McMansions, SUVs, Mega-Churches and the Baghdad Embassy

Life Among Dim and Brutal Giants

In microcosmic mimicry of the plight of the besieged middle and laboring classes, my parent’s Atlanta neighborhood, as is the case with many others in the vicinity, is being destroyed, in reality — disappeared — by a blight of upper-class arrogance. The modest, post-war homes of the area are being “scraped” from the landscape as an infestation of bloated McMansions rises from the tortured soil. These particleboard and Tyvek-choked monstrosities loom over the remaining smaller houses of the area, as oversized and ugly as mindless bullies, as banal as the dreams of petty tyrants.

In the surrounding suburbs, in a similar manner as McMansions eclipse sunlight, throwing the adjacent houses into half-light, mega-churches eclipse the light of reason, leaving their congregations in an ignorant half-light of dogma and superstition. Of course, these true believer lunatics are wrong about everything, except, perhaps, for their elliptical apprehension regarding the arrival of proliferate cataclysms in the years to come. Oddly, although they promulgate dire warnings on the subject, they seem gleeful at the prospect of wide-spread suffering.

How could they not be? They’ve seized upon a fantasy that allows them to escape from the tyranny of their own life-suffocating belief system. Attempting to subdue the suffocating dread of their corporately circumscribed lives, they wish for the destruction of the entire planet. Hence, their escapist fantasy, by the necessity of narrative, is huge, outrageous — apocalyptic. The progenitor of their End Time tale is this: The believer’s emotional inflexibility begets a form of ontological giantism — a phenomenon that arises when one’s worldview is too small to explain the larger world. Therefore, a story must be created that contains violence and terror on such a massive scale that its unfolding would kill off the entire, problematic world. “That’s right world, there’s not enough room on this planet for both you and my beliefs. One of us has to go.”

Upon the nation’s roadways and interstate highways, the overgrown clown cars of the apocalypse, SUVs, Humvees, and oversized pickup trucks also evince hugeness to compensate for the feelings of those folks inside the grotesque vehicles of being crushed down by alienation and isolation — not only while on the road — but by the realities of an existence within a hapless, oil-dependent empire which is itself powerless against the changing realities of the larger world.

In the ranks of the exploiter class, the fat salaries of CEOs separate them further from the general population of the consumer state (that they take every opportunity to bamboozle) as the American public itself grows fatter and fatter in body mass, vainly attempting to sate an inner emptiness borne of their perceived helplessness before the predation of corporate culture.

Concurrently, in Baghdad, the U.S. embassy, which, when completed, will be the largest “diplomatic” compound on the planet is, in fact, an inadvertent monument to the mindless colossus the U.S.A. has become. The structure is as accurate as the art of architecture can be in its depiction of the spirit of a nation’s people. As big and bloated as our national sense of exceptionalism, it stands in the so-called Green Zone of Baghdad, shielding those who will be bunkered down within it — not only from the murderous madness unfolding outside its highly fortified walls — but from reality itself. A massive emblem of the arrogance of power, the embassy is a testament to how the noxious vapors of cultural self-deception can be made manifest in re-inforced concrete, armed watchtowers and razor wire.

Through it all, like some eternally slumbering Hindu deity, we Americans dream these things into existence. Far from blameless, we continue to allow the elites to exploit us; therefore, we enable and sustain their titanic sense of entitlement. In turn, we accept their paltry bribes and, as a result, our banal, selfish dreams have conjured forth George Bush from the zeitgeist. Ergo, Bush is a man whose impenetrable narcissism is so grotesque and ringed with fortifications, that all on his own he constitutes a walking analog of the American embassy in Baghdad.

In addition, we Americans continue to believe our fables of righteous power: Big is good, goes our John Wayne jack-off fantasy. Our leaders must be large: Only McMansion-like men, such as Mitt Romney, are acceptable. We believe Dennis Kucinich is too diminutive in physical stature to be president — with the length of his body being roughly the size of Romney’s head.

In turn, our national landscape is stretched to the breaking point: Cluttered upon it, gigantic islands of garish light torment the night, scouring away the stars, estranging us from imagination, empathy, and eros, and leaving us only with the insatiable appetites of consumerism. Thus, around the clock, inside enormous, under-inspected, industrial slaughterhouses and meat processing plants, underpaid, benefit-bereft workers ply their gruesome, monstrously cruel trade, then the butchered wares are transported by way of brutal, double and triple-axle trailer, diesel trucks over Stygian interstate highways to sepulchral supermarkets and charnel house restaurant chains. Insuring we flesh-eating zombies are provided with all the water-bloated, steroid-ridden meat and industrially farmed, pesticide-laquered vegetables and starches — The Cuisines Of The Living Dead — we could ever crave … uum, uum, it’s the Thanatotic yumminess of empire’s end. Try our convenient drive through window. Would you like us to super-size your order of commodified death?

