In recent weeks, news reports have been circulating about a study that estimates 50% of the U.S. population has experienced some level of cognitive decline due to lead exposure. This could be through lead paint or lead pipes, even leaded gasoline fumes. Now, just because the news media have picked up a press release about a scientific study doesn’t mean we should accept this as gospel truth until it has been properly peer-reviewed. However, this is not the first time I’ve come across the lead theory. Over the last few years, I’ve seen this pitched in online discussions and brought up in articles, so I think there is something worth exploring here.
While many lead-containing products have been banned in the States, there have also been incidences where lead in water is still frequently happening. Flint, Michigan, is a very well-known case, and I can remember local news stories in Nashville about the concerning amount of lead in public school drinking water due to crumbling infrastructure. State and local governments skate around this through flexibility in the range of what constitutes dangerous. As any pediatrician will tell you, any exposure of lead to a developing body and brain is harmful so trying to equivocate it away with a color-coded spectrum isn’t a solution. The CDC recently “ended COVID” by simply changing the metrics by which it judged outbreaks, so, within a single day, the U.S. went from being almost entirely red to having a plethora of yellow and green. Not much serious conversation is happening about the nation losing around 1,500 or more people a day to COVID. American culture has no shortage of toxic Pollyannas telling us we’re fine as things crumble down around us. Americans have a remarkable skill for pretending not to see the wasteland laid before.
There’s a desire to perform an inquest on the still-beating heart of America, searching for the cause of the current strife. This desire is perpetually suppressed in mainstream circles where a set number of talking points is decided on, and the talking heads do not diverge from them. However, through social media, and with a strong filter for the heaping avalanche of unhinged bullshit that populates it, you can see that everything is not okay, and this brain decline is wreaking havoc. I’ve followed several people through social media who identify as trans, non-binary, or some other part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum talking about becoming political refugees. One young woman has fled from Texas to Colorado due to the rampant hatred and attempts at suppressing trans individuals. I’ve read stories shared by non-binary women and cis women who have masculine traits of how they are openly sneered at in doctor’s offices or public bathrooms, looked at with suspicion that they are somehow trying to trick someone. So there’s some irony for you: Americans, some of the most gullible idiots on the planet, fretting that they are being deceived by a harmless person while swallowing snake oil from the greasiest of con-men with a smile on their faces. Everyone spends so much time assuring each other they are right in their hatreds and loyalties for the express purpose of not having to change our minds and rest comfortable in believing we are all “intelligent rugged individuals”.
While lauded as a great strength, I’ve come to see the constant emphasis on hyper-individualism to be the most destructive of cultural beliefs in the U.S. This has led to the obliteration of any sense of the common good or collective responsibility. I’d argue that even the most saintly of Presidents (which don’t exist) are guilty of fomenting this ideology. While Ronald Reagan looked for the spunky 1980s feel-good individualism, someone like Jimmy Carter espoused an austere, buckle-down individuality. You’ll read historians now who try to posit that Carter was run out of office due to a populace that simply didn’t want to accept the responsibility, which is why they turned to sideshow barker Reagan. That’s not entirely right; I think Americans had begun losing faith in the political system with Nixon and Carter’s admonishment amidst rampant deregulation and the continuation of abhorrent foreign policy guided them to the delusions of Reagan. Subconsciously, they realized things were fucked, but at least Ronnie gave them little hollow pep talks from time to time and framed reality in a black & white context. Carter wasn’t the sole arbiter of truth; he just tried to make the people feel guilty for needing to exist while supporting a system that made people’s lives worse both within the United States and abroad. He was just as evil regarding fomenting anticommunism as Reagan, just a different style.
I see Joe Biden behaving very similarly to Carter, and we should all be afraid of that. From the bleak morass of Carter, we were thrown into the ravenous frenzy of Reagan for two terms. Imagine the hell that awaits post-Biden if such a cycle repeats itself, the slavering fascist populist who gins up an already mentally unstable nation into turning on whatever out-group they deem fit for genocide. We’re living in a neoliberal machine, and those who claim to be in charge are terrified into inaction. They cling to the empty belief that if they just keep feeding people to the machine, then society will continue in perpetuity. No wonder systems and structures fell into pieces as soon as COVID took a foothold. Nothing in the plans and technocratic predictions really knew what to do about it. The CDC has lost all credibility with me, not because of the COVID precautions, but because of how quickly they are abandoning them in the absence of any reliable scientific data to do so. And as goes the United States so goes Western Europe. Today, the government of The Netherlands has removed its mask mandate on public transportation. They’d already dropped recommendations for masking in the grocery store, and keeping distant was a joke. Public health sciences feel so inconsistent and crippled by political manipulation that the Western world is slipping into a new dark age, where faith in celebrity, toxic positivity, and essential oils has replaced data-driven science. I guess there’s money to be made in, and capitalism reigns supreme even in the face of social collapse.
