By Roberta SchulbergGoro
All day Ma'am Driftwater sits silently alone in her glass-encased room which, like the other rooms, is heavily decorated with memorabilia china knicknacks, ornate decorations and elaborately framed vapid paintings. Rare verbal exchanges between us do not amount to conversation. An infrequent attempt at a word in passing results in a silencing look of rebuke from Ma'am Driftwater and even involuntary facial expressions in reaction to the minor occurances in the household are inhibited by her flashing eye of disapproval. Existence has been made crimped and painful, normal spontaneity thwarted, discourse averted and a solitariness worse than ordinary aloneness enforced.
flagrant in emotion, vitriolic, damning. Teams of speakers pronounce in riddles, jeer inuendos, or taunt with obscure messages of ambiguous non-communication. Some are chorales of dully repetative metronomic moaning indicating mind reading powers by verbal mimicry of thoughts. These carry along with them subordinate voices, a self assured vassalage filling out the sounds of the lugubrious chorus with shrill insults and jeers. Picking up claims to familiarity only by listening to the sneers of the mimickers, they add above the mimickers' turgid undulating sounds a staccato of snickering taunts regarding particular characteristics of the distressed, lumbering mover through the room. The engulfing sound never includes dialogue or conversation, not even among themselves. The voices don't reason. They do not acknowledge any questions, ignore statements and provide no clue to the original cause of their obsessive stalking. They offer no information beyond their present observations and they clarify nothing. I have not been able to discover the mechanical source of the sound as it follows from room to room, even outdoors, but it's clear it has no trouble in focusing on me, who is to them somehow a tangible presence. I am clutched in an impalpable labyrinth of hatred.
In the small windowed room where Ma'am Driftwater sits, there is a television situated against the wall opposite her. Ma'am Driftwater watches it every evening as it blares its messages, replay after replay, above the modulated hum of the raging voices. If it were only for its volume of sound, the television, unlike the newspaper, could claim major influence on those who live in the apartment, but besides its loudness, Ma'am Driftwater is rapt in its messages and even the maelstrom of voices seems to slow and quiet its remarks in order to hear it. Unlike the newspaper, the television news cabled in to the enclave concentrates heavily on foreign affairs. Newscasters in remarkably wistful, dramatically sentimental tones announce new gigantic wars whose causes match the incitements of major wars of the past two centuries. The wars, redrawn and regurgitated from past examples, now all take place in the other hemisphere in a succession of unconnected foreign nations with newly renamed geographies. Commentators preserve for the listener the attitude of "it can't happen here," but suggest that we should be intervening or assisting there, smug propaganda urging the right of democratic rule to act against the internal decisions of foreign governments when not approved by our values. According to television reporters, the primary focus of America is and should be Israeli Zionism, the secondary interest the turning of every other nation into a copy of the U.S.A, replacing other governments with one like ours by sending our soldiers to other-hemispheric foreign lands to protect other peoples from their own governments requiring of us huge outlays of money and a terrible expense of life with no gain to ourselves but the correction of error in foreigners. No major plans for future development of the nation or locally are discussed except for over-taxation complaints, medical insurance dishonesty issues and the stock political phrase, "our children's children" used in connection with the advance of civilization toward a peace gained from winning other people's wars for them. The commentators, in the year 2008, lament the low pay of teachers in the public schools which are now nowhere to be found, and argue the technological feasibility of finding new oil digs to solve the gasoline problem. In an exaggerated and unconvincing effort to create an impression of spontaneity, commentators interrupt each other and stridently shout opinions as if in heated debate, hoping that loud and insistent yelling will impress listeners with the aliveness of their contemporary authority on topics long outdated. Presentations are based on verbiage carried over from a barely understood earlier time and a difficult, strife torn, broadly reflective, and ponderously contemplative U.S. past history is extenuated into a dangerous, inanely thinned pablum.
Included in the enclaves cabled-in programs are "educational" television games offering excited contestants a chance to win unbelievably enormous sums of money, worrying listeners about whether Fort Knox has been raided, the banks' greenbacks falling like confetti. Programs of trivial how-to's, imply the audience's inability to do the least elementary thing without step-by-step, complicatedly expanded and pensively delivered sets of directions. Simple, every-day, universally routinely-managed home and household chores are pontificated to the housewife (who, like elementary schools, are also nowhere to be found) and to the correspondingly simple man of the house who learns to read the label for the words "strong repair bonding" (quantities available for purchase by phoning the number on the screen) when buying glue to repair household furniture and knick-knacks. Later in the evening this is followed by programs of old trite songs of sexual capture delivered in the singers' personal style of distortion and loss of meaning through use of insipid enhancements or convoluted ornamentation which emphasize the singer's "originality". Besides games and tunes, there are, on the light side of T.V., a few situation comedies. In these playlets the measurement of worthiness in men is wealth for purposes of power, and in women, virginity. Even wifehood is a slide into loss of virtue. Nevertheless, girls of any age take no interest in anything besides "dating." Boys are always in trouble from catering to girls. Mothers are always in the kitchen. Fathers always have important jobs, although the camera doesn't focus on the job, but on the home where fathers do most of the speaking, their patient voices patching up the mistakes of their silly wives or daughters. Boys are mostly out of the house getting into trouble caused by someone else's silly daughters. The 1950's television character "Our Miss Mainstream" of young, robust unmarried feminine fortitude," is no longer enduring singleness in a woman's hotel, searching for suitable employment in a tough city. Her counterpart is now portrayed as a man-hungry trapper fallen to a luxury high-rise in Miami who discusses with her female roommate her choice between accepting, as a Saturday night adventure, a date with her former husband (in town for a business convention without his new wife) or encouraging the interest of one of her more recent, more-or-less enthusiastic boyfriends. The canned laughter makes it clear that viewers of this comedy are encouraged to congenially and lightly accept these sorts of non-virginal actions by the leading character since she has overcome the weighty negatives by the redemption attached to her (1) being acceptably silly, (2) having substantial independent financial security, (3) not competing for jobs.
