Sunday, January 29, 2006

Fuck the Spaceshuttles

Here's a tidbit that should surprise no faithful reader of the Swill: we believe that speaking ill of the dead is not just a bad habit, not just a pecadillo, not just a cheap character flaw, but a moral and political imperative. Let the dead bury the dead, the Swill says, and we'll denigrate them when they're gone. The dead don't care, after all, and abusing the memory of even fine, formerly (and literally) upstanding people is one way to remind the Living that we could snap at any moment, that god's not going to punish anybody for anything, and that we'd better court the daily favor of the Living by acting more or less humanely. At the very least, we seek a corrective emphasis on the terrestrial; if our seeming insensitivity dissuades some kid from believing what Wilfred Owen called "the old lie: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori," all the better. If some dead Sago miner's family seeks revenge on the mine owners who made $millions while claiming that Federal safety regulations were too expensive to follow, well, we won't be able to comfort the CEO's family either.

So you can imagine how we feel about the mawkish eulogizing of the Challenger astronauts. Twenty years ago, we were just trying to get a low-grade public education as freshmen in high school, when our already ideologically suspect curriculum was abandoned in favor of -- you guessed it -- an hour sitting in front of cafeteria television screens, watching the white, smokey "Y" formed by divorced booster rockets going their separate ways. Cue patriotic music and all sorts of knowing conversations on the bus about the fallibility of O-rings.

Don't get us wrong: if we were related to or hoping to sleep with or be tucked in bed by one of those folks who got vaporized that cloudless January day, we would assuredly have been devastated. But the idea that this should somehow turn into a national day of mourning and reflection, that the death of seven -- SEVEN!!! -- people twenty years ago should make us collectively reflect upon a nexus of patriotism, sacrifice, and our own mortality proceeds about nine grandmama steps beyond what any sane Simon would say.

What is our relationship to those people? That they each represented about a trillion dollars of lost revenue that might have been spent building conventional infrastructure, attenuating the exhalation of greenhouse gases that is destroying the very atmosphere they were trying to penetrate, or -- I dunno -- FEEDING some starving motherfuckers? The space program has always been a particular boondoggle of a particular moment in the Cold War, and fine: we at the Swill are realpolitikal enough to concede that the space race may -- MAY -- have served a momentary, transient, yet nonetheless salutary function in the prevention of nuclear holocaust. If a gullible public required the language of western expansion and manifest destiny before they'd pick up the tab -- "Human are natural explorers who must seek the bounds of our existence, blah blah blah" -- okay.

Or something.

But sorry. 100,000 dead Iraqis -- killed by the same technology that is funded, guided, produced, and motivated under the rocket's red glare of moon landings and shit -- won't get a millisecond of the weepy national deference that Christa McAuliffe will, and they didn't sign up to explode. As George Romero has recently reminded us, you can kill or steal just about anybody or anything you want, so long as the villagers keep their eyes on the fireworks in the sky.

2 Comments:

Blogger dus7 said...

Good writing. I don't prefer black backgrounds, but it's also true that nobody asked me. I even looked up a word I hadn't seen before. In the subsequent ten minutes I have forgotten it again but do remember the meaning: using a word for a similar word or meaning, such as Washington for the U.S. And! I remember it had a y in it. Oh well. Carry on, and
I'll be back.

1:06 AM  
Blogger Swill to Power said...

Many thanks. Was the word by any chance "metonymy"? Just curious.

1:28 AM  

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