As 2012 came to a close, rumors of doom surrounding a legendary myth became louder and louder. These stories, which existed for quite some time, took liberties with history and fed on the common misunderstandings that most people share about the way the universe works. Of course, when the much-dreaded day came and went, we learned that it was all just a lie after all. However, true believers persist, as they often do. They didn't hesitate to begin constructing a new end-of-the-world myth to captivate imaginations.
I wish I was talking about the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012, but, sadly, I am not. I am talking about the Fiscal Cliff fiasco.
The ongoing media drama about the fate of the nation's tax rates and government spending eerily mirrors the asinine notion that a long-dead culture could foresee the end of the entire universe. In fact, the only real difference between the two is that the Mayan myth had a definite date attached to it. Oh, sure, the Fiscal Cliff had a doomsday attached to it as well, but let's be honest here, once the Senate missed the deadline to pass its version of the bill, didn't the words of Johnny Rotten echo through your head: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"
After all, could there really be a deadline if it was just a simple matter of saying, "Well, OK, we missed that one so let's just move the deadline and try again"? Imagine if the next Die Hard movie (and yes, there is another one coming, so maybe the Mayans were right) involves yet another cliché scene of Bruce Willis' character defusing a bomb, only this time he's unable to do it. We watch as the digital counter drops to zero and then ... nothing. Maybe a little note pops up on the digital screen that says, "Sorry to make this one so hard on you. Here's an extra five minutes." Film critics would say that is the point in the movie where they were no longer able to suspend disbelief, an essential quality for any movie. It has to be able to make you believe that these unbelievable things are happening.
And we were told that so many unbelievable things would happen if the nation fell, dove, or plunged off the Fiscal Cliff. Tax rates would skyrocket, and those poor, poor billionaires would be forced to either sell off a couple luxury homes or fire a few thousand workers. Defense spending would be slashed, and Al Qaeda would rise up and invade the United States while a legion of Chinese superhackers would make it impossible for us to set our DVRs to record American Idol. All the while, the tense drama between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner played out night after night. I am sure that sometime next week, Bob Woodward's gripping and incredibly detailed retelling of the entire negotiation process will be on the bookshelves of every bookstore on the planet, all to reinforce the mythology that this was almost the Big One. It was the time that our nation almost went off the cliff.
But we did not. A "deal" came through. And apparently, it was a good deal because no one seems happy about it. Hysterical stories about the horrible, terrible, no-good increase in the middle class's taxes appeared before the New Year saw its first payday. People complained about the "socialist" in the White House, who promised he would not raise taxes on the average family. These complaints were met, of course, by the defenders of the president, who pointed out that taxes did not increase — a cut merely lapsed.
Instead of asking honest questions about why wages in this country are so substandard as to force most families to have both parents out of the house 40 or more hours a week, the press dutifully fulfills its obligations to its corporate ownership by placing the onus of responsibility squarely on A) government in general and B) the Democrats specifically. Meanwhile commenters on Facebook, instead of asking why they are being paid so little for so much work, deride their government.
Just like every other failed doomsday prophecy, this new one is giving rise to yet another doomsday scenario, this time in the form of the debt ceiling. These stories, like all religious myths about the end of the world, will go on as long as we choose to believe them. They allow politicians and the media to drain us of what little money and energy we have left to fund their political-industrial complex —which is probably the only growth industry we have left in America today.