This is not going to be about the ravages of depression, nor even a commentary on the state of the bi-polar psychology of our culture. No, there are different directions I would like to take this (for a hint into my process with these pieces, and I have no doubt that some of you may have already guessed this, I make things up as I go along. Outside of the fanatic historical research, or my nearly objective reflections on true events throughout the world, these are pure stream-of-consciousness. This means I do not yet know how this will end–)
There are many different labels we apply to ourselves. Often those titles are not deserved. If we take an extreme example–President Trump–we can see a person who declares themselves better than everyone at everything. He claims to be more knowledgeable, better prepared, and more in control of every situation he encounters, and every person he is forced to meet. This is, of course, a protective measure–a shield to keep him whole, because if he were ever to doubt himself he would collapse into a weeping failure, blaming himself now for everything wrong, taking on the equal and opposite extreme. He would call himself the Antichrist, or some other superlative of destruction. This would also keep him safe, he believes. He is so happy being miserable that he seems to want to bring everyone down into a place even worse than Hell. a place where you can only see what you have lost.
But I am not going to make this a necessarily political piece, so I shall leave President Trump in his slough of despond. What I want to do right now is be a sociologist in the present tense. I want to study how far we have fallen from those dreams of joy that we all once had (not ‘us,’ of course; we are too far gone. I mean how humanity once saw the future as a bright shimmering light, instead of a gaping black pit where we all must inevitably fall.) There is a great deal to be said, and enough blame to go around for all of us, so let us leave the pointed fingers out of this. We are too often so angry that we need someone to scapegoat, need to see the entire world’s collapse as the secret plot of evil-doers. We classify them based on whatever our primary worries are–Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Fanatics, Christians and Muslims and Jews; Millenials, Baby Boomers, the awful gang of anarchists that I come from, one so angry and self-loathing we merely sign an ‘X’ for our name. We see nationalities or ethnicity, racial divides and gender confusion. There has to be someone to blame.
But have we really fallen so far, or is this something we tell ourselves to justify our temporary struggle and unhappiness? Let us consider the so-called ‘good old days,’ today reflected upon as just after World War Two. We turn back the clock and see the sort of lost nobility that we wish were around today. People were certainly, in public anyway, far more polite. Yet we have to wonder if everything truly was all that different. Let us strip the distractions of modern technology for the moment (there’s what I blame for the collapse of civilization, but this is not about me), remove the tangled anxieties over hurt feelings and medical conditions, over the new diagnosis of new disorders that grate on our nerves and, being told by doctors that we are suffering, it gives us an excuse to opt out of life. Let’s try to remove that from social acceptance if we truly wish to understand the past we now dream of.
People were no more happy in those days, of course. There were the same struggles, the same frustrations about work, and marriage, and parenthood, and generally surviving in the great big world. Things started moving faster and faster in the 1950s, and all of those buried prejudices that had been put (mostly) on hold during the war years resumed with a vengeance. Racism made the most noticeable return to the public spotlight. Before the war there was one beloved black man in America: heavyweight champion Joe Louis. (Of course there were plenty of others, but most of them were looked upon as only talented. Joe Louis was considered noble.) He was fighting against foreign interests in the ring, honorably; he was fighting for America before we entered the war, and it was hard not to admire the man’s innate talent and patriotic decency. After the war Jackie Robinson enters, and, with extra time on our hands we make his reception very different. And while the fans slowly began to accept him, and other players arrived in baseball (from Larry Doby, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, among other increasing superstars), the resentment and outright hatred once again made itself known.
The KKK re-emerged as a force, and some southern sheriffs and politicians took pre-civil war stances, trying to separate the races, violently if need be, as a means of maintaining their ideas on public morality. And so the fight for freedom some sort of downgraded compromise was achieved for all. Finally, at least legislatively, all men were considered equal.
Women, of course, had it different. They were looked upon as weaker, unaware and mostly helpless children who were better off spending their days and nights with other children, and keeping everyone happy, doing literally everything for everyone. Hubbie comes home from his social life at work, and slumps into a chair with a tinkling glass of whiskey or gin. He grunts or barks out his anger at his wife and children, not really talking to anybody, and then he stomps his feet until dinner is served. If they have a television maybe he plops it on, glaring at the world depicted in black and white horror. He screams at the TV set, contradicting politicians and newsmen. He watches game shows or westerns and believes that he would do better than everyone. He staggers around in his unfulfilled life, sometimes putting on a mask of happiness that is so ingrained he convinces himself he is living in an ideal world.
Then why was their so much divorce, so many children gone delinquent? Drugs, booze, motorcycle gangs, gangsters, gambling, hidden communist spies and innocent people being accused of being the same. The world began its campaign of open corruption–we can see it everyday right in front of our faces! And the man feels the need to shield his family from all this growing chaos. He rants and screams his exaggerated notions about whatever small scale or greater apocalypse he sees coming if people won’t change their ways. And then he takes this irrational rage to the voting booth, hoping to elect tyrants that will keep the order.
Anyway, the women were being censored, not allowed to engage in these debates, and they were sick and tired of this. Weren’t they smart too? Didn’t they also understand serious things? How dare they–how dare those disgusting men try to keep our voices from being heard!
Women’s movement. Women in the workplace. Women in congress and the senate and eventually running for President (and someday soon no doubt winning). This is, from the outside, yet another victory for social justice and an acknowledgment of the way that the world should be. But even this–even this accomplishment was and is sullied by the underlying doubt of both men and women of all races and creeds, doubt that keeps the bigotry alive, and heightens the emotions, thins the skin until anything anyone says in jest gets taken the wrong way, another defeat for what was once simply bad taste. And suddenly there are children coming home to an empty world, raising themselves, learning to be lazy and selfish because no one is telling them what to do. This is merely the impact of the rapidly changing world (no finger pointing!) Here is a consequence of progress.
Of course some things shouldn’t be said–there is no reason to go out of your way to offend someone cheaply. That has never truly been acceptable, even between decisively hateful people. But mockery, satire, attacking the credibility of anyone’s ability to do anything has always been one of the major staples of any sort of humor. Of course the times and targets change, and now it is the bumbling white man on the firing line. It is his turn, and we should all take advantage of mocking the one acceptable victim (white motherfuckers). But, stripping away all consideration of historical fairness and revenge, how is this sort of debasing comedy really any different than racist, sexist and homophobic jokes of the past? They are tasteless. They make plenty of people uncomfortable. There may even be more nervous laughter than outright hilarity. But it still works. There are always moments when someone deserves to be chopped down to size (or, if we wanna get really historically controversial, ‘put in their place.’)
People love to complain. One of the great joys of many days is pointing out everything wrong. There is happiness, sometimes, in sending your food back, in leaving a penny for a tip. We honk our horns while driving, and sometimes shout words in our trapped isolation that we have never had the courage to say before. Anger, frustration, there is a definite need for these outlets sometimes. It can even be good for you. There is even a certain joy in shame.
When we are depressed, when you look outside and cannot imagine a future, these are the moments when your sense of humor has the best chance of being your salvation. Some people turn to God, or Jesus, or Baphomet, or any of the other saints and heroes and demons that inspire our visions of the world. Other people try to tear the whole world apart, infecting it with their rage. The satisfaction of influencing the atmosphere surrounding you–of literally controlling a small piece of the world–is one of the greatest sensations one person could ever experience.
There is great joy in misery. We just need to know where to find it.