The Joy of Dissent, or Why I Miss Fundamentalism

Oklahoma CityHere’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.

– TV ad for Apple Computers

It is a damp May day, and I’m sipping Chai tea in Greenwich Village, thinking about Timothy McVeigh as I listen to Jessica’s Marxist ranting. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just thinking too hard, she says. I mean, okay, so maybe America is oppressive and unjust, but what about all the things I enjoy? She giggles. I love Mocha Frappuccinos, and I’m not willing to give them up. What she really wants, she decides, is a revolution that goes well with her new Prada shoes.

Look. Jessica holds up a plastic bag that has been resting next to her left ankle. Urban Outfitters, I reply. She pulls out a small t-shirt with a Charlie’s Angels decal on the front of it and a pair of black leather pants. Aren’t they awesome? Tyler Durden would be proud. I can’t give up Starbucks, but the reign of Gap is officially over in my life.

I imagine McVeigh sepia-toned on the back of Atlantic Monthly, the harshness of his rebellion filtered with a soft gaussian blur. He leans, Brando-like, against a truck full of explosives, arms folded, brooding, a perfect vision of cool defiance. He is the Picasso, the Gandhi, the Einstein of the extreme Right. He thinks different.

I’m going to change my taste in music, Jessica says. A year ago I was her; I bought two Bob Dylan CDs: Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. I ordered them from Amazon, along with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I also got a tattoo. I’m thinking Eminem and Limp Bizkit, she says halfheartedly.

I became a fundamentalist when I turned fifteen. I not only got my hair cut, but I refused to give out my social security number. I picketed abortion clinics and adult bookstores with an old lady named Marge who wore fuchsia lipstick. I once drove my friend past an adult bookstore while he shot marbles at a titty sign with his Trumark wrist-braced slingshot. We shrieked with delight when we heard the sound of glass breaking. Somewhere, teenage boys are gathered together in a cheaply paneled basement celebrating the fortitude of McVeigh. I know. He is Mel Gibson in their eyes. William Wallace. The Patriot. You may strap him in your torture chamber, but he will cry out Freedom!

But, damn, if I don’t love nicely packaged products. Jessica goes on to tell me about her recent obsession with Snapple’s new drinks. They are expensive and taste awful, but the sleek bottles call out to her. How is a freshman girl supposed to resist the seduction of Diet Air? I used to think that awareness was the difference. If we were only more conscious about the ploys of marketing, more critical, more knowledgeable. I became a Ph.D. student in media studies and learned from my professors that producing a marketable dissertation is all that really matters.

I just feel so trapped, so surrounded, so overwhelmed. She looks at me, and my long hair, and my dad’s short sleeve dress shirt that’s missing three buttons, and believes that I have an answer to her dilemma. Is it even possible to transcend the market? She has no idea that I used to be a right-wing, anti-government fundamentalist. I look too artsy. I don’t know, I say. You could be like Timothy McVeigh. She giggles.


That’s not funny, she says.

The fundamentalist church that I used to attend had its property seized by federal marshals this past February. For sixteen years the church refused to pay taxes as an employer. The leaders insisted that the church was not a corporation, that it had no responsibility to the State, that it had to obey God rather than man. The courts disagreed, ruling that the church had to pay $6 million in overdue taxes and fines, or be punished by the law. The congregation of balding men and big-haired women reveled in the tension. You can’t serve two masters.

I realize now that McVeigh could never be an Apple icon. There is a fine line between fashionable rebellion and dogmatic rebellion. The former sells computers; the latter gets you killed, if you are lucky. McVeigh not only thinks too differently but believes too dogmatically, and God forbid that we should actually do either.

You’re right, Jessica. It’s not funny.

I must admit that somewhere in the depths of my postmodern liberalized heart I secretly envy McVeigh’s tenacity, even as I am appalled by his actions. When I read the news of my former church’s persecution, I felt a tremendous urge to abandon my sense of grace and nuance and, once again, fight the good fight of faith. The truth is, I miss the genuine dissent of fundamentalism; I’ve grown weary of purchasing clever t-shirts that mock society. I want to believe arrogantly. I want to be more narrow-minded. I want to see in black and white. But I can’t. So I buy, while others bomb.

God forbid.

She takes a drink of her Mocha Frappuccino and giggles.

Here’s to the crazy ones.

E. J. Park lives in Chicago.