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The End of Words

Island Life

I sat down to write something for this past issue, the first of the year, and there was nothing there. It was not because there was no there there, or that it depended on what one meant by the word “is”, or because a mission was “accomplished” and there was simply nothing more to say. As I stared at the page in a manner that is not unfamiliar, daunted by the blankness that beckoned to be filled, all I saw was the futility of mining for words that would mean anything following the inauguration of someone who has claimed to have “the best words” and shown that all he can do with them is construct sentences or fragments of sentences littered with words that collectively wind up meaning the opposite of their intended use.

As an escape from this anomaly, we went up to our Island Theatre last night to see a constructed unreality in the form of the film ‘Arrival’, which seems to have arrived on the screens around the world at a fortuitous and serendipitous moment. For those who don’t know, it is about first contact with aliens, and the various attempts to established some sort of communication link between us and them. In many ways, the film felt like what we have just experienced with the arrival of the person, who Penn Gillette has described as having hair that looks like cotton candy made of piss, in the office normally occupied by a person usually referred to as the most powerful person in the world- the President of the United States. Evidently, the Alien Orange One sees himself as something much more than that, while in reality, his actions and words make him out to be so much less. As a result of the swirl of his words that have been flowing voluminously out the White House in the ether of the interwebs, this person has been responded to and referenced by a number of names- many of them common expletives or combinations thereof. Some have obviously been arrived at through thought and clever contrivance. Some favorites in the bunch that come to mind at the moment are: Agent Orange, Trumpelthinskin, Popular Vote Loser, Biggest Liar Of The United States or more simply as BLOTUS, and the best that I have seen so far- Hair Twittler. While the comedic relief is a welcome respite from the rest of it, I don’t think he deserves the effort or the time for a naming, and believe he should be referred to simply as 45*- neither as a name nor a word, but rather as a number in question that requires much explanation.

Since the president known here as 45* is also a former reality show star, it should be noted that in this case, the old saying that truth is stranger than fixation might well apply most handily here. It should also be noted that most, if not all, reality shows are scripted to varying degrees, leaving one to question whether fiction or reality is indeed stranger. As it was, one of the granddads  of the documentary film form, Robert Flaherty, was known to have scripted the entirety of his classic, ‘Nanook of the North’, and one of his later films, ‘the Louisiana Story’, about oil production on the Bayou, was financed by who else but the Standard Oil company, now known as Exxon-Mobil.

In talking about characters known by their number, one that comes to mind in regard to musings on truth is a character from the book and movie ‘Cloud Atlas’. I do not know whether the words regarding truth that were uttered by the fabricant Sonmi-451 came originally from author David Mitchell or the screenwriters Lana and Lilly Wachowski along with Tom Tykwer, but they are profound and relevant all the same. While imprisoned and being questioned by an archivist about her rebellious actions she is reminded that “your version of the truth is all that matters.” To this, Somni-451 replied, “Truth is singular, all other versions are mistruths”. One can say that there are truths, personal truths and universal truths, and then spend the rest of one’s life philosophizing about it. It seems that truth can be influenced by beliefs as well as facts. Problems generally tend to arise though when one’s personal truths are informed by one’s own personal, alternative facts. It appears now that even the dictionary people at Merriam-Webster have stepped into this beyond semantics debate by stating that “A fact is a piece of information presented as having objective reality”. In the week since 45* assumed the presidency, reality seems to now have its provenance in the subjectivity of a lunatic.

While 45* has been busy undoing things in the past week, I have been doing the same. I have unsubscribed from pretty much all the political action email crap I have been getting claiming that we can stop Trump if you just click on this and send some money. Obviously, that didn’t work. I have however friended Dan Rather and his efforts to revive the Fourth Estate by flying in the face of 45* and his minions who continue to bolster his words while calling for the media to shut up. When the rest of the media decide to do their job in the tradition of Mr. Rather’s old school journalism instead of rolling over and giving 45* a pass, then I will feel compelled to do something other than sit here and type. When the government officials who have been tasked with running this mess, in particular the members to the left who should be opposing most of this nonsense but aren’t, stand up and do something about it, then I will do something besides just sitting here and typing. I would like to be optimistic about any of this, especially with the massive evidence of concern being voiced by the population through open protests in the streets, but until both the media as a whole (I know there are a few brilliant exceptions) and the congress as a collective (again, with a few members excepted) stop saying that while they’re a little weird, the emperor’s clothes are fine as they are, then I will just keep typing because that’s all I can do, in spite of how futile it seems.

The reason I mentioned the fortuitive and encouraging nature of the arrival of ‘Arrival’ at our theatre is that it constructs a narrative of two alien cultures making a major effort to communicate through a common idiom, despite the enormous differences in their physical forms, their language and their circumstances. One could say that it is a metaphor for this time, or at least for what could be. To be sure, it tells a tale of mutual intent to cooperate and understand each other that is light years away from what we are experiencing with this latest so-called transition in our government. Instead of Arrival, it seems that we are living something more akin to Tim Burton’s ‘Mars Attacks!’, with the aliens true intent both hidden by the invaders and lost in a bogus and ill-conceived translation stating that “we come in peace”. It seems highly unlikely that, like in Mars Attacks!, something as simple as widely broadcast cowboy yodeling music will save the day. But then again, with 45*’s apparent narcissistic personality disorder, it’s possible that repeated, loud and persistent reports of how small his inauguration crowd was by the media and other outlets, along with other drumbeats that spell out his insignificance, that the toddler in chief might just go and find another sandbox to play in. Until then, I will just keep typing. That is all I can do.