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Essay

The American Scream: Going Hoarse Without Speaking

Christopher Ketcham
Contributor
Christopher Ketcham is a New York based reporter who has written for VICE, Harper\'s, Vanity Fair, GQ, Salon, and many other magazines. He can be contacted at…
Christopher Ketcham

It is clear that nowhere in American commercial life, save perhaps the graveyard, is there a space not polluted by electronic voices. Every bar and restaurant, every airport lounge, bus depot, train station, every doctor’s or real estate agent’s office, every schoolchild’s welcome in the cafeteria, perforce, is larded over with the tin drum and tap and pan-banging and squeaking-squalling-keening of idols, the caviling of news-clowns, the gibberishing of marketeers. Everywhere is the grin-voice of the announcer, salesman, pitchman, sentimentalist, guffawer, crooner, rabble-rouser, tit-wagger, offering always information that leaves one dumber upon hearing. The world as presented in this mosh of nonsense is endless goof and boof, pratfall, infantilizations, the tin cans of the latest news gonged. It is the great horror of the modern, and to resist it is the duty of civilized men.

Silence is anathema, perhaps dangerous, as it might invite boredom, or, worse, introspection, and by God the public must not be bored or suffer self. The cellphone and iPhone and BlackBerry and whichever other electro-leeches at hand are key in this mess. Like little tyrants they screech and demand a hearing; like infants they wail at all hours and must be assuaged. We plug them in our own faces like pacifiers.

It seems we must have noise to recognize we are civilized. Or, perhaps, noise allows us to hide our uncivilized ways. We shall not hear farts, shifts in the seat, the growling of stomachs, the mediocrity of murmurs, the crinkle of shoes that stink, the perverse imp habit of talking to ourselves — it’s got to be cacophonied out — or the mass murder of citizens overseas, or the wars that send our young to mental and physical death-in-life, or the subjugation of entire classes of the poor to the control of the rich.

Let that lone voice speak in the darkness of the unknown crowd and get no answer back — the terror of comedians and actors, the multiplied terror — and damn him who stands there with his dick in his hand. Let the man speak alone and find the crowd against him — the ultimate terror. Let it never happen that the man speaks alone. Drown him in noise.

Therefore, per usual with the Web, I offer alternative noise.

I’m in the apartment in New York City working on the novel. That I am in New York City is only due to the woman I love, so dearly, beyond all loves, because she wants to be here, and I want to be near her, I want it to work out, I want our marriage to make sense. But I do not love the city that she loves. I hate the city. I hate everything it stands for. Because it is the source of the great noise, the infantilizing noise, that echoes across the fair land.

I hate its cheap stupid marketeering. I hate its love of money, and money, and money. I hate its little boys with money masquerading as men. I hate its fraud and its lies and its cowardice. I hate its ad men and its corporatist newsmen — is there a difference? — and, most of all, most deserving, its financiers plundering the labor of the great mass of those who do real work. I hate Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his parasitic riches. I hate the darkness of the false light issuing from televisions and cable connections. I hate even the moon that gets shunted on the city’s glimmering — I think that the moon is a manufactured thing, a prop, and over the horizon it is pushed by seven grinning monkeys waiting for a paycheck. I hate the squalid simpleton gimcrack cheese-whiz managed by the shareholders in the corporations that make New York the home and meaning of all life on Earth, which is the life of the shareholder. I hate that the meaning of all life in New York is the making of money. I hate that the money-making makes so much noise that means nothing.

So, of course, I’m in the apartment doing nothing worthwhile to change things, which means working on the novel. It’s a novel about a terrorist gang that kidnaps, in the words of my lead terrorist, the “motherfucking piggies,” who run investment banks across the river from me. It’s called “Killing the Banker” or “Shooting the Banker,” I’m not sure which. It’s really about class warfare. My problem, in writing it, is that terrorists who kidnap motherfucking piggy bankers and disembowel them, spreading their intestines on YouTube, are not protagonists that the motherfucking piggies in the publishing industry — themselves tied financially to the motherfucking piggies in the finance and banking industries — are willing to embrace.

Or perhaps my writing is no good. Who knows? The piggy marketplace will determine these things. And as for the voice, human, strange, drowned out by the noise?Fuck the human voice. Let us have the robotism of the servant to the Corporate Master sing, and sing. He/she/it is found wherever — which is everywhere — the marketplace demands. Being bored on a Saturday night, without my woman to trouble, I place a loudspeaker on the bookshelves and blast music. I play the usual drivel: Radiohead, and the Clash, and Fela, and (insert typical bourgeois-bohemian music choice here). It is all of course meaningless. Every one of them has looked to be sold. Every one of them has been placed in the nightmare continuum of the marketplace, dulled for the buying. Culture, we are told. All I hear is screaming and banging and desperation and noise. I shut the music down.

Yet: Listen for a moment in the American night, in a city like New York: beyond the poisonous splooge of the marketeers, the death droning of the teevees, the bone-drained mindless minders of consensus, beyond the tin-hearted half-wit hallucinations of the fiending men and women seeking riches in the towers. Listen: You can still hear the bay, the ships, the horns in the summer fog. The languages, the many and undistilled. The mass of the new immigrants, always coming, always willing to share, open to the possibility of a different future. A friend tells me the future is Jews and Asians joining to make babies. I’m all for it. Let us miscegenate whenever and wherever possible. Let all the races commingle. I still hear the possibility of hope in this town, which is everything this town wants to put to a stop. Let us have the human voice, the human fear — let us praise man as man, woman as woman. Not the creature of the mass noise, but the individual. Not the creature whose love is money but the human, fully formed, whose love is fellowship. Not the worshiper of idols, neither of gods or things, but the men and women who need not idols nor seek the tin drum and the grin voice. I am an idealist, as you’ve guessed, and I suppose that’s reason enough to have stopped reading at sentence one. I believe in the goodness and generosity of the human race. I want to think our current darkness, lit ever more with the chirpy gewgaw light from the tyrant machine, is only the stumbling of the blind man who will see again, and hear again.

Christopher Ketcham, a freelance journalist in New York City, writes for Harper’s, Vanity Fair, GQ and many other magazines. Find more of his work at www.christopherketcham.com or contact him at cketcham99@mindspring.com.

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