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  • Writer's pictureC.M.Knopf

Open Up, Flip Thru, Drop Out

| The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem is a McLuhanesque trip. |

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem (2020) is the follow-up to The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: California (2013) which was a sequel to the My Chemical Romance concept album "Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys" (2010).

All three Killjoys stories follow a group of youths as they battle the rampant commercialization and the corporatization of America. - But only "National Anthem" feels like being inside of Marshall McLuhan's head on an LSD trip.

In the latest battle between identity and conformity, punk and money, the Killjoys fight to defend reality itself from the emotion-numbing, mind-erasing power of television and advertising.

"National Anthem" is one of the latest entries into a growing field of comics dealing in techno-dystopias and media-horrors.

In recent years, I Breathed a Body (2021, also discussed in Gutter Politics), Ana Galvañ’s Press Enter to Continue (2019), Juan Doe's Bad Reception, Inés Estrada’s Alienation (2019), Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore’s BTTM FDRS (2019), the Pander Brothers’ Dissident X, Oliver Schrauwen’s Parallel Lives (2018), Adam Glass's The Normals (2017) - and a host of reality-show, social media, cult-of-personality, materialism, corporate control, and commercialism inspired stories like I, Paparazzi (2002), Killer Stunts, Inc. (2005), Paparazzi (2011), America's Got Powers (2012), Snapshot (2013), Pop (2014), Mall (2019), Hollywood Trash (2020), and American Ronin (2020) - have joined the ranks of Howard Chaykin’s media-saturated world of American Flagg! (1983) and the overwhelming environment of sight and sound in Video Jack (1987).

But "National Anthem" seems to have tapped directly into the zeitgeist of media ecology in the 1960s.

In March 1969, Playboy magazine published an interview with media philosopher Marshall McLuhan. In this interview, McLuhan talked, among many things, about the "TV child" who had "all his senses involved by the electric media" in the "cool, inclusive womb of television."

The TV child has been relentlessly exposed to all the “adult” news of the modern world—war, racial discrimination, rioting, crime, inflation, sexual revolution.The war in Vietnam has written its bloody message on his skin; he has witnessed the assassinations and funerals of the nation’s leaders; he’s been orbited through the TV screen into the astronaut’s dance in space, been inundated by information transmitted via radio, telephone, films, recordings and other people. His parents plopped him down in front of a TV set at the age of two to tranquilize him, and by the time he enters kindergarten, he’s clocked as much as 4000 hours of television.

"National Anthem" realizes McLuhan's concept with the authority known as "Mom and Dad," depicted as television screens on pearled and necktied carts that brainwash the country's children.

The back cover of "National Anthem" issue #1 declared, "Turn On. Tune in. Drop out" - a counterculture phrase popularized by Timothy Leary in the 1960s which McLuhan found to be an apt expression of television's effect in society.

When asked about the drug culture of the '60s, McLuhan told Playboy,

They're natural means of smoothing cultural transitions, and also a short cut into the electric vortex. The upsurge in drug taking is intimately related to the impact of the electric media. Look at the metaphor for getting high: turning on. One turns on his consciousness through drugs just as he opens up all his senses to a total depth involvement by turning on the TV dial. Drug taking is stimulated by today's pervasive environment of instant information, with its feedback mechanism of the inner trip. The inner trip is not the sole prerogative of the LSD traveler; it's the universal experience of TV watchers. LSD is a way of miming the invisible electronic world; it releases a person from acquired verbal and visual habits and reactions, and gives the potential of instant and total involvement, both all-at-onceness and all-at-oneness, which are the basic needs of people translated by electric extensions of their central nervous systems out of the old rational, sequential value system.

The "all-at-onceness and all-at-oneness" of the psychedelic trip is further reflected in the neon excesses of "National Anthem." Leonardo Romero's art and Jordie Bellaire's coloring immerse readers into a crass commercial environment that is part '80s kitsch and part vintage '50s, with a dash of Mad Max-style futurism.

The all-encompassing chaos of the visually-overloaded panels capture McLuhan's idea of "the electronically induced technological extensions of our central nervous systems" that he saw "immersing us in a world-pool of information movement and are thus enabling man to incorporate within himself the whole of mankind." The concerns he raised in 1969 are all the more pronounced in 2020s with social media and mobile devices not merely blurring but erasing the lines between public and private.

All our alienation and atomization are reflected in the crumbling of such time-honored social values as the right of privacy and the sanctity of the individual; as they yield to the intensities of the new technology's electric circus, it seems to the average citizen that the sky is falling in.

It is within, and against, such a media-saturated, arguably fully-mediated, environment that the Killjoys are fighting to retain not only their individualism and identity, but reality itself. And it is the fight for reality that makes the The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem a story of the 2020s in retro-trappings.

Because not only are we, as McLuhan suggested, "as unaware of the psychic and social effects of his new technology as a fish of the water it swims in," but we are also all now fighting to define reality, fighting in a war on truth, of truth, and for truth.

~Christina M. Knopf

21 February 2021


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