Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Don DeLillo, Cell Phones, The Destruction of Irony

A week ago, after work, on a crosstown bus, and all I wanted for the half hour ride was to read the galley of the new Don DeLillo novel, Falling Man,a ruminative narrative highlighting the lives of New Yorkers on the day of the attacks, 9/11. Finally, a novel about the attack that matters; not to give too much away, but this is prime DeLillo, exploring the sober side of what was White Noise's premise for post modern comedy, the disruption of fixed and certain lives by the intrusion of an event beyond imagination. 

In White Noise, the effect was comic, funny, and all ironies laid in the day were comedies of the clueless trying to make peace with the nagging changes that cause everyone to avoid the void as they try to retool old habits with new explanations, theories, contrived proofs that the world will return to normal. Now it's tragedy, and the quality of irony finds itself made ironical.The attack on the World Trade Center puts us beyond abstractions like comedy or tragedy , on which one can grasp onto something fixed in their minds as a normality they can get back to. All is muted, rendered mute.Rationalization is deferred.

So what I wanted to do in this thirty minutes was to swim in DeLillo's brilliant prose and wallow in my own abstract and unconnected intellections, vaguely aware of neon signs and street lights going past, when my own sallow pleasure was deferred, tipped over by a growing sound, beginning in consciousness as a mild buzz, a gentle irritant, but which now had increased in volume, length and grating persistence that it could no longer be ignored.A girl, twenty, yakking away in the back of the bus, at full volume. I was sitting in the front of the bus, but I could hear every word clearly. I might as well been listening from a across a Starbuck's table." --so Jenny says to me that Brad is a creep and has issues and such bullshit that makes him flake and bail on phone calls he was supposed to return or money he had to pay back, and told me too that going out with him was a bad idea, mega bad, but I said to Jenny that she could cool her jets and let me find out for myself because all that shit about Brad fucking Zoe is nothing I don't know about already and ---"
A breathless gush , a river of seamless nouns and adjectives, accelerated in tempo and announced to the entire bus in a pitch that resembled the high strung whine of apartment house plumbing when someone takes a shower; her voice was less appealing than a six year old with a bullhorn. I rose and asked her to lower her voice. She stopped talking."Your talking about stuff that's too personal for 
public consumption. We don't want to participate in your conversation..." Christ, I sounded like a goddamned old man, older than my father ever sounded when he chastised me for unctuous behavior in public. But I am an old man, truth be told, fifty four , almost fifty five, and convinced that I've lived long enough to not have to put up with this mindless inconsideration. Of course, I was talking to a nineteen year old girl, and not some muscled loud mouth male, or a crack head trying to score a fix. Big man. Still, let it be known.


Of course, I calmed down. Not good for the blood pressure to fume about the small stuff. But the irritation lingers, it's not likely to subside, and what makes matters really aggravating is my awareness that I'll have to , at some time, get a cell phone.

I oppose cell phone use commercial airlines and applaud the FAA's refusal to allow them to be used. It's not right to force people to listen to chatter junkies prate on and on when one hasn't the option to move to a quieter spot. Cell phone users driving cars, in check out lines, in theaters, in bookstores, in cafes must all be quiet. "Social conventions" have yet to emerge as something we apply to cell phones. If there is a "given" about the devices, it's that owners assume they have a right, mandated from God, to use their phones where ever they choose to discuss whatever they like, making life in the city all that less delightful. San Diego, New York, Chicago, Detroit, folks flip them open, prate about their affairs no matter how inane or personal or private--I had to listen to a psychiatrist wax to a colleague about a patient, name and everything, about a patient's difficulties and the treatments he wasn't responding to in the middle while in the middle of a crowded bookstore. So much for doctor/patient privilege. Really, social conventions, such as tact,respect for your fellows, holding a civil tongue in public, are dismantled and discarded when cell phones enter the picture. I don't regard the use of a cell as an unconditional civil right and would encourage Airlines to simply ban them outright, on the principle that paying that kind of money ought not be a buy-in to listening to yammering neurotics whose company I cannot leave until the plane touches down. Or when my bus comes to my stop.


  1. Literature review plus cultural commentary. I like it. On cell phone use in public: it's easy to be inconsiderate toward people you're pretending don't exist. Perhaps if we all didn't ignore each other so much, we wouldn't use cell phones the way we do. I hate it, too, though. On that bus, I'd have had to supress the urge to rip the phone out of her hand and lob it out the window.

  2. My instinct is to grab the devices and likewise toss them, smash and mash them, but that would mean too many fights to have to win in one week. I do, though, refuse to allow cell phone users their use of their techo pacifier if I've been sitting in the seat first. I claim my rights as a passenger, and confirm some other passenger's suspicion that I'm a dick. But that's life in the big city.

  3. There are no goddamn cell phones allowed on the Talk Show On A Bus!! This is the United States of (insert harmonica blast) TED!!! Goodnight everybody!(Harmonica solo, fade to commmercial)

  4. Fuckin'A right, brah..

  5. Well, we're all dicks sometimes, Ted.

  6. But I'm a dick without a cell phone.

  7. I'm a bigger dick than I was before. I bought a cell phone years ago. Oh well


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