August 23, 2016
“Oh, Jerry, don”t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”
I”m pre-crying. TCM’s running a 24/7 Bette Davis marathon today, and although Now, Voyager (1942) isn”t starting for six more hours (and ending for eight), just typing those two sentences”the final words in the film“tears me up.
Even though, well, they don”t really make any sense. They clash with even the rest of the movie’s already mega-melodramatic dialogue, and smack of a writer dying to get a long job over with and pour a well-earned drink or three. But after a relentless emotional buildup, I”d weep at the end of Now, Voyager if Davis and Paul Henreid burst into the Pledge of Allegiance.
But even when uttered by the First Lady of the American Screen, any blather about the constellations leaves me as cold as Neptune. Yes, as a teenager, I obediently watched Cosmos like everyone else. But neither Carl Sagan’s corduroy charisma nor those glossy special effects fired up my heart and brain, any more than all those NASA expeditions to vacant rocks in the sky that had punctuated my childhood (and interrupted my cartoons).
The space program was a spectacular waste of extorted tax dollars, a WPA for engineers instead of artists. Watching nerdy small-government libertarians swoon in pathetic conformity over Apollo and SpaceX proves once again that Conquest’s Laws are bunk: Everyone is, in fact, a raving liberal when it comes to his pet passion. Elon Musk is a welfare queen.
Bores insist that the space program has spun off a host of indispensable inventions, but these they can rarely name, and besides, such wonders, if truly crucial, would have been developed anyhow”perhaps even faster, and more cheaply, had the government left trillions in stolen cash in the hands of private enterprise.
Perhaps some readers will find my opinions more palatable if phrased this way: “Federally funded spaceflight is the quintessential neoconservative project: a giant, wasteful crusade designed to fill Americans” supposedly empty lives with meaning.”
Whereas Americans (although certainly not only them) are perfectly capable of stuffing nonsense into the cavities of their lives without “help” from a government middleman. They even manage to amuse themselves with astronomical nonsense on the lowest of budgets, no shaky shuttle required, as recently reported in The New York Times…
But first: I wrote about them here years before their “cause” got its name, but I remain less than completely impressed by the “shitlords” of Gamergate, and videogame players in general, stuck to screens, fixing on pixels. But I also see little difference between them and those tedious individuals who are enamored of staring at stars. Few pastimes have acquired stargazing’s chimera patina of science and romance, a combination that serves to render it practically impervious to disapproval.
I said “practically.” One thing I did manage to pick up from Dr. Sagan was that many of the stars we “see” aren”t even there anymore. Your eyes have simply, finally, picked up the light given off by some celestial body that may have gone dark thousands of years ago. So you”re craning your neck appreciatively to take in a floating boulder’s last, luminous fart.