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Land of the Free, Home of the Brave


All through America’s history, there has been ongoing conflict about the limits of freedom and liberty. This country was built on the idea of being free to do what one wants, but at the same time there have always been those who feel that it is possible to go too far, that sometimes enough is enough. A new satirical mystery from famed comic book writer Warren Ellis illustrates the 21st century version of this ongoing debate.

In Ellis’ debut novel Crooked Little Vein, private eye Michael McGill is hired by the president’s heroin-addicted chief of staff to find the secret backup version of the U.S. Constitution, written by the Founding Fathers for future generations to use in an emergency. According to the plot, in the ’50s a bound version of that document vanished after Vice President Richard Nixon traded it for the favors of a Chinese woman living on a houseboat in San Francisco Bay, and it has been wandering ever since, traveling from collector to collector. The authorities are very disturbed by how perversion has become mainstream and they need that alternate version of the Constitution, which turns out to have magical powers, to make America a beautiful place again.

McGill heads off on the book’s trail, which leads him across America and into some of the weirdest places imaginable. The story gives author Ellis the opportunity to document a series of far-out activities, some of which are true and some of which are exaggerations, but you will probably have difficulty guessing which are which. Examples includes devotees of Godzilla bukkake (trust me, if you don’t know, you don’t wanna know), eel porn and testicular saline infusion fetishists. Even if you’re a First Amendment absolutionist and believe in no boundaries on behavior, the buffet of bizarreness offered up in Ellis’ book will test your limits.

Crooked Little Vein

America has been moving in this direction for quite a while. Once upon a time, you might only see a tattoo on a sailor or a Maori tribesman; now you see them on suburban Moms at the local mall. You used to have to go to some seedy shop to get pornography and now you can order it on your television. The Internet has opened the floodgates; just about any kind of deviant behavior you can think of (and some you haven’t ever imagined) can be found online. And you don’t have to be that squeamish to find some of this material off-putting.

But what’s to be done? Is an "anything goes" attitude healthy for our society? If we draw lines, where do we do so and who gets to draw them? After all, if we’re going to outlaw images of sexual deviance, does any portrait of sexuality count as deviant? In the end, Ellis suggests that it’s better to opt for openness and access than to try to put the genie back in the bottle. While the Internet allows unfettered access to some dark parts of our human psyche, it’s important to remember that all it really does is allow access to information. You choose where to go. Some us will go to some dark places, while others will use that access to spread some light.

Keep in mind that some of the most outspoken proponents of fighting back the swill of liberalism turn out to have skeletons in their own closets (Pastor Ted Haggard and former Speaker of the House Bob Livingston spring to mind). The United States is an ongoing experiment in freedom and liberty, with new challenges always appearing to test us. While some might like to propose that there is a perfect state for our nation – one that existed in some golden moment of the past and to which we need to return – I would instead propose that we need to be very wary of drawing lines. Our country was founded on a fight for liberty and against the tyranny of a monarchy. Today’s fight is against a different tyranny: the myth of the beauty of the Good Old Days.

Editor’s Note:Spot-on’s Mike Spinney has had some comments on personal liberty and democracy. His most recent post is here.

Share  Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 12:06 PM | Permalink

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