Living in the information age is no cup of tea. It is a good thing to be able to read the major newspapers of the world for free and to have a couple hundred cable stations to peruse, in the slight chance that one or two has something worth watching. It is also good to have Internet sites where vast amounts of information are posted, even if much of that info is hardly worth knowing. This morning, for instance, finds a story dedicated to this earth-rattling subject: Lech Walesa has shaved his mustache, and nobody knows why! No doubt, the cable stations presented the story as a News Alert. You can’t have an official above the rank of postal inspector stub a toe without putting out an Alert.
But one is also quickly reminded that humans love to feed at the bottom of the pond. It often seems the dreck far outweighs anything reasonably worthy, though this may simply be a reflection on the old adage: One thimbleful of piss spoils the whole punchbowl. This week, for instance, saw the unveiling of a new “reality show” in which a chunky air-head went about her daily business, which included scolding a cat for breaking wind. This show isn’t totally without benefit, to be sure. It has been fashionable to dismiss low behavior as somehow unique to trailer parks and shanty towns, while in fact most of the people in reality shows are either hugely rich or at least up-and-comers. Many of these people would be thrown out of trailer parks for practicing unnecessary crassness. It is time for the tornadoes to re-direct their fury.
Yet the fact is, there are not nearly enough tornadoes to halt the scourge of Creeping Crapola. Who would be surprised to turn on the television and find a station dedicated to transmitting the antics of humans loitering in the loo? Might be called Dump TV. Indeed, such a service is already available on the Internet, so can be expected to hit cable soon enough — no doubt featuring celebrity guests. “Brittany Lets Fly!” “Rosie Thunders At Noon!” “Mr. T Shows The Mug Who’s Boss!”
At one time there was a belief that in the great marketplace of ideas, the good ones would win out and send the bad ones very much to the margin. In our age, a deeper truth surfaces: There’s far too much piss in the punchbowl and no way of filtering it out. That won’t make it as a News Alert, but it’s the truth.
To which one can only respond: Thank God for graveyards. There’s no better way to put life in perspective than strolling six feet above the dust of the dead. In my neck of the woods there’s no finer boneyard than Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery, the famed burying ground on the north bank of the James River. It hosts not only thousands of ordinary folks, but also the remains of two presidents (U.S.), one president of the Confederacy, five or so governors, the fierce horseman of the Southern Apocalypse, J.E.B. Stuart, along with a few thousand rebel soldiers.
This is one precinct of the fabled Democracy of the Dead, a Democracy that has much to recommend itself. In this Democracy, all the politicians are kaput, as are the pollsters, lobbyists, consultants, ward healers, talking heads, fixers, Amen Charlies, groupies, and allied vermin. In this sacred place, human vanity is stripped bare, and the hollowness of celebrity comes into brilliant relief. No one is spared. Every dope gets his due drubbing. Walking past a stone angel, a thought suddenly springs to mind: “Does anyone really miss Timothy Leary?” Of course not, though one recalls a plan to put his ashes into orbit. If so, the urn would make a nice target for a Star Wars test.
Graveyards have other benefits as well. For one thing, they are one of the few places one can go without being bombarded by canned music. Note to saloon and restaurant proprietors: many of us avoid your establishments for that reason alone. And I speak as a musician. One popular version of heaven has music playing without cease, which might not be a good idea (it is humbly submitted). The harp is nice, but only to a point. Some of us might ask St. Pete what’s on the set list before entering. We might ask what’s playing in Purgatory.
Like other great cemeteries, Hollywood is a great walking place — 150 acres, as memory serves, with some interesting stops. One stumbles upon the resting place of James Monroe, whose remains inhabit a simple but elegant mausoleum. His wife, meanwhile, is buried outside the structure — in the yard, as it were, as if a pet. Just down the hill we find the gravesite of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America. A statue to his memory is totally non-heroic; Davis looks as if he might be the fellow who ran the water department. In a sense, the designers were ahead of their time. A British funeral company reports that nearly 70 percent of its branch offices have seen an increase in requests for pop songs to be played at funerals. Skip those thundering hymns written by mad monks and other divines. The top choice is Bette Midler’s “Beneath My Wings,” followed by the theme from the movie “Titanic.” Other requests include “Another One Bites the Dust” and the Village People’s “YMCA.” What explains this? “Perhaps mourners want to re-create the emotion of their favorite films and ensure their loved ones receive a funeral worthy of a star,” explained a funeral executive.
One wonders if the music is canned or if choirs will actually sing “YMCA.” Well, why not. We’ve all got our price, which is increasingly two-bits.