I remember how it started. I can’t remember yesterday. I only remember what they told me. I remember when they told me that Ernie and Bert were gay. I remember how shocking that was, how insurgent, and how funny. I don’t remember the first person to do it, but I remember knowing that we were all on the cusp of something new, something deliciously insidious, something transcendent. I remember believing that we were establishing an insurgent generation that revolted against civil authority, through pop culture, in a manner that was not belligerent. I remember thinking that I wanted to be at the forefront of that generation, among my peers, that didn’t just break down societal barriers, but left a wasteland in its wake. I remember being unconcerned with collateral damage. Children be damned, I thought. I wanted to be one of those that shook this whole two-liter bottle up, and that Ernie and Bert would be a good place to start. I remember wanting to convince the world, through repetition, that Mr. Snuffleupagus was stoned on the set of Sesame Street. I remember wanting to inform anyone that would listen that the Bradys were all stoned and committing incest, and anything else we could think up to poke holes in that wholesomeness that we miserable kids from broken homes found so deplorable. We were suffering on the other side of the tube in our reality, and we found it absolutely disgusting that 60’s and 70’s TV should portray an idyllic image of a family that we couldn’t possibly compete with. I remember wanting to join these fights, until Hollywood vindicated all of us with a pot smoking, lesbian enriched Brady Bunch movie that dealt with the realities we were all supposedly dealing with.
“I’m serious. I can’t stand Big Bird. He’s an (expletive)!” I couldn’t tell if the person saying this was being serious or not, but that’s what made it deliciously insidious to me. If it wasn’t serious, it was funny in a serious, seditious manner. If it was serious, it was funny in an unserious manner. Whatever the case was, this artful joke teller left it as a standalone. They did not offer any of the qualifiers that most insurgents offered when they characterized a child’s beloved creature with an adult expletive, in the gestation period of this movement, to make it more acceptable. Refraining from qualifiers, signaled to the rest of us that the age of qualifiers was over, and the full insurgent movement was under way.
I know that Charles Bukowski wasn’t the first to speak out against authority figures. I know that this mindset probably dated back to the Greeks, and the Romans, and beyond, but to my knowledge no one had ever attacked the soft underbelly of authority, through pop culture staples of children’s entertainment before Bukowski. If Bukowski didn’t start this insurgent movement against pop culture, on a nation-wide scale, he did among my insurgent brethren. They raised their fist high with a scream, when we learned that the writer had the temerity to come out against the cultural icon that many believe started cutesy America: Mickey Mouse.
“Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul.”
“For us to get back to real America,” a friend of mine said, presumably paraphrasing Bukowski, “We have to destroy Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse destroyed the soul of America.” This statement was so deliciously provocative. It was insurgent. It was a plane of thought crashing into what I considered the foundation of America. By saying what he said, those that I socialized with said my friend gained panache, and chicks dug panache. Someone else said that he was an angry young man, and chicks dug angry. We dug angry. It was so Rage Against the Machine what he said. Knowing nothing of Bukowski or any other insurgent thoughts, at the time, we thought this guy had anger without causation, and we thought that was the essence of cool.
“What are rebelling against?” a female actor asked Marlon Brando in the movie The Wild Ones.
“Whaddya got?” Brando replied. Yeah, that’s the stuff! Suck it Mickey!
If you have read Charles Bukowski, you already know that this horrible thing called Cute America started with an institution called Disney, which started with the institution created by a cartoon character called Mickey Mouse. “It all started with institutions for those that need to be institutionalized,” was the refrain of retro-hip haters. “Those that seek Mickey Mouse, as their form of entertainment, are all in their own soulless and philosophy free form of hell,” they said. A life of Mickey will lead to an uncomplicated life of laughter, frivolity, and fun, and soullessness. It will lead to a generation of Mickey fans, children and otherwise, to live without knowledge of the stark realities of poverty, drugs, disease, prostitution and porn. It will lead to a cute America that needs to be abolished, brick by brick.
“Mickey Mouse?” the comically aghast would ask. “What could you possibly have against Mickey Mouse.”
