WARNING: If you haven't read SOMETHING HAPPENED and don't know about its shock ending---if you've decided you WANT to read the book and don't want to know how it ends----back off now, because I'll be talking extensively about the ending here. In short: SPOILER ALERT!!!!!
Joseph Heller's literary career stands tall on one incredibly formidable foundation: CATCH-22. And that's one helluva foundation, folks-----yes, I admit it, CATCH-22 is one of my favorite novels of all time---from young adulthood up to today, this batshit crazy, ultra-dark comedy has informed most of my views on war, business, authority, bureaucracy, and just about all systems of control. Plenty has been said about CATCH-22 and I can never say enough.....but I'm not here to talk about that today.
After a long lunchtime discussion with my wife last week about our capitalist system and the encouragements it puts on us as a society I thought again about Heller's oft-overlooked second novel. It's time to talk about SOMETHING HAPPENED.
Bob Slocum's got problems; he's got a lot of problems. He's got workplace problems, marital problems, parenting problems and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
He's a paranoid cog vying for a leg up in the corporate machine he works in....most of the colleagues he fears and hates yet seeks to impress are color-coded by name---Black, White, Brown, Green...one co-worker on his way out the door is handicapped and Slocum fantasizes endlessly about kicking his weak leg. He is presumably being groomed to replace this fellow, and he can almost taste it.
He's in a miserable, loveless marriage, his teenage daughter is rebelling and his oldest son is having problems at school. Turns out the kid doesn't play well with others. (“I try to give him a will to win,” complains the kid's gym coach in a parent-teacher conference. “He don't have one. When he's ahead in one of the relay races, do you know what he does? He starts laughing. He does that. And then he slows down and waits for the other guys to catch up. Can you imagine?”) His younger son, Derek (the only family member to whom Slocum actually attributes a name) is ironically the least human of the bunch---obviously severely handicapped (physically, mentally---no doubt both) and the Slocums keep him locked away from the world. Poor Bob frets endlessly about Derek----what are they going to do with him? Should they institutionalize him?
Slocum also moons endlessly about the one who got away, Virginia Markowitz, his long ago office crush, who committed suicide years before. Bob plays long, tortured, drain circling games of What If.
Bob Slocum is one miserable sonofabitch, and he's not especially likeable.
And laying all these cards on the table, how do I begin to sing the praises of this long, solipsistic book that slogs on and on inside the head of its own loathsome (and self-loathing) protagonist while he spends page after page navel-gazing and wallowing in his own private pity party with no discernible end in sight?
SOMETHING HAPPENED is one of my favorite books, and that's no mean feat when you consider the fact that it's over 500 pages long, meanders along in lugubrious fashion and basically has NO PLOT WHATSOEVER....
Maybe it's that the slow-shudder depressiveness played so well into my own back in my 20s when I first read it, but this much I tend to doubt---I never had aspirations to be another ant in the hill and I think I always had more going on in me as far as ideals and attitude. Plus, I could think of several other people I turned on to the book, and they didn't really match the Bob Slocum mindset either. Maybe, is it hangs in the light of cinematic favorites like “Taxi Driver”, deep down we're just maladjusts blundering through the darkness, trying to find our way----and maybe we're all pulled instinctively to rubberneck at a downward spiral.
Or sudden salvation.
Or something possibly worse.
Regardless, we watch Bob Slocum's slow, morbid dissolution as his brain spins in circles, contemplating what it was that brought him to this point in his life---what, indeed, happened? He wonders as we're swallowed by a deep crawl into nothing-----until, very abruptly, the titular “SOMETHING”---happens.
Toward the very end of the second-to-last chapter, Slocum's mooning obsessively about the growing rift between himself and his little boy when there's a commotion and he witnesses the kid pinned underneath a car which has crashed into a storefront. In a blue panic, Bob runs to his boy, who's bloodied and screaming, and holds him tight.
“I have to do something,” Heller, as Slocum, writes. “I hug his face deeper into the crook of my shoulder. I hug him tightly with both my arms. I squeeze.”
Later at the hospital, Bob weeps copiously as the boy is pronounced dead.
