Trump, Cords, and Movie Franchises: Your Guide to 21st Century Living

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Hitler and his dad didn’t appreciate the complexities of 1920s Germany.

Has 21st century living got you down? No worry, here is your handy guide to navigating through a few of the stickier parts of our daily existence. Cheer up! If you are reading this, it means you don’t have to worry about all the bullshit people will deal with in the 22nd century. You’ll be long gone by then!

Cords: Got wifi? Okay, maybe you do. But that doesn’t mean that your life isn’t a spaghetti ball of annoying cords. Cord for your phone, your computer, the cable box, DVD player, TV, And let’s not forget the car, which now has cords for your satellite radio hookup, your GPS, and your phone. Back in the olde days, cars and phonographs actually started by cranking them. No wires there!

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Scamming scumbags. Back in the olde days, you had to have human contact in order to get scammed. That guy that sold you a diseased horse? The Three Card Monte guy on the corner? The clip joint? The used car dealer? Snake oil salesman? The local palm reader or slumlord? These were all scam artists, but they had one thing in common: they had a human touch. They approached you or even you approached them. Physically. In a street or in an office. Such encounters could be horrible. But there was at least a human connection.

Not anymore. Scammers are not only prolific, they are faceless. They contact you through emails from Nigeria, wanting money. They send you spyware, malware, and other nasty viruses for no good reason other than you clicked on their stupid link. They destroy your 401K via Wall Street shenanigans or they are at a sleazy bank that sells you a subprime mortgage. They rob you blind, and yet don’t even have the decency to do it with a gun when you’re waiting in line at the bank. Scamming is high tech.

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Except when it isn’t. Let’s not forget the payday lenders, check cashing places, car title mountebanks, and other assorted legal loan sharks that charge people $300 interest on a $500 loan. They make credit card companies look like charities in comparison. Not many people pick cotton in this country anymore, but there are still virtual sharecroppers. And they have the massive debts to prove it.

It was fitting that the 2016 Republican convention was held in Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Because the Republicans at the top like to keep their voters in Check Cashing Place economic chains. The Republicans at the bottom, of course, are those who patronize Quicken Loans. Somehow, though, no one at Fox News found the convention site an ironic choice. Enjoy putting your doctor’s bills on the credit card, Debt Slave!

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Paying for stuff that you used to get for free. Remember when you could watch TV for free? All you needed was a TV. In the 1980s, when I grew up, TV was free, and it was pretty good. Sitcoms, dramas, lots of movies. Lots and lots of movies. Movies were on every night. You could watch a couple movies a day if you wanted to.

And then VCRS came out. And people started paying to watch movies they used to watch for free. But it was still good. VCRs freed you from commercials. And you could watch films uncut.

Then cable started getting bigger. For a while, cable just had movies and music videos. Then they started making shows. And more people started paying for cable to watch TV. The reception was better, and you could watch delightful, well adjusted people on HBO like Carrie Bradshaw and Tony Soprano.

Then the internet got popular. TV had to step up its game in order to compete with chat rooms and unlimited free porn. If you avoided getting cable, you still had to pay for a digital converter box.

Eventually, internet and cable became part of one demonic package brought to you by the likes of the devil’s intern: Comcast. Or whatever cable company to which you have access. But, no, really, Comcast is the worst.

You might find yourself paying $120 a month to keep your internet and watch House Hunters a few times a week. You might eventually ask yourself, “is this insane?” To which the correct answer is: yes.

Luckily, we have ways to get around the cable companies. Netflix never got around to putting flicks on the net. But they do have some pretty cool shows. Amazon, too. And while, we’re at it, let’s check out Hulu. All for a monthly fee, of course.

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Talentless, useless celebrities who never go away. We live in an era where even hardcore music fans could not name a single song by a major artists such as Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, or Justin Timberlake. And these are the pop stars! Like them or not, those musicians have talent. In contrast, there is the unwashed masses of reality TV, from the bearded, backwoods shitasses of Duck Dynasty; the morbidly obese, egg-sucking gutter trash of Honey Booboo; to the sad, terminally lonely mental patients of Hoarders.

