UPDATED: The United States of CorpAmerica ™

UPDATE 2:07 pm Feb 13, 2011:  They’re nickel and diming us to death.  That’s where it starts; that’s where it’s personal.  They know, more than us real people, that mere pennies add up, especially when you’re getting pennies from everyone and for everything.  Here: this is the most recent thing I’ve discovered — just a few minutes ago, as a matter of fact — that shows how our corporate overlords really think of us.

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Corporate greed is the reason I need a new pair of glasses.

The pair I’m wearing is a replacement pair for glasses that, three weeks ago, had just been delivered to the Grove Avenue Eye Center.  That pair distorted my vision and was unusable; this pair, it was promised, would be perfect.
And they are.  A perfect waste.  They distort my vision even more.  It turns out that DavisVision, my vision insurer, makes the lenses themselves.  In what fashion, with what primitive grinding and polishing instruments, and with what neanderthal-like technicians in gruel-stained lab coats, I don’t know — but my doctors don’t like DavisVision (they say this with eye rolling and wink-winks) as they cannot vouch for their “quality.”
I can.
They suck.
So I’m waiting for another new pair of bifocals so I can use a computer with the upper, intermediate lenses, and read what’s on my desk with the lower lenses.  Right now, the lower lenses make it appear as though I’m reading through a pane of rushing water that distorts the letters when I move.  (Distort.  I used that word describing the effect to the glasses technician.  She didn’t understand the word.)  DavisVision, according to the woman who cut the lenses — here in Richmond — from the pieces of glass Davis sent them from wherever in DavisHell, actually changed my prescription because they did not have an upper and lower set that would match what my doctor prescribed.
Quality costs money.  And spending money on their customers is one thing corporations don’t want to do.

So I’m reading this wonderful new anthology, Brave New Worlds.  It’s a collection of dystopian short stories, all about presents- and futures-imperfect, where life and civilization have gone all wrong.  Sexuality is legislated, the military runs the government, babies are revered but adults are killed, books are outlawed, chips in our brains control our minds — fictional, of course, dystopian Americas that we, as a people, know just can’t happen here.  That’s all just make-believe.
In the introduction, the editor, John Joseph Adams, writes

Whether or not a society is perceived as a dystopia is usually determined by one’s point of view; what one person may consider to be a horrible dystopia, another may find completely acceptable or nigh-utopian.

Later, in the introduction to “The Pedestrian,” a story written by Ray Bradbury in 1951, the editor writes

One marker of a dystopian society is its lack of fairness.  For some people, the field isn’t just unlevel — it’s hideously slanted, and there’s no way to get a hand up it.

We’re in a future that was predicted in the ’70s in Rollerball — that’s the first time I can remember thinking that our present situation could seriously come to pass — and somewhat in the ’80s with Blade Runner.
It’s a dystopian future where corporations have a stranglehold on the government.  They’ve bought the politicians, they’re going for the courts, they’re ripping the money out of our pockets by nickel and diming us with fees and surcharges and obscene interests and price-gouging and ticket scalping and Planned Product Obsolescence.  People aren’t important, except to be used as a working class — all of us, working for the corporations, and the executives at the top of their golden pyramid schemes, firing our workers to find cheap labor overseas, while annually raising prices that we just can’t meet without credit here, credit there.
This dystopia exists here in America, right now.  And I really don’t think people are looking at it like that.  I think conservatives, especially the tea partiers, in the lower and middle class still think, still believe in their innermost hearts, that by working hard and struggling every day and being honest (well, mostly, because the boss will never notice if I take home one of these pens or a notebook, right?), that they will make it, that they will eventually join the higher echelon of financial security — the Upper Class.
Ain’t gonna happen.
This is the lie that they want us to believe: Work hard and you will get everything you want.
Yeah.  I heard this before in history class.
Arbeit macht frei.
21st Century America isn’t in a science fiction dystopia.  It’s an all too real economic armageddon that right now affects every single American.  The root cause is not the deficit, the cost of war, the price of gas, the frosts in Florida, the mortgage crisis, or industry bailouts.
The root effect is personal, forcing middle class wage-earners to scrimp and crawl just to live paycheck by paycheck; and the root cause is greed, corporate greed — that’s what has brought us as a country — and especially on an individual level — to this financial apocalypse.
And, hell, we’ve all bought into it.  We believe what the bought politicians are telling us.  We believe the talk radio fat cats.  We respect men who wear ties and snap flag pins on their lapels.  We follow the rules because we want to be led, we need rules to keep things right, keep things moral!  And the corporations would never do anything to us, never!  The business of America is business!
Rollerball has come true.
We are in the midst of an American dystopia — brought about by the fear-mongers who are already billionaires and want more money and more power –and I’m not sure anybody can see it.  There are too many trees in the way, and we can’t figure out we’re in a freakin’ forest.
Brave New Worlds.  The book is fiction, like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  But the stories — the dystopias — could come true.
If they haven’t already.
I’m going for a third pair of new glasses on Monday.  Do you really think DavisVision gives a damn if they get my prescription right?
Read the book.  It could happen here.

Network Memories

Guess what Peter Finch is saying . . .

The ’70s was for me the finest era of movie making. It was as though the half century of films that had come before somehow collectively inspired a generation to work their best at their craft. M*A*S*H, the first two Godfathers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Star Wars, Jaws and Close Encounters, Taxi Driver, Carrie, All That Jazz — I could go on and on, and you’d recognize every single title.

One of my favorites was 1976’s Network. It had a huge impact at the box office and on the audience. Even today, people still scream, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”

It wasn’t the catch phrase alone — it was Network‘s sheer power up on the screen. It was satirizing the worst of 1970s television in a way that we laughed at — it was unreal, shows like that could never happen — yet the machinations that went on behind the scenes and in the characters lives were all too real. That’s why “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” became so popular — it resonated through the American audience because we could all relate.

And all the shows that could never happen . . . have all happened.

Mark Evanier blogs out of Los Angeles, and in a recent post, To the Victors Go the Spoilers, he writes about how he thinks we should see new movies without listening to critics, without spoilers and comments on the Internet: “. . . the relentless promotion of some movies these days has damaged the whole film-watching experience for me.”

I can’t disagree with him, especially when all the funniest parts of a new comedy are given away in the trailer.

He mentions an advance screening of Network which he attended in 1976, and I think this quote from his blog shows just how much power and impact Network had. We need more writers like Paddy Chayefsky, and we need more courageous executives and studios to make movies like this again.

I saw Network at the Writers Guild Theater a good six weeks before it hit regular cinemas. The place was packed and no one knew one thing about it other than it was Paddy Chayefsky taking a shot at television. By the day it opened, half of America was screaming “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” having seen it in the promos and clips. It was a lot more effective to not know what was coming. (I was sitting next to Ray Bradbury when I saw it. When the film ended, he looked around the hall and said, “There isn’t a person in this theater who isn’t wishing he’d written that.”)

I haven’t seen Network on cable in years. But it’s available on DVD, and I urge you to run out and get one of the most intelligent and insightful films ever made.