Everything that goes around

By Puck Wildschut

When I
started brainstorming on a subject for my Culture Weekly blog I was hard
pressed not to talk about the new president of the United States, but
about something fun, say music, sports or books. I felt culture lovers would surely
appreciate a positive and disinterested note on what’s happening in te world,
as a counterweight to all of the disturbing news we are constantly hearing.
Sadly, Mr. Trump and his blatantly inhumane views are quite literally
everywhere nowadays and my unconscious just can’t seem to stop spotting
references to the man and his rise to political power. So yes, this blog is
about Trump, which is regrettable, but is also about some very good music, one
of my favourite books and even that crazy little thing called hope.

Wednesday
23rd November 2016 was a good day. That evening, I went to a show of
one of the greatest bands in the world, Living Colour, and witnessed the best
gig I had seen in years. Living Colour is about as anti-Trump as it gets:
They’re an African-American crossover quartet who have been fighting rascism,
sexism, and capitalism throughout their entire career, starting in the late
1980’s, using their lyrics, musical skill, music videos and interviews to
battle unequality and prejudice in society. During their show, Trump was
referenced a couple of times. Frontman Corey Glover was visibly and audibly
still shocked about ‘their’ new president: “When we left on tour, we left
behind our country. When we’ll return in a couple of days, we’ll be going back
to a country that’s gone completely bananas.” [quote by approximation – PW]. In
a sense, it seems that Living Colour warned us about Trump a long time ago, in
songs and videos such as ‘Cult of Personality’ (Vivid, 1988) and
my personal favorite ‘Type’ (Time’s Up, 1990). ’Cult of personality
is a powerful attack on the value people ascribe to status, image and succes,
which earily describes the current U.S. President’s irresponsible behaviour: “I
sell the things you need to be/I’m the smiling face on your T.V./I’m the cult
of personality/I exploit you still you love me/I tell you one and one makes
three”.

image

In ’Type’,
I believe Living Colour provides us with one of the most apt descriptions of
the nature of current society, as much nowadays as in the 1990’s, when the song
was first released: “We are the children of concrete and steel/This is the
place where the truth is concealed/This is the time when the lie is
revealed/Everything is possible, but nothing is real”. These and other lyrics
by Living Colour paint a disturbingly accurate picture of modern day political
America, which is not to say that they are prophetic, so much as that they
anticipate where our own behaviour as citizens and consumers will lead to: a
world in which the most powerful man alive is considered a sociopath by many,
a.o. his own ghostwriter Tony Schwartz (see Tony
Schwartz on Bill Maher’s Real Time
). The interesting thing with Living Colour is that they firmly place
the blame on us: we, the people, are the ones that allow greed and money
to rule the world and vote a megalomaniac to become president of the most
powerful nation in the Western world. Which brings us to that favourite book I
mentioned…

When it
became official that Trump would be running for the Republican party, I was
immediately drawn towards my bookcase and furiously leafd through Bret Easton
Ellis’ lit-body horror novel American Psycho (1990).  I remember my first thought on Trump’s
nomination being: “Well, at least he won’t get elected for office unless the
American voters collectively go and turn into a bunch of murdering
psychopaths.”, since the novel’s protagonist Patrick Bateman is a
murderer-rapist-psychopath who revers Trump and his lifestyle.

image

Well, that
wasn’t exactly what happened next in the real world (sigh of relief), but I could
still hear Bateman in almost every Trump-supporter I saw interviewed, admiring
all his economic accomplishments and his power to exclude people unlike ‘the
average, hard-working American’ from his plans to make America great again.
Like Bateman. The French newspaper Libération had the same verdict of
Trump as me, at least.

image

Well, I
promised you some good music (check), a favourite book (check) and some hope
(here it comes!). It might not sound very hopeful, but here’s the thing: As
Living Colour shows us, we, the people of the world, are the ones that have
created a world-wide political climate in which someone like Trump can become
the White House’s most important occupant. Even if you’re a vegan leftist
hippie like me, you have to acknowledge that we are all stuck in the capitalist
way of life, in which even those critical of Trump and the values he professes
buy houses, get mortgages, want to have more and more and more stuff and (yes,
it’s true) put their own well-being before that of everyone else. And now we
are pissed off, because a man’s in charge in the U.S. that we feel represents
nothing of what we stand for, precisely because he epitomizes the way of
life we have been living for around the last 35 years. “Everything that goes
around, comes around”, Living Colour’s Corey Glover ironically sings to us in
‘Type’. But what it also means is this: That we, those very same people, have
the power to change things. And just as Trump is changing al the good stuff
that his predecessor has brought the world, we have the chance to let the world
know that we will change it back – back to the environment-friendly,
not-xenophobic, tolerant road Obama set it upon during eight harsh years of being
a true leader of America and the rest of the world. So march, protest, sign,
organize, come together, try to be a lover of life instead of a consumer of
goods, and eventually change will come. And also, get angry, because we need
some fire to counter the self-righteousness of conservative leaders in America
and elsewhere. You can start heating up right here: Living Colour – Who Shot Ya?
(Notorious B.I.G. cover) (2016)

