You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got
Set them free at the break of dawn
‘Til a U.S. Fighter jet shoots them down
Back at base, sparks in the software
Flash the message “Something’s out there”
Floating in the winter sky
99 weather balloons go by
I started out this week hoping to parody Nena’s 1983 smash hit with lyrics poking fun at the recent onslaught of UFOs and our seemingly never-ending Red Scare. Unfortunately, the original lyrics are a little too on-the-nose to make a good joke.
Still, nothing’s wasted. That thought led me to plumb the depths of Wikipedia to find out what other treasures from 40 years ago feel uncomfortably relevant today. I’m about to date myself in a way that will be uncomfortable for both older and younger readers, but when I was a kid, 40 years of history seemed like a more significant bit of time travel somehow.
An unexpected laugh bubbled up out of me in the wayback machine when I learned that sitting Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s mother resigned from the Environmental Protection Agency amid scandal in 1983.
Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” felt like an amusingly apt parallel for current foibles in airborne enemy interception.
I was also fascinated to learn that some people bombed the U.S. Senate building in 1983. I wonder if the January 6th crew heard about that before they made their plans? Our history was filled with attempted Boogaloos before Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo ever busted a move.
Overall, however, I found 1983’s suite of Cold War pissing matches, environmental disasters, accidents in hazardous workplaces, and pandemic denialism somewhat demoralizing. I keep trying to reframe the takeaway to something like “humanity is always on the brink of disaster and yet we persist,” but it leaves a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth. Try as I might, the question screeching through my mind like nails on a chalkboard (and an oft-reoccuring theme in this column) remains: How did everything get so fucking stupid?
I keep trying to ask a better question or connect with more current events, but I can’t stop boggling at how little we seem to learn. Satire has become completely indistinguishable from reality. Propaganda makes obtaining reliable information nearly impossible. Technology is altering our brains faster than we can study the impact.
It has always been that way, though. The thing about patterns is that they have to repeat a few times before they’re recognizable. They require distance and an ability to reflect. It’s tough to see the whole shape of the road you’re walking when you’re on it. For how often we say that “insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results,” we seldom have the ability to gain understanding of which patterns we’re repeating in the moment.
But those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, aren’t they? Can all of those ideas be reconciled? Are we just doomed?
We are living in the pattern that has emerged from our shared actions and values, passed down over time. In the U.S., the central motif of that pattern is a constitution scraped together by a bunch of idealistic teenagers who’d only just barely escaped monarchy as the only known form of government. For nearly two and a half centuries, we’ve let that motif guide our pattern — bastardized as it’s been by various Supreme Court interpretations — and, as it repeats and expands, each generation begins to see the flaws of inexperience that existed in the original form.
I want to believe most people know a society based entirely around the legal fiction of continuous uninterrupted growth in profits is destined to fall short of expectations, but that kind of socialist talk is going to get me on a government watch list.
And, speaking of opinions likely to get me on a federal watch list, we are doomed to repeat those nearly 250-year-old flaws until we stop, take a look at the patterns forming in our history, and correct course. The founders did the best they could with the information they had, but sometimes things just get blown off of their intended flight path. . .
. . .and then shot down by very expensive fighter jets. I may not have all the answers, but I would, at a minimum, advise against hot air balloon rides for the foreseeable future.
Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].