Political Elephants

robot tv

Almost 2 decades ago, Matt Walsh gathered up some misfits at UCB to create a show called Robot TV that was, in my humble opinion, the best example of staged satire I have ever seen (admittedly, of not very many examples), and luckily I got to be a part of it. I’m not sure satire was ever his intention but it was “TV by robots, for robots,” set in a not very distant future. We used improv group mind, and anonymizing costumes to create a mostly silly but sometimes transcendent future landscape which reflected who and how we are today. You know, satire. Not parody, and not just humor that uses topical stuff as a source…..but social criticism, shine a light to make things better.

Silly: Robots hate water and are amused by the humanity (weakness ) of meat humans, and orgasm when purple light shines on them (and orgasm meant many different things….I’m not sure what everyone else was doing, I just banged into a wall.)

Transcendent: Amadou Diallo had just been shot so Billy Merritt shot me, I fell against the wall and slid to the ground, and we reset and repeated it 19 times while other unrelated things happened on the other side of the stage. I remember thinking no one was paying attention to us and then hearing the audience gasp when we reset at 19 and joined the borg for whatever silly thing they were doing. The image of humans failing one another on repeat on their TV forever? Robots would enjoy that. But so do we, still? That’s still on repeat, right?

The reason I am thinking of this is because it was discovered early on that robots who run the future arbitrarily celebrated some really dumb nostalgic things from when human were in charge, but LOVED elections. They loved the slogans, the pomp, the melodrama, the chaos, the fun violent gladiatorialness of it all. Everything was hyped with the highest importance but it was clear that there were no consequences to any of these elections. I mean, why would there be? The robots were in charge. Things are predetermined. I think about this every time a big election cycle kicks in. The nothing distraction of the day by the robots in charge, sound bites pushing human buttons to divert from real human issues. All the completely inconsequential opinionating in the media and now social media. Thoughtful dialog or differing opinions are not allowed, are a threat, celebratedly met with disrespect and even violence. And that’s not just at Trump rallies, that’s among progressives. Dissent from the status quo is a weakness, regressive racist bluster a strength. So human. So fun.

We are not so far gone yet and the landscape can change. You turn off the tv and computer or ask a friend to get the hell away from me with his fearful “but Bernie can’t win” future tripping preventative voting anti-idealism, and this landscape fades. Go find your humans. For at least the past 2 Presidential elections, it has seemed to be roughly one human one vote and the only useful thing to do if you have an opinion about any of this, about anything human, is to go help the candidate you want to win with phone banking and get out the vote efforts, and maybe give money to help those things happen. I was also very lucky to get to be a part of the 2008 Presidential campaign and it was uphill all of the way but our candidate won from phone banking and GOTV. That’s about as deep as I can get with political analysis. I don’t know what difference a tweet makes or what the backstory is or what the future effect of it is, and neither does that person on the other end of the phone who you might reach and convince to simply vote for the person who more reflects their own interests and the interests of others in their country. Because the game is not entirely rigged yet, who wins does make a difference. It mattered in 2008 and it matters now. Do it now for the primary and do it again for the general election. If I spend my energy on anything else, I know I am just feeding the robots. 010101010101010101010101001101000111000111

Originally posted to Facebook February 4, 2016

Political Elephants Removal of Obstacles

Ashes of America

Posted to FB April 12, 2017   after a fire at my venue

I wondered to my therapist why I’ve been so emotionally triggered by the smell of smoke from coworkers coming back to the office after being in our fire-damaged venue. No, I don’t think I ever experienced a real fire trauma.

Well, there was the time when I was 6 and my big brother had the idea to create a Used Christmas Tree Lot, dragging the neighborhood’s discarded trees to our tiny back yard. We practiced lighting some needles and putting them out, until we failed and the dry trees went up in flames, out of control. I ran and hid at a neighbor’s house, wisely avoiding my normal hidey hole in the crawlspace under my house, where I played with matchbox cars in the thick dust and ash. My sister ran to the kitchen and came out with a single useless glass of water. Fight. Flight. Paralysis. Process. No, that wasn’t traumatic and no I don’t want to talk about why I played under the house.

Then there was the time as adults when arsonists developers were torching our rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood. We sat on a curb watching our next-door neighbor’s building go up in flames, and I said with sincerity: “I’m gonna get us the hell outta Dodge.” Medium scary, yes, we moved, but no, that doesn’t really register as a triggering event. Dad died that year so it was all just a chaotic mix of grief and laughter and insanity and creativity, constant soundtrack of Peggy Lee’s “Is that All There Is” to a fire? Then let’s keep dancing.

No, no, really, I insisted, dismissively, apologetically, these things do not trigger me…then suddenly:

OH! September 11th!

Right. September 11th. Windows open, my Cobble Hill apartment was filled with paper debris and the dust of buildings and humans. I used the FEMA vouchers to get an air filter and vacuum, which I still use. The fires burned for months. It always smelled in Chelsea where I spent all my time drinking and making comedy and when the wind shifted it smelled at home. I kept the windows closed, used my FEMA A/C unit. They said, never forget and we knew we’d never forget. We couldn’t. We tried.

I’ve been using all my powers of suppression since the election, suppression of my fear of our government again, suppression of fear of the actions this government is provoking, suppression of my deepest fear that it’s all over for America, a place I really had such high hopes for. And I have a very real fear that we’re just not going to make it. Lots of us didn’t. Lots more don’t everyday from the same forms of greed and hatred. And even if we do make it, we’ve got the disastrous effects of climate change, where we were already too late and now we are moving backwards. We are not going to make it.

It takes a lot to suppress this fear and get to the silly but somewhat meaningful business of my life. Just yesterday I was asking myself if I am too fancy for wanting a new vacuum, and I dated mine to Sept 2001, so it’s not like I don’t remember it happened, every day. I just didn’t remember the smell, or the emotions, or how I was purposefully trying to forget, every day.

Thank god for therapy, doesn’t take much to scritchy scratchy at the layers to get to the heart. And now I can say: THIS is not THAT. This smoke smell is not that smoke smell. But this fear IS that fear. This empathy is that empathy. This America is not that America, which was just starting to grow up but then went the other way. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Americans cheering if it happened to NYC today, as Trump did that day. So many sick maniacs in charge and out there, but let this be our national bottom. Let this be the fire we fight and rise up from.

But yeah I’m getting a new vacuum, I mean sheesh.