations. Nowhere is this better observed than in his essay about his week on the McCain Straight Talk Express in 2000 for Rolling Stone. Upon reading this, I am struck at how different the 2008 McCain is from the 2000 McCain.

There's another thing John McCain always says. He makes sure he concludes every speech and THM with it, so the buses' press hear it about too times this week. He always pauses a second for effect and then says: "I'm going to tell you something. I may have said some things here today that maybe you don't agree with, and I might have said some things you hopefully do agree with. But I will always. Tell you. The truth." This is McCain's closer, his last big reverb on the six-string as it were. And the frenzied standing-O it always gets from his audience is something to see. But you have to wonder: why do these crowds from Detroit to Charleston cheer so wildly at a simple promise not to lie?

Well it's obvious why. When McCain says it, the people are cheering not for him so much as for how good it feels to believe him. They're cheering the loosening of a weird sort of knot in the electoral tummy. McCain's resume and candor, in other words, promise not empathy with voters' pain, but relief from it. Because we've been lied to and lied to, and it hurts to be lied to. It's ultimately just about that complicated: it hurts. It denies you respect for yourself, for the liar, for the world. Especially if the lies are chronic, systemic, if hard experience seems to teach that everything you're supposed to believe in's really a game based on lies. Young Voters have been taught well and thoroughly. You may not personally remember Vietnam or Watergate, but it's a good bet you remember "No new taxes" and "Out of the loop" and "No direct knowledge of any impropriety at this time" and "Did not inhale" and "Did not have sex with that woman" and etc. etc. It's depressing and painful to believe that the would-be "public servants" you're forced to choose between are all phonies whose only real concern is their own care and feeding and who will lie so outrageously with such a straight face that you just know they have to believe you're an idiot. So who wouldn't fall all over themselves for a top politician who actually seemed to talk to you like you were a person, an intelligent adult worthy of respect? A politician who all of a sudden out of nowhere comes on TV as this total long-shot candidate and says that Washington is paralyzed, that everybody there's been bought off, and that the only way to really "return government to the people" the way all the other candidates claim they want to do is to outlaw huge unreported political contributions from corporations and lobbies and PACs ... all of which are obvious truths that everybody knows but no recent politician's had the stones to say. Who wouldn't cheer, hearing stuff like this, especially from a guy we know chose to sit in a dark box for four years instead of violate a Code? Even in A.D. 2000, who among us is so cynical that he doesn't have some good old corny American hope way down deep in his heart, lying dormant like a spinster's ardor, not dead but just waiting for the Right Guy to give it to? That John S. McCain III opposed making Martin Luther King's birthday a holiday, or that he thinks clear-cut logging is good for America, or that he feels our present gun laws are not clinically insane — this stuff counts for nothing with these Town Hall crowds, all on their feet, cheering their own ability to finally really fucking cheer.

Unbelievable. Where is this John McCain? Where is the independent McCain who almost was Kerry's running mate in '04? Where is the McCain who spoke out against the Swift-Boating of Sen. Kerry? Why is McCain's campaign lying about what Obama says and lying about what Palin did in Alaska?

The John McCain of 2000 is gone, and so now is DFW. I mourn both today-one who promised a kind of bold leadership that America still needs, and another who so deeply mourned a brand of American political debate which understood our differences. Both men shall be missed.

No comments: