Crossroads

FOR THE LAST TWENTY years, at least, IdentiPal has been flooded with memes on black people and white people and men and women and gays and straights and right wing and left wing. All the problems fighting with each other all the time for the title of biggest, worst, ultimate problem, and no one ever stops to take a breath. All my friends are white or black or male or female or straight or gay or employed or dependent or married or single or transgender or civilian or enlisted or native or descended from colonists or immigrants. Every distinction has been weaponized into a tool of social control, while everyone goes along happily humming those hit songs under their breath as they keep scrolling down the newsfeed.

The 1980s blurred pop culture and TV conditioning for imprinting preteens with society’s patterns. Lots of movies, routines, and catch phrases laced with behavioral conditioning wired into all forms of pop culture, everyone on the receiving end a pawn in that mind control game. I have never felt like part of a culture nor wanted to. I don’t identify with that construction “writing out of whiteness”, but it’s undeniable.

I could have gravitated to a time traveling white teenager as the first ideal to emulate, instead I chose an old black blues player fictionalized in another movie, and started calling all my friends “boy” for a couple of years like an old bluesman from the past chastising Ralph Macchio in Crossroads. My friends started calling me “boy” back in fake black accents, too, and together we were a gang of white kids addressing each other in our imaginations of another culture’s dialect while smoking pot out of pop cans or huffing starting fluid in the repurposed storm drainage tunnels of a neighborhood playground. I’d read Roots and knew insecure slave drivers used to call male slaves “boy” instead of acknowledging their equal right to manhood, which made mine an especially precarious stance, but this interpretation seemed diametrically opposed to my unconsciously racist imitation of Willie Brown as played by Joe Seneca.

The growing popularity of gangster rap added a new dimension to the fantasy, my friends and I started calling each other motherfuckers and bitches off-handedly, but I wanted to come across as a punk rocker or a rude boy or a mod at that time, not a hip hopper. I started listening to ska at age fifteen and got really into that scene, integral connection between blacks and whites represented as black and white squares cooperating in a checkerboard. I started wearing a porkpie hat and made a habit of arguing with racists at parties, on one occasion starting a brawl inadvertently and losing track of a cool new red gold and green pipe I’d just bought in all the chaos.

I spent a lot of time online, where unpleasant things traded places in the spotlight. America’s best-loved Black Dad had been recast as a Serial Rapist who drugged his victims, and fast-talking comedian Jacky Dacky had offed himself after years of private torment. Police had shot down another unarmed black kid, which led to a rash of more murders of unarmed blacks by police and self-appointed watchdogs nationwide. The world on the news seemed wastefully tragic. Nobody knew who to trust, if anyone, or what truth meant, these days. Something seemed to have gone wrong way back where everything started, and now it was all distinct colors and types—black, white, yellow, red, brown, male, female, gay, straight, trans, queer—driven to a neverending problem contest on the IdentiPal newsfeed day by day.

I was always thinking about meaning and matter and time, what good hearts get and bad hearts lack sitting there in my blistered, gray basement or walking through Denver. That’s two fundamental things from my life, I realized, the Crossroads thing and the 2-Tone thing, both reactions to media projection. Anthropology has always needed to account for conditioning in investigating development. Things have changed since the advent of radio and TV in the 20th century—with language a virus, and our managed attention its one crippling symptom manifesting unlimitedly in everyone from little kids to world leaders, all the different religions and the invisible virus of racism everywhere and social media sites like IdentiPal spawning and fostering more and more division and conflict and clashes to bloody themselves with the highest ratings in a mess of conflicting bulletins. Once a train of influence had gotten well underway in that global multiplex available to everyone lately, it seemed near impossible to derail. The truth might always be subsumed by a more convincing lie, viewers’ trust being the unstable element in that equation. The current President was a ruthless real estate tycoon whose father had once played the mean old landlord in a lesser known folk song. Himself the unstable element in the political order in this time of infection, this landlord President never seemed to do the expected as the choices came. He would always do something crazy instead. After a few days, the columnists would reach a consensus on the nature of his madness, what further crazy gestures seemed likely, then he would do something else even crazier that confounded all those expectations, and it would just keep going on like that exponentially. Intelligence agencies were reportedly investigating his conduct, but they were all subordinate to him, as Commander in Chief. Most liberal whites hung on this guy’s every word, gasping with revulsion at each new horrible thing he said to alarm his opponents and electrify his supporters. It got exhausting, keeping up with all the tricks.

When the President claimed to have started taking a dangerous, unapproved drug to combat the superbug, He endorsed it because he owned stock in the company making it, not for any medical reasons. But people spent pages and pages of commentary speculating on its physical effects on him, and if his latest malfeasance had been directly inspired by his taking that dangerous drug. “Owns stock in the co. Look it up,” I commented a couple of times, before getting tired of it. What a game what a drag what a mess what a joke. No one spoke the same language around here anymore.

