This is the sixth in a series of articles analyzing the lyrics from the 1993 Carcass album “Heartwork”.
This Mortal Coil
Tearing down the walls
Breaching frontiers, unlocking the gates
To a new world disorder
A fresh balance of terror, the equilibrium of hate/
All flesh entwined, in the equality of pain
Archaic nescience unleashed
Entrenched, a bitter legacy
Tempered in mental scars
All flesh entwined in mortal equality
Tangled mortal coil
Twisted and warped
Tangled mortal coil
“After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western World is imploding. During the mechanical ages, we extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace….Any extension, whether of skin, hand or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex.”
If we are not here in the traditional sense, then where are we? If our world has transformed from one of fragmented nations to a global village, what does that mean for us, the humans that inhabit such a world? Today’s human is locked into a nearly constant struggle for identity, attempting to at once be an individualized autonomous self and an interconnected part of an ever-shrinking world. We are engaged in a process of knocking down many of the walls that for generations have kept us separate. In this moment of great potential, one is left to wonder whether we will seize the opportunity for global embrace or build a new set of seemingly insurmountable walls. This question is the echo of our footstep as we wander headlong into the new frontier.
If the self is no longer locked in its corporeal shell and has, indeed, reached through the boundaries of the body and into the never-ending stratosphere, what does that really mean for us? After all, I look at myself in the mirror and am still contained in a structure remarkably similar to that once inhabited by my ancestors. Yet, my mind and spirit reach out beyond the fleshy walls of the Self and live an all-at-once, timeless existence in the technological superstructure that is fast becoming our world. Or, more precisely, what does it mean that these ideas are flowing out of my mind, through, my fingers, through the ethers, into your brain almost simultaneously and yet I’ve barely moved? It is not as simple as thinking things have changed from one form to another. Rather, it is significant to understand that we are both individualized fragmented bodies and the all of the universe. We are currently living in an age where we are consistently faced with being two things that seemingly cannot inhabit the same space. How can a thing be finite and infinite at the same time? More importantly for our purposes, how does a being reconcile the contradictions and stresses that arise from living in multiple realities in the same moment?
There is no easy answer for this. The lyrics to this song are a reflection of the pain one might believe itself to feel when coming to terms with a question of this size and scope. The quest for identity under such bizarre conditions could well lead someone to a feeling of being enraged and overwhelmed. It’s not hard to imagine the “archaic nescience unleashed” to be the hand of the Self reaching back through time clutching at any answer that spares us the uncertainty of not being able to fully comprehend the world. The coil on which Shakespeare so eloquently described us as living upon does not, upon first glance, seem built for multi-dimensional travel. The connection of seven billion spines seems to be an inexplicable tangle from which we can never escape, but is it?
Maybe trying to find an answer is the larger problem we face. If we believe in the need for a solution, we must also believe in the existence of the problem. Maybe all there is to do is to call the thing what it is. The world offers us an impossible contradiction. Even in the confusion created by this idea, we are still given the power to say, “Yes, both are true in this moment.” Is it impossible? Yes. But so too are the bizarre terms of our existence. There is no rational context under which we can properly understand what it means to be alive. In stopping the search and accepting an answer that defies all we think we know, we might well be able to begin understanding a question whose vastness reaches beyond eternity and whose minuteness is less than the size of one atom of our physical body.
Globalization, on some level, is a metaphorical magnification of the quest for spiritual identity faced by all humans. It is the human condition writ large in a way that can be directly observed by anyone willing to ponder the meaning of the Self. It broadcasts the eloquence of our contradiction in a way that is both tangible and boundless. While our immediate reaction to the question may be fear, it also offers a sublime opportunity for self-awareness. This form of awareness may feel like a curse at times, but it is a gift of the highest order. It is nothing less than a window into the deepest recesses of our communal soul.
The LeBron Hate Machine has officially been cranked up to 10. Welcome to The Narrative, sir! Here’s how the next five years of your life are probably going to go. Most of the mob will hate you today, that is for certain. They’ll say you’re no Kobe, they’ll say you don’t have Nowitzki’s heart, they invoke the ever looming specter of MJ. They tell you you’ll never be as great as the ones that they remember. You’re not old school. You’re not committed enough. You’re arrogant. You called your own press conference. You left the folks in Cleveland high and dry. You think you are bigger than the game. You need to be taught a lesson.
