Roughly a year ago, I wrote in this space about a future I envisioned as a child growing up in the 1970’s, since destroyed in a hail of greed and misplaced priorities. The end of another calendar year gives each of us an opportunity to take another objective look at how it all keeps going wrong. I hope you’ll pardon me as I take a break from my usual subject matter for some dime-store philosophising.
The quick summation is that 2010 became just another year of bloviating and rhetoric, with continuing stasis and the usual figurative fist-pumping shouts of “GET OFF MY LAWN” emanating from elderly citizens so resistant to change that they took the tack of doing nothing while they were young so they could kvetch loudly about it to anyone who bothers to listen as the end draws near. In the end, who could really blame them? It’s a choice between that, driving half the speed limit in the left lane or staring at the wall. Admittedly, from the standpoint of evolutionary sociology, the staring-at-the-wall option does less overall damage, but once the excess gastric acid from the 5 AM breakfast kicks in, there’s no stopping them.
I look at 2010, as you could probably tell from the title, as a year of loss, both in terms of the expanded degradation of human aspiration and in ideas we used to all hold as core values, now battered by a political discourse that elevates people more suited for heavy doses of electroconvulsive therapy to a spot right in front of the television camera.
Loss occurs in small doses over time, but if not measured or monitored, suddenly makes people nostalgic when it’s far too late. I try to approach every conversation and action in life as a visionary, which requires shining the brightest flashlight on incomplete information and filling in the many blanks. With that in mind, I’d like to highlight five losses from 2010 that beg for such increased focus. These losses could be ideas, products, trends or people, but their demise, both individually or collectively, give me all the information I need to predict future shifts.
“E Pluribus, Unum” – One problem with being a country of immigrants is that the destination homeland ends up with no cultural cohesion or unification. As a result, in our national discourse, we have spokespeople usually stepping up to the plate for their own select focus group, which further insures that we not identify ourselves as simply “Americans” but rather hyphenated Americans all fighting for their little piece of territory. E Pluribus, Unum is Latin for “From many, one”. The chance of achieving this ideal in the future, given the current rigidity of opinion in this country, is roughly as fat as most of our waistlines.
Pontiac – For the first time in my 44 years of life, new Pontiacs will not be rolling off the assembly line in 2011. Pontiac is a victim of the $3 gallon of gas. When we think of Pontiac, we tend to think of the halcyon days of the 1960’s. My brother once owned a gold 1966 Catalina that was easily one of the biggest cars I ever saw. In an era when the gallons-per-mile standard of yesteryear is an impossible proposition, Pontiac didn’t have a chance. They had small victories, but they never stayed with them long enough. The 1988 Pontiac Fiero was once of the best cars Pontiac ever made. It was also the last year that the Fiero was in production. After five years, they finally got it right, and then they abandoned it. Oh well, at least we’ll always have memories of the GTO.
Captain Beefheart – Thanks to MTV, modern popular music is no longer a proposition where people of a certain niche can flourish with a cult following. In 1982, one year into MTV’s existence, Don Van Vliet, better known to fans of his music as Captain Beefheart, retired from the music business to concentrate solely on his impressive gifts as a visual artist. The music of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band was best described as a meeting of blues, avant garde jazz and free form poetry. As a result, his music was not widely accepted by the listening public, but the band cast a long shadow of influence over countless musicians since their recorded debut in 1967. When Don Van Vliet passed away a few weeks ago due to complications of multiple sclerosis, I was reminded once again why every democracy desperately needs a contrarian. The music world was poorer when he retired, and humankind takes a hit just knowing that he won’t be around anymore.
Civil Discourse – Reading through the news today, I was reading about some lunatic fringe political group who decided to announce to the world that they consider the ACLU and the Department of Homeland Security to be “hate groups”. What sickens me about their reasoning is not what they say, because I’ll defend anyone’s right to say anything. What is truly disturbing about this is that someone gave them a wide-ranging journalistic platform with which to spout such intellectually challenged rhetoric. Common human decency, as I have viewed it throughout my lifetime, states that people who lack gravitas and any manor of learning can yell and scream all they want, but are best ignored for the good of society. If I walked through life with as low a level of basic academic curiosity, this blog posting would actually be written in mud and smeared onto the side of my house. Is it too much to ask that we give a platform to sentient beings for a change? It would be a great first step towards solving the overwhelming problems this country now faces.
Leslie Nielsen – The one thing I want to do every day of my life is laugh. I can go without food, love, music and my car for any amount of time, but my continued physical and mental health requires that I have a cheap laugh at least 5 times a day, with at least 2 of them being of a childish and guttural variety. Over the past 30 years of my life, Leslie Nielsen provided me with this requisite need in bunches in movies and TV shows (Airplane, Police Squad) so patently ridiculous that I couldn’t help but howl. I’m grateful that he left behind a compendium of media which will unfailingly amuse me. You may have a more evolved sense of humor than I do, but as Leslie so eloquently put it in The Naked Gun, “I’m sure we can discuss this like adults, can’t we, Mr. Poopypants?”.
No calendar ever turns without a high degree of challenge. As Lou Reed once wrote, “There’s a bit of magic in everything/and then some loss to even things out”. The turning of the calendar into 2011 is presented upon a backdrop of impending social cataclysm. The last 10 years in America have brought forth a grim Butcher’s Bill of losses across many planes of existence, and yet, tomorrow morning brings a new sunrise. In new light lies new opportunity. Tomorrow night, give one final toast to the lost and come Saturday morning, embrace the light.