Thursday, August 05, 2004

Hypnotic, Hallucinogenic Fantasies

I really ought to make some sort of remarks on Eric Benjamin's antiLus/goberment tirade in this week's "Marijuana" edition of The Times of Acadiana. But its hard to know exactly how to think about it. When I first saw it I was really pissed. For a full 10 minutes. Then I read it again, and while still angry, puzzlement and confusion took over. The thing is just too hallucinogenic to be treated really seriously. Whatever the guy was smoking he really ought to cut down on whatever he's mixing in. Oh yea, and in the print version the article is placed facing a particularly misleading full-page anti-fiber Cox ad. A mean-spirited observer might think that sows a little doubt about the Times’ objectivity. How dumb was that placement?

The opinion piece presents itself as satire that features an oily salesman trying to sell you a pig in a poke. But the weird, hallucinogenic right-wing fantasy it occupies is hypnotizing in that horrific watching-the-poisonous-snake-coil-to-strike way: User fees are new taxes. People who buy services like this (and water and electricity) therefore pay more taxes than their neighbors. You won’t get to watch the Sopranos. The local government is the one to be afraid of if you go to the Al Jeezera site. (Can you say misdirected? I cite the Patriot Act for your reasonable, legal locus of fear on this count. For the city to track you would be illegal, but not for your “Justice” department.) And then there is this particularly disconnected moment when Lester U Smiley (really, that’s the salesman’s name) says:
"What's more," he continues, "after we're through with fiber-optics we're moving on to roads and infrastructure, then to trash collections, police, fire and the schools."
Hunh? That just floored me. The successful local provision of these essential natural monopoly services is the rhetorical and logical basis for making sure the fiber monopoly is locally controlled. Doesn’t he understand who provides these services locally? Local Goberment, Eric. …He really, really needs to cut way back. Hypnotic strangeness.

However, the angry part of my reaction remains: the article, done in the brand new general manager's personal column (he’s been in Lafayette just a month), is an unbelievable pastiche of far right fear mongering, misdirection, and outright lies. Just introducing these poisonous little memes into the public discourse, especially in a context where no one has to take responsability for it since it can all be laughed off as a stupid joke, is criminal.

(You know there used to be these things called editors and publishers at papers that took responsibility for them. But apparently nobody bothers with that stuff at the Times any more. Maybe it’s that with Gannett owning it they really aren’t the ones responsible. …Hmmn, like local utilities, maybe local newspapers ought to be locally owned; else they never have anyone making decisions who really has to live with the consequences of their actions. These guys are all angling for a job at a bigger Gannett paper. Like the Advertiser. As general manager (aka business manager) this little bit of journalistic poison probably won’t affect Benjamin's performance reviews. He can probably count on moving on to something better if he doesn’t get caught with his hand in the till.)

But read it yourself; it really is fascinating in that hypnotically horrifying little way. And maybe you can tell me what he is thinking.

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