This will go on for a little while. Then, you will win. The Narrative will shift. You’ve learned your lesson. You’ve been humbled. You went back to basics. You did things the right way. You overcame the odds. You have been redeemed. You are a champion.
Once you’ve seen the puppet show once or twice, the strings become remarkably annoying. We’ve done this dance so many times before. Remember when Kobe was an obnoxious, spoiled kid who didn’t know his place? Remember when Dirk was a soft-boiled choke artist? Heck, do you remember when Muhammad Ali was a dangerous, radical anti-American draft dodger? What did they do to rehabilitate their image? They won.
Redemption awaits anyone who can help his or her team score more points then the other team when the big spotlight is blaring. Redemption is a pretty easy formula. Time plus rings. Not exactly calculus. If you doubt the truth of what I’m saying, just watch the lovefest that is waiting just down the road if Tiger or Michael Vick get to the Promised Land. It makes you wonder what OJ could have done if he still had a good 40 time.
Maybe this time it will be different. LeBron has an opportunity to do something that has never been done. There is one trick left that they haven’t seen. They need to be introduced to the true Man in Flight. The Running Man. The person who finally takes the Narrative by the throat and squeezes. LeBron James can become the first Post-Rational Superstar.
At first, LeBron would have to follow some very well-travelled ground. He could start on the path that trailblazers like Dennis Rodman and Charles Barkley journeyed before him. He could become the zany, outspoken Bad Guy. The Heel. The difference between these guys and a Post-Rational Superstar is that they stopped there. They found their niche and they road it to the bank. What I am suggesting would be far more radical.
Next season LeBron starts the show by cursing at a few fans, hanging with some edgy celebs, coloring his hair blue, punching a reporter, whatever. Once the mob gets used to that, he flips the script. He becomes a highly pious, deeply caring man. Donates a year’s salary to charity. Gets photographed helping an old lady across the street. Donates a kidney. Whatever gets them to start loving him again. Then, when everyone is comfortable, he slams on the brakes! LeBron joins the Communist Party, starts quoting radical Islamic clerics, gets a backwards cross tattooed into his forehead, and becomes every red-blooded American sports fan’s worst nightmare.
Once there have been enough Bill O’Reilly interviews calling him a monster, he flips it again. Begs the forgiveness of the mob. Saves a child from a burning building. Donates the other kidney. Starts a mission in Peru that saves victims of toxic megacolon. Gets himself photographed with the Pope. Figures out a way to cut unemployment below 5 percent. Captures and kills an Al-Queda leader. Once they get comfortable with the New LeBron…..BAM! He joins the Church of Satan, projectile vomits on a referee and pour yaks blood over his head after each win. He keeps flipping and flipping and flipping until people want to get off the ride.
And here’s the best part, LeBron….No matter what you do, if you win, they will find it in their hearts to rationalize your actions. They don’t see you for your game or your stunning personality or your greed or your kind heart or your selfishness. They aren’t watching you at all; they are watching what you represent. Your biggest fans just love you because they want to be associated with your victories and your worst enemies just want to take some measure of credit for your defeat.
Turn the mirror on the mob. Let them see them see the carnival in all of its venal absurdity. Don’t let them rationalize you. Run The Narrative off of a cliff. When they say they’ve had enough, give them more. Make every icon equally worthless. Destroy any logical assumption that can be made about you or anyone who comes after you. Give them everything and nothing all at once. Confuse them to death. Leave nothing standing. The one thing a superstar can still provide the sports world with is an understanding of how insane its basic cultural assumptions and beliefs are. And the best part is, if you win, they’ll still love you.
