Welcome to the White Zone

In the 1971 sci-fi film THX-1138, the eponymous hero played by Robert Duvall is sentenced to a term of confinement. But instead of jail cells, the justice system of the futuristic dystopia he inhabits has evolved a new kind of incarceration: within an endless expanse of flat white wilderness so vast it blunts ability to perceive distance or perspective. There, individually and in small pods, the criminals of THX’s world go slowly mad as the system grinds on without them. (Or, perhaps more properly, over them.)

The deafening silence of many of my fellow Caucasians in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory is, frankly, every bit as frightening. I wonder if perhaps they simply fail to comprehend who these men are that Trump is appointing feverishly to just those positions any tyrant would consolidate beneath him the moment he seized power: national security, intelligence, military and the attorney general’s office. The news that President Trump will be coached by alt right champion Stephen Bannon and gay hater Mike Pence, and advised on National Security matters by perennial Pentagon outsider and anti-Muslim kook Michael Flynn is perhaps lost on them. Or maybe they don’t understand how civil rights will be rolled back for women, GLBT folk and Muslims under the pending First Amendment Defense Act, scheduled for vote by the GOP majority House and Senate upon resumption of business and almost guaranteed a signature by President Trump. Perhaps they just don’t get these things. Perhaps their understanding has been blunted by the perspective-flattening horror of cable news and the pseudo-journalism of the Alex Jones crowd to the point at which they don’t perceive the threat.

Or perhaps they just don’t care.

White supremacy is a virus: once it enters a population, it propagates quickly. Upon achieving critical mass it transforms itself into an exponential fractal, attaining a speed and virulence at which it becomes unstoppable. By the time it breaks into view, the window for stopping or reversing the process has shrunk to a period of weeks, if not days. I’m wondering how many of my fellow Caucasians feel which way the wind is blowing and have just decided it’s easier to say nothing, to go along and not resist. That failure to declare one’s self for one camp or the other, to voice an opinion, to engage in the civil process creates a vast, empty horizon – a white space like Robert Duvall’s prison – that is seized upon by more energetic forces.

These forces, and their agenda, are resolving into clarity before our very eyes. And we should be very, very frightened.

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After Bowie

It was Sunday morning around 1978 or so and everyone’s weekend was decomposing in the cigarette stink of other peoples’ basements. But Danny, still wearing mascara and glitter, wandered, not quite ready for square Monday morning although it crouched in curtained windows and closed shop doors, lurked at each sterile street corner. Guarding the status-quiet like a dull-eyed concrete dog, Sunday was Cerberus of Normal’s return.

Danny knew what it was to be disappointed by your own ugliness, and just how destructive it was to disbelieve in your own beauty. But the brutal sameness of street after street – that irresistible conformity was the gravity well toward which each weekend plunged. Its inevitability demanded doubt in one’s self, just as its return proclaimed the rule of sameness: sack lunches and school haircuts and JV sports, station-wagons and Sunday afternoon barbecues and especially the message : no weirdoes allowed.

But during the week there was always a chance you’d overhear a snatch of boogie on a passing transistor radio or see, on Sunday morning, a closed record store window with a scrap of torn poster in one corner. There were always affirmations of the weird: subtle chimeras waiting to rise like night-blooms among the everyday. Such pop culture clues to our identity never lasted long before being painted over or torn down, which just made them all the more precious.

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