Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dead Heroes and Wannabe Villains

Think of the best science fiction story you have ever read.* Science Fiction is the best example of this, but it can apply to any kind of writing that paints a picture of the future. Really good stories of the future leave a stain on your brain tissue, a shadow that permanently changes how you imagine the next 100 years or whatever of human culture. That's the beauty of scifi specifically (I love using those two words together), it touches the most malleable part of our imagination, the part where  we are both scared and excited for The New. So years after reading a certain story, you will be just going along in your normal life, supposedly functioning as an adult, and all of a sudden something you see or read or watch will make you stop in your tracks, and think "Oh, that's just like...." and the entire situation takes on an epic metallic feel. It's the Future Chills. Probably also the foothills of a Conspiracy Complex, but The Chills are good for you if you keep them in perspective. Its good to be reminded how fast our complex little tangles of culture are developing , and what's being left behind in the process, all the knots and catastrophes that are right around the corner.

It's not scifi, but a good example of The Chills is when the Pink Slime Fiasco happened, and all that flashed in my head (as it does every time there's an FDA scandal) was the blue tinged milk in The Jungle. That's indelible. 

I had two moments of The Chills this week. The first was on May Day, when the news here in Ohio was full of the Wannabe Anarchist Bombers, 5 men who had planned to blow up a bridge. A bridge that basically goes from one suburb to another, and is very pretty, but not exactly a strategic target. One of the ten thousand blurbs I read about the subsequent FBI arrests quoted one of the emails between the boys - that blowing up the bridge would hurt nearby corporations because people wouldn't be able to get to work. Cause, you know, that's the only road anywhere into the island fortress of Brecksville. 

What gave me The Chills is how quickly the media banded together to laugh at them. I mean, they ARE laughable, no question. But the set up here is that these guys had talked about blowing something up a little bit too loudly, before they even had a plan, and someone had tipped off the FBI, who had infiltrated them with some undercover agent who I'm sure had a beard (update: he did not have a beard. Instead he had a lot of convictions for check fraud. Sounds like he's an expert on handling complex political terrorism threats). Then this guy guided them through buying fake C4 from the FBI, and they waited to bust them until the bombers actually tried to plant the explosives. Within minutes, on May Day, the word of the arrest was everywhere - every news station, radio, twitter, facebook. It was a media blitz. The information that these guys might be "into" Occupy Cleveland spread like napalm. Dumb asses kid-looking photos of the suspects, and screenshots from their moronic facebook profiles were available to everyone immediately. And just as quickly, it was decided that the local take was going to be "hahahaha idiots". And listen, I'm not saying there's any other plot here other than the obvious, but there doesn't need to be a deeper level. The FBI orchestration of this and the consequential cancellation of the May Day Occupy protest and non-renewal of their permit is enough to get The Chills going just from the surface view. I mean obviously these guys were assholes and went along with the whole thing, so fuck them anyway. But still. CHILL. All that laughter.

note: now there's some blog post going around asking people to rally behind the suspects, claiming they were manipulated by the FBI into doing something violent, when really they are just nice Food Not Bombs boys. First of all, having lived in a house full of Food Not Bombs people who liked to break into laboratories and free animals, not the most convincing angle to come at this with. But also, if they put money into buying C4, fuck them. Your defense against the charge of planning to blow up a bridge cannot be "I was just stupid." We already know you were stupid, because you were planning on blowing up a bridge. Technically, that then makes you into Food And Bombs.

