Carl Watson/ Fiction
(The following story was previously published in the Unbearables Anthology by Autonomedia)
On Killing Scrim
The Phenomenon Itself
Dateline: Chicago, 1981. A guy calling himself Ed 'The Mother Killer' Kelly marched into St. John of God's Church and shot a statue of the Virgin Mary through the heart. People drove miles to the crime site which soon became one of Chicago's prime tourist attractions. A concession stand was opened selling t-shirts and replicas of the wounded Icon.
This 'Ed' Kelly as he called himself, could only say that She was to blame, it was her fault, because She was Mother of all Icons, and that he belonged to a grass roots organization bent on destroying these ancient maternal images as a means of retroactively destroying the underpinning, the very fertile womb of all fetish worship, bringing down that coarse house of adulation, whereby the iconographic universe as we know it would collapse and humankind would again be free in existential terms. Well alright.
Soon a rash of Virgin Mary shootings began. Out in the country young people placed Mother of God statuettes on picket fences, popping their metaphoric cherries with pellet guns. There were skeet shooting clubs that used only religious figurines. Government officials were quick to point out that this fad was merely an aspect of eager consumption, and could be absorbed into the healthy economic pyramid which fed the myth of the free market while at the same time consolidating power and enslaving the masses. Thus the competition escalated as it strove for innovation.
A guy in Kansas shot a coke machine with a 45 caliber pistol.
A woman blew away an Andy Warhol painting in a St. Louis museum.
There was a drive by shooting of an Elvis lamp in a small Indiana town.
The populace showed almost no concern however for these seemingly random events because basically whatever you did with a gun was ok in America. Gunplay was an eagerly anticipated byproduct of a marketing strategy geared toward individualism.
It was not long however before this individualism became sinister. A man named Ed 'Son of Man' Gacy, in Wisconsin was discovered to have buried in his basement the mutilated plaster statues of some 30 saints, as well as burned effigies, torn photos, defiled Hindu deities, violated Buddhas, and numerous other symbols in various states of dishonor.
He said he hung out in Icon adulation bars where youngsters danced furiously to throbbing garbled music while giant video screens flashed historical and nostalgic references in the effort to fill their spiritual vacuum with some kind of marketable meaning. He would lure these young people to his home with offers of ice cream, jobs and possible stardom.
One survivor testified "I knew him, I met him in a bar, he was quite handsome. He asked me what I was into, I said I was into Brando. Brando was god. He asked me if I had any pictures of Marlon Brando. He said he wanted to cover them with red jelly and lick them. He said he wanted to lick the sweet jellied blood of Marlon Brando, my god. He was a sick puppy alright, but you know I kind of liked him.
Meanwhile on the other side of the globe, lumpen crowds gather to mock the dangling stone torso of Nikoli Somebody-Or-Other in a blatant public display of icon derision. Indeed what seemed like random eccentric acts were about to snowball, leading to the epicenter of a dangerous new social phenomenon dubbed Iconocidea crime of violence against the past.
The Evolution of the Phenomenon
Dateline: NYC, 1987: The Violence of Inanimate Objects became a popular catch phrase for a general undefined irritation. Criminals laid on psychiatric couches across the country and complained of excessive iconographic baggage.
Meanwhile Iconocide had developed into an umbrella concepta popular plea to cop in court to a lesser charge. For instance, a woman accused of slashing the throat of a man at a bus stop wearing Levi Jeans said "Nobody fucks with me like that, nobody fucks with me subliminally. Who the fuck does he think he fucking isPrince Dick or George Michael Jackson or something, sayin hey baby, check me out, so I says shit, I pull out my razor and started slashing up his throat. Hell how was I to know he was human. I don't know what a human is. I never met one."
Another woman accused of murdering her husband, claimed he had become the standard of The Abusive Father.
A child who shot his parents defended himself by saying they had become "parodies of themselves."
A would be presidential assassin asked to be exonerated from charges claiming the president was only a cardboard cutout blatantly paraded before the public by a cartel of manipulative patriarchs.
Celebrity opportunists began to hire themselves out to palliate a confused population. Parading in front of microphone banks giving speeches loaded with oxymorons such as 'Radical Chic', 'Counter-Culture', and 'Natural.'
