Saturday, January 03, 2009

orange county, yugoslavia

Some places are described as having "no there, there." Well, there's none here either, and I'd still rather be there. My brain is addled by too much family time, too many movies (my parents put a plasma TV in my room to bribe me into coming home more often and for longer), too much sunlight, too many episodes of Spongebob and something terrible called "Drake and Josh." It's like Saved by the Bell. Yes, I said that. Yes, I am bad, and occasionally I let the TV babysit the kids for me so that I can read something. They're pretty good most of the time drawing and playing quietly, but after a few hours of that they start being loud again. It's easier now that they're older and more self-sufficient and yet still mostly good and obedient. I, not being their overly indulgent parents and a cool and fun and yet must-be-obeyed aunt, have achieved that Machiavellian perfection of being both loved and feared. I overdid it the other day though, trying to push two 40-50 lb children at once on the swings (it's like that arm press machine at the gym) and yesterday I was super sore and had to take many Advil. They kept wanting to go in and out of the kiddie swings, and I volunteered to help pick up and push another couple of kids whose grandmother had a bad back, which is like lifting and pushing 40 lbs for like many, many reps. Which in turn gave me a bad back. You try doing all those weight bearing exercises when you avoid the gym and do not do much cross-training. Ow.

So while I like the family and am pleasantly surprised at how they're becoming more open minded to the idea of non-Vietnamese people in the family, I will be glad to go home again on Sunday. Home! Where I can cook for myself and walk alone at night against my better judgment, and where bad judgment may be exercised on a daily basis! Yay! I'll be glad to be home and back with TD. You know what else I'm glad about? Not blowing $500 just to go AALS. The Gowder and I were supposed to go, but we both agreed that we would not pay such an unconscionable sum just to hang out in another Southern California suburb. We have been constantly complaining to each other about the lack of everything for the past two weeks (I can't tell who drinks more haterade). I am so going to run to the bookstore and cafe on Monday and this time I promise won't make fun of the college students and their neophyte awakening discoveries of bell hooks and Franz Fanon. I got nothing but love for them.

I know I seem to hate Orange County. I don't, really--I just disprefer it, and this dispreference is borne from experience. I am sure that one day I will live in just as boring a suburb, but I hopefully won't have as a provincial life ruled by conformity and conspicuous consumption.

No, I'm not making it up. See, e.g., Dean MacCannell's Empty Meeting Grounds, chapter 2, which is entitled "Orange County, Yugoslavia":

"The fundamental feature of the Orange County ethos is the difference and distance between public self-understanding and the barely repressed underlying passions. What is socially important in Orange County is not actual values, but the public expression of inflated values."

"it might be argued that Orange County "un-freedom," extending into one's own home and beliefs, cannot be compared to socialist central control, because in Orange County it is fully accepted and desired by everyone as contributing to the common good and is not, therefore, totalitarian in character. This is precisely the argument that loyal party members in East Germany or Yugoslavia gave for their regimes before they expressed themselves differently on the same matter."

"One recognizes the pattern immediately: it is socialism, a kind of international corporate central control and total economic dependence leading to mental incompetence; corruption; unearned privilege for the "party loyal"; blind acceptance of all prevailing values. Orange county was not my first expererience with totalitarianism. In the 1960s I visited Yugoslavia and saw immediately that any romantic ideals I might have held concerning socialism were clearly wrong. The roads of Yugoslavia were also filled with Mercedes-Benz and BMW sedans of party officials."

"For the average-person-in-general today the difference between capitalist and socialist modes of production is not a real one. It is felt mainly as the dominant form of ideological expression, a pure abstraction which is lived as a myth. If you live in Orange County you must be certain that under socialism you would be "unfree"; if you live under socialism you must be certain the capitalists exploit the working classes and use force to maintain their historical advantage. But in Orange County you learn ot live without freedom while pretending otherwise, and in Yugoslavia you learn to be a capitalist."

"One might ask how thinking subjects can live with this much contradiction. In the case of Orange County, the people seem to be sustained by a crude sensuality, perhaps also derived from their Bible Belt heritage, an equation of sex, dirt, and power. I observed two sun-tanned women, a mother and daughter with matched, platinum-tipped hair and nails, wearing designer outfits, driving a new Mercedes convertible, the one with the latest engine. They were the perfect embodiment of Orange County bourgeois respectability, but their personalized license plate revealed the aggressive crudeness that seems as basic to Orange County life as the contradiction itself. The plate read "WAY 2 GO" and beneath, on the custom frame, "Anything Else Sucks."