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Feelin' Gravy

Thanks for nothing, turkeys

By Annalee Newitz

I'VE DECIDED that my entire attraction to the band Wilco has to do with a few lines at the end of one of their songs: "I'd like to thank you all for nothing nothing nothing nothing at all." It reminds me of Thanksgiving.

Hopefully, you've already discovered that Thanksgiving is a myth based on abysmally racist ideas, genocide, blah, blah, blah. So why the hell do we keep celebrating it? It's obvious that we're not celebrating "how the white people killed the Indians." So what exactly are we celebrating? Not the reality of American history, certainly--instead, we're chowing down on turkey or turducken or whatever to memorialize an ideal American land where the forces of rationality, equality and freedom always win.

And so, when Thanksgiving rolls around, I think about America--not just the myth, but the reality, which exists all around me. For a reality check, I can look out my office window.

Outside, there is a row of housing projects facing a row of Internet startups. Given my professional, middle-class salary, I'm looking at the housing projects from the side of the street with the startups. If you take a stroll down Hampshire Street between Mariposa and 19th you can witness the convergence of metaphor and social reality: it's class conflict 101, with the entrepreneurial cash on one side of the street, and the disenfranchised, underpaid people on the other.

America has progressed technologically--check out all those nifty new PDAs with the almost-superspeedy, Transmeta-esque processors at Comdex!--but politically we're still in the prehistory of a truly humanitarian society. We're like a bunch of exotic primitives that the Star Trek crew would find on some tragically polluted and war-torn planet. The away team dispatched to our planet's surface would tut-tut over our savage inability to care for our helpless and victimized citizens, and respond with barely contained shock to our military conflicts, economic deprivation, and tiny-minded but fatal ideological disputes.

That's why my ideal America only exists in the realm of science fiction. When I need to feel the kind of hope for humankind that we're supposed to feel at Thanksgiving, I curl up with my sweetie, Charles, and an Ursula LeGuin novel and dream about an America in which the Revolution abolished not just monarchy, but also excessive private property and class division and compulsory heterosexuality and all those primeval social institutions that are beloved by people with power and destructive for those of us without it.

Charles has even indoctrinated me into the ways of British science fiction, which is often more concerned with political liberty than the stuff we get in the United States. Given that I'm supposed to be pleased about America escaping from Britain's iron fist, it's ironic that I'll probably spend part of Thanksgiving watching the Brit SF TV show Blake's 7, all about a political dissident (that would be Blake) and his spaceship full of rebels and techno-geniuses and former prisoners. As Blake and his cohort struggle to fight the fascistic "Federation," viewers are introduced to a universe where people risk their lives to fight the oppressive, bureaucratic government and strike out on their own. We could have used some Blake-style outrage during this recent failure of an election, where national ambivalence and torpor turned out to be more destructive forces than radicalism ever was.

When I have one of those deep "at the crossroads of history" discussions with Charles, we both end up describing various SF narratives to each other. Our social reality sometimes seems so abysmal that one has to turn to speculative fiction to figure out how to change it. In Octavia Butler's amazing political novel Mind of My Mind, people living in the ghettos discover that they can link their minds into a vast "pattern" that will allow them to accomplish what they couldn't as individuals: a total social revolution where the mostly white middle-class is gradually (and happily) controlled by people of color whose new mind-expanding powers of perception will remake the world. Then there's Ernest Callenbach's great Ecotopia, a novel about how Northern California and Oregon secede from the Union and form their own ecologically sound, leftist country.

If you think about it, Thanksgiving is no more or less fictional than Blake's 7 or an Octavia Butler novel. But Thanksgiving is a myth intended to cover up an ugly reality; the science fiction that I love is designed to make us think about changing it.


Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who desperately wants to meet David Gerrold. Reach her at turkey@techsploitation.com.

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From the November 23-29, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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