In the last chapter, things take a drastic and unexpected turn---after the loss of his son, it's almost as if Slocum's entire life falls neatly into place. Despite the trauma and grief, he....WAITAMINNIT.
BACK IT UP FOR A SEC.
“ 'Death,' says the doctor, 'was due to asphyxiation. The boy was smothered. He had superficial lacerations of the scalp and face, a bruised hip, a deep cut on his arm. That was all. Even his spleen was intact.' “
HE KILLED HIS KID!!!!! HE KILLED HIS KID!!!! HOLY BLOODY FUCKBALLS, HE SUFFOCATED HIS OWN KID!!!!!!!!!
There's a telling point toward the end of the second-to-last chapter, just prior to this abrupt climax, where Heller, as Slocum, writes, “I want my little boy back too.
I don't want to lose him.
That passage can read one of two ways. You can read it, “I don't want to lose my boy but I lose him anyway”, or you can read it as, “I don't want to lose my boy, but I do want to lose him.”
Things work out perfect for Bob Slocum after he performs a sort of “self-exorcism”------by smothering his son, who refuses to accept the all-American sacrament of competition, he kills the last remnant of human decency within himself. At that point, he is officially ready to climb the ladder.
GODDAMN. GODDAMN, GODDAMN!!!!! Do you see what I'm saying, here?
His marital problems even out, he and his wife decide (at least temporarily) to refrain from sending Derek off to a home and at work he's able to advance with flying colors and everyone is “pleased with the way I've taken command”.
And Heller's telling us, there's something wrong with this picture.
At the end of the day, Slocum has to murder that one sliver of hope and goodness within himself----that one fly in the ointment of almighty capitalism---the “problem child” in his ethical makeup, in order to advance in life. That's just a trifle disturbing!
You can grab the brass ring if you want it. What are you willing to lose in the process?
YANKEE POT ROAST #2000: BAD NEWS FOR MY FELLOW NEWZIES
Most people who know me know that I work in the News Industry. Being a genuine weirdo and also someone who probably leans further to the left than the average----well, the average STADIUM full of people, I have my struggles in that setting. And no one bristles harder than my co-workers when they hear the term, “fake news” thrown around. I don't really blame them, either. The people I work with every day at a little local affiliate are serious about what they're doing and I watch them strive hard every day to get stories right. My beef is never with them.
The Big Boys, I got issues with. A lot of issues.
A Monmouth University Poll that was released last month casts a pall over our humble profession that should have my fellow newsies very concerned. And sorry, guys----but I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
Thanks, off the top, to Kyle Kulinski and his YouTube channel, SECULAR TALK, where I originally heard about the poll.
77 % say major news outlets report “Fake News”, the poll says. That's a grabber of a headline---both alarming and yet, at the same time, easy for the average cosmopolitan elitist to write off. Sure, they might say, that's an alarming trend, but it's all knuckle-dragging Trumpazoids who follow their leader's every edict, pronouncement and outrageous lie, right?
Uh....sorry, but, no.
The poll in question is squarely bipartisan...
25 per cent of respondents define “Fake News” as false information that is designed to mislead----and that falls pretty well into the realm of how former President Barack Obama defined it when he decried the phenomenon in the press----it's what first popularized the term and we could look at that definition as the “According to Hoyle” definition.
A lot of people, particularly liberals, rallied behind Obama when he made these statements. I wasn't one of them, for reasons that should soon become obvious.
When you throw the term, “Fake News”, out there, it's not your term anymore----it belongs to everyone----and it invites all-and-sundry to fix whatever definition they want on the phrase.
Hence, Fox News grab it and use it however they want. Hence, Donald Trump seizes it and does whatever he wants. My liberal friends might wring their hands and cry “foul” over this, but Obama opened that door. Sorry----he just did. And if you didn't see that coming, well, there are plenty of eye doctors you can visit.
A second, salient point in the poll shows that sixty-five per cent in the poll say that Fake News includes what is covered and what is not covered. Story selection equals bias. In other words, not just lying by commission, but lying by O-mission.
And adherents to the original point might be disturbed by that deviation from Obama's definition, but you know what, kids?
