Does Amis Present A Picture Of America

In Decay In The Moronic Inferno ? Essay, Research Paper

Amis himself describes the phrase ‘the moronic inferno’ as a metaphor for human infamy, and this appears to be a remarkably apt title for a collection of essays which recount views on an America often portrayed as being infamous. America’s preoccupation with money is world-renowned and this theme continuously emerges during Amis’s writings. With one of the highest murder rates in the world, it is hardly surprising that a number of essays contain reference to killings and two concern themselves fully with this theme. Death and disease, although in some cases no fault of America or its people, can also be seen as signs of a decaying society. Further examples of a deteriorating civilisation found in “>The Moronic Inferno”> include the intolerance and hatred expressed by many members of the population and the unscrupulousness and amorality expressed by many more. The Killings in Atlanta offer us our first bitter taste of American life and just as ‘the kid’ in the opening paragraph is ‘real casual’, so Amis informs us in relaxed, American-style speech that ‘these days, man, it’s your money “>and”> your life.’ This play on the old highwayman saying offers a light-hearted introduction into a serious essay and the use of the word ‘casual’ appropriate as the American public seems to have a relatively relaxed attitude towards murder: ‘Conversation about murder in America is as stoical and routine as talk about the weather.’ The use of the three dots in the second paragraph is a common stylistic device employed by Amis and in this case they allow us a brief pause between each clause in which to digest the previous atrocity. By the end of the first section of the essay, the scene has been set and using Atlanta as an example, Amis has displayed to us the extent to which murder has become part of American life. He briefly describes the various incidents which have taken place during the week that he has spent in the city, all of which would have made the headlines in England, but are fairly commonplace in America. And so we move on from the ‘everyday’ killings to the Killings which form the subject of the essay and whose importance is signified by the use of an upper case letter. It surely says something for the state of a society when instead of nursery rhymes, it is necessary that children are taught songs telling them ‘never go with strangers’. However, the song and awareness campaign accompanying it have not had the desired effect and, at least in Altlanta, ‘kids still go with strangers, one every month’. Throughout the essay there is an underlying negative motif and the use of the word black, instead of coloured or Negro, helps add to the sense of pessimism and fear. Negative repetition in the first paragraph of the second section also creates a sense of bleakness and helplessness. The theme of money is one which is incorporated in many, if not most, of Amis’s essays in “>The Moronic Inferno”>, and one which rears its ugly head here on page 14. First we hear Mrs Bell, mother of one of the victims, complaining about the rates of pay for her lectures and then Amis without actually accusing anyone, makes his viewpoint quite clear: Mrs Bell has her critics. There is talk of cashing in, of joining the parade. I would be ashamed to question Mrs Bell’s motives; but these are poor people, and these things are inevitable in America. It is true to say that these people are poor and money plays a large part in American life, but surely it is not the sign of a healthy society when mothers are quite willing to make a fast buck out of their child’s death. The theme of racial intolerance is also touched on in this essay. The mistrust which still survives between blacks and whites in America becomes apparent in the third section – ‘The Time Bomb in the Nursery’. As there appeared to be no link or motive for the murders in Atlanta, and the only thing that the victims had in common was that they were poor black children, people began to assume that the killings were racial. There was no proof that this was the case, but the mistrust between races led people to believe it – a sign that America’s racial problems have still not been overcome. We are told that ‘racial disquiet climbed in the city’ and that when a bomb exploded in a day nursery killing three children and a teacher, the entire city may well have exploded as well had it not been promptly proved that the explosion was the result of a faulty boiler. Amis is told that ‘if that thing hadn’t been open and shut the same day, it could have been a bloody night in Atlanta.’The fourth section of the essay is entitled ‘Circus of the Supercops’, and the imagery of the title is certainly appropriate as the well-known enforcers brought in from other states have a great deal in common with the clowns in a circus tent. As the desperation mounts, more and more efforts are made to catch the killer: psychics, the FBI, epidemiologists, the Guardian Angels, German Shepherd dogs are all brought to Atlanta and here Amis uses three dots at the end of the paragraph as if to say that the list is endless but that all the methods were as ineffectual as the others. One method which people are sure will work as it appeals to the greed of America is the reward money of $100,000, but even this fails to lead to an arrest. The main motive behind the arrival of so many ‘detectives’ was simply PR and as one observer states, ‘they all just wanted to “>look “>good.’ However, this selfishness is displayed by other members of the public, among them politicians, who are also concerned more with how the Atlanta murders issue will affect them than the issue itself. The decaying state of America’s society is again described by Amis as the crimes of Atlanta are discovered. Hidden bodies, guns and stolen goods are found; diseased teenage thieves, child prostitutes are exposed but none of these are related to the Killings. There are still no clues and about the only thing that people can decide on is that there ‘has to be money involved. Bottom line for a whole lotta stuff is money.’ We are reminded of the jingle from the start of the essay as Amis sums up the situation, ‘Despite the propaganda, the campaigns, the fear, the kids still go with strangers.’ In the final section, Amis leaves Atlanta briefly to relate incidents of racial killings in other cities across America before giving us his view on the matter, ‘it is very tempting to see patterns here.’ The ending to the essay is ominous as he describes the ghettos using imagery to present a menacing picture of the future in Atlanta. The short final sentence, ’some will burst’, helps to reinforce his point in clear and concise language. In ‘The Killings in Atlanta’ Amis uses shocking diction to mirror violent situations and leaves us with the impression that America has vast social problems and a government incapable of handling them. The themes of murder, disease, greed, selfishness, and racial intolerance are all dealt with and the closing sentence of the postscript reminds us that America’s problems are ongoing: ‘Perhaps, then, the Killings in Atlanta are over, while the killings in Atlanta go on.’ Murder is again the topic of discussion in ‘The Case of Claus von Bulow’ and again money is a theme entwined throughout. The episode has captivated the American public, all of whom have their own views on the matter – ‘the whole of tabloid and small-screen America are split down the middle.’ The essay deals with the murder of Sunny von Bulow and whether or not it was committed by her husband, Claus von Bulow. Amis’s selection of language and wording are important in this essay, even in terms of the names. In the sentence, ‘Named after the woman who started life as a Liszt and ended it as a Wagner’, we can see a clear transition from a weak, passive ‘Liszt’ to a loud and flamboyant ‘Wagner’. As he sets the scene and relates the history of the case, Amis makes the narrative more authentic by slipping in various colloquialisms: ‘It’s garbage about Sunny being an alcoholic and a pill-popper.’ and ‘ Well, what do you know?’ There is a motif of drugs running throughout the essay, a subject very much part of American life and yet another indication of a decaying society. We learn that ‘Claus was heavily reliant on Valium’ and that ‘Sunny and Claus used to mess around with drugs . Syringes were so much a part of the furniture that kids used to use them as water-pistols.’ Again there is use of the three dots causing a pause of thought and a chance to reconsider the previous point. Other linguistical devices employed by Amis include lytotese (a few million here or there), repetition (incredibly beautiful, incredibly rich and, it seemed, incredibly easy to dominate) and hyperbole (a hint of flab is an abomination). ‘The Life of Pure Money’ is the title to section three, as we see the theme of money appear once more. The message in the opening paragraph is that humans, and Americans in particular, are by nature greedy and always striving for more than they have. Later on in the essay we again see evidence of this fact, as we are told, ‘The hotel staff loved him. “So gracious. And every morning always $10 for the maid In other words – in America – money does buy you love. Towards the end, there is use of the device first seen in the title of ‘The Killings in Atlanta’ – the capital letter: ‘the Manipulator. Here Amis uses it to make the word seem like a proper noun and to draw notice to it. Amis concludes the essay with a summary of his theory of the events, confirming his belief that von Bulow is guilty and in the postscript he again points an accusing finger at the American justice system, which, as in ‘The Killings of Atlanta’ essay, appears very corrupt and has allowed two very rich men to escape a prison sentence. Death is also the topic of discussion in ‘Double Jeopardy: