"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
We had the warmest March on record, with what will surely turn out to be our most disagreeable April ever following. If you’ve been heeding your favorite televangelist, you’ll recognize that as another sign. A sign that the end times are upon us. That the end of the world is near.
I don’t believe that, and devoutly hope it isn’t the case. I’d hate for the world to end just now, or anytime real soon, things being the way they are, our tribe in this fallen state. We’ve heard much in recent times about death with dignity, and the human race, and Earth, and Time deserve also to expire with a little class, if expire they must — heads held high, in a blaze of glory, as the song has it.
If heaven and earth could’ve passed away when Shakespeare did, or when J.S. Bach did, or Abraham Lincoln, then eternity might remember our race as having been something other than a scourge. It might remember us as benignly as we do the lizard giants. But if the end came right now, here in the gray morning of A.D. Century 21, how would those beyond the abyss regard us if they were allowed a peek under the backside tentflap of the Last Judgment?
With pity? Amusement? Disdain? Here’s a people who have obsessed for 10 days now over an old radio blowhard’s chortling reference to the “nappy-headed hos” on a college women’s basketball team. Before that, without understanding much of why, we funeralized a platinum hoochie-mama for a month, with hardly a break to ponder the Rolling Stone snorting his dad or the Nazi harridan sniggering “faggot” at the candidate with the wife whose cancer had just come back. These are the days of our lives. And meantime our decider was deciding some preposterous crap and aspersing those who balked at further sponsorship of what he more than once has called his crusade.
Kurt Vonnegut died the other day, and it was his view that the genius of the human race was for what he called farting around. It is our forte, our most dependable shtick, our steadfastest milieu. We can count on it to lure us back from the brink almost every time. All else failing, when the going gets tough, we’ll smelt us up a golden calf or American Idol. And if out of burning bush or burning building the Lord smacks us upside the head to regain our attention — holding up that sign of his that says “Dammit people, thimk!” — we’ve learned to trust the sweet brevity of our attention span, knowing it won’t be long, not long at all, till we can get back to the moonlit heifer or the yowling Indian heartbreaker with the orange clown hair.
I used to think our civilization tanked 1,600 years ago with the trashing of the great library at Alexandria by religious fanatics who then and there converted 99 per cent of the collected wisdom of the West into parchment stovewood and asswipe. But any more I don’t know. Researching this column (and there’s an expression to tempt a smile), I came across an item that seems persuasive evidence that we bottomed out just10 years ago this October, and that everything since has occurred, if at all, like St. Elsewhere, only in the snow globe of an autistic child’s fancy.
It’s probably burned in your memory as in mine. Started out as a fine day, with the U.S. prez and the Brazilian prez huddled in Rio to announce a new era in pan-am relations. They had sleek new trade and diplomatic and cultural initiatives to unveil. The two men would address these historic matters at a joint press conference that a billion people from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego would watch on TV.
But the press conference was hardly underway — hot lights on, dignitaries showing teeth, news reporters barking questions like indictment particulars—when modernity itself suddenly came unhinged. The center fell out of it. Five thousand years of Western civ collapsed into a big silly pile and we were all monkeys again in the Great Chain of Being, no nearer than ever the end of the Dark Age.
Astounding pictures and sounds came from the TV. Could it be that what was happening really was this: that the news reporters had made a pact to confine this news conference to a single topic, and that that topic was the penis of the president of the United States? The health of it; the shape of it. The condition its condition was in. Indeed, that was exactly the case. The assembled reporters had determined that they were going to talk about this man’s pecker and that that’s all they were going to talk about, or allow anybody else to talk about. They had questions about his instrument, questions that couldn’t wait — because “news” at that point in the human comedy waited for no man. Especially U.S. presidential pecker news, which had become journalism’s be-all and end-all topic.
There’s never been a grander day for presidential pecker news than that one ten years ago. It just kept on a-coming, but thank you for repressing. “Hi ho!” Kilgore Trout always said, and I guess that just about says it all.
Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.