Dear Dirty America


The Fragile Construction of Innocence: Living in the American Bubble

April 10
14:30 2012
Los Angeles

Credit: Daniel Schwen

“Anybody with any sense had already left town”
–Bob Dylan

Maud Casey, in discussing Hungarian novelist Dezső Kosztolanyi’s novel Skylark, writes:

Even before the events of the novel begin to unfold, Kosztolányi has sealed the entire novel in a shimmering soap bubble of historical innocence by setting it in the retrospectively portentous year of 1899. Kosztolányi…began writing Skylark in 1923; it was published in 1924. A lot had happened between 1899 and 1924–among other things, the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, World War I, a number of Hungarian revolutions. But the events of Skylark predate all of this tumult, before the world clicked over into the new century. And so the glossy, delicate bubble of the fictional Sarszeg floats in blissful ignorance of the giant pin of history (as blissful as a town of hard drinkers and funerals can be); it doesn’t understand that the world is about to fall. It is an artificial construction Kosztolányi is well aware of, and he wants us to be aware of it too, including fleeting instances of outside perspectives–“haughty Budapesters” who deign to peek out of the windows of trains passing through. These outsiders only serve to make the bubble even more delicate (published in A Public Space, Issue 15, p. 12-13).

I find it poignant to think of the outside faces peering into the bubble of innocence. Faces a little less naive, and a little more aware of the disasters to come. Those who deign to look in with the dramatic irony of a reader peering into the lives of characters in a novel, and knowing what dangers might be, in the near future, lurking.

To use this excerpt as a giant leap into our own shut-off-from-the-world American culture might be gratuitous, but it still makes me wonder what dangers are awaiting us in the immediate years ahead, and how much of it we as ignorant, career-focused, entertainment-addicted Americans are not privy to, or are unaware of.

I think of the knowing faces peering at the innocent, but struggling masses as faces belonging to our elite global citizens — Wall Street CEOs, top federal government officials, United Nations members, the best economists, and so on. If our Empire is on the brink of collapse, would we even know it?

And who do we ask? I think of the White House toting good job market news, when in reality the news is bleak, the number of added jobs to the economy far too few, and the dropping of the unemployment rate mostly because workers are dropping out of the system, not because they are finding work.

I think of the billionaires and millionaires fleeing America for other lands, such as filmaker James Cameron, and Liberty Media chairman John Malone, taking their money earned from the great American populace, and then running for fairer financial weather. To “have a place to go if things blow up here,” Malone said.

Millions of American households have decided to leave the country, or purchase non-U.S. property in case the markets fully crumble.

Are these people crazy, and overreacting? Perhaps. Are we the ones living inside a delicate bubble, within the fragile construction of innocence?

See also: the dumbing down of smarting up and corporate colonies: the mass production of the American Dream

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