Serotonin in the Service of American Aggression and My Formative Years

From the age of nine (1942) I was allowed to attend the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Killester cinema in Dublin where we children were exposed to the diet of Hollywood junk projections spreading throughout the world at that time.

At the mesmerising vanguard of American ethnological assumptions, the cowboy-and- indian genre…Hollywood’s nest egg…became the flagship of the film industry, whose modus operandi was to flesh out America’s vaunted industrial genius and heroic military might to demonstrate how incisive America could be in projecting a new world order based on the strength of its armed forces and presented with the full force of mawkish entertainment panache.

The story line never varied, the can-do people had evolved per medium of the T model Ford, electric shaver, chewing gum, fast food, the famed B-17 Flying Fortress, the Liberty Ship, the Victory Vessels, the Empire State Building and the film-projector itself, then in use to project the wonders of America’s engineering skills. All of which were meant to equate modernity with American culture, considered by some to be revolutionary, and by others as merely crass expediency taking the country to the  worst of all possible places. Modernity, it seemed, was in in the eye of the beholder, indistinguishable in fact from the feeling one might experience when in possession of a fistful of dollars. It was the dawn of a market-oriented age that cleverly branded the concept of existentialism as a one-horse race for a culture wherein ‘winners’ would acquire a special place in the mythology of the new dare-do nation.

Saturday after Saturday I witnessed the genocide of the native American Indians in weekly installments, the gun-toting white supremacists slaughtering the indigenous people of the Americas so that they could steal their land and their assets. The message that Hollywood delivered was starkly unambiguous… American ingenuity would slay the dragons of the primitive past by producing everything for everybody in the here-and-now…and if you were smart enough to go along with the capitalist diktat, you would find salvation.

Saturday after Saturday I sat with my best friend George Gaffney, relishing the purely escapist aspect of it all, until one day I realized that we were responding to what was coming from the silver screen with ever more discernment. We were becoming aware of the existence of the absurd as a sub-text, within the context of the serious narrative. And the upshot of all this was that something akin to a Socratic moment arrived, where  questioning what we were experiencing became part of our weekly response to the gala world of avant-garde American populism. It was the awareness of absurdity that put seriousness on hold until we could figure it all out. This enabled George Gaffney and I the luxury of ridiculing the genre, and the time required to discover that it was really bourgeois avant-garde.

To the American psyche, marinated in the brine of bluster- capitalism, the assumption was that those who didn’t have the means to develop their resources were therefore considered inferior. Plus, resources in the hands of the others who could not exploit them, should be transferred into the hands of those who were capable of engineering a modern vision of hegemonic market solidarity, regardless of the human cost, because only American style democracy could navigate a way toward the golden age of capitalism.

As American hegemonic cultural-creep took hold per medium of cinema in Dublin in the early 1940’s, it became ever more apparent that Hollywood was using its influence to profile existential legitimacy per means of ‘goody-versus-baddy’ vilification of ethnic types to justify the exorbitant use of violence used in their genre ‘art-forms’. Assertiveness had become a staple in advancing America’s culture-creep. We began to see that the electronic media was being used to achieve compliance in accepting the fact that ‘big-brother’ would tolerate no dissent.The seeds of primitive identity politics had arrived gratuitously from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. In time we would understand that American soft-power had become as toxic as its hard- power.

With the passing of time, we who attended the Saturday matinee.. approximately 12 young males… became ever more fixated on specific aspects of American cinematic aggression featuring the antics of iconic genre-types of the one-dimensional kind, up on the big screen to normalise the crude ‘aesthetic’ of customary aggression as an end in itself. The kind that would ultimately define the American character as one where incisive action…felicitous or infelicitous…depended on hubris to harness serotonin to the cause of a Corporate America…lateral and sub judice… geared to the task of elevating exploitation and violence to ever new heights in the pursuit of profit, and control of the means of production..

Little did we boys realise that ‘Trail Riders’, ‘Tombstone Canyon’, ‘Riders of the West’, ‘The Whispering Skull’,’Stagecoach Express’,’Phantom Thunderbolt’, and the like, were merely early expressions of America’s commercial acumen in providing the foreplay that kept its software market viable. With hindsight, I see these movies as the precursors of the serialized TV show (along with radio drama and the movie serial) which often followed a single character/star through a series of formulaic genre stories for the purpose of holding up a ‘model’ product to the consumerist wannabes. In time, the early western movies would morph into the TV western as a half-hour version of the earlier B-grade Western. What was  different about this was that you could now consume culture from your couch….and the couch was global.. and the market was everywhere.

When American culture formulated the archetype of a Self devoid of logus, it encouraged the mercenary in us to emerge as the solution to the suffering that gnawed within our ontological entrails, by repeatedly connecting the ‘good-guy’ success to guns and martial arts as  attributes that defined the great white-hero-type bent on being master of all worlds.

The genre arts seemed to suggest that ideas concerning sex, ego and aggression would be best served in a deregulated marketplace, as American vigor should be free from all constraints. The idea that fame and fortune would come to those who could best hustle,  unmistakable conveyed the message within the commercial dynamic. In this climate there was even a genre for domestic bliss called ‘the musical’, available for all of those seeking that special feeling of up-lift of the savoury kind…‘I’ve got a beautiful feeling that everything is going my way’, moment, and available to anybody living beyond the borders of Oklahoma….as an antidote to the porn side of vigor perhaps?   

At this early time, we boys didn’t realise that we were being schooled in the ways of the genre ‘arts’, which were there to make money. The age-old nexus coupling feeling and reason had long been jettisoned…the baby had been thrown out with the bathwater…because it had no commercial value and so it was eliminated. What appeared in its place were slick offerings of the quick fix. As aggression became a staple in entertainment, feelings of well-being and happiness went out the window. The new openly aggressive narrative…based on blood lust…caused an explosion in the serotonin process (to an inordinate degree) when it moved into TV and later into Video Games. Most noticeably, it signaled the coupling of incisive action with insidious manoeuvring, when secret service agencies like the CIA were bought into the game. These new players would in time combine with the media to manipulate the grey matter of main street into accepting aggression as the norm.