Image credits:

1) Living
Colour Live @ 013 Tilburg 23 November 2016. Source: http://www.maxazine.nl/2016/11/24/intiem-concert-living-colour-hoogtepunt/. © Conny van den Heuvel,
DCHPhotography

2) Patrick
Bateman (Christian Bale) Trumping it in Mary Harron’s (director) film
adaptation of American Psycho (2000). Source:
http://www.cinemablend.com/new/American-Psycho-Ending-What-Really-Happened-70126.html

3) Cover Libération
9 November 2016. Source: HLN.BE 9 november 2016

The United States of Dystopia

by Edwin van Meerkerk

French
philosopher Jean Baudrillard once described America as Europe’s ‘future
catastrophe
’.
With the election of Donald Trump, this description aptly describes the feeling
of many Europeans, especially where new elections are due and populist
candidates appear strong in the polls. Baudrillard is known for his
introduction of the notion of the simulacrum,
the sign without reference, as emblematic for the postmodern society. In this
‘hyperreal’ world, there is no reality, only images. With a president elect who
oftentimes seems to exist mainly in and through his twitter account
@realdonaldtrump​,
the hyperreal seems to acquire a new momentum.

image

The slogan
that won Trump’s election more than anything was his assertion that he would
‘make America great again’. This expression is a direct, albeit most likely
unconscious, quotation from J.G. Ballard’s 1981 novel Hello America, in which a future president of the United States
uses the very same line. Ballard (1930-2009), whose work is
often typified as science fiction, but is better described in Margaret Atwood’s term
‘speculative fiction’, has had a love-hate relationship with America throughout
his life. His fascination with American technology (especially cars) and
celebrity cult, went hand in hand with his rejection of American politics and
media.

In Hello America, the protagonist, Wayne,
is on a quest to find his father. After a soul-searching journey through a
future America, which has turned into an uninhabitable desert due to climate
change, he ends up in Las Vegas, the only remaining city. The United States
have become the embodiment of the simulacrum: an artificial reality. Here, he
meets the new president, Charles Manson:

‘I was very
impressed by Manson. For all his weirdness, he has the old Yankee virtues. He
wants to see America great again
, and becoming president is little more than
the decoration on the cake.’

Manson, an
obvious reference to the assassin and cult leader still serving a life time
sentence
,
is a superstitious and narcissist man, who, in Wayne’s words ‘has every right
to call himself the forty-fifth President.’ (Hello America, p.140) – the number seems prophetic. Manson is
convinced that Europe is trying to break his ascent to power: ‘I see it waking
now like an old dog, smelling us here and trying to get its snout into this new
America I’ve built.’ As a response, Manson starts bombing cities on the eastern
coast of America, to create an impenetrable nuclear wasteland. Wayne naively believes
everything Manson says, despite the numerous warnings he is given.

Finally, Wayne meets
his father, the cliché mad scientist dr. Fleming, who spends most of his time building robot avatars of previous
presidents, as well as a fleet of solar power aircraft. Dr. Fleming, unlike his son Wayne,
does not believe in America any longer, wondering

‘what exactly we signify by
the term “America”. It’s an emotive symbol, Wayne, went out of
fashion in the 1980s and 1990s, somehow lost its appeal…’

America as an
emotive symbol, American power residing in Las Vegas, Charles Manson as its
president, all of whose predecessors are mere robots: it may seem a harmless joke, but
the stakes become real when Manson aims the last of the nuclear missiles at
himself, seeking to destroy his own capital. Making America ‘great again’ for him
means to utterly destroy it.

J.G.
Ballard’s view on American politics has always been quite unambiguous. This was
never as acutely expressed as in his pamphlet ‘Why I want to Fuck Ronald Reagan
(1967, also included in The Atrocity
Exhibition
, 1970),
the immediate cause for his American publisher to withdraw Ballard’s manuscripts from
distribution, and the reason why Hello
America
wasn’t published in the US until years after its initial publication date.
The pamphlet is Ballard’s reaction to Reagan’s election campaign as governor of
California in 1967. In this campaign, Reagan widely used television
advertisements and other visual campaign strategies, all of which showed a
stark contrast between the image of a friendly and benevolent candidate and the
conservative programme with which Reagan ran for office.

It seems to
be more than ironical that the next political candidate to revolutionize the use of modern media, in
this case Twitter, in a campaign that overturns the order of fact and image, is
destined to become the real 45th
president of the United States. His name is not Charles Manson, even though he,
too, claims to want to ‘make America great again’.

Photo:
collage of portraits (Reagan, Trump, Manson, Orwell, Huxley, Ballard) by author from public domain.
J.G.
Ballard ([1981] 1985) Hello America.
London: Triad/Panther.