If the timeline of American progress can be expressed as a viewing of John Carpenter’s The Thing, the guy with the defib just got his arms eaten.
Maybe you’re not familiar with 1980s horror films but that one terrifies me more than any of them, and I’ve finally put my finger on why.
I’m no film scholar, and I’m not even sure about Mr. Carpenter’s auteurial intent other than the obvious one of tapping into what we find so inherently terrifying, which is creeping, imminent death. We are naturally repulsed by tumorous crawling body horrors.
It’s tempting to peg Capitalism itself as the Thing, but I’d quickly alienate at least half of any potential audience. It’s really something more nebulous anyway, like society, “da Gubmint”, or universal concepts like selfishness or greed. Whatever it is, it has markedly progressed along with civilization and technology. There’s a balance that must be struck between oppression and bread and circuses unless you don’t care about cities burning, and American rulers (I’ll stick to America, dear reader, otherwise I’m talking out of my ass) have figured out how to skirt the red boiler-gauge line between people constantly complaining and being so miserable they get out in the streets and set shit on fire.
Any movement will be assimilated by the Thing when it gains enough steam. If it’s too weak, it dies. If it’s a worthy enough host, it is replicated. Mutated, tentacled and insect-like, it crawls across the face of the earth, rainbow-flagged, occupied, socialized, Obamacared, a faltering flaccid farce of what it was, now co-opted and safe for the ruling classes. Cha-ching, it’s a money making machine! The flower power LSD fueled haze of 1967 becomes buying the world a Coke in 1972. Merry Xmas, War is Over.
The Internet is such a wonderful steam valve for our angst, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. What a brilliant telegraph of temerity. As a reporting mechanism, it is grand, but more often than not the feedback cycle of attention-seeking-behavior and dopamine rewards gives our bodies the illusion of action instead of being a bullhorn for what we actually did. Do not misunderstand my sermon as accusatory: I am completely, absolutely in the Internet’s grasp. My half-assed attempts to escape it have been for naught. I have been clean for weeks, months at times, but I always end up languishing in this den.
If I were writing some activist blog or a Industrial Workers of the World newsletter, this is the part where I’d tell you how to stay genuine to your roots, but I won’t, because it would be another bullshit lie. When the Thing gets in, there aren’t any roots left. There are things that look like them. Probosces. Antennae.
Even statements like “the arc of the moral universe… bends towards justice,” are co-opted by stagnation masquerading as incrementalism, and we get frog-boiled into situations where every political candidate offers something slightly different to each American subclass but offers the same to the rest of the world: Forever War. We’re okay with that. It’s just a bit warmer. Just a bit warmer, still.
Ultimately, the slithering cancer wins out. It copies what is useful and throws out the rest. It builds a world on the backs of slaves and distracts us with flashing lights. If you own anything at all that you did not make by hand (clothes, shoes, appliances, electronics, or a car), you employ more slaves than my great-great-grandfather, who fought for The Great State of Mississippi in what he would have called the War of Northern Aggression, did. It’s just the way the world works, though, right? He probably said that too.
So, this is a dark place to be in. You’re tied to a chair and Kurt Russell is lowering hot wire into our blood samples. It’s okay. I’m tied to the chair as well and I don’t have any answers I didn’t read in a fucking philosophy 101 textbook or get told by a long-haired Poli-Sci professor.
The dearly missed Fred Rogers would tell you he likes you just the way you are. I wish I could find comfort in that now. Could he stare into the maw of this flailing, inside-out alien conglomeration and tell it he loves it? Would he? Should I?
The Man Jesus touched the lepers, but he had the power to heal them. I am only the aforementioned Shakespearean idiot. How do I plunge my hands into the chest full of shark-like teeth when I know my arms will be sheared off?
How do we sit in the snow, unsheltered and freezing, and light flares as we stare at each other suspiciously, knowing the Thing is out there and it’s coming? What if it’s inside us already?
I don’t expect answers from the Internet, because there aren’t any. I won’t insult you with solutions in this moment of pain. Maybe this is all we can do: Sit with each other as we wait to die. Pass a drink. Light flares. Fade out. Roll credits.
We know how it all started. Maybe they won’t fuck up the sequel.