Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Change, Schmange

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

There's only one Trojan horse each generation and I more or less missed it, like the 10:58 train to Poughkeepsie. Probably you did, too. Or you rode it awhile and got bucked off, or somebody shot it out from underneath you. Or the hidden door popped open to your surprise and glee, but nothing came out, because wishes aren't horses and there's hardly ever a pivotal moment in history where one event or one person tips the whole balance of things in the space of somebody's afternoon nap.

Most change comes incrementally. And if you ever get some violent convulsive shift you only have to wait a year or two until the revolution calcifies into one more intractable regime that'll take another couple of tons of dynamite and a century to move.

Still, change is something we're in love with. A magic word that opens doors and pocketbooks and sometimes even hearts. Unfortunately, change requires more than hope, though I guess it helps to have some. Patience and persistence are best, though I'm suspicious of any of those words in a politician's mouth. Lately, I don't trust words at all in the change game.

My blog entries have shrunk in direct proportion to the increase in election year blather. I have nothing to add to existing commentary except a faint retching sound. Maybe I should offer a scatological account of my daily life, a diary of my bowel movements that could become a giant metaphor for the political process, how problems like campaign finance, poverty, health care reform or extruding the U.S. from Iraq, get artificially chewed up, swallowed, digested, and simplified into fecal matter for the masses that isn't much more than rhetoric because solving most problems requires a certain acceptance of complexity and the time to unravel it.

Even social change based on identity politics, the most basic of ideas, requires people to make the effort to hold two contradictory thoughts in their heads at once. On the one hand, you have to believe that gender -- or race, or sexual identity -- is a social reality with incredible significance, and on the other that gender or whatever is an arbitrary biological factor that means absolutely nothing in and of itself.

Organize around one of these "identities" and you run the danger of reinforcing what you hate most, the artificial meaning of color, of tits, of that crush on another girl in gym class. I find it infuriating that in Campaign 2008, plenty of American voters are looking towards skin or gender alone for signs of change.

They may as well begin disemboweling chickens and reading tea leaves. On my blog this week, I've been getting a Google ad declaring "Unprecedented destruction will come in 2008, leading to America's fall." And next to that, an ad for "Obama 2008." Which means either that Obama is the antichrist and will lead to a kind of American apocalypse. Or that he's spending a boatload of money targeting Christian fundamentalists.

I've been getting a ton of their ads since I wrote a little blog entry last week on a Lookin' Good for Jesus cosmetics line that got banned in Singapore after Catholics got offended at the "Virtuous Vanilla" lip balm, and a "Get Tight with Christ" hand and body lotion that apparently had an image of Jesus surrounded by a couple of Mary Magdalene types.

The ad gods also offered the combination this week of "Unprecedented destruction" and an advertisement for auto insurance for foreigners in France. I saw it a couple of hours after I watched a driver let himself roll backwards down the hill while he talked to his friends on the sidewalk. I shouted, "Look out," and pointed at the car he was getting ready to crash into. But instead of being grateful, he gave me a dirty look before braking. A couple weeks ago, I saw another guy roll straight back downhill using the momentum to try to start the car, only there was a curve in the road and he backed into a pole.

There are a lot of hills in my neighborhood. And a lot of people rolling blindly through space and time. Maybe that's why they voted so optimistically for Sarkozy, the French candidate for change, who's been giving them all they wanted and more, tax cuts for the rich, retirement reform (I admit it was necessary), vast roundups of illegal immigrants arrested by the hundreds and thousands, as well as plans for French slums (also necessary).

You want the illusion of change, Sarko's the man for you. He's in perpetual motion, pathological motion, maybe, galloping around alone at the top of a mountain shifting snow back and forth. The problem is the entrenched interests of right and left hold their ground underneath. Movement, like promises, isn't necessarily the same as change. There's also the small matter of direction.

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