Fear is a Vampire

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tuning into NPR recently while driving I came upon an interview with one of the Cohn brothers, of movie making fame. He was talking of a book of poetry he had just published, and at the end of the interview William H. Macy read the title poem of the book, entitled "Drunk Drivers Have the Right of Way". It was a bleak, ugly little poem about how the brutes and power mad in life bulldoze down the rest of us and win out in the end....always, inevitably. It got me to thinking about vampires again.What struck me about the poem was how it was less a poem then a declaration of belief, a lecture from the bully pulpit (the bully pulpit of cultural celebrity and wealth) about "reality", meant to dispel any illusions the reader might have about the truly ugly nature of life. It was...rather patronizing, in a patriarchal kind of way, like the Old Testament God with His plagues and pestilences. And like the Old Testament, it had a kind of fatalistic helplessness about it, but with a late 20th century nihilistic/existentialist/post-modern emptiness of spirit and heart.I've only seen one of the Cohn brothers' films, "Fargo". In that film a group of brutal, brutish thugs following some blind impulse toward destruction and mayhem catalyze the darker impulses of ordinary white-bread citizens in North Dakota, leaving a long trail of blood and meaningless, stupid violence. There is a hero, the local sheriff, who prevails in the end but seems completely untouched by the events she witnesses, only sighing now and then at the tragedy of it all. It is a vision of contemporary life that presumes we are the living dead, our life-blood sucked dry, leaving us either as brutes stumbling about like the living dead in horror films, or soulless, emotionless automatons - drunk drivers and their victims. In this vision, life happens to us, and if we're lucky we get by; if not we get stomped like bugs.I understand the cultural critique inherent in this, and I applaud the Cohn brothers for putting a mirror up to our eyes. And "Fargo" was pretty funny in a weird, deadpan kind of way, lifting some of the edge. However, after hearing the poet Cohn deliver his sermon-in-verse of hellfire and damnation it struck me that there is another agenda here. It seems many people like the poet Cohn are not content with suffering existential terror alone - they want to pull us into their black hole of despair and self-pity, as if by doing so they will somehow find a measure of redemption, or at least re-inflate their ego a little bit by proving their superior insight and sensitivity (no self-flagellation here, more like a BDSM dungeon with us as the unwilling guests).Then it occurred to me - the poet Cohn was making a bid to become a cult leader! In general, cult leaders are narcissistic attention junkies who, like celebrities of all ilks (including art celebrities), need an audience to verify their existence to themselves. And of course, there is no shortage of people on the other end of the narcissist feed-back loop who need someone with charisma whom they can nibble upon with hungry adoration, desperate to fill their empty souls and impoverished bellys with the crumbs of personality dropped expertly from the celebrity/cult leader's plate of inflated ego. The poet Cohn's magnetism consists of his absolute certainty of the malevalence of the universe, a clever strategy since it invokes so much fear and terror in his audience, rendering them incapable of distinguishing wisdom from intellectual flabbiness, insight from blindered perception, heart and soul from mental mind games. And like many cult leaders he's a vampire, the Prince of Fear, proving once again that fear is a vampire.