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Posted on Jun 9, 2012
Mr. Fish

By Mr. Fish

“I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.”

–Andy Warhol

Bill Hicks, arguably the most existentially articulate comic id of the late 20th century, had a bit in his act where he talked about the bias that the news media had against illegal drugs; illegal drugs, of course, being a metaphor for anything that existed outside the miasma of mainstream influence and wasn’t directly controlled by elite institutions of corporate and state power. Pretending to be a television news anchor reporting on hallucinogens without prevarication, Hicks said, “Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration—that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.”

What I appreciate about that quote is how it forces a person to consider the context wherein a concept of truth is typically placed for public consumption. Like all good satire, it illustrates just how insular and self-serving every hard-boiled notion of reality can become once it’s dropped into the confused bowl of electrified noodles that is the human brain, an organ famous the world over for its uncanny ability to acquiesce to whatever real or imagined authority it perceives to be blowing through the room at any given moment. How many of us, for example, have walked through the reptile house at the zoo and stopped to press our face against the glass of a terrarium and looked at the lizard lying as still as a root cresting the ground in the corner and thought that the cheesy landscape painted on the rear wall of the tank, along with the Sherwin-Williams sky and the Exo Terra Repti-Glo 10.0 Compact Fluorescent Desert Lamp pretending to be the sun, was enough to convince the captive animal that it was at home in the vast grasslands of Southern Australia? All of us have, of course, and not because we are too stupid to see through bullshit but rather because we like to think that the world is being managed by other people who know more than we do about all the complicated and boring crap that we don’t want to waste our time thinking about. When we imagine that there are other people in the world burdened with the responsibility of not letting bullshit run amok, we succumb to the illusion that we are being protected and shepherded along by a wisdom that isn’t really there. 

I found myself thinking about all this in New York City last month during the Occupy May Day protests, which had started early in the day at Bryant Park before moving south, like a transient Renaissance fair that had been purged of its whimsy, its Elizabethan English and its haggis and transmogrified into a pagan celebration of workers’ rights, mass dignity and First Amendment Tourette’s, toward Wall Street. I had just stepped away from the likeminded riffraff in Union Square Park, having grown a bit woozy from breathing in the intoxicating fumes of the movement’s jubilant upset for the better part of the afternoon, when I found myself standing at the concrete base of the chrome statue of Andy Warhol, aptly named The Andy Monument, that faces the park at 17th Street. Looking up at this Gandhi of Self-Commodification, this Horace Pippin of Madison Avenue, his trademark Polaroid camera hanging from around his neck like a mystic’s third eye, his Bloomingdale’s shopping bag, according to the sculptor, Rob Pruitt, weighed down with copies of Interview magazine, I noticed that he was gazing at the protesters in the park, no doubt considering their collective aesthetic and not giving a tinker’s damn about the content of their cause. 

To him, I imagined, the congregation of complainers, myself included, was little more than a nomadic audience that had arrived in Union Square to enjoy the only entertainment available to it, which was theater of the mind, the star billing going to the holy ghost of communal optimism with doomsday as its understudy. Or maybe it was more personal than that. Maybe he was watching carefully to see who might emerge from the crowd as a beautiful misfit among misfits; a waifish boy in neon lipstick, perhaps, his upper arms as skinny as bruised bananas, or a girl of 16, a runaway for sure, her hair teased into brittle pink Easter grass and mascara smeared hard across the back of her hand, a perfectly chic junkie to brand back at the Factory for resale—fuck the agony of the 99 percent!

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