Henry Rollins: Ask Yourself What Side of History You Want to Be on
A warm greeting to all my fellow veterans of the Bowling Green Massacre (Kellyanne’s War).
KellCon, my alt-fact queen, brilliantly mangled a real event in history, reinvented it as contemporary American bullshit, and tossed it in our laps. Thanks to her, the gates of the imagination have been torn from their hinges and tossed aside forever. You, the citizen, are now a gamer in the new virtual landscape of this country. The controls are in your hands and the future is as you see it. Hey, if the president and his cabinet are making it up as they go, seemingly untethered by the constraints of truth, logic and an operational moral compass, what’s to stop you from getting in on the action?
It must be fun being in comrade Trump’s inner circle. They make governing look easy! You form a list of all the things you want to do, bust some executive orders, turn the rhetoric up to 11 and stomp on the distortion pedal. If anyone gets in your way — media, so-called judges, SNL cast members — you just remind everyone once more that Secretary Clinton lost, call them “cupcake” and keep on smiling.
Yes, I am fully aware of how dangerous these Putin-loving chunks of expectorant in democracy’s handkerchief are. But at the same time, I can’t help but conclude that they are ushering in a new era of awareness of the many things that ail America.
Since this country seems to default to the immediate joys of the short buck, rarely does the vision stretch farther than the next fiscal quarter or election. Ironically, despite all the available connectivity and access to vast amounts of information, it seems increasingly difficult to locate a contextual vantage point from which to figure out how we got to where we are and why forward movement is all but impossible, no matter who is in office or how switched-on you and your friends are.
A tremendous high point from which to get the lay of the land waits for you on Netflix. The excellent documentary 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay, is as potent and illuminating to watch as Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow is to read.
The title of DuVernay’s stunning piece of work refers to the 13th Amendment of the Constitution — which, while abolishing slavery, also unleashed an insidious, generationally damaging and profitable new form of slavery. The devil in this particular set of details is embedded in Section 1, between the first and second commas:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Once you are incarcerated in America, you are as good as owned. The prison industrial complex is no joke. It is a multibillion-dollar industry. The “three strikes” policy made it one of the most reliable profit streams America has ever known. That was President Clinton’s doing. (So were DOMA and the Telecommunications Act.) Unsurprisingly, in 13th, Mr. Clinton is checked into the boards quite hard by his own words as he basically admits that he screwed up. I’m sure that makes all those people in their second decade of incarceration for a nonviolent crime feel all warm inside. The pair on that guy has never ceased to amaze me.
Instead of thrashing about in the fetid waters of Jim Crow and the Klan, then rolling credits, 13th hurls the viewer through the last several decades, all the way to Eric Garner’s desperate last gasps and the sickening Trump rallies of recent memory. Throughout 13th, the ever-increasing number of America’s incarcerated is flashed on the screen. You may have known that America has the highest number of people in prison of any country, but you might not know how quickly the number has spiked.
There are many moments of 13th that are hard to watch. It’s not the turbulent history of a people on the other side of the planet but the story of what we have done to one another and ourselves. The truths that hit the viewer while watching 13th make the fecklessness of the current administration all the more offensive.
One thing is for sure. There is a lot of good that needs to be done. As I said, comrade Trump and his swamp-creature gang are the poster critters for “It’s time to get moving.” With every word and action, the new administration shows you what the problems are.
They remind me of some rock stars I have encountered. They walk into a room and, almost immediately, you hear something break. Within a few minutes, something is burning and the carpet is ruined. They crashed the rental car. They have nowhere to go because they trashed their hotel room. I used to wonder how such fuckups made it as far as they did, until I figured out that they just do what they want and leave it for others to clean up the mess and pick up the tab. This is exactly what these home wreckers are going to try to do to America. To their credit, at least they’re not trying to be sneaky about it. Not only are they smart but they are also very mean.
This puts you, if you choose to take it on, in a position of great responsibility but also of great opportunity. It all matters now. Every word, every deed. Right now is what Dr. King prepped you for. Maybe what we do in the next four years determines the rest of this century. Who wouldn’t want to be on the right side of that? Count me in.
I hope you get a chance to watch 13th.
More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
White America Couldn't Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day
Bowie's Blackstar Is on the Level of Low and Heroes
No Matter Who Wins, America Is Only Going to Get Angrier
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