While channel surfing the other day I landed on “Planet of the Apes,” that old movie with Charlton Heston, where humankind has finally blown it, resulting in all-out nuclear war, the destruction of humans and the rise of a world ruled by apes. A world ruled by gorillas and chimps, and that’s what struck me while watching a bit of this film from 1968.
It was the competition between the big heavily-muscled militant gorillas and the smaller but intellectually superior chimps that stood out.
It feels similar to what we are currently going through, with the militant, science hating, healthcare denying, greed loving Republicans standing in opposition to the less aggressive, science loving and healthcare providing…..others. Mostly Democrats, I guess, but there are others in the non-Republican political mix as well. That said, I’m sure you get the idea. The thinkers vs. the non-thinking bemuscled warmongers. The gorillas vs. the chimps. That’s not to say everybody with big muscles is stupid. Some of the smartest people around are body builders, including a professor I had in college, who taught Humanities and rode a Harley.
The whole “apes” thing lines up pretty well with our national love for football, cage fighting, professional wrestling, ice hockey and gut-wrenching violent movies and tv. Along with the explosion of giant trucks and SUV’s on our highways and big ugly boots and shoes.
Amateur observers and social scientists alike should be interested in the correlation between the Los Angeles riots in 1992 and the relatively sudden appearance of so many big expensive trucks and SUV’s on our highways. In Los Angeles, the change, at least for me, was stunning. Before the riots, expensive sports cars and imports were all over the freeways of SoCal. After the riots, many of the big Beemers, Mercedes, Rolls, Bentleys, Ferraris, Masaritis, Jags and the occasional Lamborghini disappeared, and were eventually replaced by Ford Explorers, Expeditions, Chevy Suburbans, Land Rovers and Cadillac Escalades. It’s said that trends start in the west and move east. This one definitely did and I can’t believe no one else noticed. Or maybe California residents were in denial about the change because it reminded them of the helplessness they felt for those few days when whole sections of the nation’s second most populous city were lawless and on fire.
So it was, in this city where “you are what you drive,” people became wary of driving anything that let others know what they had. And two years after the riots, in June of 94, O.J. Simpson left his Bentley in the garage and made his get-away in a white Ford Bronco.
In so many ways, the trials of O.J. Simpson and the Los Angeles riots, changed the country.
People enjoy feeling safe and empowered so they opt for a huge truck with a seven year loan and wear huge boots because they want to look like ass-kickers but there are other reasons for buying an “urban assault vehicle” as well. Those who don’t care about the vehicular empowerment thing still feel a need to drive a giant vehicle because they’re afraid an ape in a giant vehicle might run them down, squashing their whole family like a bunch of bugs. So it spirals out of control, leaving us with a nation of gas guzzlers that don’t fit into old fashioned parking spaces or onto highways that were never intended for all the traffic they currently carry while good looking but frail young women, cover themselves with tattoos and piercings while stomping around in giant steel-toed work boots.
Big, ugly and prone to violence is currently more popular than smaller, fashionably designed and peace loving. Think of a big ugly SUV sitting next to a sleek, stylish sports car. Think of slapping a bumper sticker on a Ferrari. Think of apes being in charge while the chimps stand by feeling like they have been taken captive on a runaway train with a drunken ape at the controls.
At what point did war become not just acceptable but fashionable while peace became unthinkable? When was the last time you heard a politician, any politician, say, “why can’t we give peace a chance?” Probably back in the 60’s, about the same time “Planet of the Apes” was released. Well before the twin towers came down and so much of our national courage was displaced by fear.
With all the money being made on big vehicles and warfare, the apes backed by a huge profit motive are clearly now in charge, east coast intellectuals and west coast liberal freaks be damned. That profit motive may have been at the tip of the spear that struck a serious but non-fatal blow to intellectualism, as our culture began its celebration of ignorance while the mass media aimed low, determined to hit the lowest common denominator resulting in the highest possible profit margin (the two go hand in glove), giving us a ton of really terrible television and juvenile movies laden with special effects while popularizing the campaign of Donald J. Trump, and eventually getting him elected. Trump drove the ratings, so they put Trump on television. A lot.
So the apes are now running things in Washington, trying to take away healthcare for millions while they “deconstruct” our government, which was once the envy of the world. And what about the “chimps?” Well, they are pushing back, to the degree that they can while they wait for the next election cycle in 2018, hoping for the best.
While visited by the analogy of the apes, I thought also about the Freemasons and religion in general. I’m not a Mason, but from what I know about their organization, I admire and respect their principles. Both my grandfathers were Masons, as were the grandfathers of many of my friends while growing up in rural Minnesota. Most of us, however, never joined. I’m not sure why, I suppose we simply never felt compelled, even though their ideals of honesty, a “square deal,” and living an ethically upright life were embedded in many of our adolescent brains. Which had to be good. But with the passage of time the number of Masons has dropped off, which surely means their influence on society has declined as well. Religion, is also waning, to the point that Pope Francis is thinking about letting married men become priests. I’m not saying church is for everybody, but it does provide a moral compass, and some, like the apes, really, really need the guidance, no matter what the atheists and agnostics might say. And that’s where things become just a bit confusing.
A Gallup Poll, indicates that with the exception of Utah and its high number of Mormons, the states where Americans still attend church in significant numbers are in the south (former slave states), or red states, while the states where people have stopped attending church are in the northeast, or the blue states.
So the correlation between going to church and expressing a need to be your brother’s keeper, doesn’t seem to be there, does it? Or perhaps a great many Christians are going to church for the forgiveness and not the responsibility of upholding the teachings?
Donald J. Trump, says he is Christian. He says he is Presbyterian, while he supports legislation that would strip away healthcare from millions of Americans. Maybe he missed the New Testament?
Anyway, the data tells us that heavily Christian church-goers, fewer of whom are college educated in the red and former slave states voted for Donald Trump, while the folks who aren’t so big on going to church are mostly packed into the blue states of New England where more residents are college educated and in opposition to trump.
You can and will draw your own conclusions but I’ll leave you with this: It isn’t easy being a chimp, especially when life not only imitates art, but threatens us with duplication.