Back in the 1970's many of my women friends used to say: "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" and back then I thought the phrase was pretty clever. One day I said to a woman friend that fish need bicycles because they have to stay ahead of surrealism. "There's nothing worse," I said, "than being chased by Salvador Dali."
Nowadays it seems that absurdity has been overtaken by the machinery of big business and politics--and by this I mean "successfully" overtaken, overtaken to such a degree that the fish "is" the bicycle. The poor fish. Fishy fishy fish. Commodified, bleached of imaginative possibilities, stripped of its scales and ironies.
Madison Avenue absorbed the fish, the bicycle, and Salvador Dali's mustache long ago. Then the schools of religion and of politics followed like bottom feeders, eating the rubber off the tires, chomping on the dorsal fin and the tiny, nearly invisible legs of our fish.
Do you need an IPad? No you do not. Do you need to round up immigrants and deport them from Arizona? No you do not. How are these things connected? America is now swept up in a post-industrial hangover in which people are so thoroughly divorced from the sensible satisfactions of making things, of living in neighborhoods, of understanding what they need and what they don't, that nearly everyone is susceptible to believing in things--to desiring things they don't need.
I was put in mind of this last night when I saw that Sen. John McCain had appeared on the Bill O'Reilly show, claiming that illegal aliens are causing traffic accidents in Arizona. McCain presented this as if this is a movement: illegal immigrants acting in consort, like Bolsheviks, wildly plotting to attack innocent Arizonians. "We have to secure our borders," he said.
No one needs hatred and xenophobia. No one needs an IPad or a talking mop. But if you live in a gated community and you don't know the locals and you're insufficiently imaginative, well, you might buy anything that seems like it accords with both novelty and with emptiness.
The entire Tea Party movement and the selling of thousands of objects and ideas we don't need are connected in a new engine of exhaustion. The scene now is different from McCarthyism or from the anti-establishment fervors of the 1960's because the rage of the neo-neo-right is built on nothing. They wear the emperor's new clothes with a brown shirt retro look.
I want my fish back.