RACE RIOTS BROKE OUT in response to the cop kneeling on George Floyd’s neck as the poor man begged for mercy, one hand in his pocket to press down even harder. At least that’s how it was cast on the news. After hundreds of years of oppression and thirty-plus of profit-driven algorithms on IdentiPal making life more thrilling, emboldening racist cops and their targets to make themselves as visible and loud as they could possibly become, to drive up usage. Authority figures taking off their good guy masks to show the monsters they’d always been underneath, that all the world was a stage and the whole thing had been a production all along. Thirty years after my joyful imitation of the fictional bluesman Willie Brown as played by Joe Seneca in that movie with the Karate Kid, before developing any valid sense of racial disparity, before the 2 Tone scene brought it into focus, which still wasn’t enough to properly liberate me from my cocoon. Twelve years ago, I witnessed a cop at a Greyhound station in St. Louis pat a black man down without cause, fingers searching all his pockets. I had some contraband in one of my pockets at the time and went into the bus station restroom and transferred the bag from my pocket to one of my boots to avoid getting busted, white privilege occluding my conscience. I started crying remembering that, then started laughing at myself for crying so much, then started crying again. 

All this time I’d been trying to take the long view instead of focusing on each new atrocity as endgame, paying less attention to particulars and keeping my eyes on the theoretical other side as best I could instead of the day by day. Being white, and privileged, I’d never looked to the government for my rights, and for the most part, done what I pleased all my life. Breonna Taylor’s murder by no-knock cops in her own apartment so far without consequences showed me that black people couldn’t afford to ignore what the government did like my priveleged ass had been getting away with forever. However bad things got with the freaks upstairs, I never feared for my life. When that pizza driver called the cops, I thought I might end up in jail. No matter how hard I tried to draw a parallel between my discomfort in a basement apartment my mom paid the rent on and the heartless oppression of human souls because of fear and vanity and weakness for hundreds of years. To all my black friends and acquaintances and listeners, I am sorry—for my selfishness and laziness. Please forgive me for my ignorance and lack of understanding. Thank you for your patience and your excellence. I love you.

It had been suggested by some that the slavish devotion of the President’s cult mystifying the mainstream media like a TV show was, in fact, the expected result of behavior control and attention management techniques, that the Manson Family and Jonestown were, in fact, rehearsals for the present, that the whole thing had been in practice for a long time. Indeed, his studious reenactment of particulars from past fascist regimes, for example, including recreation of similar photos seemed manual and artificial, as opposed to history repeating itself naturally. He turned off all the lights in the Big House and locked himself downstairs for a night when the “riots” broke out, as if preparing for a siege or hosting a private sex party. This was alarming behavior, but everything felt crazy and unreal around here, so it didn’t necessarily mean anything. He came out the next day and said he’d just been doing an inspection of the security bunker, that’s all.

In a show on VideoMind I sat through that night, everyone had a form of IdentiPal implanted in their foreheads as a national registry, and something went wrong, and it caused race riots. In real life, IdentiPal combined with the Media Voice had splintered everything and driven the whole world crazy, uniting the public and private sectors in one big stupid video game. Two cities were already in flames from it, downtown Denver full of rubber bullets and tear gas and IdentiPal featuring live streams of the police setting dumpsters on fire and advancing on the citizens with flash-bang grenades.

“Police are purposefully targeting reporters all over the country, in video after video,” someone posted on Thinker. “There’s no other way to describe it.”

“I saw a guy plant a roll of toilet paper in a dumpster to light it on fire and blame it on the protesters,” read another post. “I called bullshit on him and he backed down because we were live on VideoMind. Honestly the whole thing felt like a big photo-op for the cops, like they were posing in a public relations production. They stormed off in a huff when they saw my camera. They know the real fight is in the media.”

That guy Conrad from the virtual podcast livestreamed himself running from the cops and dodging flash-bang grenades and tear gas. He seemed very cavalier about the whole thing, making comments like, “Here they come, advancing again, to quell our ‘dangerous’ peaceful protest,” while running through a big crowd of citizens, trying to make his way home with all the streets blocked off. He seemed driven by a genuine desire to do the right thing, even if he wasn’t sure on all the details. “Excuse me,” he called out to a bystander. “Do you know what Floyd’s last name was? This is all because of Floyd.”

“I think that’s his last name. His name is George Floyd.”

“For Mr. George Floyd!” said Conrad.

A plume of smoke would descend a few feet away and Conrad would say, “Here comes the tear gas! But it’s an honor to be involved in making history, to be a mover and shaker at a time like this. It takes this kind of action to make things happen. You can’t make anything happen by just sitting there wishing for it.” Conrad worked at an old age home, and said he wore a mask when he was there to make others feel comfortable. He didn’t believe in the virus either, calling it the “plandemic”. I felt better thinking of him as being deluded than thinking the same thing about Maria Black, who at least claimed intuitive foresight of a second deadly wave to surprise everyone once we relaxed from the first limited one. In real life, buildings in Denver had been vandalized, and stores had been looted. The mayor imposed a curfew that weekend. Everyone had to be home by 8 PM. This had never happened before in my memory.

There was a wave of protests for racial justice and to stop police brutality all over the world. In England, they threw a statue of a slave trader in the river. Blacks and whites held hands and kneeled together in photo spreads. Some cops even kneeled. The U.S. protests were cast as riots in the news. Police responded with pepper spray and more heads bashed in. The President made threats and tried to declare some new laws. IdentiPal filled up with pics and videos of undercover cops breaking windows and spray-painting statues to make the protestors look vicious and give them an excuse to crack down with more brutality. There was still a doomsday virus on the loose and everyone was waiting for an uptick in the death rate from all the unsanctioned togetherness.

© 2020 Zack Kopp

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