Monday, August 31, 2009


I had my first slasher dream last night, technically the wee hours of this morning.

What I remember is now vague—culpability (a small group of friends and I witness or perpetrate an outrage) and comeuppance (a pale-faced stalker tracks us down one by one and kills us in increasingly gruesome ways). At the end of the dream, the spectral slasher is closing in on me and my girlfriend.

Yes, in the dream I’m decidedly heterosexual—and at the end of the dream my girlfriend and I are huddled, in stark terror, in a sleeping car of a train—yes, Freudian, too.

But, no, I don’t remember being genuinely frightened in the dream—or sexually aroused. It played out like a movie, a movie I’m in, and nobody in the dream corresponded to people I know or have known in real life.

It was entirely a narrative dream—and the slayings were hideous and gory.

But here’s what I think of it—or at least the associations I made upon first awaking from the dream (which, unlike the dream narrative, still remain in memory)—and, right or wrong, they have nothing to do with sex.

When I woke up, my first thoughts were about capitalism and the death of social systems, a concern I have often thought about lately. That is, systems (or ideologies) seldom end decisively and all at once, but slowly collapse through a series of cataclysms (slashings), till ultimately a new system rises on the corpses of the old. Consider how long (and agonizing) the decline of European aristocracy was—or the concomitant collapse of slavery (though “wage slavery” is still alive, though teetering on a ledge of high rates of joblessness).

It may be that the radio impinged on my dream and its interpretation. I awoke to NPR commentators discussing the “present economic crisis,” which I have long associated with the gradual collapse of capitalism. And no doubt falling asleep right after watching AMC’s Mad Men last night played a part as well—arguably a series about the collapse of capitalism disguised as sixties nostalgia—just pay attention to the opening credits, for instance.

Nobody in the media (conservative or liberal) is inclined to use the word “collapse” to describe the current “crisis.” Every commentator has been careful to emphasize his conviction (or hope) that the current situation is “temporary”—and while prosperity, he may say, is not exactly right around the corner, there is a sweet (I think “naïve”) but absolute faith that capitalism (wealth based on investment rather than labor) will be resurgent … just as characters in slasher films hold out that they and perhaps one or two of their comrades will survive the inevitable.

It’s only natural to view oneself as a sole survivor, perhaps.

On the other hand, I’m equally confident that capitalism is disappearing … slowly, but surely. Some indefinite (pale) specter has haunted it for the past 50 years or so—and increasingly, as an economic system, it has relied heavily on outpourings of government aid (“corporate welfare”), as phony as trickle-down economics and a Hollywood happy ending—inevitably (in actual slasher films) the survival of the plucky virgin with a strong work ethic.

Anxiety over this possibility can be seen on the political right in the panic over Obama’s supposed “socialism” and on the left in the dismay over the degeneration of social welfare, whose wagon has been hitched (in America and other Western democracies) on investment and insurance—private medicine, educational and charitable grants and funding, commercial mass media, the primacy of sellable technology over “pure” science, war profiteering, and marriage (weddings alone are an $86 billion industry, not even including the costs of honeymoons or new household items).

I seem to recall that castration was one of the torments my dream-slasher inflicted on his victims before he tore them utterly apart. Though seldom addressed forthrightly, much American political propaganda hinges on fears of emasculation—no doubt one reason (though probably not the only one) for irrational Hillary-hate. Perhaps it’s no accident, then, that the last great pharmaceutical “breakthroughs” have pertained not to polio, not typhoid, not cancer, not AIDS, but erectile dysfunction. (And, yes, I’m aware that the dream may have a more personal—“Freudian”—interpretation—fear of loss of my own virility as old age creeps on—an undeniable fact of my present stage of life—though, as I stated, my first associations, post dream, were socioeconomic, not psychosexual.)

So who’s to say that several decades now of doomed camp counselors, cheerleaders, vacationers, honeymooners, new homeowners, and even embezzlers (Psycho) have pertained (in highly abstruse codes—like dreams) to the post-WW2 changes in American capitalism—corresponding, perhaps, to the upsurge of distrust in corporations, also well documented in mainstream movies for the past 50 years?


  1. "Capitalism: Wealth based on investment rather than labor."

    This is the most pure, succinct definition of capitalism that I have ever read.

    Capitalism -- ideologically, economically, practically, and etymology -- has always intrigued me. When I was young I believed that the greatest invention was Ford's assembly line; since then I've noticed plenty of chinks in capitalism’s armor, yet still have trouble reconciling the good from the bad. The fact that I haven't spent appreciable time in 'socialized' countries doesn't help. Recently reading The Jungle has brought me one step further.

  2. Thanks, Mark. It's a definition that works for me, anyway. I'm of two minds about capitalism, too. Mostly I'm against, but after a half century of TV and a mandatory Americanism vs Communism class in senior high school, I'm not sure I could survive without the glitter and the hype.



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