In turn Neo-Right-to-Lifers and Radical Centrists accused these same celebrities of being themselves mere despicable symbols of mediocrity, usurping the rightful nobility of the Average Joe, Mr. and Ms. American Citizen. They painted a grim picture of icons as Vampires sucking the life-force from the populace.
Meantime scientists were saying they could now clone beloved dead presidents and past Messiahs using DNA samples from fossilized blood of the mosquitos that bit them back in those heady days of their innocent glory. Feeling threatened by this new technology, rock stars and celebrity artists started printing money with their own faces on the bills.
Arms manufacturers were placing billboards all over America declaring the sanctity of the American Family. The government imports tons of heroin as part of the Apathy Storm Program. Both Liberals and Conservatives approve.
Incidents of Iconocide escalate to the point it is no longer clear whether the crime is a form of raging Conservatism or the New Liberalism. Some believed it was simply the end-product of the division of the world into smaller and smaller special interest groups. Others believed the syndrome to be the most sophisticated of a long line of condoned killing motifs, maintained as a means of arrest when population control became necessary.
On the positive side talk show hosts claim they can cure society's ills by trivializing and thus dismiss social phenomenon into talk show topics like "Women Who Kill Their Husbands; Children Who Hate Their Parents."
The ivory towers of universities grew inbred and confused. Teenagers were posing as intellectuals. In 1996 the Government repealed all voting rights claiming the populace was now simply too stupid. Nobody complained. The situation degenerated as the society became self-reflexively hilarious, utter contempt posed as comedy.
People drew bullseyes on their heads as a sarcastic comment on the state of affairs. T-shirts were spotted that read "Shoot me if you think I'm special."
In their desperate search for an audience psychologists began to rhyme their theories into rap songs. In 1998 the popular entertainer, Shrink Rap was assassinated by a street gang calling themselves the Youthful Iconoclasts. The average citizen however didn't know what an iconoclast was. They thought it was the same as an aristocrat. And then there were copy-cat groups like the Ideosyncrat Killers, men and women who roamed the streets gunning for the extremely peculiar or ostentatious.
The Deconstruction of the Phenomenon
Dateline: Stanford University, Palm Springs Campus, 1991: Property damage or revolution, peer pressure or marketing ploy. While urban tabloids competed for status as birthplace of the new trend, legal battles raged as to whether or not the thing even existed. For instance: perhaps everything was simultaneous and always had been, or maybe, like most fads it was a trick of hindsight. Knotty questions indeed.
The government called for a national task force. A large room was hired in a university town and catered by Red Lobster. The public was invited. Questions were fielded.
The general consensus was that these 'public' people were fed up with being force-fed lifestyles they could never hope to achieve, others simply felt cheated by the imposition of a cartoon mentality upon their lives.
Religious leaders tried to point out how everyone was actually related to each other through a Platonic Ur-type. Thus bonded, the public could abandon their shame and get back to work producing the goods and services that make this country great. But that made everyone feel threatened.
One university professor stated that the evolution from the animate to the inanimate is often violent, and that it was common knowledge most people these days gravitated toward 'types' and that the general population may indeed be semi-inanimate but they were still superficialmerely moving images of who they wanted or saw themselves to be.
This led to a heated watershed debate concerning pastiche, heresy and the usurpation mystique of various media stars, which set hourly precedents for rhetorical acrobatics, including claims of mistaken identities, transferable images, shifting mystiques and guilt by associationa veritable can of worms to the double-speak of normal legislation and academe.
In a lecture given by Leonard Nemoy entitled "The Image: It's Abstraction Beyond Use Value" the one-time logician asked 'Can the assumed nobility of an original act be transferred to a degraded reflection? He went on to make the case for clich over function. He also made household phrases of such formerly obscure terms as 'Deferral of Guilt to a Preferred Double,' 'The Immediate Visibility of the Image.'
One well-known psychic drew a graph of ancient magical symbols which included the heart, the lion, the rose, the red sea, logos, bile and the philosophers stone...all connected by lines into a complex spiritual machine. Another guy drew a similar machine incorporating society's matrimonial patterns with totemism, sacrifice and the consumption of raw or cooked foods. There were threads in the web connecting Madonna to Mary Magdalene, Joan Collins to Kali, James Dean to Oedipus.
