America is Not the Amityville Horror or Poltergeist House
The couple who moved into the house in Amityville knew about the murders.
According to the book, George and Kathy Lutz knew about the brutal murders and kept most of the existing furniture as well.
So, when the walls started bleeding and George (the white, straight man in the story) started getting up at 3:15 a.m. every morning, eventually losing his mind and becoming a murderous monster in turn, no one should’ve been surprised. Live in a haunted house and the payment is far more than property tax.
Likewise, when fictional Steven and Diane Freeling moved into the house in Cuesta Verde, the clown doll went nuts, a tree in the backyard grabs the son, and their youngest gets sucked into the Netherworld through a TV. The Freelings, however, did not know about the fact that the house was built on a Native American burial ground with the bodies of American genocide just beneath their basement. Ignorance doesn’t give them a pass, though. They were white people who bought a house on land that was stolen by other white people. The ghosts of dead Indians Natives had every right to terrorize them from their spoiled graves.
There is a sense of justice implied in the ghost stories associated with houses that were either built upon or were subject to the horrors of humanity. There is also a sense of fantasy as these stories are fiction. How much fun is it to visualize that our spirits infect places and things long after we’re gone and how brilliant a morality tale to envision that wrongs done in the past can revisit us from beyond the grave? It’s like karma (via malevolent spectres) coming back on bad actors through either genetics, heritage, or the blind luck of those arrogant enough to buy a house with blood still dried in the beautiful hard wood floors.
The house that is the United States, if it were an actual house, has plenty of flakey hemoglobin on the grounds.
The legacy of genocide as white colonists brutally killed off the indigenous people to gain control of the New World. The history of chattel slavery as well as immigrant servitude that built the early Southern economy and later built the railroads. The bloody fields of the Civil War. The overwhelming evidence of men subjugating women as if they were property. Jim Crow. Nazi sympathizers leading up to WWII. The creation of massive wealth due to the arms industry selling weapons to both sides of almost every armed conflict since. The HUAC bullying and reputation destruction by a sitting U.S. Senator.
If America were a house like in the movies, we’d be overwhelmed by the ghosts and poltergeists and revenants of a billion unjust acts.
Since America is not a house built on fictionalized bogies, however, it seems we have living ghouls cropping up to remind us that, because of the atrocious history of the country, we must discard all the good done to build it and sustain it and toss it all out in an Us vs. Them, Oppressor vs. Oppressed Joseph Campbell screenplay.
Like the Freelings, some of us live here absent of the knowledge of habitating a land founded by slave-owners and rough riders but due to our almost non-existent culture of whiteness, deserve to be crushed with guilt and shame. Others, like the Lutzes, are well read enough to understand the devil’s bargain we’ve entered into by being both white and American, and thus are complicit in the atrocities.
We are all, however, beneficiaries of the Grand Democratic Experiment. White, black, Latino, Asian, Jewish. Straight, gay and trans. We all have benefited from the capitalism that allows us to buy cheap shoes and technology created by the poorest in the world. We have all, in large and small ways, benefitted from the Constitution written by slave-owners and the economic boom following the Second World War. Contrary to the #NotAllMen or #NotAllWhites horseshit hashtags, this is a recognition that it is absolutely true that #AllAmericansAreComplicit.
#AllAmericansAreComplicit. We are all the 1% of the globe. We are either all of us guilty of the sins of our forefathers or none of us are.
So what do we do with our history? How do we live with ourselves? Why are we not all perpetually flagellating ourselves for living in a house built on the suffering and misery of so many?
To quote a man far smarter than I:
“…it does everyone a disservice to pretend that the past is just some under-evolved, caveman version of the present. We are the product of our history, our stories, our actions. I think it is reductive to judge all past culture by the lens of the present. Are Ming dynasty Chinese people idiots because they didn't know about antibiotics? I am not interested in denying our collective heritage and development any more than I am interested in embracing every story as a how-to manual for existence. I think hewing to a good/bad dichotomy determined by whatever the current loudest cultural tumult abandons nuance and the interaction and participation available in art.”
— Phill Arensberg, on Faceborg many moons ago
Like Faceborg and Twitter, America isn’t an abstract concept that we can judge from afar. America, just like social media, is us. It behaves as we behave. It is a tool and a government and a heritage that the collective we, tribes of dissent and all, own and use every day.
We know about the murders and genocide the place was built upon. We hope the ghosts of that past don’t punish us for it. We still own the furniture and some of us wake up at 3:15 a.m. because we hear voices. Maybe the house needs to be destroyed or maybe it just needs a good landscaper, a solid coat of paint and a serious redecoration.
But it’s our house, not the home of ghosts.