But within our group of 12 attending the Saturday matinees, there existed someone who possessed an instinct for recognising the injustices perpetrated against indigenous people. George Gaffney was three years older than I and had a surprisingly clear understanding of the perils that came with foreign invasion. One day he said, “look at what happened to us, the Brits came here with their submission blather and said,’ I’ll name you in any way I choose to, and in whatever way I find easy to do, and you will submit to us and be whatever I say you are for ever after’, and that was that!”

Henceforth, George Gaffney would only play the role of Geronimo in our cowboy-and-indian games out of respect for the feelings he harboured for a set-upon people and their valiant struggle against the ignorant mercenaries who came to slaughter them in their homeland. George Gaffney had adopted Geronimo as the symbol of resistance. The spirit of the man was awesome.

Thus did the naming-process awaken in me a nascent awareness of the guile within the projections of the modern media in the service of the incisive/insidious machine called the ‘ship-of-state’ or the ‘deep-state’. Before George Gaffney assumed the persona of Geronimo, he would strip to the waist and rub clay or blackberry juice on his face (when available), before taking his place on a universal stage slightly left of our purview.

Over time, this image became the abiding image of the person with whom I fashioned a critique of sorts that found common cause in dealing with the disparate signals assailing us in our Dublin backwater. This also became the abiding image of my friend who returned to Dublin in 1963 …after serving with the UN in Palestine…to die from leukemia at the young age of 33. In his last letter to me he wrote, “nowadays you could imagine me stripped to the waste with olive oil glistening on my face and torso in what must be one of the more abused countries on earth. Its awful what is happening here…ethnic cleansing is a dirty business. Don’t believe the official version of things…stay tuned!”.

By 1945 George Gaffney was already a teenager and I was soon to become one. It was the year America dropped two atomic bombs on civilians in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at a time the Japanese were seeking to negotiate a surrender. Whilst George Gaffney and I were unable to comprehend the full significance of this event, we were nevertheless aware that something had occured within the American psyche that augered gloomy forebodings of extremist aggression to come.

Carried away by animus and ill will, and motivated to go it alone…to do something unilateral…as incisive people do…they opened the lid of Pandora’s box to show the world that America was offering all-comers a choice…and it was an unmistakingly limited one…submission or death. The can-do people had a loud voice and the wherewithal to blow the world apart…they were in the business of ‘mission accomplishment’ because they possessed the hardware to deconstruct anything that resisted their power…Thanatos the American Eagle’ had spread its wings with bomb-laden talons to show the natives of the developing world who was boss.

So now as an old man in my mid eighties, snatches of conversations I had with George Gaffney emerge from the distant past from time to time. He lived long enough to be aware that the CIA was complicit in Patrice Lumumba’s murder. The first Prime Minister of the independent Republic of the The Congo…June until September 1960, had to be put down because submission was not part of his character. The punishment he received for un-compliance was total erasure. At which point George Gaffney’s use of William Congreve’s words emerge once more from some corner of my mind, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.

But George, who lived through some part of the bloody Vietnam War, left me with one especially spicy quip, “The US of A, or the United States of Acrimony (as he described it) was the dog that went into Vietnam to lift its leg on a civil war”.  Little did he know that this would occur time and time again. Which raises the next question; why are the platelets in the head of the American body politic so geared to aggression?

By way of verifying George Gaffney’s impressions, I  turned to the American genre arts once more… which work in mysterious ways…to try and understand what could possibly be meant by the words, “Make America Great Again”.  In so doing, I discovered that genre-art appears to work along the same lines of the mouse-running-wheel, as does the video game, as does President Donald Trump’s tweeting. It’s all about America pumping iron!

Which left me wondering; does the American public not see the connection between the activities of its military and the flow of displaced refugees…those who survived the slaughter in the Middle East…as having a  direct connection to their own mindset, which creates dystopia as it goes from place to place? The truth is staring them in the face and they ignore it. They can’t see that America has created a situation which is best described by the use of the Palestinian word NAKBA.  

The closer I examine what America has done throughout the world since George died, the more the image of a dog lifting its leg to piss on the world, comes into focus…and to think that George and I started out in life believing that America was a force for the good, suggests that our original perceptions of reality were formed within the depths of the rabbit hole…which leads me on to another thought. What might George Gaffney, were he alive today, think of the 860 American military bases scattered across the world, where glib mercenaries occupy space, shitting and shooting and polluting as they busy themselves in someone else’s space. Must everything be about projecting the delusory grandeur of American culture? Do the tens of thousands of American troops spread across the globe spend their leisure time partaking of aggressive video-games of the following kind?

It’s all out there in the marketplace, which leaves me  wondering how much more unnatural can it get?

Street Fighter V Arcade Edition…genre, Fighting.

Gintama Rumble…genre, Hack and Slash.

Kirby Battle Royale…genre, Brawler.

Iconoclasts…genre, Action, Platform.

The Impatient…genre, Survival Horror.

Dragon Ball Fighter Z…genre, Fighting.

Sky Force Reloaded…genre, Shoot ‘em up.

Gundemoniums…genre, Bullet Hell Shooter

Dynasty Warriors 9…genre, Hack and Slash.

Layers of Fear…genre, Psychological Horror.

Bravo Team…genre, Action, First-Person Shooter.

If George Gaffney were alive today, he might very well name the United States of Acrimony as the Death Star.

Written by

Denis A. Conroy

Freelance writer

Australia