You’ll Be In Control After the Commercial

Being a guest of this motel has its appeal, but I confess after a couple of months, the novelty is wearing thin. The ladies in Reception are no longer entertained by inventive complaints: I’m sorry, but there’s too much air in my room. Housekeeping is unamused by practical jokes like supergluing towels to their racks in the bath. Management resists suggestions such as replacing early morning coffee with a mud wrestling spelling exhibition.

For stimulation and entertainment, I can turn to the motel television system. The feed comes from a satellite network, and on windy days, or when a convoy passes on the highway, the signal wanders. To that end, we have episodes of Law and Order Narnia, the gameshow The Jeopardy is Right, and my personal favourite, CSI with Ellen Degeneris. The gusts of wind usually blot out vital information such as ‘The murderer is             ! Arrest     !’ No episode of court room drama is complete without, ‘We find the defendant            guilty!’

Art is a reflection of Life, and although many would argue that television is not art, it meets the requirements. The Life that it reflects is one of insecurity and fear. It may be as mild as the handyman discharged from hospital after being treated for a blood clot, who wonders (for the camera) if a particular anticoagulated is right for him. He’ll talk to his doctor. No doubt (and I write this sarcastically) the doctor will be pleased to entertain the untrained and uninformed patient’s superior lack of expertise and endorse his choice in treatments. After all, s/he the doctor had to go to school for years to acquire that knowledge which apparently came naturally to the patient. The gall of pharmaceutical companies in suggesting such scenarios deserves snide remark. But perhaps the commercials reflect the loss of confidence in a profession that has been marred by a growing number of malpractice law suits? Perhaps the commercials are meant to give patients a sense of control as they face serious and possibly debilitating or fatal illness?

The subject matter of television programmes deserves consideration as well. I do not recall there being such a glut of programmes devoted to superheroes and the paranormal—even the demonic—as at present. Many of the superheroes have angst and troubled pasts, and issues of sexuality and sexual behaviour to make them more human (which is a disadvantage—their humanity is their least interesting feature.) Some of to-day’s television heroes are aliens, or denizens of the Demonic Realms. Occultists and masters of the paranormal are a bridge between these two types. They are what we wish to be—more than we are, greater than normal, and immune to the common evils of the world.

Psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists say that the young people of the 1960s and 1970s, Baby Boomers, behaved in the uncontrolled way they did—indulging in drugs, sex, rock and roll—as a response to the constant threat of nuclear annihilation and the possibility of dying in Southeast Asia. Since they felt doomed anyway, they might as well ‘have it all’ now. The drugs, sex, rock and roll rebellion was their way of dealing with threat and danger that were very real. The same can be said of the present day. We don’t worry as much about nuclear warfare because we have enemies committing heinous acts and not following the American rules of warfare, the first of which is ‘Keep the fight over there!’ We are more frightened because the media provides free publicity. We Baby Boomers have taught our offspring well—they are equally panicked. Their fears are as constant and valid, and their coping mechanisms are not so different from those in the past.

We look to superheroes (with troubled pasts, like us), paranormal and occult warriors (with troubled pasts just like us) and demons and devils (no comment) for relief, no matter how brief it may be. The country is in terrible turmoil over who will be the next national leader and we desperately want someone to take control. If it flies or talks to ghosts, or was vomited up from Hell—no matter, so long as s/he can do the job. Consult the local newspaper, the television news, the Internet—you won’t have to look too far to find something which upsets you and makes you cry out for a saviour at any cost.

It is hard to deal with fear if you don’t recognize that’s what confronts you. Heroes, even fictional ones, do not appear without reason. There is no problem that is so severe that it can’t be made worse. There are people who (wrongly) claim we control our lives. This simply is not true, or there would be no villains in the shadows, no monsters around the corners, no terrors in our dreams. Our focus is on barest survival, but we were meant to live and enjoy it.

People can control their reaction. Do they want peace, or would they be better off fanning the flames of panic? In the face of the sinister, they can envision how it will be for a lifetime, or focus on making it through to the next meal, and thinking no further into the future than that. This is more manageable. When people stay calm, they have real control over their environment. They think more clearly.

Peculiarly, realistically facing fears requires you to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to quite a lot. Perhaps, starting with the commercial.

Paul TN Chapman

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