Few films capture the spirit of modern American paranoia better than William Friedkin‘s 2006 film “Bug“. It is a bleak, disturbing picture of two people consumed by sadness and connected through a shared feeling of conspiratorial persecution. Peter Evans (Michael Shannon) is a drifter who wanders into the life of Agnes White (Ashley Judd). They quickly find themselves embroiled in one of the more unhealthy relationships in recent film history. Agnes has barely survived a horrifically abusive marriage and the kidnapping of her young son. Peter has just finished a stretch some sort of shadowy psychiatric hospital where, depending on who you believe, he was either a severely disturbed escaped patient or a survivor of a series of Operation MK-Ultra meets The Manchurian Candidate type experiments. Together, they become the proverbial Bogey and Bacall of the Black Helicopter set. It would be easy to dismiss their ideas as the demented imaginings of two troubled people, but the narrative they construct about the meaning of lives and their relationship to the world is a powerful statement about modern mass hysteria.
Peter gets the paranoia party started by insisting that a mysterious THEY have put bugs in his blood. He is deeply committed to this idea, to the point of yanking some of his own teeth out in order to remove the egg sacs that are in his mouth. Quickly, things spiral out of control. They cover the walls of the room in tin foil, buy up half the bug zappers in Oklahoma and embark on a wild spree of shared psychosis and Dionysian self destruction that eventually annihilates them. The logic that gets them to this point is nothing short of amazing. They come to believe that everything that is happening to them is somehow connected to a greater plan. Peter connects his own experience to sixty years of back room schemes created by a mysterious unnamed cabal bent on completely enslaving the entire human race. In an amazing monologue, Peter manages to link the bugs he believes to be carrying to The People’s Temple in Jonestown, the Bilderberg Group and their secret meetings from 1954 until the present and even Timothy McVeigh (who was apparently the other lab rat who was given these bugs). Agnes soon links her own experiences to his and comes to realize that her abusive ex-husband and missing child are also products of the exact same treachery. It is the ”everything happens for a reason” philosophy writ larger than life. All of these random, non-intersecting parts mean something. Each person’s life is a giant puzzle where all the pieces fit. It’s just a matter of collecting them all together and putting them in the correct places and then it will all make sense. This is the sort of thinking that Kurt Vonnegut lay bare in his book “The Sirens of Titan“. In that book, the entire arc of human history has been measured and calibrated in order create a replacement part for an alien space ship which will one day have the important task of placing a “greeting” message on a far away planet. We all have a purpose and that purpose happens to be completely absurd.
“Bug” takes this theme and runs wild with it. The characters have created meaning for their lives out of a mess of half-baked theories. Peter and Agnes really believe that this crazy composite of events was created for them. They see themselves as the protagonists of human history. They don’t simply pick one story as their narrative; they pick every single one that they have ever heard. The world really does revolve around them.
As I was watching this film I began to wonder if this was an accurate portrayal of the condition of the paranoia that exists in the minds of most Americans? Since I have never been in the minds of most Americans, I am not really able to say for sure. However, things are getting pretty weird out here in the real world and I have to wonder whether some of this isn’t the product of the same ideas that drove Peter and Agnes into mental oblivion. After all, there are a good number of people who will tell you that our President was born in Kenya, the National Security Council masterminded the 9/11 attacks, or the Federal Reserve killed John F. Kennedy. I’m not really interested in debating the validity of the ideas, I personally don’t believe them, but if you do that is really fine with me. I have a few pretty bizarre ideas about human history myself. What I find interesting about these theories is that how they illustrate the Woodward and Bernstein fantasy that some people are living. We are the investigators of some great cosmic puzzle whose pieces are scattered willy-nilly through a series of cultural and political markers. We are Sherlock Holmes turning our collective magnifying glass on everything. Media events are not things unto themselves; they are clues that connect us all to a larger picture.
Marshall McLuhan argued in his book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” that modern technology had “extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace”. In “Bug”, Peter and Agnes disappear as individuals and instead try to take on the narrative of the human race as their new identity. McLuhan saw this loss of identity as a dangerous thing. He ominously noted that “the loss of individual and personal meaning via the electronic media ensures a corresponding and reciprocal violence from those so deprived of their identities; for violence, whether spiritual or physical, is a quest for identity and the meaningful” (Canadian Forum, 1976) This quote is “Bug” in a nutshell. Two beings entirely destroyed (first as individuals, next as physical beings) by the electric connection to the rest of the world. If violence is a necessary and eventual component of this search for identity then maybe we do have a great deal to be paranoid of.