After these early evening entertainments, the night is filled with the booming sounds of television religiosity. Shouted orations insult either the audience or the religion the "ministers" claim to profess with such messages as, "God's blessings of prosperity and good fortune will be rained down, now, listen here, on everyone, yes everyone who in faith accepts Jesus' death on the cross to save Christians from any, and I said any, punishment for their sins." Or regarding Judaism, "The profoundly serious mildness of the Jews, God's one-and-only "Chosen People," has exposed them everywhere to oppression by the less devout and more frivolous, not only in Europe, but in America where, in accordance with the uniqueness of Jewish probity, Jews lift themselves above the surrounding prejudice and rise, each and all together to blazing success. As a relief for Jews' sufferings caused by prejudice, television bible experts and television pastors urgently recommend collection of special monetary funds along with the organizing of emergency military support by the non-chosen Christians for the purpose of Jews' acquisition and transfer to territory in the orient, bringing on the glory of Jesus' second coming to all people, including Jews who, after they reach their promised land in the orient, will convert to worship of Jesus. Since it's unlikely that normally reflective minds can accept such attitudes as officially sanctifiable or realistic, one suspects that the forceful, loud, and emphatic declamations, intended to convince naive listeners of the earnest sincerity of the duplicitous "reverends," are calculated to cause antipathy, turning listeners toward disrespect, even contempt, of congregations belonging to other, quite different, world religions sharing the same name.
The nerve-wracking distortions of U.S. culture and attitudes refracted through what seems to be an alien lens of scorn expresses loathing for a hypothetical audience presumably lulled into assurances that such the hollow, the mindless, and the arrogantly interfering is their own remembered world of the U.S. still remaining intact or, on the contrary, to convince some who may be unfamiliar with it and just passing through to become it's active adversaries. It's clear to the listener that the commentators and the ministering orators of churches the "ministers" secretly scorn, accept themselves as living in a world of understanding quite beyond the flattened one shouted about so loudly and insistently to the audience. In an arrogance of the politics of pretence, they flaunt a self-satisfied pride in their creation of a world in which no one lives, in which no one has ever lived, in which no one can live, is blatantly unreal, but which they have assured themselves they have made convincing to an audience with cognizance far beneath their own. In this domain, "Punch-and-Judy" media professionals generally suffer from the delusion that everyone else is stupider than they are.
Walking through the apartment from the kitchen to the living room carries along with it the complaining gaggle of scolding kitchen voices transmuting word-per-word and voice-for-voice into the racket from Ma'am Driftwater's television on the other end of the apartment. Close approach to the sliding glass door finds the two sets of speech have reconformed into a unity, a television voice adding indirect reference to some minor happening in the kitchen or hallway minutes ago or to some object carried in hand through the hall, the voices managing to find something idiosyncratic in the uneventful moment for purposes of "coincidental" mention on the screen. An errand's traverse of the apartment completed, a withdrawal from the glass doors and view of the television screen, a turning back toward the kitchen, brings the reverse untangling and retangling of merging voices until the whirl again concentrates on the kitchen-style barrage, with a canned guffaw, a tuneful note, a current catchword reaching from the television in the other room through the tightly interlaced rat-a-tat-tat of complaints in the kitchen.
The sense of emptiness caused by the unanswerability of the verbal assaults circling the air, the hostile blather from the television, the limitation to infrequent routine remarks increase the weary listlessness caused by desolate isolation from conversation. I can find no way to reach beyond the enclave's communications abyss to genuine responsiveness, to the generous effusive spontaneity of authentic discourse beyond media fabulations and false polemics, beyond television examples of social life occuring nowhere, presented condescendingly to all and by none accepted, delivered with winking glances toward other baskers in condescension who, though aware of its scorn and deceit, help promulgate it because it contributes to their fantasy of being among the rare cognoscenti, among those not taken in by it. Honest confrontation and encounter has surrendered. Triviality grasps the environment, evasion grips all utterance.
And meanwhile, Ma'am Driftwater sits silently in her glass-enclosed room. Once in a very great while she turns she says, "It's a different world." Never once has she smiled. I don't smile either.