“a person closing in, arms open wide, smiling” (Infinite Jest, pp.666-686)

In honor of the Super Bowl (I’m composing this the morning after, though it will be published weeks past the collective coitus/psychosis that is the globe’s ritualistic celebration of way-too-insistent masculinity), let’s begin with Bain’s hilarious indictment of football as he responds to the putative reporter Ms. Helen Steepley’s questions:

A grunting, crunching ballet of repressed homoeroticism, football, Ms. Steepley, on my view. The exaggerated breadth of the shoulders, the masked eradication of facial personality, the emphasis on contact-vs.-avoidance-of-contact. The gains in terms of penetration and resistance. The tight pants that accentuate the gluteals and hamstrings and what look for all the world like codpieces…And pay no attention to Orin’s defense of football as a ritualized substitute for armed conflict…Football is pure homphobically repressed nancy-ism…” (1047, footnote 269)

Bain’s psychoanalysis moves from the cultural to the personal ad hominem realm as he begins to detail his assessment of Orin, which ends up reading (perhaps inevtiably) as projected insecurity for Bain. He describes Orin’s “sincerity with a motive,” a trait Bain would have us believe Orin learned from his mother (1048). Bain argues that Orin is too post-modern sincere to be sincere, i.e. he knows what sincerity looks like and he knows that women like sincerity, so he puts on the airs of sincerity by being so sincere about his insistent sincerity that women will swoon over his conspicuous, unabashed candor and mistake his performance for the real thing and accept the act as fact and fall for him. Such “pathological openness” is too good to be true (1048). Where there’s sincerity, there’s self-interested motivation, even, in Orin’s case, if the self-interest is self-sabotage. Bain qualifies how the self-sabotage thing might be possible, namely as a consequence of Avril Incandenza’s self-obsessed sincerity and motherly love: “Why do many parents who seem relentlessly bent on producing children who feel they are good persons deserving of love produce children who grow to feel they are hideous persons not deserving of love who just happen to have lucked into having parents so marvelous that the parents love them even though they are hideous?” (1051)

This is some rabbit’s hole psychology Bain’s espousing here, stemming from his own warped reflection on his childhood, where it becomes quickly evident that he experienced abuse from his father, with “abuse” being so ambiguous and broad a concept that he can’t bring himself to openly admit what it means nor entertain the possibility that he may have suffered it. To Avril’s unconditional love, which he believes rests on the condition of her absolute need to view herself as virtuous, he asks: “Is it mind-bogglingly considerate and loving and supportive, or is there something…creepy about it?” (1051) This in response to Avril’s uncanny compassion for Orin after he killed her beloved dog S. Johnson. Because we grow up believing we aren’t worthy of love, and therefore betray and semblance of self-love, we assume the entire world is conspiring against us in hate, and that any sign of love is just Hate wearing a mask. What a sad reality! Is this our collective psychic truth? That we can’t bear to let love in because we’ve decided in advance that we don’t deserve it, and that anyone who dares to give us love is some psychopath bent on luring us into an even worse experience of hate than we could ever imagine? Self-abuse, internalized oppression, even when there’s no direct external source…is this our destiny? Who started this completely unfunny jest? It’s Marijuana-Think on an unprecedented, psychically debilitating scale.

Our culture, in DFW’s worldview, reached a point of seeing “a person closing in, arms open wide, smiling” not as a sincere expression of love, but a cruelly ironic expression of hate (1052). What a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

We’re trapped like little boys underground, drawn to our own live burial, afraid of feminine energy. We’re seeking out our own destruction, whether it be a feral hamster or memories of abuse. At least we’d have a reason to be here. Even if pain is the answer, at least it’s something. The answer isn’t the fame and fortune of the Show. That doesn’t save us. It traps us even more. We then get defined by winning. Or by losing. Imagine the psychic fallout for Cam Newton. Loser. We hurl it at him like he’s not a fragile human being. We’ve made him an icon, a god, and then, crafting him as invincible, we launch an all-out attack on him, believing he is immune to our blows. And Peyton Manning, he’s just “the Billboard Who Walks. Use this, wear this, for money” (676). He’s Budweiser and Papa John’s and Nationwide and whatever the fuck else. What now if he retires? His contract with the public is over, his identity in limbo; he’s lost “the existence of love and endorsements and the shiny magazines wanting [his] profile” (677). Unless, of course, he rebrands himself as the sage, the Mentor archetype. Is that a sufficient “raison de faire” (680)? Why do we wake up in the morning? Or maybe he learned to transcend this, which is what they teach, purportedly, at E.T.A. How to avoid the “Syndrome of the Endless Party” or the truth “that attaining the goal does not complete or redeem you, does not make everything for your life ‘OK’ as you are, in the culture, educated to assume it will do this, the goal” (680-1). “One sees this in all obsessive goal-based cultures of pursuit” (680). Welcome to America. But what are our real goals and values? What are we pursuing? Have we stopped to wonder why?

I see pictures of children (and this is from my friends and family alone) already being branded by various corporations and allegiances. They’re endorsing products and fandoms. Participating in various cultish rituals. “Oh look, he’s already an Eagles fan!” We celebrate this. Do we really want, in 50 years, to still be celebrating the Super Bowl as a cultural high mark? Is that as far as our ambition extends? To the glorious maintenance of the status quo? Isn’t it time to reevaluate our traditions? I wonder what it will take for this country to face the abyss of its value system, for then we’ll have the chance to emerge from the darkness we’re currently oblivious to dwelling in. Then we’ll have the chance to light up the world with something new. Maybe even good.

Or we can just keep our buffet mentality and pretend like kids aren’t getting diddled nightly by abusive, lost parents; that those kids’ siblings just have to sit there and pretend it’s not happening and ignore “why me?” terror or “why him instead of me?” envy thinking; that those parents were brought up in the same toxic culture and we end up scapegoating the individual instead of reckoning with the environment which breeds the type we criticize and excoriate; that we aren’t involved; that it isn’t and can’t possibly be our fault that such tragedy happens so often that we can’t appropriately use tragedy to describe it; that “normal” in our culture is so twisted we think such diddling isn’t real but Beyonce is.

 

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