Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You May Have Survived, But It Isn't Over

Originally published in the Bristol Press, Middletown Press and New Britain Herald, January 4, 2009


The last presidential election was also the first one with voters too young to personally remember the 1980s. But this newly voting generation grew up hearing their elders speak of a decade dominated by mullet haircuts, Reaganomics and gory slasher flicks featuring a maniac who slices and diced his way through dozens of sexy (despite the mullets) teenagers until one of them finally manages to kill the maniac instead.

Of course, by the time this happens, the maniac’s already murdered most of the characters in the movie. There’s only one or two left at the end, but you get the idea that they’ll turn out all right: “Now that the Bad Man’s gone, our troubles are over.”

Too bad things don’t work that way in the nonmovie world. Imagine the real-life survivor of an ’80s slasher spree trying to explain this to the police: “I know I’m drenched in blood that isn’t mine, and there’s a lot of fresh corpses in that abandoned summer camp just behind me, but I swear: It was the serial killer you thought you gunned down umpty-squat years ago this very night. Or the evil school janitor who died in a fire and kills kids in their dreams.”

Cops almost never fall for stories like that. So if I were a character in an ’80s horror flick and managed to outlive the psycho killer and make it to the end credits, I’d turn to my surviving friends and say “The Bad Man is gone, but we’re still in a world of hurt.”

Which, coincidentally, is exactly how I feel when contemplating the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. Granted, I expect he’ll do a much better job than his predecessor. Of course, I’d say the same thing if America elected a Magic 8 Ball with half its fluid leaked out.

“Look here, Mr. President, another wad of Congressional legislation just plopped onto your desk. Do you want to sign it into law?” [Shake clunk shake clunk shake clunk] “‘Ask again later.’ Ah, you want to give it some thought, do you? That’s an encouraging sign. Especially considering all the troubles our country faces.”

But they’re not the sort of troubles you can relate to in an ’80s slasher movie. Contemporary American problems hearken back to the 1970s, the decade in which our country had to admit failure in a foreign war while our domestic economy and international prestige levels went straight to hell, followed closely by horror-movie writers in search of inspiration.

That’s why ’70s characters had it worse than their ’80s counterparts. “All right, I made it to the end of the script, but I still live in a world where the devil regularly possesses little girls or takes over a suburban home or knocks up a housewife with the Antichrist. And there’s earthquakes and sharks and ships that tip over, too.”

Problems such as these won’t vanish just because you get rid of one man. Neither will the problems facing America today.

Then again, the first time Americans faced ’70s-style problems, we were also cursed with ’70s-style presidents. Maybe this time we’ll get lucky.