“Nothing,” cool, hep cats would reply, “Except that he is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul.”
We fellas would watch such cool, hep cats walk away from such conversations, with their insurgent words trailing them, and we would see laughter, open-mouthed awe, and the elongated stares such statements caused chicks, and we knew we had to get some of that.
It appeared to be a formula that could land ladies when delivered in a subtle, suave line dance, and it appeared to really work, until those retro-funny-nerd types stepped in with their “Elmo rocks!” and “Grover was a dude!” statements. They would walk in the building with Sesame Street T-Shirts on that didn’t say insurgent things. Instead, the shirts said things like: “Big Bird is my homeboy!” and “I was raised on The Street” and they got laughs, and girls wanted to ask them about their T-shirt, and they got a ticket to ride, and we were all confused seeing as how we just caught onto the insurgent humor formula. “We had a formula here,” we wanted to say to the retro-funny-nerd types, “and you’re messing up the dynamic of what we just started to understand.”
Most of our insurgent statements were intended to be funny, of course, quasi-funny, retro-hip funny, angst-ridden funny, and abolish the establishment/Rage Against the Machine funny. It was intended to be funny in a way that the best points are made to be funny, in that it got a greater point across, and that we weren’t just being funny, we had larger points. I don’t know if every contra insurgent rebel was like me, and they just wanted to reach a higher plane of funny, but I did run across a few —and there are always a few— that took this insurgent movement way too seriously, and they didn’t seek the humorous underpinnings. I don’t know if Bukowski was one of them, or if he simply used it to rise to the throne of the insurgent rebels in a capitalistic venture, but the stand up comedians took Bukowski’s based to the stratosphere. I don’t know if Bukowski found this a little unsettling, or if he meant it as a launching point. I’m sure when the insurgency permeated the culture to such a degree that little old ladies started saying “Barney sucks!” at Applebee’s restaurants, Bukowski was either overwhelmed with pride or embarrassed that his insurgency had, itself, become such a pop culture institution. Whatever the case was with Bukowski, his acolytes took his message much more seriously than the rest of us.
When the insurgent institution began to wane in much of America, the Bukowski acolytes held true. “Barney still sucks!” they would say in Steven Wright tones and deadpan expressions, and they would say it so often that you eventually started to believe that this wasn’t shtick to them. It wasn’t a bit. They were true believers, and it was either the retro-funny-nerd types, or the little old ladies at Applebee’s repeating this mantra, that exposed these true believers as silly, and overly serious, and self-righteous to a point where we layman began to back away from our attempts to achieve orthodoxy.
You do realize that Barney the Dinosaur wasn’t written to entertain middle-aged men right?” you wanted to ask these ultra-serious types, waiting for the subtle, Steven Wright smile to eventually break free.
“I don’t care,” they say. “He’s created a soulless America that seeks the cute mindset with the horrible songs he sings. He has no soul.” Then, to further their agenda, they turn to their children to get them to mimic the hatred: “What do we think of Barney the Dinosaur Miss Mary?”
“He sucks!” the small child replies. “He should have a hypodermic needle hanging from his arm, a Mohawk, and the world would be a much better place if his father had been taught how to use a condom properly.” Everybody laughs, and “awws” at the cute sophistication of Miss Mary.
It’s then that you realize that the true believer, insurgent has a bona fide opinion on the matter that he thinks is consequential. He is angry that any individual, of any age, seeks the soft entertainment that a Mickey, or a Barney, can provide.
They cannot abide by the fact that their children may occasionally giggle at the humorous actions of a person in a Barney outfit. On the off chance that it happens, that their child forgets and thoughtlessly laughs at the man in the costume, one has to wonder if these types look around their newspaper to say, “What do we say about Barney?” to put their children back in check.
“He sucks,” they say with downcast eyes and their smiles fading.