Making Sense of AIDS’. Although the AIDS epidemic can hardly be blamed on America, their handling of the situation as described in the essay leaves a lot to be desired. >At the start of the essay, Amis introduces us to the subject by recounting an incident which he rather ironically describes as ‘banal’. A young, gay man passes two ‘tough’ girls and finds the words ‘Fucking AIDS-carrier’ directed towards him. Amis undoubtedly sees this incident as very worrying and spends the following three paragraphs detailing the implications of it. We again see the use of a capital letter at the start of the word ‘Death’, in order to make it seem even more powerful and noticeable. After showing us the effects on one man, Amis moves onto a more general discussion of the financial consequences of AIDS. In America, where the Health Service is not free, AIDS sufferers not only have to suffer the actual disease and its effects but also the harsh realities of a money-orientated country. The sick man faces average medical bills of $75,000 and with a medical-insurance system which ‘is a shambles of pedantry and expedience’, slim chance of surviving to draw his first cheque. Again it is a case of people thinking of their own interests before those of others.American dishonesty, as Amis himself describes it, is looked at with regard to euphemisms. We are told that in New York everyone on the public wing refers to AIDS patients as PWAs: persons with AIDS and how in America as a whole, handicapped people are merely ‘challenged’, and the ‘exceptional’ child is the child with brain damage. This is simply a method of getting rid of a problem by glossing over the truth, as Amis puts it: ‘Having named a painful reality, you also dispatch it; you get it off your desk.’ Self interest is again evident in politicians as we are told that the reason the Mayor of New York came across with a $6.5 million package was not in response to the countless protests and petitions, but due to the fact that it was election year. This political self interest is again evident in ‘Too Much Monkey Business: The New Evangelical Right’, where we see Ronald Reagan stating views on evolution which are likely to win him 50 million votes. The essay describes the rise in popularity and importance of the Evangelical Right, a movement which is continually ridiculed by Amis, although he does express concern over the issue. Right from the start Amis sets out to show the Evangelical Right as farcical and foolish, an objective frequently fulfilled by his choice of quotations. The alliteration of the first paragraph is a good example of this selective choice of quotations: ‘”I call it Mickey Mouse mentality… monkey mythology methodology monopoly, mysterious musings and mundane dreams of all this monkey business!”‘ Later we see him carefully choosing quotes from the selection of propaganda leaflets he finds in the Reunian Arena, Dallas. He writes:”Why A Bankrupt America<-”>? explains how the Trilateral Commission is helping “Russia Enslave the World!”‘ Most of the pamphlets are presented as being so far fetched, that the people who wrote them cannot be taken seriously. However, Amis insists this is exactly what we must do as he opens the second section with the line: ‘This is a good deal more serious than it may at first sound.’ The Evangelical Right are the Republican Party’s new champions, their electronic ministers of the air. This expression, used by Amis throughout the essay, is an evocative piece of imagery and bares similarities to the description of Reagan’s speech delivery, as depicted in ‘Ronald Reagan’: ‘It is all delivered with mechanical verve’ In both cases there is a sense of the inhuman and the unfeeling. >We can gauge Amis’s feelings on the subject by his use of the word ‘apparently’ signifying that he does not share the views of the Evangelicals. How does this essay help add to the argument that Amis is presenting a picture of American society in a state of decay? Well, the Evangelicals show a great deal of intolerance and hatred towards many sections of society and according to Amis, ‘…have thwarted pro-homosexual and women’s rights legislation…’Also, the movement is allowing some men to get very rich indeed, as TV preachers turn over billions of tax-free dollars every year. The majority of the remainder of the essay is spent relating the various styles of these preachers, from the animalistic Dr James Robinson, who ’strode’ on-stage in a ’sensual, predatory manner’, to the sweet-talking Jerry Falwell, who ‘eased’ himself up on to the stage. So, we have seen murder, death, disease, intolerance, hatred and the evils of the dollar all described in vivid detail in the ‘Moronic Inferno’ and although these things can be found in any country in the world, it is the sheer scale of them in America that is worrying. Perhaps soon the moronic inferno will cease to be a metaphor and will become a reality.


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