2001: From A Space Odyssey to Bonfire of Banalities

Expanded from the 12-30-2001 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

We started this year with high hopes -- despite the dark clouds looming over our economy and notwithstanding doubts about the shallow man-boy entering the White House.

But we are nothing if not optimistic. When reality gets too worrisome or trivial, we fall back on pure faith and hope, societally-codified superstitions that everything will turn out all right, just like in the movies.

Indeed, this was the year named after one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Or was it the other way around?

In 1968, director Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" had the whole world talking. Kubrick's body of work arguably constitutes as good a cross-section of 20th Century history as any yet compiled.

Want the seminal work on the nuclear age and the Cold War? Rent "Dr. Strangelove." Want to see how accurately great artists can predict the devolution of industrialized society? Get Kubrick's production of novelist Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange." Need a quick capsule of our ever-changing ambivalence about romantic and reproductive relationships? View "Eyes Wide Shut."

Kubrick's life was also testament that the best do not always win the political and PR battles. Of all his films, only "2001" scored an Academy Award (for technical achievement). The ugly little statuette must thus be viewed evermore as a mere marketing gimmick when the second-greatest director (behind Charles Chaplin) dies all but ignored by the cult of Oscar.

Just as Eric Blair/George Orwell's "1984" was ridiculously scrutinized for the accuracy of its predictions, so with "2001." Perhaps in a perverted, twisted way, the treatment of Kubrick and his greatest work, and not the content of the film itself, perfectly foreshadowed the shallow year which passes into oblivion tomorrow night.

The past 12 months qualify not as an excursion into mythological greatness worthy of Odysseus, but as a bonfire of banalities. The flame was ignited on Sept. 11, but the kindling gathered for years. Like lazy householders who ignore fire department warnings to clear the dry brush in the yard, we watched in awe as our home got torched.

Worse, the fire department itself helped put us in danger. As the current edition of Mother Jones magazine documents, the nation's airlines for decades have fought improvement of security procedures as too costly. They bought all the government influence necessary to make the nation as vulnerable as virgins drinking Roofie-laced beer at a frat party.

Within 24 hours of commencement of the ghoulish sacrifice testifying to their dereliction, airline lobbyists called meetings to plot exploitation of the tragedy. They scored a quick $20 billion from taxpayer-victims, with more to come. Other corporate hogs were quick to jump on the bandwagon. (Oppose the pork and the terrorists win?)

This year ranks as banal because the major works of man were so damnably negative. Research into curing disease and prolonging life was given short shrift due to political and dogmatic considerations. As always, anything furthering weapons production -- needed or not -- was blessed as the work of the Lord.

AOL Time Warner pulled the biggest corporate cop-out, its moral bankruptcy surpassing the ethical, legal and financial meltdown of energy pirate Enron.

In the days of Time-Life founder Henry Luce, Time's Man of the Year Award went to the person who made the biggest impact on the world, be it for good or evil. Adolf Hitler and the Ayatollah Khomeini were winners. The 20th Century's champion bloodletter and model for 1984's Big Brother, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, won it twice!

Read More About It:

It's Time to Designate The Evil One by Ellis Henican New York Newsday (Long Island, New York)

Man of year standards have stood test of time
by Richard Roeper Chicago Sun-Times


New York Newsday columnist Ellis Henican wrote "Who else can possibly deserve the designation - no, it's not an honor, the designation - as Time magazine's Person of the Year? Who had more impact on our world in 2001 than the Ultimate Evil One? Here's hoping Jim Kelly and the other editors at Time don't bow to the pressure of their most ignorant readers and wimp out this year. Wimping out would be Bush or Giuliani or Rumsfeld or any of the other American 'good guys.' Sure, they deserve real credit. But more impact than bin Laden?"

Corporate Time could have easily declared the title vacant. Indeed, the publication's excuse for not naming Osama was that he was not big enough. The way out lay down that path.

Time's corporate dullards chose to take the easier route and thus reflect the morally obtuse spirit which got us here in the first place. Dubya took the easy way out on stem cell research. Airlines chose profit over passenger and worker safety. Southern Nevada casinos used the temporary dip in customer volume as an excuse to fire thousands of unionized workers. The non-reverend Jerry Falwell blamed Sept. 11 on moral turpitude, not including his own.

The accidental president continues to pimp for more tax giveaways to his rich friends as the cure-all for whatever ails us.

So, for all the soul-searching, weeping and gnashing of teeth, we end 2001 the way we started with no lessons learned. The rich got richer. The poor got moreso. And those who refused to learn from history were condemned to repeat it. And will again.

The most enduring image of "2001: A Space Odyssey" was that ever-present, ever-changing and unknowable black domino. Director Alfred Hitchcock called it a "McGuffin," a never-explained element designed to create moviegoer buzz, an irritating, marketing-gimmick version of Rosebud in "Citizen Kane."

Once again, the great Kubrick gets the last laugh. The best explanation of the black monolith I ever read called it a symbol of the universal aspirations of humankind -- to know more, to explore beyond the farthest horizon.

The great expectations remain. The big dreams live on despite the small men and women who make the dreamers suffer for having a vision that we can become better than we are; that by caring for the least among us, we can enrich everyone, including ourselves.

A great prophet said something like that a couple thousand years ago. Too bad his thinking fell from grace in the halls of power in 2001.

Have a hopeful new year.

Be well. Raise hell.

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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 33-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org/ Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988 .


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