I’m having a hard time believing what I heard recently. The venue was a Congressional session held for the purpose of probing into the NSA matter. For those who have been otherwise occupied with the cares of life, the NSA matter concerns the National Security Agency’s collection of massive data on private U.S. citizens without their knowledge and storing it in a huge facility in Utah. Apparently, Utah is a state where one can build installations taking up a hundred miles or more of land without anyone noticing. Don’t worry; if you haven’t been using a cell phone and no one has called you using a cell phone, you may be in the clear. But that’s only if the reports of microwaves being used for surveillance aren’t true.
While watching a news clip of the afore-mentioned Congressional session, I couldn’t help being reminded of the Muppets. If you scan the slumped shoulders and droopy faces of Congressional members sitting at one of those long, inquisition-style tables, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that they must be puppets operated by unseen handlers stationed behind the chairs. They all sound similar, dress similar, look similar, and speak with the same over-deliberation. They’re like a multiplication of the two old men puppets that used to make sarcastic comments from a theater balcony on every Muppet episode. Oh, and they all wear the same style of reading glasses perched on the end of their nose to look scholarly. I wonder how they avoid noticing their sameness. If I looked around and saw that everybody dressed and acted exactly like me, I would get worried.
Representative John Conyers was speaking when I tuned in. Conyers is a Michigan Democrat who has held his House seat since 1965. In case you’re having a hard time placing how long ago 1965 was, it was the last year that high school guys wore button-down collared shirts to look cool, and girls tried to resemble Gidget. The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” was a brand new song in 1965, and the Beatles competed with “Help!” The Congressman looked weighed down by every minute of the generations he has spent in office as he made what I’m sure he thought was an astute comment.
“We are on the verge of becoming a surveillance state.” What????!!!! Did he really say that? We – are – on – – – the verge? If we’re “on the verge” of becoming a surveillance state, Jay Leno is on the verge of becoming the host of The Tonight Show. Young people are on the verge of being interested in technology. The manual typewriter is on the verge of becoming obsolete.
How could he make a statement like that?! Where were his handlers? (Or maybe he really is a Muppet, and his puppeteer was following the script.) Perhaps the fact that Michigan still has a freeway system has given the distinguished representative an outdated perspective. He may not know that other states have saddled their populations with electronic passes that monitor their road travel. Does he know that in many locales every other traffic light is now armed with a camera and that a growing number of streets are also under watch? Mayberry isn’t under siege; Mayberry is ancient history.
And this is the least of it. We pretend to care about our privacy, but we really don’t want any. If we did, social networking would be an idea for a science fiction novel (maybe Fahrenheit 451 and a Half). Instead, most of America awakens each morning in high anticipation of disgorging every detail of what was once thought of as private information. People go to work and unfold intimacies about their romantic relationships as though they were writers discussing wild story ideas. Perhaps in a search for significance, we Americans each stage our own reality show daily, hoping for big ratings.
But when someone like Congressman Conyers (The Vietnam War formally started in 1965. Sorry, I still can’t get over how long this man has been in office. Moses didn’t serve as long. ) soberly declares our nearness to a surveillance state, we pretend panic and cough up phrases such as “It’s like 1984.” And that’s an appropriate thing to say. It is like 1984 in the sense that George Orwell flipped the year of his grim novel’s publication, 1948, to place his story in a frightening future made all the more frightening by its proximity. But 1984 has come and gone, making the title quaint. In a similar way, our feigned concern with privacy has become quaint. The cat’s not almost out of the bag; it’s out and miles away. If people were honest, they’d be expressing their hope that TV producers will be going through the NSA’s info for their next reality show, Utah Nights.