“That’s right,” the true believer says going back to their paper. They want their children more prepared for the stark reality of the world. They probably indoctrinate their children into the world of John Waters movies and Martin Scorsese movies, to contradict all that Mickey and Barney, so their children can understand violence and sexual identities better, and so that they are more conscious of differences in people, so that they won’t stare, or eventually ostracize, and hate. One has to wonder if one of their kids goes through a laughing spell at something Elmo did, if those parents don’t sit those children down and remind them of all of the misery in the world. One has to wonder if those children cry as a result, and that that parent feels a sense of satisfaction that their children are now better prepared for the misery that waits for them on the other side of their lives. One has to wonder if these children are made more miserable by these miserable parents, and if there was anything anyone could do to prepare them for that?
Bukowski’s goal was to be the anti-Disney. Anti-Disney was, to Bukowski’s mind, stark reality. By implication, one could say that if Bukowski were in charge of America, he would have all of her kids awash in alcohol, sex, and violence. He would want America’s children to know the country he knew, and wrote about? He would want them to know a world of abusive fathers, and that alcohol was the only pure form of escapist entertainment that had any soul. “And the track,” Bukowski acolytes would remind, “don’t forget about Bukowski’s daily trips to the track.” Surely, he would want America’s children to know that world of make-believe where horses can make all of your dreams come true, and if any child doubts that they can take a look at the cast members that live at the track.
Screw childhood, Bukowski appears to be saying. Screw wholesome Americans, born and bred on Disney, that believe that childhood should last as long as possible. It’s not realistic. Childhood is the very essence of cutesy America. It’s farcical, and it has no soul.
To support our counter argument, we must cede to the fact that Disney has damaged some adults, and these adults have some unusual, and relatively unhealthy, propensities for fantasy, but what Bukowski, and his acolytes, don’t account for when they make provocative, insurgent statements against Disney is that if Disney had never existed, there would be a need to create it. If Barney the Dinosaur, or Sesame Street never existed there would be a need for them. Whether that need is institutional in America, financial, capitalistic, emotional, or fundamental, there was something that all of these entertainment vehicles tapped into, and they have made a generation a little happier as a result. AY! There’s the rub, the nut-core of it all, happy. Bukowski types hate happy, and if they were in control America would be a Happy-Free zone.
Bukowski had a dream, a dream in which all children could one day live in a nation where they would judged not by the smiles on their faces, but by the spiritual, or spirited, lights of their soul, and he had a dream in which all Americans, black and white, could one day join hands in a happy-free, cute-free America.
Bukowski had to know that the problem of happiness in America did not begin and end with Disney. He had to know that if he went on a Disney-free timeline, say in a time machine, something else would’ve inevitably fallen into that gap. He had to know that Disney was but a symbol for everything happy. Most would say that America is a better, happier place for having Disney in it, but the true believer, the Bukowski acolyte insurgent types, believe it made America much worse, because fewer people drank, fewer people went to the track on a daily basis, and fewer people had miserable childhoods, at least for the one day they spent at Disneyland.
If Disney represents cutesy America, as Bukowski states, then Bukowski could rightly be said to represent miserable America. If Disney brought uncomplicated happiness to America’s shore, and laughter, and joy, what did Bukowski bring? Anyone that has read Bukowski knows that he had an abusive, alcoholic father, and he had a clinical case of acne in his youth that led him to a degree of misery that he used to carve himself a niche in the market that brought him fame and fortune. We know that while Bukowski may not have been the first to tap into this market, he may have done it better than most, for few people have been as consistently and fundamentally unhappy as Bukowski, and very few could express their hatred for happy Americans as adeptly as Bukowski. Some believe that Bukowski created the anti-Disney industry that eventually led to a hierarchal web of minions displaying visceral hatred for The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, Disney, and anything that is wholesome. These wholesome ideals, portrayed on screen, represented something that irritated these types so much that it revealed something about them that they didn’t want you to see. Their anger hung out from beneath their skirt for all the world to see, and it did nothing for them to learn that in many quarters of America it’s become popular and chic to hate happy and wholesome America, because it’s too cutesy. It does nothing for them to know they’ve won, in certain quarters, because it was never their goal to win, or eventually achieve happiness as a result. No, this whole thing was all about spreading the misery, so that they wouldn’t feel so much of it sitting on the other side of the tube seething in the juices of their reality.