Though Hunter S. Thompson still casts a long shadow, the best ranter alive has to be James Howard Kunstler, who in a new essay breezes past Thompson and Marx and Mencken and into a realm of his own:
The new stuff built all over America in the late 20th century was analogous to the content of the television programming to which the lower classes insidiously became addicted – a cartoon simulacrum of a real world that was systematically being obliterated. Instead of a real countryside outside the hated cities, we now had suburbia, a cartoon of country living. Instead of towns, shopping malls. Eventually the theme park, as represented by developments of the Walt Disney corporation and their clones, became both the embodiment of the destruction wreaked across the land and paradoxically the last refuge from it. Americans would flock to Walt Disney World in Orlando to put themselves in a saccharine replica of the authentic Main Street environments that they had thoroughly trashed in their own home places.
He connects as so few can the physical ugliness of American life with the brutal cynicism of development; the thrill of destruction, the roar of greed.
In other words, our living arrangement essentially became the remaining basis of our economy, in the absence of any other purposeful creation of value or wealth, such as manufacturing things. And because it was a racket devoted to a way of life with no future, it spawned enormous cynicism. Just as the immersive ugliness of the suburban highway strip was economic entropy made visible, so the cynicism of the public was entropy applied to human values, a force propelling things into disorder. When nothing was sacred, everything became profane.
2 thoughts on “Cynicism and Ugliness: An American Marriage”
I too am sickened and disheartened by the exurbanization of America, where it’s getting harder for city dwellers to find wilderness anywhere nearby. But phrases like “the cynicism of the public was entropy applied to human values” sound ridiculous, and don’t really help the cause of better planning. It shows lack of understanding of the motivation of the end consumers, if not of the real estate developers.
It’s true that phrase sounds pompous, and it’s true that Kunstler has essentially given up on “better planning.” Nor am I convinced that suburbia (as much as I dislike it) is utterly doomed, as he is. But I still enjoy Kunstler as a writer, in the same way I enjoy Thompson. He may go over the top, but sometimes that kind of outrage makes more sense than a calm, reasoned response, in the same way that sometimes losing your temper is the only way to protect what matters most to you.