I wholeheartedly AGREE with them. Bias---particularly ESTABLISHMENT bias----***IS*** fake news. Throw a fit and cry all you want. Call me a Russia-Bot. I don't give a rat's ass.
A third point is that forty-two per cent of respondents believe major mainstream news outlets disseminate false information in order to push a political agenda. Eighty-three per cent believe outside groups----major interest groups and lobbies---plant propaganda.
And as I said earlier----reponses to this poll are more or less across the board. These definitions are supported by 89 % of Republicans, 82 % of independents and 61 % of Democrats.
Be afraid. You should be.
So should our leaders.
As Kulinski none-too-subtlely puts it, “we live in an age of constant bullshit”, and everyone sees through it except for those slinging it. Don't forget to duck, pilgrim.
Speaking of bullshit, have you heard about notable partisan hack Joy Reid and her homophobia problem? Pull up a chair, 'cause it's a good one...apparently Ms. Reid recently got called out for some old blogs she wrote that were homo-and-transphobic in nature. As a stalwart of pseudo-liberal MSNBC, Joy can't be havin' that kind of a sociopolitical albatross around her neck....not she who has railed on identity politics over class consciousness----it just doesn't look good, y'know?
So what does she do? Does she swallow her pride and admit she was wrong? Nope----she obfuscates and blames HACKERS. Yep----she was claiming that she'd been hacked, the old blog posts weren't hers----except that they were. Held up to scrutiny for obvious falsehoods, Reid backpedaled, offered half-assed apologies and maintains that she didn't remember writing those blogs because it's so far away from who she is today that she didn't even recognize the words as her own.
And if you believe that, have I got a bridge for you.
TRUE CONFESSION TIME: Once upon a long ago time, your humble narrator was homophobic. Yep---no joke. A lot of it was based in my religious upbringing and a lot of it was just a defense mechanism within the teenage pecking order----but when I was a kid I threw the term, “faggot”, around with the best of 'em. Of course, I had no clue a lot of the kids I palled around with were gay (and probably deserved some kind of spirit award for kindly putting up with MY bullshit)---sure, the kids we all hated called them faggots, but hey! Everyone you didn't like was a faggot back then. Youth in the '70s.
How I eventually broke free of that kind of thinking as an adult was getting to know REAL GAY PEOPLE (as opposed to their being some abstract spoken about by demagogues) and understanding that they were just regular people like everyone else.
Okay, so I don't like Reid anyway, but if she'd just come out and said, “yeah, that was me back then but it's not me, now, I'm sorry”, it would have been no harm/no foul. We all have stupid old shit we have to work past.
But hackers had a time machine, and they went back to the year whatever and posted incriminating blogs, huh? Kinda reminds me of the Democratic Establishment she gives her fealty to. Embarrassed by the fact that you got caught rigging your own primary? Blame it on “The Russians”.
See? They even tell similar lies!
As long as I'm on my yankee pot roast high horse, that whole annual White House Correspondents' Circle Jerk----er, dinner---happened as I was working on this blog and I got to YouTube back (because other than this the annual affair doesn't interest me much at all---) and see the meteoric rise of Michelle Wolf as the great comic mind of this generation. She handily and savagely ripped the Trump Administration, the Democrats (“you guys don't do....ANYTHING!”) and the entire noxious, gladhanding, self-fellating nature of these dinners and the establishment press itself. The whole monologue was pretty spot-on and the press's flailing display of pearl clutching and loud castigation afterwards was a perfect example of how Wolf was right about absolutely EVERYTHING SHE SAID. She particularly nailed the press's pathetic obsession with decorum (last refuge of the disingenuous) and the hypocritical, self-sabotaging culture of “access journalism” which is no good way to run a fourth estate...their collective umbrage shows their true mettle and marks them as an institution that essentially needs to be thrown into a fire.
THIS WEEK'S PLAYLIST:
The S.E. Apocalypse Krew-Rise
Blue Oyster Cult-Secret Treaties
Blue Oyster Cult-Spectres
THE FUTURE (mix CD)
NEXT TIME: For all you geniuses who seem to go out of your way looking for something to find offensive, I've got a special gift for everyone.