Posts Tagged Paranoia
“Death is not the worst that can happen to men.” -Plato
There aren’t many things that scare me. I’ve been around a time or two and have seen some awful things. Sure, I’m afraid of death, just like everyone else. But, I think I’ve made my peace with it. There are things far worse than death out there. When I wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, filled with pure panic, it’s not death that’s staring back at me. It is something far more hideous. It is the number four.
You’ve seen a thousand fours in your life. They are everywhere. Four noble truths, four great elements, four horseman of the apocalypse, four letter words, the number four Bobby Orr, the list goes on and on. What they are used for is not important. It is what those fours ARE that is lurking behind every door, just behind the shadows, just out of reach. It is what those fours ARE that is haunting me. No matter how hard I try I cannot escape.
Because, you see, there are plenty of uses for the number four, but there is only truly one four. It is indivisible, it is unstoppable, it is perfect, it is irreducible and it is after me. I try to tell people what’s going on, but they don’t believe me. I explained my predicament friend the other day about my problem and he laughed. He drew the number four on a piece of paper and ripped it up. “Now you’re safe,” he chuckled.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Fool! He doesn’t understand. It’s not some absurd, half-witted drawing of the number four that strikes fear into my heart. I’m not scared of what can be done with four; I am utterly terrified of what it is. The perfect platonic form of four. Four in all its grotesque fourness. The ideal four. The world is filled with four imitators, trying to fake fournesss, trying to be useful, trying to help us count all of the pointless presences around us. But, I have SEEN four. The real one. The root of all fourness. And, worse, it knows I have seen it.
Oh platonic four, if I could take back that one time my eyes shot open in the middle of the night and I saw you hovering above my bed, I would. Everything was fine before that night. I wandered through this odd fantasy world of illusion that we call life with full belief in the forms that surrounded me. Then, I saw you and was forever changed. I had seen a lifetime of fours, but never any as perfect as this one. In that moment, I understood all other fours to be impostors. They did not have your straightness, they did not have your smoothness, they could not measure up.
What my eyes witnessed forever corrupted my being. At first, I looked for the perfect four everywhere. I needed to see it once more. I needed to know it and be connected with its truth. I wanted to be by its side. I wanted it to show me that there was more to this life than incompleteness and wandering. I longed for one more fleeting glimpse of its timeless perfection.
A horrible thing began to dawn on me. What if I wasn’t meant to see it? What if my accidental encounter had doomed me? What if the perfect four was looking for me with the same fury that I searched for it? All at once, I knew. I began to sense its presence everywhere I went. It was stalking me. Waiting for me to let my guard down. Hunting me.
I was at the supermarket looking at the oranges and suddenly; I saw it out of the corner of my eye. It was hiding behind the walnuts and almonds. Waiting to consume me whole. It sensed my glance and began to move towards me. I dropped my grocery basket and ran out of the store screaming. I didn’t stop until I got to my car. Which was the right key? There it was dashing across the parking lot like a rabid dog. No one saw it but me. It raced towards me. Finally, I pushed the key into the lock, got in the car and sped away.
I have been hiding from it ever since. Held up in a dingy motel room passing my final hours. I have this lingering sense that it knows where I am and is toying with me. Enjoying my suffering. Laughing at me. I went through a day or two thinking I could destroy it. I repeated 3 plus 1 equals 5 for hours on end. I figured if I denied the truth of its inevitability I could make it go away. However, my mind is no match for the perfection of its form. A mere string of thoughts could not slow its terrible, astonishing inertia for even a second.
I prepared for my final showdown with four. I would wait for it. I would catch it by surprise and break it into a million pieces. I would hit it with a hammer. Shoot it with a gun. Cut it up with a chainsaw. Melt it with a blowtorch. Something. Anything.
All resistance is absurd. I know this. Four is indestructible. It has no parts. It is endless and deathless. It wasn’t created and cannot be destroyed. It was here before we were and will be here forever after. If I dropped a million nuclear bombs on the world the number four sustain as much as a dent. It is beyond law, beyond meaning, beyond understanding. Unstoppable.
I feel its presence getting closer now. Through the trees. Into the parking lot. Past the couple putting luggage in their trunk. Up the back stairs. Past the ice machine. Outside the door. Inside the door. Across the room from me. Next to me. Inside of me. Finally….
Posted by Keith Spillett in Existential Rambings, Mr. Spillett's Academy Of Film Study For The Mentally Tormented on December 15, 2010
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 lays 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.