The trash aesthetic

Garbage Head

By Elizabeth Johnston

A review of Garbage Head by Christopher Willard

Published on April 1, 2005

Garbage Head
Christopher Willard

Vehicule Press
$18
paper
160pp
1-55065-206-0

Artists, writers, and philosophers have been sounding warning bells about one thing or another throughout history. Now we’re in the digital age, when text is made to compete with moving image media, and it’s no contest what’s winning. In the novel Garbage Head, Christopher Willard both critiques the “garbage” and fills our heads with more.

Meet the Mayson family: the parents, daughter Dolores, and teenage son Garbage Head, who has the uncanny ability of saying what people on television are going to say just before they say it. While Garbage Head sleeps in, the family convenes in the kitchen watching The Fabulous Gigi Fandone Show on four monitors of The VisionQuest Diatronic SuperResolution® television. It’s a vacuous talk show that eventually will give everyone his or her fifteen minutes of fame. Tomorrow Garbage Head will usurp Dolores’s spot on the episode that deals with teens who do weird stuff. Today, though, the host is making an ornithologist look like an idiot for professing that flightless birds exist.

While watching, Dolores also send erotic text messages to a man she never appears to meet in real life, and complains to her parents of the show, “You want to hear that nerd? Professors are soooo outdated. Everything’s hypertext now, Ma.”

In Garbage Head’s world then, academics are out. Interpersonal communication as well as critical thinking have gone the way of the dodo.

The VisionQuest Diatronic SuperResolution® monitors on the walls of the studio flash, “Clap.” The monitors used to flash, “Applause” but it took too long for some of the audience to mentally construct the letters into a meaningful word.

Yet in a dusty garret a lone PhD student is trying to inject meaning into meaninglessness. Perhaps he is this world’s salvation? But no. Unbeknownst to him, his own PhD committee is against him.

The PhD student is struggling over his PhD thesis titled “Cultural Hermeneutics: Nominalism and Meaning” that will never be accepted.
The Chair of the Department will say, “That shit went out with academics long ago.”
The Chair will say, “Why don’t kids write about something that everybody already knows?”
The Chair says, “Nobody wants to read something they don’t know.”

Much of Garbage Head’s message regarding the numbing effects of digital saturation will already be known. Willard pokes fun at society’s foibles, giving us the requisite laughs/emotional peaks per second needed to keep a media-logged audience tuned in. The novelist’s vision is one where we amuse ourselves to death – where Garbage Head and the new bride he met on the Gigi Show make a pilgrimage to the gravesite of the MGM lion.

Philosophers Arthur and Mary Louise Kroker point out the detrimental consequences of technological consumption without critical awareness. They are not anti-technology; rather, they stimulate debate. The Krokers consider it their mission to help create the moral context for an age too busy or too blind to do so for itself. In Willard’s novel, though, we see a world too engrossed in living this hyper life to engage in any sort of serious discussion.

The general aim of dystopian writing is corrective. Willard’s vision is bleak but there seems no way out of the digital loop society has slipped into. There is no moral outrage, no voice in the wilderness, just the flashing admonition to clap. mRb

Elizabeth Johnston is the author of "No Small Potatoes," and teaches writing at Concordia University.

Comments

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

More Reviews

The Rebel Scribe

The Rebel Scribe

Christopher Neal's biography of radical journalist Carleton Beals is an epic tale of adventure, romance, and revolution.

By Malcolm Fraser

Acting Class

Acting Class

In Acting Class, Nick Drnaso is concerned with the vivid world of the interior.

By Connor Harrison

Peacekeeper’s Daughter

Peacekeeper’s Daughter

Peacekeeper’s Daughter is Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt's memoir about her time in Lebanon while her father, a UN ...

By Yara El-Soueidi