Have We Become Passengers? Do We Stay Behind Glass?

In Iggy Pop’s song “The Passenger,” he describes someone riding along each day, looking at the scenery, watching the “ripped backsides” of the city. There’s one line in the second verse where Iggy says “I am the passenger. I stay under glass.”

In a sense, isn’t that what we’re all doing? Haven’t we become passengers, observing life through glass, through our cars, trains — even our televisions, computers and smartphones?

In watching the presidential debates, I continued to wonder about this. We sit observing two people vying for the most important position in the world. We become incensed by some of the comments. Did Donald Trump just say that he hasn’t decided if he’ll accept the election results or not? Did Hillary Clinton just claim she’s been cleared by the FBI when the evidence itself still hasn’t been conclusively examined?

We watch, we huff and puff, we post comments on Facebook and other social media. All the while we’re behind glass. We’re not actively participating in the process. We’re seeing the “ripped backsides” of a political debate, yet we honestly don’t know what to do about it.

After the debate, I read numerous posts (I couldn’t sit through the post-analysis). So many people were coming forward. A woman who worked on “The Apprentice” admitted she never saw Trump be misogynistic, yet he had a “reputation.” Another blogger brought up the extra-marital affairs of past presidents including FDR and John F. Kennedy. We accept the facts, we question the half-truths, we search out further evidence of culpability. Yet we do so at a distance, safe on one hand, powerless on the other.

Yes, we’re all part of the electoral process. As Bernie Sanders points out, we have to participate. Only through democratically elected officials are we truly represented. But, again, are the voices of the people being heard? Regardless of who’s elected, does this guarantee a change based on voter support? Does this affect Congressional nominations or Supreme Count rulings?

And what about climate change? Ten minutes were spent on 2nd Amendment rights. Does the “right to bear arms” honestly have greater importance than the air we breathe and the water we drink? Is the “hollowed sky” that Iggy Pop talks about really just a bagatelle compared to keeping Americans safe? People in Flint Michigan are dying of lead poisoning. How “safe” are they when there’s more lead in their blood than the bullets in their guns?

I was personally incensed when Elizabeth Warren questioned the CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf. Did he feel any responsibility for the millions of dollars essentially stolen from customers? “I leave that to the Board of Directors,” he replied. When asked if he’d personally return any of his own salary to these people, again, he said, “I leave that to the Board of Directors.” He would resign shortly after, taking what would amount to over seventy million dollars.

Let’s move on to our own personal lives. Each day we travel, we commute, we arrive at work and turn on our computers. We sift through emails, we put in a long day. We read, we write, we annotate projects. Each one occurs through glass, through monitors. With the exception of meetings, we’re now more distant than ever from the actual workings of a company.

Is our work benefiting the company itself? We get progress reports, we have someone telling us everything’s fine. In some respects, that’s essentially all we want to know. We go home safe in the knowledge that our jobs are safe.

I remember talking to a former employee of Nortel. She and her husband both worked there. They invested in company stocks. Every quarter, there was a meeting. They would be told the company was doing amazingly well. Their stocks reflected the health of the company. “We heard that right up to the last day,” she said. By then, she and her husband had lost two million dollars on paper. Within a year, they were living in a bachelor apartment.

Here’s the kicker: In the end, they weren’t told that Nortel dead. The word came down in the form of an email, through glass: “You will vacate the building by the end of the week.”

Interest rates, the growing cost of housing, food, withering GDP, loss of foreign investor confidence, oil manipulation, international conflict, all come courtesy of numbers and words on a screen. We don’t participate, we observe, we have our place in the world in front of our computers and smartphones.

Oh the passenger

He rides and he rides

He sees things from under glass

He looks through his window side

He sees the things that he knows are his

He sees the bright and hollow sky

He sees the city sleep at night

He sees the stars are out tonight

And all of it is yours and mine

And all of it is yours and mine

So let’s ride and ride and ride and ride

Oh, oh, Singing la la la la lalalala

So we ride and we ride, looking through glass, expecting everything to work out in the end. “We’ll be alright,” one Trump supporter said. “Mr. Trump will make everything right.” All of it is yours and mine.

As long as the stars shine and the city sleeps, life goes on, we’re placated. My ex wife once said to her daughter, “The government won’t let anything bad happen.” Yes, well, that’s what we do when we ride, isn’t it? We stare out the window, putting our faith in everything beyond the glass.

What do you think? Are we living behind glass? Will everything be all right? Let me know at rcormack@rogers.com

Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details (you can also buy from them).

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.