Photo by Jing Xi Lau via Unsplash

The final words of George Floyd are often echoed on walls: I CAN’T BREATHE. But the system continues to try and stop the collective breath of a society which is starved for change. The riot-helmeted police have their knees on all our necks.

I was struck by images of the civil unrest on CNN. Visions burning cars, screaming police and protesters, the explosive cough of tear gas canisters and the thud of plastic bullets being fired. This all being interspersed with endless station breaks of commercials for fast food, cars and cosmetics. The endless, silly, infantile, stream-of-consciousness of capitalist enterprise set to the bubbly synthetic music, the new-age muzak of advertising. Even in these aggravated  moments of conflict we’re being urged to call for pizza or think about some really cool hedge trimmer from Stihl. We are told that as safe drivers we can save money on our car insurance.  Even while many who have lost their jobs and livelihoods are trying to figure out how to pay for roofs over their heads. Target stores announced dozens of store closures throughout the country. Department stores were in trouble before the pandemic due to online shopping. They have also been hit by a pandemic and a nationwide spree of protests, looting and burning. Yet the humdrum everything is fine and the voice of commercialism in America rattles on hypnotically. Can’t breathe? Buy anyway. BUY BUY BUY. 

We go on playing the blame game and running commercials. I often wonder if one day while nuclear weapons are on their way will McDonald’s arches, the AFLAC duck and the Liberty Mutual Emu still be chattering on our TV screens. I’ve come to believe we won’t die with a bang or a whimper. We’ll expire consumed by a sales pitch for something we can’t afford. We’ll die with a silly jingle for some candy bar playing in our heads.

For now I’m mesmerized by all the media encouragements, we should do this and we should do that. Each brand of media does it differently, according to their projected market share. For the right wing law and order types, William Barr and President Trump. For the moderate left, Kamala Harris,  Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker. For the more left leaning, there is MSNBC with Reverend Sharpton. They all cut to commercials and sing the song of consumerism. 

One has to wonder whether the problem is much less specific to any one group or ideology. Are the problems we face more about the way we’ve organized or failed to organize all our social interactions?  Are we capable of a change in perspective? 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Fernando Rivas Martinez

Fernando Rivas Martinez is writer and prison reform advocate incarcerated in Texas. He is a 1977 Juilliard graduate and award winning composer of film and television music. In 2016, while incarcerated, he received an honorable mention from the PEN America prison writing program for his poem ‘300 Min.’ In 2019 he won the American Short Fiction Insider’s Prize award and an honorable mention on the Texas Observer short story contest.