I don’t blame anyone who wants to disengage from reality; life sucks unless you’re rich. Prices go up, your wages stagnate, you just want to forget this world and use the media to do it. Hell, I ingest THC daily to make it through life at this point. I would argue that we can’t disengage entirely, though, to do so would be the final nail in the coffin, apathetic & disaffected, unaware of the world we exist in. Mainstream popular entertainment is causing people to suffer from Movie Brain, which has been happening for generations. It’s not a new phenomenon by any means. Big budget movies have always been about what those in power would like for us to focus on. Right now, Marvel movies dominate the landscape, which encourages hyper-individualistic thinking and lifts up existing institutions (like the military) as all we need to protect us from the evils “out there.” It’s not just movies either. There’s strong evidence to suggest the CIA is behind the development of MFA programs at universities like the Iowa Writers Workshop, which was used to push anticommunist ideology through works of fiction. There was work done to shift American literature from being populist to upholding pro-institutional values, and it’s not really a conspiracy theory, pretty relatively out in the open. The avant-garde art movement has been clearly revealed as an attempt by the CIA to foment discontent in Eastern bloc countries. In recent years, there’s been discussion that points to punk rock being pushed into the popular sphere as another form of anticommunist disruption. The low-budget action film genre of the 1980s was rife with transparent attempts at jingoistic anticommunism; those movies are just so blatant you can’t help but recognize them.
I say this to encourage people to actively engage with whatever they consume. If you only like watching MCU and Harry Potter films, then okay, you’ve seen them many times over; the next time you watch one, approach it with a lens to look at how it depicts class or which groups are in or out or what does it say about people in power currently versus those trying to come into power? It’s taken me nearly twenty years, from my first English on criticism & theory to the present, to really grapple with how everything we watch or read is pushing an agenda and if you live in America, how your government and corporations play a role in shaping that narrative. Even ridiculous silly things are making a statement, sometimes by being so absurd. This could point to an ideology centered around disenfranchising potential revolutionaries or pointing out the complete absurdity of institutions. Look at how popular Western media treats certain countries, people, or whole continents. Arab people, for starters, or the continent of Africa.
America is a predominately reactionary country, which can be seen through how often popular media is brought up as a standard. While conservatives loved to rant about how Barack Obama was a celebrity, they never wanted to talk about continually electing media figures into office (Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono, on and on). I’ve seen multiple videos of Fox News talking heads or Qculters rambling on about the bygone days of John Wayne. Tony Soprano opined perennially on the whereabouts of Gary Cooper. The conservatives weren’t wrong; Obama did coast through his two terms mainly by being a popular iconic figure. His pivot into producing content for Netflix wasn’t too big of a stretch; it’s a platform for influential people to shape the population’s thinking. Art should be that; however, in the States, it is primarily used to kick the legs out from underneath potential necessary social upheaval.
Americans are suffering from complete Movie Brain at this point. Everyone is so crushed under the boot at the moment that they want to desperately flee into the world of fantasy where they are powerful and vital. You see it in how a subculture has formed around making Disney properties their personality or, on the other end adopting Call of Duty/action movie tropes in the same manner. Qculters want to be the protagonists in a political thriller where they take down “the corrupt cabal of baby-eaters that run the world”. Barely anyone wants to look at the world for what it is, its beauty, and its flaws and try to preserve the good as the bad overwhelms us. The “art” coming out of corporations at the moment feels painfully hollow, inhuman. It behaves like a person but in an unsettling uncanny way.
I love movies. I made a fucking website devoted to them. But I can’t just passively watch them and not seek to examine why they exist, what they tell us about how and when they were made, how they inform us about the people who made them, and the subjects they are about. I hold true to the idea that all art is valuable in as much as we view it as a reflection of someone else’s beliefs and what they see in our world. When you become disengaged from your emotions while watching a movie, or you find your feelings are more alive when watching a film than when not, we have encountered a problem. I think most people simply don’t think about how art is made. The disconnect between art and artists and their thoughts has become like most people’s connection to food. They don’t correctly understand how it gets to them; it’s a form of magic. The more the process becomes mystified, the greater the danger lies in our future.