In Conclusion, the End, Finally, Finished? Hardly.
I took a few friends with me last night to 84, a new and young multi-media enhanced re-presentation of George Orwell's great work up on stage. The reviewer in the Buffalo News was harsh. But I also was left dissatisfied, reaching for that vertigo I feel every time I read the book.
Imagine! Disappointment at falling short of paranoia.
But they didn't bring the work explicitly up to date. There were no direct references to Gitmo or Abu Ghraib. I wasn't informed about how Information Technology doesn't improve our odds. I didn't hear the voices of our current leaders apologizing for what they must do to non-citizens in the name of our vanished dreams and aspirations; in honor of manufactured fears.
There was no palpable sense that we have already traveled through that glass, falling short only in the fact of our creature comfort. We manufacture pleasures, in service to the Sacred Object.
Earlier in the day, walking the streets of Buffalo to discover the Karpeles Manuscript Museum on the premises of the former Church of Jesus Christ, Scientist. Finding a declaration - or was it a proclamation? - of Thanksgiving signed by Herbert Hoover just after the stock market crashed. For our abundant harvest and prosperity. Finding more of his words there, carping about how FDR was destroying all hope that the American spirit could prevail. Feeling powerful deja-vu, all over and over again.
This after learning that I indeed did make the final cut to represent China to the world. Mini-truth or illusion, Martha Washington? Take your pikk. This after another day of talking about whether the past was any more solid than the future shall be. My memory is so terrible for plots.
I only remember that reading 1984 shook me. I can't remember how or why. Watching it again on stage - brilliantly rendered, with multi-media enhancements - felt only like a rehearsal of cliche. As though we all have grown that far beyond what clearly is still omni-present.
Touchpoints in my past are documented, remembered as well by friends. Still, the plot I choose would be the one which fails the most to belittle me. It informs my current actions, in truth to what I do believe I have been. Cringing just a little if someone reminds me of some alternate reading. Something I might have missed.
My future then so much more under my control, based in part on how I do inform my past and so I must be bothered by China's spinning certain facts beyond their peoples' reach. Spinning something which would elicit better resolution toward the future. Still, we do it better here on the other side of the globe. We paper over shortcomings in service to our future dreams. Reaching ever higher for technical solutions to the misery of humanity.
My fear is that much greater that China will be seen only as the embodiment of some yellow hoard without understanding or care for truth, justice and the American way. It would be that much in error to read the Orwellian takes on history as celebrations of what we do. At China's center there are leaders no more (or less) flawed and self-serving than ours are. Two parties provide at least as much cover as does one party prevent internal debates from spilling out in public.
In America, you may easily seem honest by your stated opposition. In China, there is more discretion about what may be displayed in public. Still, the term "communist" rankles. But any more than does "democracy," against what we practice privately in our back rooms?
We still have at our center the fictional Big Brother in the sky. In China, in place of the once and future emperor, they have the Party, resolved will of the people if only they would understand it. Shorn of symbol, they retain the structure which has managed throughout history to assimilate its opposition.
The Heavens are fixed and stable, apart from the occasional wandering star. The Earth, under heaven, will shift beneath our feet. The rivers wash away mountains; earthquakes turn housing to rubble, crushing lives and shattering illusion. Symbolic Man is cosmically in the middle, bringing heaven's constancy to earth.
We do this with dams and irrigation. We plan our cities wisely, right! We study the earth's fluctuations so that we may bring them back in line. Except that earthquakes and hurricanes happen whenever they please, and then we are that suddenly reminded of what we might have done more easily and cheaply had we but planned ahead. Outpourings of love after the fact do nothing about the safety which would not fit in among the clear and present imperatives of daily life.
Outpourings of outrage at the petty corruption which allowed school buildings to be constructed poorly so that they would crush the innocent only children beneath them can only undermine the critical faith in the good will of the party toward future betterment for all. These are not trivial matters to adjudicate. The words cannot come easily; and the outrage, from mothers, cannot easily be assuaged.
There will come a tipping point, after which the people's trust cannot be earned by oil on water calm in the wake. Where the promise of future prosperity is itself undermined by things right in front of the face. Where filters on information can only highlight what has been left out.
And in the meantime, there is surely something Americans can and must learn from China's traditions, reflecting them back in our own words. So the Chinese themselves may see the best in themselves. And find something good in ours.
I must still sing a song of innocence, in love with guilty pleasures. I mourn the dead of Haiti. I mourn the shattered dreams from Katrina, from Tsunami, from Allah and from Jesus. I mourn that bureaucrats must do what they must do. I mourn the loss of leaderhship, in a world addicted to the promotion of superstars.
Still, I celebrate today, the omni-present, where there is so much left to do.