The Empire Eats Its Own

I just watched Alexander Payne’s new film Nebraska, written by Bob Nelson and starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. I don’t really know what the writer and director had in mind, but the story is interesting and to me a bit conflicting.

In this bleak portrait of America’s 21st century serfs, Dern plays an alcoholic senior citizen who zones out more than in. He mistakenly believes that he has won a one million dollar magazine sweepstakes prize, and wants to go to Lincoln Nebraska to redeem it.

His son, caught in a dead end retail sales clerk job, knowing (as does his mother and brother) that the million dollar prize award is bogus, decides to take off from work to drive his father. The son knows that his dad is incapable of going alone without putting himself in harm’s way.

We learn early on how Dern was never a good father to his sons, or a good husband, as he was ‘married to booze’ all his adult life. As for his younger son, Freudian theory dictates that the more an immature child is rejected by a parent, the more he or she seeks out their love.

When Dern and Forte stop in Dern’s hometown of Hawthorne, we see a place that has been virtually shut down by a dead economy. Most of Dern’s rather large family, now old like him, just sit around with their adult children and watch television. As Dern’s sister in law “It’s tough for the young folks to find work nowadays.”

The film expresses many similar points of view about how many Americans just seem to accept what comes their way. Most of the characters in the film lack any real understanding of what should be done to make their lives or the community’s life better. Instead, they go to the local bar or sit on the couch at home awaiting the grim reaper.

One of my major concerns about the message of the film was the controversy over the one million dollar prize. Dern and his Hawthorne relatives and friends really believe that he is rich. He makes no overtures to share his good fortune with them. We can excuse him a bit because the years of alcohol addiction have numbed him to the point whereupon all he says he wants is a new truck.

When an old friend from town asks for money, Dern volunteers: “I can give you a twenty.”

Other family members, those who felt that in years past they had helped Dern out financially when he was a drunk, tell him they expect some share of the one million. Now here is where the film becomes disappointing.

Dern’s wife and two sons take great offense that his family would expect this. They get real angry, to the point of coming to blows and shouting matches, and then pack and leave.

So, here we have a group of Americans who are all at the bottom of the empire’s totem pole, and what do they do? They fight among themselves and hold forth the notion what the elites who run America have taught so well: Every man for himself… PROPERTY RIGHTS!

This writer had lunch with a new acquaintance the other day. We agreed on just about every issue of importance. Yet, he was vehement that those Floridians (me) who voted for Nader in 2000 instead of Gore should be ashamed at what transpired since then. He believes that if Gore were president in 2000 none of this **** would be happening.

No Iraq, no bank bailout, no corporate takeover of America, no budget crisis… to name a few. He made it sound like Obama and his party are simply prisoners of this right-wing conspiracy to rule America. His whole mantra is that as bad as the Democrats have been, and still are, we who ‘know better’ have to vote for them if only to stop the other side from ruling.

I wish I had a few days to reeducate him on the facts. Allow me to just state a few now.

Number one, we know that under Clinton-Gore the sanctions against Iraq were draconian to say the least. Their Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, when asked by a journalist if after 500,000 children died due to the sanctions, was the price worth it, she responded: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.”

After 9/11 who knows what a President Gore may have done what with the Pentagon and the same basic CIA and NSA folks in place. We know that under Obama our military spending has even surpassed that of under Bush Jr. We know that under Obama the phony bank bailout continued, with no real solution to the foreclosure mess. As far as health care reform, Obama ran in 2008 on a platform for real change. Many thought that meant a public option for those less than 65 years of age to get into Medicare. Well, the facts run counter to that truth. John McCain received around $7 million from the health care industry in donations in 2008. Obama received over $21 million! Does anyone out there really believe that Obama ever had a ‘public option’ in mind? That is about as ridiculous as the Bruce Dern character believing in the one million dollar sweepstakes award!

It is time perhaps for many good and decent Americans to get off their duffs, shut off the boob tube and walk past the tavern. As Chris Hedges so poignantly urges, it is time for citizen protest. Elections are fine and dandy. Now is the time for a push back from this empire to the Main Street America we all cherished.