Thursday, April 13, 2017

Een Capitalist Amerika, State Gardens You!

"We are the kids of war and peace
From Anaheim to the middle east
We are the stories and disciples of
The Jesus of Suburbia"

Green Day - Jesus of Suburbia

If you've taken a Sociology 100 class, you've likely heard of Emile Durkheim and the term anomie, the "normless" paradox of a society advancing faster than its institutions. That lecture stuck with me particularly because of the conveniently reactionary pedagogic moral that unhappy, even suicidally depressed populations just aren't being brainwashed hard enough.
Whether or not this constituted Durkheim's original thesis is inconsequential these days. Reactionary indoctrination with a side of obfuscation is routinely prescribed as the cure-all for any trend of societal malaise, dysfunction or dysjunction.
Know what else is routinely prescribed? Prescriptions. If Mrs. Grundy can't convince the kids on her lawn to join the club, then simply murder them within their bodies. Bodies are useful. Minds just get in the way of business. Medicate 'em cross-eyed. If they won't smile and nod on cue, if they won't join the chant, if they won't meekly suffer an insufferable world, well, we have a pill for that, whatever that might be. Institutionalization no longer requires stone walls and iron bars.

Garden State came out in 2004.
Zach Braff, just coming off those great first couple of seasons of Scrubs before the show got bogged down in its own running gags and became unwatchable, leveraged the peak of his teevee supastah momentum to auteur hisself his own romantic comedy. It worked, which is to say it sold. To this end, much of Garden State plays in tune with other rom-coms: a glorification of codependence and emotional manipulation. However, it at least restrains itself to low-key sap until the obligatory "happily ever after" ending (in an airport terminal no less) leaving plenty of room on the way for those tangential frills like plot and characterization. It's the kind of flick you watch for the filler.

"Filler" also succinctly describes most of Garden State's characters' place in society, and their failure to integrate themselves into the various expectations of good citizenship has earned the movie its real, lasting value as a snapshot of commoners' life at the heart of a declining, decaying empire. While not the destitute, criminal or antisocial dregs of society portrayed in darker movies like Trainspotting, the various compulsive liars, pyramid schemers or graverobbers in Braff's alternative rock magnum opus do an excellent job of outlining the dicrepancy between twenty years of indoctrination and the hollow reality of prescribed life. It's not that they've never grown up, but that the world in which they find themselves has no place for adults. The only one who strikes it rich admits he's never been so bored in his life.

So as you watch each of them in turn, either creative, determined, idealistic or intelligent, the sort of youths Norman Rockwell would've glossed to perfection, stumble through day by day of menial busy-work to afford their weekly weed allowance, remember this was 2004. This was a movie by and for the first generation to grow up under the increasingly paranoid school system of the '80s and '90s. During their teenage years, at the same time their country was tossing them in prison in the name of the "drug war" they saw the establishment of the current status quo, in which five to ten percent of the population is declared mentally infirm and medicated into a psychotropic stupor while minors, when Ritalin became a boy's best friend.
You gotta get'em young.
For reference, when China realized even one to three percent of their population was being numbed into inaction by opium, they went to war over it. The U.S. has been doing this to itself.

If you've never watched it, forget that it's a rom-com and just watch its characters numb themselves into complacency. Garden State is far from the greatest movie ever made but chronologically it falls at an interesting juncture, the permeable border between the last gasp of generation X and millennials. As in Durkheim's day, the old precepts of a productive life no longer apply, but instead of freeing their wage slaves the powerful are instituting more and more means of control. Far from receding, the trend toward medicating youth into submission has only become entrenched since 2004. A whole new generation has come to power, in gardens all over the developed world but especially in the States, not shocked or amused or questioning whether they should be doped up to the gills but accepting it as the norm. At least one line from the movie has waxed all the more significant over the last thirteen years:

"It's recently occurred to me I might not even have a problem. Only I'd never know it because as far back as I can remember I've been medicated."

To this I would add that psychotropic drugs are not even one of the main means of social control employed by the rich against the poor. I would ask whether as far back as you can remember there has been any time when you weren't part of a masonic lodge, or a social justice book club, or a sports club, or a moderated forum, or a therapy group, or a political party, or a twitter feed, or a scout troop, or a church, or an after-school club, or any other ersatz tribe telling you what to think? Has it occurred to you that you might not even have a problem for them to solve?
Has it occurred to you to howl into the void?

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