Escapism for the New Great Depression
I slid the “Mamma Mia” disk into the blu-ray player. I asked Ed whether it we should activate the sing-along function this time? Ed hesitated, then demurred. But I knew he wanted it. So I asked again as the option presented itself on screen. This time he bellowed “Yes!”
So two grey haired men with facial hair sang along with Meryl and Pierce and Colin as they warbled all those fabulous ABBA songs.
And I cried.
Over forty years ago, I was a child watching one of those 1930s Busby Berkeley musical extravaganzas on TV and my father made a comment about movie escapism during the Great Depression. I asked him what he meant, and he explained that the Great Depression of the 1930s was such a terrible time, people’s lives were hard and miserable with economic hardship. But the movies gave them musical extravaganzas and happy endings. I remember thinking it was wrong to go to the movies to watch shiny lies when the world is full of wrongs. This was the 1970s after all, where so many movies eschewed happy endings for gritty downbeat realism. My father explained when the whole world is going to hell, people need escapism to comfort them. It still felt like a poor option to me, even morally dubious, and something that we had fortunately culturally outgrown. A few years later I would see Preston Sturgess’ “Sullivan’s Travels”, which combines gritty depression era honesty with the balm of escapist comedy brilliantly. But even then I didn’t quite buy the message.
I do now.
Because boy is the world going to shit.
We don’t have the economic disaster of the Great Depression (yet). We do have the rise of dangerous populism and fascism. Not like the 1930’s, yet, but rising, world wide. Yet in the United States, which in the 1930’s elected one of its greatest presidents to show a better way, we now are saddled with the worst of the worst our nation has ever seen, dragging us down with a litany of pussygrabbing horrors: dishonesty, greed, corruption, injustice, narcissism, chauvinism, xenophobia, racism, child kidnapping, environmental destruction, the flirtation with fascism now graduated to a shake and shimmy with fascism; oh the list of the crimes is endless as is the constant trampling of any and every sort of decency.
I go on and on. But Seth Meyers last night put it most pithily: “irredeemably awful”.
And the dispiriting fact that much too large a section of the country’s population, not a majority but not nearly a small enough minority, supports this monstrosity continuously through thick glop and thicker gruel with Dear Leader cult-like far-right-signalling blinkers… Deplorable doesn’t really cover it anymore.
And then today, the obvious betrayal of the country. The unmistakable beholdenness, obsequiousness, to a murderous dictator, a smiling villain, the puppet master.
The aiding and abetting of a hostile foreign power.
The Kafkaesque nightmare that just won’t end but only reaches ever greater lows of sickening awfulness.
The Great Depression this time around isn’t economic. It is psychological. And it is bringing down whole populations in existential despair. In deep moral exhaustion.