So this is how it feels to lose a nation’s sense of life. There are so many examples in Western culture of rampant nihilism that, to me, it is evident that the American sense of life is gone. Remnants remain here and there, in relatively sentimental TV shows such as ABC’s Modern Family, popular movies such as The King’s Speech and The Artist and the hero worship for Steve Jobs. But since the economy went bad in 2008 – and, more measurably, since Obama’s re-election – I don’t recall such outward disdain and pronounced hostility for the decent and uniquely American values that yield a sense of life. Even the word American is gone. And, this time of year, and in this sense bombastic Bill O’Reilly is right, there certainly is a war on Christmas (not for the reasons he cites) if by Christmas we mean the commercial, the joyous, the unfiltered sense of cheerful, secular optimism that was once shared by most Americans in happy Christmas songs, twinkling lights and abundant displays of cheer and goodwill. It’s true; there is hatred for ‘Merry Christmas’. I hadn’t thought such hatred was possible and, contrary to O’Reilly’s rants about secularism, it is rooted not in rejection of religion but in what Ayn Rand called hatred of the good for being good.
America’s happy days are gone and the West, clinging to life support, is dying, as was made clear again – between daily reports of suicides, sacrifices and mass shootings – when a British nurse, whatever her psychology, was driven to commit suicide by radio disc jockeys in Australia. The DJs have apologized for impersonating the Queen of England in a phone call about a sick pregnant princess placed to the hospital where nurse Jacintha Saldanha worked, and they’ve apparently been suspended, which is fine. The culture of prank calls has been upon us for some time. But their call, their cruelty, their wicked sense of humor, which has thoroughly infected the culture, is a catalyst for her death. That’s not to say they do not have the right to spout their nonsense, their nothingness; they certainly do have that right. But as we tolerate these uncivilized antics – by cretins such as Howard Stern, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher – we will get what we deserve: a backlash against their jaded, nihilistic, death-worshipping humor toward what’s most likely to fill its void: religious control of our lives through government.
With the nanny state rising, from the left as well as from the right, and zombie-like conservatives touting and tolerating any outrageous form of dictatorship, such as the TSA, while zombie-like leftists tout and tolerate any other outrageous form of dictatorship, such as ObamaCare, the demand for stomach-turning jokes, pranks and catcalls is likely to increase, with humor as a salve for what ails us. As it does, calls for putting controls on free speech will increase, too. So, it’s a cycle. What may have seemed like an apparently innocuous jab 50 years ago has worsened, and coarsened, and now we have Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die with fart jokes as the vanguard of humor. That cesspool of bad, blank jokes, Saturday Night Live, still dominates the rotting culture, now mainstreaming the killing of white people and other forms of racism as a knee-slapper. Seinfeld, the opposite of neurotic but happy family-themed Frasier, has no point – neither does its cousin, the humorous and equally vacant Sopranos on HBO – and anyone can see that The Simpsons, South Park, and anything made with or by Seth MacFarlane or any other sniveling jokester is gaining, not losing, acceptance and legitimacy. MacFarlane is scheduled to host the next Oscars, previously and disastrously hosted by David Letterman with his Uma-Oprah absurdism. Nihilism is not a left or right issue; God-fearing Dennis Miller and absurdist Greg Gutfeld and their cohorts are as bitchy as the bitchiest Kathy Griffin routine. There is no better example of the irrational in popular culture than Sacha Baron Cohen, an anarcho-absurdist who is co-starring in the most anticipated serious movie of the season, an adaptation of the musical version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
The list goes on and I’m sure some of the jokes are humorous, even hilarious. But it is time to acknowledge – as I did when I called out Jon Stewart a couple of years ago – that the cultural onslaught of stupid pet tricks and low humor adds to – rather than offers a temporary reprieve from – the sense that ours is an incomprehensible world.
Whereas once we were delighted by light, gay and ironic humor by Ernst Lubitsch, Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire, Jack Benny, Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hawks, Tracy and Hepburn and Cary Grant now we are bombarded with material intended to denigrate life on earth. We can’t be surprised to find that the joke snuffed someone out. We should realize that with every sanction of a joke, show, routine and trend – from laughing at cheap Kardashians and pregnant Snookis to laughing at the child abuse of a girl called Honey Boo-Boo or one of Octomom’s kids – we undermine the good and aid the rise of its logical overcorrection: religious totalitarian control over our lives. It is that serious, this jaded culture with its incessant death worship – whose leader in the White House has the face of the Grim Reaper – and it can only lead to state-sponsored calls for restoring decency, so there’s nothing funny about it. Ask the family of those who lost wife, mother, friend and nurse Jacintha Saldanha if what one laughs at matters and has consequences in daily life. What we think and what we accept matters.
As I’ve said before, to the point that people are probably sick of hearing it, much of what people choose to consume amounts to death worship. We are surrounded by demand for nonsense in humor, zombies and vampires on screen and shows, jokes and pranks about nothing. Nihilism erodes our sense of decency and eradicates our sense of life. Because total government control is rising, this means we are laughing on the way to our doom – and I think laughter like this propels the rate of acceleration. We should stop laughing, get serious and hold life – not death – as the standard of value, with happiness here on earth as the highest aim. We should strive to find the good and praise, feed from and live by what is left of it and we should focus on making more of it.
A cruel, prank call doesn’t kill someone, but its purpose is to make one feel small and unimportant which may be deadly for anyone tempted to give up and let life go. No one knows what went on in Jacintha Saldanha’s mind that made her want to let it go. As times get worse, and life gets darker, more among us will feel that way, too, and we will feel it more often. When we do, finding and practicing the good – going by reason and egoism – instead of laughing with cynics and malcontents is the only way to hold on.