From the early fifties to the late seventies, Jean Shepherd, a legendary humorist and radio personality, hosted a show on WOR AM in New York- For an hour each week, he would spin hilarious yarns about his youth while growing up in the depression era mid-west- He also offered humorous social commentary about contemporary life in the Big Apple- A Christmas Story is his most famous piece of fiction, concerning young Ralphie Parker, Shepherd’s alter ego, and a BB gun, which was made into a cult movie which is today second only to It’s A Wonderful Life as popular Xmas TV fare-
Occasionally Shep would tell a story that featured two cavemen, Og and Charlie- In one of the tales, Og had a bum knee and asked Charlie why he had a bum knee and what he should do about it- Charlie, sensing an opportunity, sold Og a bill of goods involving omens and portents that had nothing to do with strained cartilage and the like, Charlie asking for two clams in payment for his analysis- Og, still in pain but relieved of the stress caused by the mystery of his bum knee, dutifully fetched extra clams from the shore and expected his knee to improve- When it didn’t, Og asked Charlie for an explanation- Charlie added some new and irrelevant stipulations to the process of the cure and charged two more clams- Relieved of stress, though still in pain, Og complied- Soon enough, Og became dependent on Charlie’s interpretation of reality, feeding Charlie daily even as his knee got worse- What Shepherd missed, thinking only that people are gullible to fast talkers with a confident voice, is that Og became a stress relief junkie- Charlie’s lies made Og feel good for a time, the relief becoming more addictive as the knee pain increased-
Cortisol is a hormone- It secretes from the adrenal glands during times of stress- It is corrosive, which is why people under constant stress develop terrible health problems, notably, cancer- Dopamine is a balancing hormone which secretes in the brain once stress abates and some low level euphoria ensues- Og got hooked on relief- Soon, without realizing it, this kind of dopamine junky will go looking for stressful opportunities- He interprets the world in such a fashion as to produce stress and the attendant relief- This is the principle behind the tobacco companies running anti-smoking ads- They know smokers will get stressed over images of cancer patients blowing smoke out of holes in their throats and will immediately light up to relieve stress-*
Tropes, all kinds
So I got to wondering, just how did the grand scam begin? How did mankind become stress relief junkies like Og? I don’t know if the development of language was a natural evolutionary step forward or some type of mind control project, but language has allowed man to think in single file narratives and develop the concept of causality- Basically, Og asked “why” and Charlie gave him an answer: “This caused that”- “That can be avoided by this”- (Ca-ching!) Charlie employed literary tropes rather than empirical observation to fleece Og- Tropes fire emotions, charts and graphs of knee joints don’t have a chance in response-
It is amazing how our perceptions are guided by such literary slight of hand, stories designed to fire emotional triggers but which have absolutely nothing to do with true cause and effect or even genuine human nature- Tropes help to give us a short hand explanation for things seemingly out of our control, the constructs involving tropes provide emotionally satisfying answers, most often this triggers relief, and stress is replaced by euphoria, (small ‘e’): “Ahh, that’s what it was- Whew! I feel good so mystery solved because if the solution wasn’t real, I wouldn’t feel relief”-
We have to fight hard to override emotion and employ objective analysis- Trusting our five senses, recalling life experiences for comparison, assessing one’s best interests against a perceived threat, and trusting our instincts in coordination with highly developed intuition is very hard to do when emotions are ablaze- Charlie’s ‘this caused that’ does not invite such objectivity when attended by emotional relief- Fictional drama, the armature of literary tropes, is an obvious tool for behavioral control by the powers that be- Aristotle’s Poetics sells the stated virtues of catharsis, Og’s temporary relief- It goes back farther than Greece, but that’s as good a place as any to start if you want to trace the development of programmed, state sanctioned stress and relief conditioning-
The Beatles, always a handy example, are constructed largely of tropes- We have the tale of rags to riches via hard work, skill, and skill’s by product, luck- We have the tragedy of two missing mothers, Paul and John’s mothers died young- Twin orphans, geniuses who used that loss for the world’s gain- Who could not feel for the two lads from such humble circumstances? It’s all too pat, sure, but you can’t question any of it because it wasn’t a movie, it was real-
This is an important distinction to make because every time you have an emotional reaction to staged fictional drama, you are suspending disbelief in order to wallow in that emotion you paid big bucks to experience- When emotions are tugged by “real-life” events, which don’t cost a penny, you buy it simply because it wasn’t a movie, it was free of charge, no hidden agenda to fleece you is involved- You aren’t, so you think, engaging in suspension of disbelief- But you do stress out- The Actor in Chief comes on air to relieve your stress- Thank the gods he’s there- You light up, or scarf a Jumbo Jack, or scroll through your bookmarked porn, or max out your Amazon gift card-
Welcome to Fantasy Island