The second moment was when it was announced Junior Seau had killed himself. I don't follow football, and I don't know anything about this guy's superstardom at the sport. The story is he retired, and apparently was loved in the community, had a family, had the pro football retiree dream, and then shot himself in the chest. The news stories are vague, but three salient points stick out. 1) he had recently had a car accident 2) there is a report out there about him assaulting his girlfriend, which is not something he had a record for and 3) he is the 4th pro football player to recently kill himself. CHILL. The last one even left a note requesting they cut open his brain and study it for damage, which is why he shot himself in the chest and not the head. Spoiler: you don't always die quickly from chest shots. You suffer. In a way, that both Junior and his colleague chose to kill themselves that way, giving their bodies to science, is incredibly brave. There are a lot easier ways to off yourself.  From an uneducated outside view, and this is all speculation of course, but it seems pretty easy to write a scenario where this guy had brain damage, was depressed, found himself not acting like himself, hurting people he loved, and took matters into his own hands. It's tragic, in the way that every suicide is tragic. But it's also creepy as all get out to think of these gladiators, these warriors, coming out of the crazy insanely rich highly pressured combat of pro-football into what should be their golden reward years, and yet  plagued by the consequences of the severe head trauma they subjected themselves to for decades, then killing themselves and requesting their brains be cut open. When a society's heroes start killing themselves en masse, something is wrong with that society, right?

I'm just saying, it's very literary. And anytime real life gets too literary, I feel The Fear a little more keenly.

*If you tell me you've never read science fiction, just go away. We have nothing more to say to each other. Go buy a used copy of the World Treasury of science fiction edited by Dave Hartwell. It is actually a treasure. It changed my life. 


  1. This made me feel less alone in my feelings of what-the-hell-ness.

    word verification: happium aticuria, which sounds like some kind of future pharmaceutical soma.

  2. I think our heroes are always trying to kill themselves. In fact, I'm not sure you can convince a random of the heroic status of another random if there wasn't at least the threat of death. Self-sacrifice is at the heart of it, but preferably with a lot of pain and imminent death.

    Yeah, people try to tell us that teachers are our heroes, but no one really buys into it.

    I consider this much more like the Hurt Locker. Life without football is meaningless. "Maybe my brain is broken" -- yeah, but from intensive training to function at world class athlete status as a human wrecking ball, not necessarily from being that wrecking ball.

    I'm all for any and all safety measures that leave the sport intact. If no such measures adequately protect participants, I'm all for eliminating the sport. I'm really all for lifetime free healthcare supplied by the NFL. But I can't ignore all the other factors that might lead to suicide, beyond that of repeated impacts.

    That said, another creepy thing is that the 1994 Chargers Super Bowl team, of which Seau is part, has 8 dead. That's somewhere around 10-15% of a given group dead before the mid-40s. While it's not necessarily football-related (there is a lightning strike and a plane crash involved) it is a certain WTF stat.

  3. A guy at the bar who I was talking to about this said he thinks the suicides have less to do with brain damage and more to do with prolonged steroid use. Honestly, I had totally written him off until that.

  4. Here's how it happens, how it always happens. Nonviolent movements to oppose the status quo begin. They gain support, lose support, change and grow. Then for whatever reason they are violently opposed, they are put down, they are made less and less relevant.

    Think of ghandi and MLK.

    After their efforts prove to have little effect violence begins. Think of Indian uprisings and the many race-riots of the 1960's.

    Violence is met with legislative change.

    Nonviolence lights the spark. That's all. It isn't until people blow things up and burn things down that anything changes. You will see.

  5. Well, if you're going to start escalating to violence, it might be helpful to know exactly what you're trying to dismantle, or what you'd like to put in it's place. Barring that, it might be super helpful to not plan bomb attacks with someone you've known less than a year that you met at some rally.

  6. I'm with Kingtycoon here, in the sense that you can't have MLK without Malcolm X or whoever.

    That being said, I don't have much in the way of answers, but if I'm going to join a movement, I want to know that I'm not getting into something I can't believe in with platitudes instead of answers to very real problems. Or if the one order of things is upended, I don't want to buy into something that turns out to be worse!

    I got accused the other day by a professor of standing on the sidelines of history and not caring, which is only half true. I do care, but I can't deal with this lesser of two evils business anymore, especially when everyone thinks they're so good.


Who wants to fuck the Editors?