Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tom Robbins: Still Relevant Forty Years On

by Pa Rock

I’m currently reading Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins, a somewhat wild and weird counter-culture novel that was published in 1971.  I heard a Robbins’ interview on National Public Radio recently in which he modestly said that he had gone back and reread some of his early works, like the book I am now reading, and found that his writing was awfully damned good. 

Well, I have to concur.  Not only did Robbins, at least in his youth, spin tales that were imaginative, funny, and sometimes bordered on being psychedelic, he also had a keen eye for spotting the forces that formed the political and economic underpinnings of America.

In 1971 Richard Nixon was President, we were still bogged down in a war in Vietnam that Nixon had vowed to end our involvement in, and strange people calling themselves “hippies” were beginning to speak truth to power and nonsense.  Americans were starting to feel a need to look a bit more closely at things they had once taken for granted.  They were questioning war, the draft, race discrimination, gender inequality, the voting age, and the perils of smoking pot.

Tom Robbins was one of several young novelists to use their power with words to hold a mirror up to society and let the reading public have a fresh view of itself and its circumstances.

The following is his analysis of the role business and the economy played in the general welfare of the public.    As I read it, I kept thinking how apt the description is of the role of big corporations in our lives today.

“'Look, sweetie, you got your own reality going,’ Purcell replied.  ‘But that isn’t the reality of the United States of America.  Huh-uh!  After the doctors and scientific experts testified in Congress that cigarettes cause or compound not only cancer but a number of other diseases and are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually, the senior senator from Kentucky stood up just shaking with anger and moaned, ‘You’re wrecking our economy.’  And what did Henry Ford II say when the government began insisting on safety devices in cars?  ‘The American people don’t want anything that’s going to upset the economy.’   And what’s more, Ford was right.  Fifty thousand a year dead on the highways, but don’t rock the economy.  Look America is no more a democracy than Russia is a Communist state.  The governments of the U.S. and Russia are practically the same.  There’s only a difference of degree.  We both have the same form of government:  economic totalitarianism.  In other words, the settlement to all questions, the solutions to all issues are determined not by what will make the people most healthy and happy in their bodies and their minds but by economics.  Dollars or rubles.  Economy uber alles.  Let nothing interfere with economic growth, even though that growth is castrating truth, poisoning beauty, turning a continent into a shit-heap and driving an entire civilization insane.  Don’t spill the Coca-Cola, boys, and keep those monthly payments coming.'”

Forty years later it’s the same game but with a few different players.   Corporate America whistles, and government sits up and barks.

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