A Leech on the Body Politic

I’ve had a particular image running around in my head for over a month now. This August, when Judy and I were up in the State of Washington, my home state, we passed through the town of Aberdeen. The highway passes right through the downtown area, and we got stuck there in a traffic jam caused by road work. The condition of the downtown area shocked me. There were dozens of boarded-up buildings and others that had just been left to rot. There weren’t many people hanging around, even though it was the center of downtown. Parts of it looked similar to places I’ve seen in rural Mississippi. At the edge of the blighted downtown is a river. (For those who know Aberdeen, there are actually two.) You cross the narrow river, the Wishkah, and as soon as you reach the other side, there’s a big shopping mall where the parking lots are filled with cars. It was all Wall Mart and Home Depot—all the big box stores. With no distance between the two to create an illusion of separate “ecologies,” you can see directly how the mall is a giant leech sucking the life out of the town of Aberdeen.

I know the arguments of those who defend malls and chain stores. They say that people are free to spend their money however they please, and that the decisions they make are based on their own best interests. It’s the magic of the marketplace! But something that is truly good doesn’t leave a blighted landscape. It’s considered bad form to call into question the wisdom of “the people.” But the people are the object of expensive and cynical advertising campaigns designed to convince them to buy things they don’t need and aren’t good for them. We live in a culture that encourages instant gratification, ignores long-term effects, and mocks any idea that requires labor or a subtle view. Most of the money that the people spend in those stores leaves the local area for corporate headquarters. The image of the leech sitting right across the river, right on the vein, as it were, provides a material display of that reality.


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2 Responses to “A Leech on the Body Politic”

  1. christine Says:

    dear mark, and judy,
    good evening.
    my husband and i just watched THE PARROTS, and i shall forthwith add you and your blog to my blogroll. how sweet, enjoyable, happy, tear bringing, but ultimately uplifting a movie it was. when it was over, my husband said it was a movie after my facon, since i favor the happy ones. however, he did enjoy it, too.
    when we heard you said you’d cut your hair when you have a girlfriend, i said, “i wish him a girlfriend,” but would not have expected such a happy ending between you and judy. right after, i found your website, and exclaimed all the new info to my husband. “they’re still together!” – “they’re married!” – “they live on telegraph hill again!”
    i cried when you had to leave, i was sad to see that your dwelling went the way i gloomily thought it might [“for rent” (…)], and i cried when you talked about the parrot who died by the heater. i tried to keep it in when we last saw connor, but it wasn’t easy.

    when you said how pushkin’s girl and he would not have mated where they come from, but that she was the only one with a greener head among the red headed flock, my hubby said, “just like us among the republicans.” 😉
    we’re living in fresno, CA, and i know what you’re talking about when you wrote about the healthcare ralley. i know that people against the healthcare reform gladly use the free care when on vacation in europe [i’m from germany], but don’t want their own folks here to have the same. worse yet, they appear to think they’re immune from bad luck and thus don’t have to give a shit about people like your friend who had a bike accident. because it wouldn’t happen to them.
    please say hi to judy, and thank her for a wonderful film.
    i hope you two have a good weekend!

    in fresno

  2. Ian Says:

    No kidding, I think about this every day. More and more, American culture is based on shopping. Shopping for things that people not only don’t need, but are also a horrifingly enormous source of waste and pollution. Our emotional needs are so neglected by the culture we live in that big buisness swoops in preditory style to fill these needs for us(and for thier own profit). So many psycological tricks and con games are employed in all this that unless you’re accutely aware and have made a real effort to see past and overcome it(and I think is fair to say that most people haven’t) you don’t stand a chance. Its kind of hard not to be cynical when you think that most people out there don’t care ONE BIT about any of this and probably haven’t ever given it a thought.
    it sort of leads me to wonder: Whats more important to us? cool new technology and low prices…or a mass extinction???

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