Sean Davis

Dispatches From the Apocalypse: America Has an Extreme! Problem. (November 6, 2021)

(detail from artwork by Sean Davis)

In Sean Davis’s latest Dispatches From the Apocalypse, he waxes philosophical on the current state of our culture and humanity, including the empty meaningness of all things excess and extreme. 

 

Dosis sola facit venenum.” [The poison is in the dose.] —Paracelsus born 1493 died 1541

 

On Halloween, Sunday, in the year of our Lord, 2021 AD, pop star and recovered bucket pisser Justin Bieber, alleged rapist Marilyn Manson, and habitual mask wearer (sans eyebrows) Kanye West sang old Christian hymns at a spiritual weekly get-together. Kanye (or Ye) started this weekly “Sunday Service” in January of 2019, and since then he’s had many celebrities come, watch, and take part in this spectacle, celebrities like DMX (RIP), Katy Perry, A$AP Rocky, David Letterman, Brad Pitt, and more. There aren’t usually sermons, and most of the time Ye (who decides the expensive dress codes to these events, in the venues he rented and/or paid for) will grab the mic and tell everyone attending that money doesn’t matter compared to God’s love, and he’ll go on to say what a humble and pious millionaire he really is. I have not been invited as of yet, but if the moving extravaganza of irony comes to Central Oregon, I will do my best to finally go to church. Who knows, maybe I’ll run into JFK Jr.

On that note, Tuesday, November 2nd, QAnon supporters inexplicably gathered in Dallas, Texas, at the exact spot that John F. Kennedy was shot in the brain. They did so in the belief that JFK Jr. would somehow reappear to them at the exact time his father was assassinated (but not the exact day apparently, JFK was murdered on November 22nd, not Nov 2nd after all). Hundreds of adult human beings and registered voters really and truly thought that famously democratic JFK Jr. would materialize after being dead for over two decades, and then he would somehow assume the role of vice president due to a two-hundred-year-old technicality in the Constitution. And of course he would pick uber-Republican Donald J. Trump to be his president. I mean, obvious, right? Surprisingly, this didn’t happen, leaving hundreds and thousands across the country, devastated. Whew, we really dodged a bullet there.

 

(artwork by Sean Davis)

These aren’t rare or isolated events. This crazy shit happens all the time here in this historic period. As I report on this Apocalypse unfolding around me, I’ve noticed that we’ve all become lobsters in a slow-boiling pot of crazy. How did any of this become normal? How did we get to these extremes? I think about future people reading about this era, whoever you may be, and I worry that you’re going to think that there were no sane people in this time. I don’t know. Maybe there aren’t. Maybe I’m crazy too, but I’d invite you to think about how we got this way, so it doesn’t happen to you.

This all has a lot to do with Gingerbread Snap’d Mountain Dew (“DEW with a Blast of Artificial Gingerbread Flavor!”) and 3rd Degree Burn Scorchin’ Habanero Doritos! No, seriously, hear me out. It has to do with Christie’s selling a non-fungible token (NFT) of a 16-bit portrait for $69,346,250. I’ve realized that humankind, just like any other animal, loves the sweet part of just about anything like any other animal, but unlike any other animal, we have the ability to take that sweet part, that part that gives us the most dopamine, cut away all the other parts, and then mass produce it; we feel like we need all these sweet parts to make us whole. We’ve done this to every facet of our culture.

Look at our music. Just a hundred years ago, our symphonies would tell stories that would last over an hour with almost as many melodies as it had instruments. Today, popular music consists of a seven-second loop of a classic song, the sweet spot, and we repeat it and rap or sing over it. Just a hundred years ago, humans grew, killed, and cooked their own food, and today we buy fast food or highly processed microwaveable food that has more butter, salt, and sugar in one serving than we should eat in a week. We have millions growing obese while starving for nutrition. Religion is the same way. Televangelists, mega-churches, and cathedrals have turned reverends, pastors, and preachers into celebrities who pick the best verses from holy books to make people feel extreme emotions: fanatical belief or furious outrage. Politicians do the same thing. I’d say our philosophers do it too, but we don’t have patronage for philosophers today other than maybe unemployment checks. We did the same thing to everything in our culture, journalism, books, movies, sodas, and snacks. We need the extreme(!) version of everything to fill some hole we have inside us, and we keep shoving it in, even when the hole overflows.

A sort of self-inflicted gavage.

 

Not only have we ruined our bodies, our music, our food, and we’re stuck in a nonstop loop of superhero movies, but we’ve stolen our own boredom and … we’ve hamstrung creativity.

 

I recently reread Being and Nothingness, and I may have misunderstood what Sartre was saying, but what I took from it is that this hole that we have, this driving need for meaning comes from not knowing who we are. We define ourselves by our jobs, our race, our religion, how others see us, or what we’re doing at the time, but don’t really know who or what we are. We get lost somewhere between the object that is us as an individual and the real us, and if we’re not moving toward the real us, it creates a longing, a hole. The problem is, we can’t help being wrong when we objectify ourselves. How other people see us and the tendency to be defined by our jobs, multiplied by our online personas, make us objects (of course, Sartre wrote this book almost 60 years before the internet, but I think social media compounds the problem), but if we had more nothingness in our lives, we would have needed time to reflect who we really are. That self-reflection would help fill the hole we are stuffing all that extreme shit into.

So, what will solve our extreme problem?

Nothing.

Limit screen time? Turn the radio off on long drives sometimes? Take a fucking walk by yourself? I don’t know. I’m just as afraid of my alone-thoughts as anyone else. Not only have we ruined our bodies, our music, our food, and we’re stuck in a nonstop loop of superhero movies, but we’ve stolen our own boredom and, in doing so, we’ve hamstrung creativity. Not only by giving tablets and phones to kids and scrolling Facebook or Twitter every second we’re not watching television, but artists today can’t make a living unless they cater to marketing agencies, musicians get stuffed into boy or girl bands or write jingles for commercials, and any great business idea gets bought out by a corporation that sees it as a threat.

So, whoever in the future finds this Dispatch, go out and be bored after reading it. Sit in a room without electronics and think. It might get weird, but it won’t be any worse than ending up at a Kanye West Sunday Service or waiting around for JFK Jr. on a grassy knoll in Dallas, Texas, with a bunch of Right Wingnuts. And you’ll find that the closer you get to finding yourself, the less you’ll crave Doritos or gingerbread-flavored Mountain Dew.

 


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Sean Davis

Sean Davis is the author of The Wax Bullet War, a Purple Heart Iraq War veteran, and a community leader in Northeast Portland, Oregon. His latest stories, essays, and articles have appeared in various magazines and media sources such as HUMAN the Movie, the international fashion magazine Flaunt, Forest Avenue's forthcoming anthology City of Weird, and much more.

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