Thursday, 19 May 2005
THE DEATH OF CHUCK
The most shocking story of them all occured during the first episode of the second season (although it was initially delayed by the network, and actually aired as the 5th episode of that season): The death of Chuck. The producers of the series had been having trouble with the character of Chuck, Richie's basketball playing, college-going, big brother. The character only appeared sporadically during the first season, and was portrayed by a variety of different actors, but they were never able to get the chemistry right between him and the rest of the family. For the second season, the decision was made to get rid of the character. The question was "how?"
They breifly considered pretending like he was never on the show to begin with, but they knew the audience would never buy that. They also considered having the character get drafted into the army, but felt that would be too cheesy (although they later used the same idea to get rid of Richie when Ron Howard quit). Series creator Gary Marshall decided the character should die. His death alone would not have sparked much controversy, but the circumstances surrounding it certainly did.
In this episode Chuck exhibited bizarre behavior, and Richie was concerned that he may be drinking, or even on drugs. The rest of the family refused to acknowledge this. They could not believe that straight-arrow Chuck could be in trouble. Finally, Richie attempted to confront Chuck on his own.
When Richie showed up at Chuck's bachelor pad, he found Chuck slumped over in a chair, half-conscius, with a hypodermic needle in his arm. Richie attempted to call an ambulance, but Chuck pulled the phone cord out of the wall. "You ain't callin' nobody Richie... I ain't goin' to jail!"
"You need an ambulance," cried Richie, and he attempted to get the phone cord away from his brother. Chuck became enraged, and wrapped the cord around Richie's throat, choking him! At this point it seemed like the episode couldn't get any more disturbing, but it did!
While choking him, Chuck unzips and lowers Richies pants, and then does the same to his own! "I'm going to make a man out of you little brother," he screamed! "I'm going to make love to you, just like you've always dreamed that I would!"
Meanwhile, Howard and Marion Cunningham approach the apartment, as they have finally admitted to themselves that Chuck has a problem, and have decided to talk to him. They hear spounds of a struggle coming from Chuck's apartment, and Howard draws his gun.
Suddenly the back door is kicked off of it's hinges, and Fonzie bursts into the room with his switchbalde drawn! Chuck rushes towards him, and attempts to hit Fonzie in the head with a lamp from a nearby table. The Fonz blocks the attack, and then repeatedly sinks his blade into Chuck's gut, and finally slits his throat as he collapses to the ground.
Fonzie bends over the pantsless Richie to unwrap the cord from his neck, but at this point, Howard Cunningham enters the room with his gun drawn. Shocked beyond belief at what he is seeing, and thinking that Fonzie has murdered one of his sons, and was about to rape another, he pumps several rounds of bullets into The Fonz!
Fonzie falls, and Mr. C moves in for the kill, but Richie intervenes, and frantically explains what really happened. Luckily, it turns out that Fonzie is okay, because the "lucky gas cap" he keeps in his pocket had blocked the bullets.
Rather than involve the police, the group decides to bury Chuck's body in the Cunnigham's back yard. This leads to the strangest sequence of the episode, as the writers attempt to inject some humor into the story, by having Howard use the grave-digging to tell an anecdote about his experiences digging fox-holes on the frontline in the army. Marion scolds him on this, knowing full well that he never saw any action in the army, and Howard sheepishly admits that he really had been digging latrines. A wacky laugh is had by all.
This creepy episode ended by everyone agreeing (even Joanie, although she wasn't told why) to never, ever, mention Chuck again. From that episode on, the Cunningham's never spoke Chuck's name again, and pretended he never existed, even refering to Richie as their "oldest child" and their "first-born" in later episodes.
What does it mean to be an American? That is the question that is pulsing through the country, especially as the nation embarks on the dark road to war.
A plethora of pro-imperialist writers (pro-imperialists can be of both the right or the so-called "left") have been busy promoting the suggestion that many of those who are firmly in the anti-war camp (such as this writer) are somehow Anti-American. Of course, they feel no need to define their terms, for they rely on the implicit understanding of the reader to follow their drift.
But such a charge has a long history in the United States, and seriously deserves an answer.
Decades ago, the U.S. Congress appropriated to itself the task of defining what Anti-Americanism meant, and established the infamous HUAC (for the House on Un-American Activities Committee). This group waged ideological war on Communists, socialists, and anyone who tried to organize social change in the repressive status quo of the United States. People barely remember the rednecks who sat on the side of the government, and who imperiously condemned those who came before them, but Paul Robeson, Dr. W.E. B. DuBois, and the Hollywood 10 (actors and writers who were black listed during the period) are remembered with something akin to reverence.
Who were the real Americans? The rednecks and racists who stormed and raged and lorded it over those activists and artists? I stand with Robeson. I stand with DuBois. I would rather pitch my tent with the artists of the Hollywood Ten, who stood for the right to create work that reflected the truths about this society, rather than with the racists and segregationist politicians who stood for silence in the face of repression.
