I’m not sure which dystopic police state I prefer — George Orwell’s 1984, or John Carpenter’s They Live. Orwell had postwar literary street-cred, but They Live has way better dialogue.
The truth must fall somewhere in the middle, although teasing out the subtle differences between authoritarian narratives is less interesting to me from a critical perspective than ridiculous fight scenes that last for five minutes. Instead, after the jump, a discussion of how to endure an authoritarian police state, or a little jail time, with stoicism and manliness. Plus: a totally unfair swipe at your grandma.
“Over the past 30 years the Republican Party has gone from Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich to Dick Cheney — i.e., from conservative to reactionary to crazy to batshit insane…” — Kevin Drum
As an essentially lazy American with no attention span and a low threshold for frustration, I’m more or less annoyed that I’ve had to spend the last six years paying attention to politics. I do have other important demands on my time, like Half-Life 2, and other fine products from the folks at Valve Software. The dystopic future police state of Half-Life 2 is a pretty good primer for the coming American police state I’ve been reading about in The New Republic. At least I hope it is, because if I can’t leverage all the posthuman soldier-killing I’ve been doing in my special pretend-world, then it’s entirely possible that I’ve wasted a substantial amount of the last year, like my girlfriend says.
I think I’m a little better prepared for the coming police state than people without felonies on their records. A few years ago, I got into a little trouble over a truckload of secondary-market horse meat which I quote-unquote “sold” to a school district in another state, and my lawyer talked me into a bad plea agreement deal so he could make it to Cabo San Luca in time for his wife’s birthday. The whole upshot being, I spent a little time in jail.
Now, I’m the first person to admit that the Regency Romance novel I wrote while I was in the pen isn’t very good, but it’s no worse than anything else extruded from the Historical Romance-excreting orifice at Harlequin publishing: a bunch of climbing into and out of coaches. So why the snotty rejection letter?
The guys on C-block thought Lady Worthington’s Secret was pretty compelling. My cell-mate Low-Beat Johnson was doing the second half of a double-nickel for attempted murder and he knew a thing or two about romance novels. “Your book is like Jane Austin,” he said. “Only buttpluggier.”
‘Cause, y’know, in the slam, I figured I had to leaven all the coach-dismounting, ball-attending, letter-writing, and elderly-aunt-visiting with a healthy amount of anal sex. “I like your heroine,” said Low-Beat. “Lady Worthington is a fiercely independent young woman who no man can tame. Plus, she likes butt sex.”
So that’s what I brought to the table: A novel that transcended genre conventions to reflect the reality I saw around me. Specifically, the reality of Leavenworth Prison. Which in turn prevented me from getting early parole — at the hearing, I had to sit through an hour of tiny little victim impact statements, written out in crayon and delivered in tiny, hesitant voices. Every time one of the parole board members glanced at me, I’d roll my eyes and pretend to look at my watch and make bored masturbation gestures so they’d know I was as sick of it as they were. Then, when the kids were done talking about their stupid food poisoning, I read an excerpt of Lady Worthington’s Secret as a testament to the rechanneling of my creative impulse away from violations of the Interstate Commerce Act, and toward the monocle-wearing realm of historical fiction. Take it from your ol’ pal Chris, kids: avoid references to pre-Victorian autoerotic asphyxiation while making your case for parole. Stay in school. Reading is fundamental. Only a real “dope” huffs lighter fluid from a sock after lights-out.
The Republicans they had when I was a kid were way less spooky than your modern Republicans; now policy tends to vector on stripping away the rights of anyone who isn’t a flabby, impatient white dude, and boiling Guantanamo inmates to death in kettles of urine. Was that an actual policy proposal? Or something I read in Malkin? Thanks to all the fermented orange toilet-tank liquor I drank when I was in Leavenworth, things that happen to me get all blurred with the made-up fantasy world in which I drive a monster truck and fight crime. My sidekick is a monkey! Dressed like a little bellhop! At any rate, insofar as I have a point, the point is that the current strain of X-treme Conservatism, like the current strain of X-Treme tuberculosis, is way more spooky than the tuberculosis and conservatism they had back when your dad wore poodle skirts and mary-janes. Ha ha. Just kidding about your dad.
As a counterpoint to Republican spookiness, I’m going to point out that there’s a happy little Bob Ross cloud on the horizon, and it’s this: scary things become less scary over time. Remember when you were a kid, and vampires were scary? Well, thanks to Anne Rice’s embarrassing masturbation fantasies, vampires were drained of all their creepy scariness and became dark, brooding Goths with long coats and depraved banality and eye liner. You know who thinks Lestat is scary? Your grandma. Your grandma thinks Lestat is scary.
And then Anne Rice died in a horrible plane crash and and was buried in a dark, brooding cemetery under a statue of a weeping child-like angel. The end.
I made that last part up as consolation for Anne Rice’s prolonged state of alive. But anyway, to wrap this up: Republicans are spooky, but they’re also easily frightened. The feds bust a group of pathetic, unemployed cultists in Chicago, and the NRO runs around shrieking in wrist-flapping terror. The Brits are forced into an early arrest of a group of potential airplane bombers, and I swear to god, it’s like watching Jm J. Bullock find a millipede in his shoe. Scaring Republicans is what got us into this situation in the first damn place, but in addition to being easy, it’s kind of empowering, like making a hobo dance for quarters. Although it isn’t much comfort, I think it’s important to remember that conservatives, like honeybees, are more scared of you than you are of them. Particularly if you’re endowed with popular genetic traits like dark pigmentation, intelligence, or a vagina. Lacking all three, I compensate by wearing a T-shirt that says, “ASK ME ABOUT YOUR DAUGHTER’S ABORTION!”
So but anyway, it’s fair to assume that the Republican party will, via NSA wiretapping and expansion of executive authority, do to the Bill of Rights pretty much what Andrea Yates does with babies, and we’ll wind up living in the kind of dystopic Police State that conservatives used to worry liberals were trying to impose. I’ve already been there, baby. Novel-writing is what got me through the experience, and also what inadvertently prolonged it. You do your time, you eat the saltpeter mashed potatoes, and you lift weights. Once a week, you do a reading with a Q/A session in the yard. And you post chunks of your novel on a blog.
Chris lives and works in Kansas City. He posts stories at Farmer Bob Dot Org.