But, really, aren’t we talking about the Kardashians here?

Yes, Kim and the narcissists and circus geeks that move in her inner circle represent the nadir of the American character. They are like pop culture whales that consume everything and produce nothing. They are ambiguously ethnic Frankenstein’s monsters: self-absorbed androids speeding across the consumer dystopia. They are Mitt Romney’s loftiest dream (rich) and his worst nightmare (morally bankrupt). The Kardashians are both one-percenters and the worst kind of takers. They are celebrities known for being celebrities.

It is no wonder that the Kardashians turned men like Lamar Odom and Bruce Jenner into shells of their former selves. That is what happens when you get too close to a black hole: you collapse.

But bashing the Kardashians is too easy. Kim and Kanye deserve each other. But as bad as they are, they are pretty harmless. Such is not the case with Donald J. Trump. Trump, like the Kardashians, represents a particularly toxic strain of the national DNA. Kim Kardashian has far too much money. But at least she’s not making national policy decisions and insulting foreign leaders and major trading partners who have nuclear weapons.

Trump is the logical extension of a world that bludgeons us with reality TV stars. A man who hath not so much brain as ear wax. He is a bloviating bully–the worst fever dream of H. L. Mencken. Trump is also a man who probably has no idea who H. L. Mencken is and is too lazy to look it up.

Bad hair, bad makeup, bad faces, bad debating, bad hand gestures, bad spelling, bad Tweets. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, taco bowls and KFC buckets. Trump is the embodiment of America’s garbage culture. If I were, say, H. L. Mencken, I could call Trump the “Orange Menace, “The Lyin’ King,” or the “Fastfood Fascist.”

But in his defense, I’m not sure Trump knows what is real and what is unreal anymore. He acts as if all the world is his TV show, where only he makes the rules and determines what is fact or fiction. He is a monster, but only because no one told him “No!” 40-60 years ago. We have to blame ourselves, a bit, for the crass, idiotic leadership we get.

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Yet, Trump brings up the perennial question that plagues pop culture in America: is this real or performance art? Only Glenn Beck knows for sure.

Yes, the Trumps and the Kardashians will go away eventually. That’s comforting if only because of its inevitability. The sad flipside is: they will be replaced by someone worse. That’s inevitable, too.

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Recycling pop culture, ad nauseam.  Hey, did you hear they’re making a new Star Wars movie?” Yeah. The only reason I know is because people have been talking about it for, like, five years.

I said that last year. And there making another one. Again.

We’ve been living with Star Wars for almost 40 years. The first movie came out in 1977. The last really good one was made in 1983. For the last 34 years, Americans (re: white males) have been slave to a nostalgia that knows no bounds. In the mid-1990s, Lucas re-released the original Star Wars movies. Ten years after that, he FINALLY released them on DVD (while not remastering the original movies that everyone loved so much. The DVD of Jedi, for one, looked like shit).

In the interregnum, George Lucas pooped out three very bad Star Wars prequels that made his fans wonder if they weren’t living in some kind of bad dream. Lucas wisely sold the film rights to Disney, which, with the help of J. J. Abrams, is putting out some new, highly professional, very adequate, test-marketed product.

The Star Wars franchise, though, is only the worst offender in a culture that recycles pop culture ad nauseam. Did you know there’s a new Strawberry Shortcake show? Did you catch the reboots of Spiderman? The Hulk? Superman? Batman. Batman vs. Superman? The Robocop remake? The Total Recall or Magnificent Seven remake? Hollywood has reached a creative nadir, and we only have the people who saw Jurrasic World (which made $1.7B) to blame. But Ben Hur was a bomb, so I guess there’s that.

These are just a few things you need to know on your tour through modern life. I’m sure there are other I’m forgetting. Stay tuned!

About amerikanrambler

Amerikan Rambler is a Virginia-based blog and podcast hosted by Colin Woodward. Colin is a historian, author, and amateur musician, who works in the archives full-time. Author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War, he is now writing a book on the historical, family, and musical roots of Johnny Cash.
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