The most popular argument however was put forth by a famous evangelist and 'seer' who claimed the very air of the biosphere was a shimmering haze of data streams. She said that radio, television and information transmissions fill the interstices of our tissues daily as past broadcasts rush to fill every vacuum, nasal chamber and cavity of the body. Even the hollows of the heart are filled with congealed images of Johnny Carson, Diana Ross, and Amos 'n Andyin fact the whole pantheon of gods and goddesses flushes through the heart almost with every beat, being in effect the combustible mixture of the great engine of love. She then threw her hands in the air in praise, adding that crime was not only innate to this process, it was also passť. The room burst into fevered but loving applause.
Indeed, added another authority, these days it was fully credible to commit psychological crimes without ever leaving the comfort of your easy chair. When Jimmy Carter said "I have committed lust in my heart" the species entered a wild new corridor of existence. One's heart became a simple convenience according to what one hoped to achieve from exploiting it. Finally everyone agreed upon a general depletion in the public supply of some vague Nerve Force, and declared the symposium closed.
Satisfied scholars and celebrities alike picked up their government checks and headed for home. But the advertisers wouldn't leave it be. That night on television was yet another special, the tenth exposť that month "What makes a man a Iconocidal maniac? Who knows?" said Vincent Price as he walked through a foggy graveyard. "They often live next door and we don't even know it. Or they live inside us. One day something snaps, you wake up with a strange desire to save the world. We'll be right back after this word from our sponsors."
The Envelope Please
Dateline: Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2001: After the introductory logo of a baby in a bubble spinning in space, the Entertainment Tonight crew interviews Nobel Prize winner turned terrorist Jesus Gustave Frederico El Greco Jones, also known as Jim "Picture a world," Jim said, "in which there are no religious memorabilia stores, no billboards or magazine covers, no Brand Names. No JFK, Bart Simpson, Krishna, Mickey Mouse or Marilyn.
Can you imagine the horror of it," he continued. He then terrified the viewing audience by peeling away his skin to reveal an endoskeleton composed of a fine filigree of fiber optics and pixelated displays. He then pleaded in a thick put-on Austrian accent, "Believe me. I have come to save your children."
Suspicions were thus confirmedyes, it was true Terminators had been sent back from an intolerably utopian future, a future without dramatic enslavement, and thus without entertainment, where bored men and women sat around all day with no focal points for their obsessions.
In the late 60s the first of these time travelers arrived posing as Ethno-mythologists, and French intellectuals, New Theorists, the so-called Structuralists justifying the social necessity of enslaving ritual.
In 2003 a heavily plasticized Geraldo Rivera exhumed the body of Claude Levi-Strauss on live T.V. proving that in fact the famous theorist had no normal human organs at all inside him but a strange matrix of symbols, pulleys and gears.
Susan Sontag, distressed at what this event foretold declaimed the end of all Literature. And sure enough by 2006 the first of the new 'wordless poetry books' appeared on franchise shelves. These books were just pictures of poets in various thoughtful, romantic or urban attitudes.
By 2010 written literature was no longer even officially tolerated, only entertainment, performance art and video. All other forms of rebellion had given in to global pacification through fame, consumer goods and the massive distribution of heroin.
Those who still chose to call themselves writers were required by law to place all nouns, votive clauses etc., in quotation marks. If they refused they were imprisoned as binary signals in cyberspace, taunted by joystick-jamming Hitler teens or hunted by free roaming Pacmen-style sheep of the state.
True grandpas still sat in rocking chairs and reminisced about the days, when the spark of revolution once burned in the human soul. The Entertainment Tonight crew searched and found one such holdover, running a carnival game in a remote tent out in Oklahoma It was a huge brightly lit gaudy organ and at the ends of its patinaed pipes popped up the heads of every imaginable matinee idolElvis to Elvira to Evita to Electra. For a dollar you could take a pop.
When interviewed he said, "Why bringing down the famous is good clean fun sonny. Besides if they're going to get treated like gods, they've got to act like gods and by god they don't do they, they act like fools with money."
He laughed but the laugh was on him, as they hauled him away for execution. However, it is said his last words screamed from the smoking hot seat were "Boycott all media, smash the state."
Witnesses concurred, there is a powerful pheromonal effect to the smell of burning flesh, and this dramatic scene of execution, well, it made them all kind of hungry.
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