As Shep would segue: Speaking of The Beatles, one major thing they were designed to do is allow fans to enter a fantasy land where they could project themselves onto the stage- I suspect most boys went through George, imagining themselves that character, the quiet Beatle as, even in their own fantasies, they wouldn’t dare imagine themselves to be true geniuses- Of course nobody wanted to be Ringo, the comedy relief- And the Beatle George has had his persona evolve to a degree: Now understood to be the one real musician in the band, and a technician to boot who could repair the amps when they blew, sort of a proto-techie- And he was quick witted, wouldn’t blink when swells made quips, George giving some drollery right back, like a gun slinger twirling his six shooter before holstering his weapon and walking away with a smirk- And George kept his ego in check, didn’t need the spotlight directly on him, just a reflection of the glory of Lennon/McCartney- A natural skeptic, genuinely talented, always cool under fire, could help get your car started if he found you stalled on the side of the road- His cool swami would insist on such charity from a guy who didn’t need to make such efforts to be admired-
With these malleable personality templates which the mop top characters provided, anyone’s enhanced self-image could be attached to the Beatle narrative and emotions of all kinds could be tapped- And, of course, there are the recordings- Like Muzak, they can at times be barely audible to the consciousness of people whose memories go all the way back to Beatlmania- But the songs can often jog pleasant memories, the soundtrack securing those memories in amber, this history inaccessible to critical revue, no longer questionable- Like the Beatles records, the historical record of that time is fixed in memory, bittersweet at times, but nostalgia can be affecting- Nostalgia was originally thought of as a mental disorder, that’s how powerful it once was, long before psycho-babble helped dial down such potent feelings in Charlie-like BS to make it effectively distracting without disabling the auto-pilot function of the comfortably numb- And if you don’t have the capacity for containment of this low frequency emotional hum in order to activate your critical faculties, are you going to question any history? Why would you? The Beatles make you feel good so they must be real-
The risk of questioning a point in history is that such scrutiny may cascade and everything ends up under review, especially from mainstream sources- Suddenly you can’t cherry pick- That means your memories of the Beatles must come under review- What a loss to your fantasy life if it was proven the Beatles were just more of Charlie’s bullshit- What then? That would make you feel sad, maybe despondent, even angry- Why go there? Too much stress-
Something for Mom and Dad
From the same era there were tropes for the grown-ups: Commies! The Cuban missile crisis turned JFK into a secular saint, hitting the road to dispense wise words of peace after his “Road to Damascus” moment, always a popular trope to simplify and occlude the true character of the convert- This peace-nick move by Kennedy, according to the narrative, made him vulnerable to a military coup- Assassination! As seen on TV- Who wants to review the actions and words of a martyr? What kind of monster are you?
911 was crude by comparison, but the dumbing down dividend had matured by then and the tropes from Arnold Schwarzenazi films allowed for belief in sand niggers from space attacking Lady Liberty- Are you going to listen to those who blame “Zionist hoodlums” in Hollywood for making Arabs into fall guys so many times the public swallowed the narrative whole? Arab/Jew is an evergreen source for the tropiary garden- Try finding your way out of that maze any time soon without being labeled an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier, you Nazi sonofabitch!
How about “Cui Bono”? That trope ushered in a spate of LBJ whacked JFK noirs, as if the Pentagon and their bankers couldn’t stop a thug from shooting his way to power (A thug who conveniently gave those same forces everything they could possibly want from the White House clown car)
And what of soldiers, cops, any man in uniform that has a license to kill? What tropes have they been saddled with? Passing through the Viet Nam era, the man in uniform went from John Wayne to Travis Bickle- After 911, he reemerged as that hero people on the street thank for his service- Now look what’s happening- Of course cops aren’t killing black people as we are told, but today that’s tasty drama for some, racists as well as bum knee jerk liberals- (Never underestimate the addictive qualities of vicarious suffering- White guilt is the most precious commodity produced by the mind benders- White people have the spending power and comfort shopping is always a primary goal) And this institutionalized racist mayhem, it’s not happening on TV, see, it’s out in the streets, in Meat Space fer chissakes, at least that’s what the TV is telling us so it must be true- Are you telling me the legitimate gripes of black people are fueled by hoaxes? What chapter of the Klan do you belong to, cracker?
Suspension of disbelief used to be reserved for live theater, the novel, radio dramas, TV shows, movies- Today the reality sold by Charlie’s descendants requires suspension of disbelief around the clock and around the world- All exits truly are blocked, at least for the junky-
*My DOC is ice coffee- At this point I know I drink beer every night so every morning I can resurrect from the dead with the cheery bean- It’s a cheap high, but that’s what I got- It’s physical, not psychological, he said, overwhelmed by peals of derisive laughter…