Hyperbolic ravings, you say. America is not a culture in love with death.

Let’s see. Drawing upon just one example: The corpses of well over half a million dead Iraqis testify otherwise. Moreover, the continuing Iraqi resistance to our occupation speaks volumes as well. Yet still, most of us cannot hear their elegy of outrage over the din created by the parade of killer clowns that we have mistaken for the pageantry of nationhood.

How does one slow this juggernaut of psychosis and curb these acts of murder/suicide being perpetrated on a global scale? Truth is, we might not be able to stop it because this is what lies beneath our unlimited sense of entitlement and self-defeating arrogance: a death-wish that manifests itself as exceptionalism and may well destroy the nation by means of imperial overreach — which is, of course, the time-established method by which empires dispose of themselves.

Further, this state of affairs is exacerbated by the narcissistic insularity of our media elite. At the end of the day, it’s their tumescent egos that are distorting our societal discourse; their vanities and attendant self-serving pronouncements are little more than steaming cargoes of horseshit, carried and delivered by one-trick-jackasses — jackasses endowed with the singular skill of being able to read a teleprompter … Fred Thompson, your agent is calling: You have an important call from Washington, DC.

Notice this: The more permeating the rot becomes within the system’s structure the more huge and pervasive the edifice of media imagery will grow — and the more trivial its content will become. The closer we come to systemic collapse the more we will hear about celebrity contretemps. Cretinous heiresses and shit-wit starlets, with shoddy mechanisms of self-restraint, people the public imagination, because they carry our infantilism, embody our collective carelessness, and, in turn, suffer public humiliation, as we desperately attempt to displace, upon them, the humiliation of our own daily existence within the oppressive authoritarianism of the corporate state.

Correspondingly, there is a well-known (by those who care to look) link between fascism and corporatism. To Mussolini, the two terms were interchangeable. According to rumor, we defeated fascism, during the first half of the 20th century. Yet, at present, we spend our days sustaining a liberty-loathing, soul-enervating corpocracy. To live under corporatism is, in ways large and small, to be a fascist-in-training. Everyday, hour by hour, the exploitive, neo-liberal concept of work devours more and more of our lives. As a consequence, the true self within is crushed to dust and what remains rises as cultural squalls of low-level fear, with its concomitant need for constant distraction. As all the while, the psyches of the well-off (financially, that is) become inflated, gaudy and ugly; in short, internally, they become human versions of McMansions.

Freedom is a microcosm of the forces of evolution engendered by living in the midst of life — a mode of being that apprehends and is transformed by the beauty, sorrow, and wit of the world. Conversely, authoritarian societies are collectives of accomplished liars and lickspittle ciphers, where one must conceal one’s essential self at all costs and the soul falls into atrophy.

To what extent does authoritarian rule diminish both the individual and a nation? Simply, take a look around you and witness the keening wasteland our nation has become. Furthermore, our emptiness cannot be filled by any amount of wealth or power. This is the reason the obscene amounts of mammon acquired by the privileged classes is never — can never be — enough to satisfy them, for their inner abyss is boundless. In a similar vein, no amount of killing can sate a psychopath’s emptiness. Dick Cheney will scowl all the way to the boneyard, hoping he can ascend to heaven by scaling the mountainous pile of corpses he’s responsible for placing there.

In folk stories, when giants are about, drought and famine withers the land and starvation stalks its people. Accordingly, the ruthless giantism inherent to the Corporate-Military-Mass Media state has withered our inner lives, blighted our landscape, and left us powerless before a huge, demeaning system that devours our time, health and humanity.

The bone-grinding giants of the American corporate and political classes have shot the Golden Goose full of growth hormones, enclosed her in an industrial coop, and hoarded her voluminous output of eggs. Yet, nothing satisfies them.

Meanwhile, online, we struggle in a Jack in the Beanstalk Insurgency, hoping that from things as tiny and seemingly trivial as mere beans — our postings, exchanges and periodic meet-ups — the fall of tyrannical giants might begin.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at phil@philrockstroh.com and FaceBook. Read other articles by Phil, or visit Phil's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Timber said on June 28th, 2007 at 11:49am #

    While I agree with Mr. Rockstroh’s overall argument here, I take issue with his characterization of the yuppies he discusses as “isolated and alienated.”