Thousands of people lost their livelihoods, and some committed suicide in the face of this cruel government repression. Families were destroyed in this witch hunt of the 1950's which launched the careers of the Nixons, and the Roy Coens, and the like.
The definition of American has been contested all throughout the history of this country, and when the State has been able to assert their meaning, it has always meant blind obedience to those in power, in government.
There are millions of people in this country who believe in another definition. They believe in the people. They believe that it is not the duty of people to obey the government, but the duty of the government to obey the people. They believe that everyone should have a say in that definition, not just the moneyed interests. They also do not believe in Empire.
To be an American also means that one is related to other peoples in the Americas. Like the Cubans. Like the Venezuelans. Like the Nicaraguans. Like the Brazilians.
They do not believe that it is the inherent right, or the manifest destiny of the Norte Americanos to rule over them like New Rome.
They don't believe that it is right for American military or CIA or any other agency to destroy the leaders or popular organizations of neighboring states (or distant ones).
That definition of American is not anti-American, but the very best of what it means to be a part of the people of the Americas.
That kind of American is not represented in the halls of government or in the corridors of power in the Bush regime; but it is in the hearts, minds, and souls of the people. It has not yet found true political expression, but it will.
They may be called anti-imperialists. But they may also be called, "Americans".
[Col. recorded 1/1/03]
"To sit in darkness here Hatching vain empires."
John Milton (1608-1674) "Paradise Lost"
There is something quite quaint, and faintly disturbing to hear Americans speak of their nation as a 'democracy'. America, given its richness, its diversity, and its complexity, is many things, but a democracy it ain't. This is especially so, if one considers the true imperial nature of the modern American nation-state. This is not a rabid call of the wild radical, baying at the pitted moon. For perhaps the first time in almost a century,
leading voices of the elite, and the corporate press admit as much. In the pages of the business journal, The Wall Street Journal one finds scattered references to the imperial nature of the U.S. Empire, even if there is no overt recognition of it in the platforms of the political parties, or the alleged history taught in grade schools these days. But if history teaches us anything, it is that nations may describe themselves one way, and be another. When I hear nativist propagandists speak of the U.S. as the 'Birthplace of Freedom,' or some such, I feel compelled to ask, how can the 'birthplace of freedom' be built on slavery the very antithesis of freedom the heart of unfreedom (Why not call it 'the birthplace of White freedom' ? or is that too revealing of those who weren't free?)
Of such fictions histories are born.
It is in this light that we must view the newly-announced 'Bush Doctrine', as recorded in the recently published "National Security Strategy of the United States of America" document. It calls for and justifies (or tries to) preemptive strikes all around the globe, against anybody, anywhere, who even thinks about posing either a threat or parity with the Empire. To make a long story short, the document calls for the canning of the cold war strategies of 'containment' and 'deterrence'. Using its supremacy of the technology of death, the U.S. reserves to its self the right to pre-emptively attack and even overthrow any nation-state in the world it deems threatening, attempting to acquire WMDs (you know, weapons like the U.S. already has), harbors terrorists, or doesn't sufficiently suck-up to the Big Dog on the street (U.S.A.).
The UN is but a minor annoyance (as has been shown in the Iraqi war example).
Neither is the European Union much of a deterrent to U.S. hubris, for while they may possess an inordinate amount of wealth and economic strength, they are, at present, no match for the martial power of the American Empire and they know it.
As long ago as 1991, when the late French President Francois Mitterand and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, announced their plans for a joint Franco-German "Euro-corps" an official military arm of the EU Bush, the Elder, issued a thinly-veiled message to his European 'allies': "Our premise is that the American role in the defense and the affairs of Europe will not be made superfluous by European union. If our premise is wrong, if my friends, your ultimate aim is to provide individually for your own defense, the time to tell us is today." The "Euro-corps" idea was quietly shelved, and the Cold War relic of NATO has been edged into its place under continued U.S. strategic and command dominance, of course. Indeed, even NATO has its limits, as scholar Michael Ignatieff noted in a recent "New York Review of Books" article:
Britain's prime minister can shuttle usefully between Islamabad and New
Delhi, but the influence that determines outcomes in the regime comes from
Washington. This is a painful reality for Europeans, who like the Japanese
believed the myth that economic power could be the equivalent of military
might. Events since September 11 have rubbed in the lesson that global power is still measured by military capacity. Having rallied to the American Cause after September 11, the NATO liaison officers who arrived at CENTcom in Florida had to endure the humiliation of being denied all access to the Command Center where the war against Osama bin Laden was actually being run. The American's trust their allies so little the same was true during the Kosovo operation that they exclude everyone but the British from all but the most menial police work. ["Barbarians at the Gate", NYROB (2/28/02), pp.4-6]
An Empire has, nor needs, allies. It is sufficient to Itself. It has subject powers. It has vassals. It does not have, nor tolerates equals. The Bush Doctrine is replete with threats for the rest of the world, to keep it that way.
mumia abu jamal