The image of an important American politician crawling in agony across a baseball field, trying to limit himself to just one semiautomatic bullet, comes right out of the novels of this nation’s most celebrated contemporary writer, Don DeLillo.
Anyone who has read White Noise or Players knows that postmodern death and near-death à la DeLillo typically involve some combination of playtime activities, guns, and videotape. In DeLillo, death has lost the majesty, the redemptive possibilities, it had as late as, say Tolstoy’s famous story, “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” Now it’s a sudden violent event that happens while adults are playing miniature golf; and someone’s usually around to film them expiring on the little fake putting green.
In Players, affluent American death occurs on a grownup golf course on a bright shiny day, with middle-class men, dressed in crayola colors, engaged in “that anal round of scrupulous caution and petty griefs.”
The golfers on this sweet green morning attend to their game. Together again momentarily on a particular fairway they appear almost to be posing in massed corporate glory before a distant flag. It is now that the vigilant hidden thing, the special consciousness implicit in a long lens, is made to show itself.
A man, his back to the camera, rises from the underbrush in the immediate foreground, about two hundred yards from the golfers. When he turns to signal someone, it’s evident he has a weapon in his right hand, a semiautomatic rifle. After signaling he doesn’t reassume his crouch. One of the golfers selects an iron.
This leisure-time massacre is actually part of a film being shown first-class passengers on a WhisperJet. None of them watches with much attention; they’re in an alcoholic/anxious haze.
The audience’s emotional distance from the bloody mess on the screen is deepened by the fact that they’re in an in-flight piano bar, with a performer who uses his instrument to comment in a campy way on what he’s seeing — on the irony of simultaneous golf and terrorism.
Watching golfers being massacred, to trills and other ornaments, seems to strike those in the piano bar … as an occasion for sardonic delight.
Not all postmodern deaths involve bullets, but virtually all, as presented in the work of DeLillo, involve playtime. In White Noise, set in a university, Professor Dimitri Costakis is “lost in the surf off Malibu. During the term break.” The school’s dean, who once “serve[d] as adviser to Nixon, Ford and Carter,” has recently met “his death on a ski lift in Austria.” Death in America is something that happens when you’re having fun. The ski lift dumps you out; the surf engulfs you; men with guns interrupt your game.
A blimp flying over the U.S. Open went down Thursday just beyond a rim of trees surrounding Erin Hills. The pilot, the blimp’s only occupant, was airlifted from the scene of the crash but was reported as alert and conscious, according to police.
Fan video caught the deflated blimp as it floated to the ground.
That one happened on the same day as the baseball game. It’s hard not to laugh at some of these misadventures, hard not to greet them sardonically. The disparity between the triviality (“petty griefs”) of blimpish voyeuristic activity, and the deflation and airlifting is just funny. It’s just so graphic an illustration of our superficiality, our childish spectatorial lives, so utterly unprepared for seriousness, reality, the crash, the spray of bullets.