    These are the people who are MOST engaged in this society and culture–they belong to the Shriners, participate in local politics, they have kids in the schools, they go to malls and ball games, they hang out in sports bars and go out to restaurants, they have networks of professional relationships, etc. The megachurch is an example of their connections, not an example of their isolation. A Zen Buddhist meditating alone in his room is isolated; a guy wearing a Rolex standing and reciting some prayer or hymn along with 10,000 other people isn’t.

    In fact, the reason these people are such caricatures of themselves is that they are so obsessively concerned with being part of the mainstream: frantically running out to replace the passe’ Tahoe with a Range Rover, replacing their cell phones with Bluetooths (Blueteeth?), adopting any fashion that is paraded before them in sitcoms or TV ads. These are not people disengaged from the machinery of this shallow, materialistic society–they are its engine.

    I live in the “Triangle” area of North Carolina, and I see this phenomena all around me in the sprawl around Raleigh and Chapel Hill. I also see how desperate the poor people in this area–black, white and Hispanic–are to emulate and imitate the empty hypocrisy of the nouveau riche by running out to buy Tahoes, Yukons, Escalades or used Land Rovers.

    Again, you can’t feel isolated when you’re spending all your time, energy and money to be a conspicuous part of the herd. Isolation implies that you are outside looking in.

  2. James said on June 28th, 2007 at 12:55pm #

    I disagree about the Zen Buddhist and isolation. Meditation is not isolation, it is solitude – they are not the same thing. And it is possible to feel far more alone and isolated within a crowd of people than you ever imagined possible.

    I also think there are different breeds of yuppie, and they differ in important ways. What you describe is the “Sun Belt Yuppie”, which is a very different animal than the urban, liberal, coastal variety. Both are conspicuous consumers, no question about that.

  3. Brian Hayes said on June 30th, 2007 at 8:14pm #

    Oh Hell, it’s a good rant. Cadence is good. The ache touches the universal. There’s nothing or no one to stand up for in an imperfect world. Take it on the chin and enjoy it!

  4. Moss David Posner said on July 1st, 2007 at 7:41am #

    Leave it to petty wannabee mentalities to nip at the heels of talent by gnawing at irrelevent details, as elegantly displayed by the two previous commentators.

    The article makes an excellent point, one which many of us have mused about over the years, but possibly not in such an outstanding literary/prosaic style as did the author of this article.

  5. harmon gottlieb said on July 2nd, 2007 at 7:43pm #

    “Freedom is a microcosm of the forces of evolution engendered by living in the midst of life — a mode of being that apprehends and is transformed by the beauty, sorrow, and wit of the world.”

    The kindest thing to be said about Phil Rockstroh’s iconoclasm is that it is puerile, bombastic crap. “The forces of evolution,” apparently, have imparted to him a huge faith in his logorrhea. This self-confessed gasbag poet wouldn’t know real cynicism if it were to bite him in the buttock and then upchuck all over him. A true “cynic” knows that the cold mechanics driving bio-molecular reality could care less about “the beauty, sorrow, and wit of the world.” He must think that the Natural Selector honors humanist harangues, and gives out ego awards for the mean-mouthing of religion. Silly Phil—writing against mega-churches from the dead pit of his own belief in the magical creativity of insensate matter.

    “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” –1Corinthians 3:19

  6. Useless said on July 3rd, 2007 at 10:26am #

    I rather enjoyed reading this.. Thank you so much for such a profound, articulate version of what hundreds-of-thousands of outcasts world-wide are warring with in their sleep..
    I recently had to buckle down and start working a nine-to-five, selling myself for medical insurence (for my son) and in effect give up growing my food, writing my songs, painting my inspirations and acknowledging my world.. Give up taking my son on week-long excursions down the coast and teaching him to identify insects and plantlife.. I cried for forgivness for falling back into deaths embrace.. I just couldnt take knowing my son had no insurence.. I couldnt take isolating him from society even though I feel so strongly it is for the better..
    Such feelings as you have discussed in this article are, i believe, as old as humanity itself.. Yet so few of seem to act upon it.. Where are the people living by these theories? Where are the communities standing up against this? For in all my years and for all my struggles I have only come to the realization that we are the isolated ones, despirately trying to recall an existence that takes but a village.. only to be abandoned time and time again and forced to rebuild..

  7. Adam said on July 24th, 2007 at 12:56pm #

    Phil Rockstroh is an amazing writer! Thank you!