ONCE WE WERE THE GOOD GUYS. WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO CHANGE THAT?
by Alex Bennett
From HUSTLER MAGAZINE February 2010
A few months back I was watching one of those contentious town hall meetings. I can’t remember the congressman who was holding it, but I can remember the endless parade of mindless assholes reciting what they had heard on right-wing radio and TV talk shows. All I could think was, Where is the exit to this country?
I grew up in the ’40s and ’50s. My life was that of a suburban kid with a mom and pop, a cat, a dog and a bike that wheeled me around my naive and cloistered world. America had just come out of the Great Depression, and that made the nation more conscious of another person’s plight. Americans had witnessed suffering every time they passed a bread line or saw a homeless person on the street. Most Americans of that era knew they were just a paycheck away from being in the same boat.
Then came the Second World War. I remember seeing those Gold Stars in windows, signaling that the family had lost a son or daughter. People in the neighborhood would do what they could to honor and comfort them.We understood the need for individual sacrifice to protect the nation as a whole.
Even so, segregation prevailed beyond the walls of my pretty and neat world, and the House Un-American Activities Committee was taking aim at imaginary Communists.
I was luckier than most. My parents were very hip. Dad was a musician, and both he and Mom were bohemians. Some of the people who came into our home were the very people Congress wanted put away. My parents weren’t Communists, just real lefties. Yet the conservatives of that time would probably have called me a “Red Diaper Baby.”
I remember my father taking me down to City Hall when the House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings in San Francisco. We were standing out front with other good Americans to protest the idea of our country being overrun by jackbooted witchhunters. One time I snuck into the hearing and watched as one of my favorite radio personalities, a guy who told charming stories about San Francisco, had his life ruined with one simple question: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” The next morning I turned on the radio, but he wasn’t there. I was 15, and it was indelibly etched in my brain forever: They took him off the air!
I think this is when we started to lose our cherry. We were becoming paranoid, looking for evildoers in every shadow.
The Korean War wasn’t exactly the most ignoble of conflicts, but by the time we got to Vietnam, our imperialist impulses were in full flower. The only saving grace: Some Americans were vehemently opposing the war. There was still hope that good would triumph as people used their voices and bodies to protest the conflict in Southeast Asia. Eventually they chased a President from office. Once again we could look at the world with a sense of pride.
But even as we were patting ourselves on the back, a former die-hard leftist—who was mobbed up, had cheated on his first wife, ratted on his friends and, worst of all, was an actor—became President of the United States. Ronald Reagan created a supreme culture of selfishness and nationalism masquerading as conservatism. Since then, it’s been all downhill. Even the Clinton years didn’t stop the greed and dirty tricks that gained even more momentum under the Bushies.
All of a sudden, America was believing the poison spewed by right-wing radio talk show hosts. The Big Lie became the Big Truth. America had dumbed down. Oh, I know what you’re saying: “We elected Obama, didn’t we?” Sure, we did, because we succumbed to another Big Lie. He was going to change things, right? So what, exactly, has changed? Each passing day he stabs us in the back.
Look at us. We have become a country of selfish people. People who couldn’t care less about their neighbors. People who have long forgotten what right and wrong are. We have become a nation hypnotized by the media to believe whatever they tell us.
Worst of all, we live under the mistaken impression that America is the greatest country in the world when in fact that ended years ago. Today we are falling apart at the seams. Capitalism is devouring itself and our humanity. Morality has vanished.
How can we put the brakes on this downward slide to oblivion? I don’t know. Back in the days of my youth we were the good guys. Am I being too old-fashioned to want that back?
Alex Bennett is a longtime HUSTLER contributor. The two-time Emmy winner, who broke into broadcasting as a teenager, currently calls Sirius Left 146 his radio home.
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