One of the most harrowing challenges of modern American life is navigating through the massive desert of our mindless, materialistic consumerism. It is within this landscape that a soul can become lost and drenched in despair. From the endless stream of vacant eyed wraiths that glide down catwalks, to the pervasive advertising that never ceases to demean the values of empathy and compassion and hollow out any meaning associated with human connection, to the entertainment industry which revels in the depths of cruelty it can sink to, the onslaught on the psyche is both constant and merciless.
The American shopping mall is a reflection of this nightmare of ravenous cupidity and a message of stark disenfranchisement to the ever growing underclass. Its glossy finishes and plastic displays erect a wall of defense against anything remotely human or sacred. It entices the youngest of our society with the promise of fulfillment and social status through the acquisition of objects, the alteration of their faces and bodies, and the tacit abandonment of any connection with the natural world and all the beings that inhabit it. Concrete and glass monoliths of corporatism drive home the deepest sense of alienation and desolation by design. It is a fantasy land of the cruelest fakery, replacing the lively, chaotic and thoroughly interactive market place with the impersonal, the absurd, and the surreal. Exported around the world to some of the most impoverished nations on the planet, it is a unique, exclusionary and effective form of imperialism.
The Big Box stores, in contrast, make no pretense to that kind of romanticism. They sit shamelessly on seas of pavement in wetlands, lush meadows or downed forests, scraped and drained clean of their original life and inhabitants. They are a reflection of what America has become; a stark and depersonalized vision of depravity within the setting of a dying ecosystem. Their plastic and glossy objects fill giant bins as they fill our oceans and river systems. Their clothing racks conceal the stain of sweat shop slavery. They exude the callousness of a factory farm, encouraging and cheering on aggression, prodding livestock into its maw of spiraled decadence. This is the architecture of banal cruelty and indifference.
Understanding this landscape it should not come as a surprise that stories about vampires and zombies dominate contemporary, popular entertainment. These themes perfectly mimic the corporate capitalist economic model which glamorizes and celebrates the ghoulish and the macabre, while it rapaciously feeds upon the most vulnerable and powerless members of society for profit. The monsters in these tales are almost always fascinating, beautiful or so powerful as to be envied, while their victims are generally bereft of any identity at all. And this is exactly the way the wealthy elite want ordinary people to think of themselves. This ideology may contribute to the emergence of the mass shooter phenomenon, but it also underlies the mass acceptance of the police state model which relies on the violence of the state to reinforce the boundaries of class, and to bolster the mythology of the superiority of the powerful and wealthy.
The map out of this nightmare is often masked by the empty promises of having more stuff, altering ones outer appearance or conforming to socially acceptable shallowness. Advertising, social media and the political class, which sanctify the zombification of modern society, demand we attune and respond to their dictates and Siren song, lest we be banished from the corporate kingdom. Of course exclusion is terrifying to the elite and serf alike. We have been trained to avert our eyes from the homeless, the working poor and the far flung slaves to our insatiable consuming. If we dare look we might see our collective future. We might see exactly how our separateness is a grand deceit, a scam. And in doing so we might indeed shun otherness for the embrace of actual human beings. Free, humanistic or revolutionary thought cannot be tolerated in a corporatocracy where denial, jingoism and conformity are embedded in the liturgy.
But we are coming to the end of the illusion, for better and for worse, sooner rather than later. The planet’s ecosystems are wailing from the misery our way of life has inflicted upon it. They are dying. And the humanity that has been enslaved to continue this insanity are beginning to recognize their chains. Mass extinction is fast closing in on us. All of us will be forced to face this reality whether we want to or not. An industrial, consumerist society, based upon an endless growth economic model on a planet with finite resources, is impossible to sustain. It will eventually collapse.
If there is map out of the cemetery that we have long dug for countless species by our selfish indulgences and out of the wreckage of civilization, that irony of all ironies, it may very well lie in the chance, however remote, that some of us will emerge from the ruins long enough to tell a different story of who we are. Perhaps we will have enough time to honor all that we had and mourn all that was lost. And perhaps future generations, if there are any who survive, will not hate us too much for the brutality we tolerated and the ecocide we caused.