Monthly Archives: July 2021

Strangelove is back on

It was about three months ago that I heard from the organizers of the Bat Guano jamboree. Previously, I’d been informed that the latest event, set for August in San Jose, was again on hold—the result of an uncertain road back from restrictions, lockdowns, etc. Now it’s back on, as life with all of its so-called normalcy, is back on. Therefore, my talk on Dr. Strangelove is back on, only it must be updated once again, this time with more nuances than I could have imagined previously.

Yeah—hyperbole. Not my thing, except when I’m stuck for a line that will catch the pithy truth. I’d almost said forget it. Did I want to resurrect a now three-year old presentation, squeeze it in between seminar schedules of my analytic training program? Have it interrupt the head-long (slight sarcasm here) path of Getting Real About Sex Addiction towards publication?

Of course I did.

Firstly, my ego wants me on stage talking to an audience, not just writing a book or essaying on this blog thing. Secondly, I’d presented at this conference before—in 2017, on the subject of Tommy, the rock opera—so I was familiar with its genteel and professional atmosphere, the boomer demographic that would welcome a treatise on sixties icons. Thirdly, this was a chance, finally, to talk about one of my favorite movies of all time, and to do so through the lens of psychoanalytic theory. I’d done that with my Tommy talk also, but less effectively, I think, having not quite integrated my Masterson/Klein material into the mix of Who biography. I further cluttered that presentation by trying to say too much in a single hour, which rendered me pressured, my “performance” at times stilted. That is, all except for the bit where I swung my arms windmill style, aping Pete Townsend as I played a recorded track of “Pinball Wizard” for the crowd. After the talk, some said they wanted to hear more music (and less of me, perhaps), so this time I’m determined to not make the same (kind of) mistake. Therefore, I got clips—film clips—set to illustrate what I have to say about Strangelove’s message.

Much of the focus will be on General Jack Ripper, the character who launches a nuclear attack on the old Soviet Union, believing the communists responsible for worldwide water contamination (fluoridation), which Ripper blames for his sexual impotence. Don’t all wars begin this way? Anyway, I present a scene or two depicting Ripper’s pathology, alongside a Peter Sellers Stan Laurel-like character who attempts to dissuade general nutjob from realizing his vengeful plan. The plot point is a spring-board for a mini lecture upon death instinct ala Sigmund Freud, followed by a slide or two about Object Relations Theory, and in particular the theories of Melanie Klein as they pertain to infantile neurosis, and the process of splitting as a psychic defense that keeps separate the internalized good and bad objects of our minds.

I reference these ideas to explain why Ripper can’t take in the empathetic presence of Sellers’ Captain Mandrake character, or why he can’t bring himself to take corrective action after he appears to express remorse for having launched the attack. He’s at war with his internal objects, I offer, and like many others, before and since, he can’t really bring himself to admit wrongdoing or seek redemption. Instead, lost in a split between good and evil, and feeling defeated at the hands of an ambiguous enemy, he commits suicide. In my talk, I imply that this characteristic is the corrupted core of many political or socially prominent figures, as well as more famous characters from literature (I’m thinking of Javert also from Les Miserables), which partly explains the lingering relevance of Strangelove.

There are other enduring features of the film, of course. I also touch upon themes of obsession: sexual and technological obsession; the delusion of characters who live in an enclosed and solipsistic world, oblivious as to how their actions will affect humanity, and juxtaposing their unconscious wishes about time (we will live forever, and our machines and systems will never fail!) with odd, time-bound concerns. Examples include General Turgidson’s promise that he’ll marry his secretary while he’s busy at the war room; or, Major Kong’s speech to his crew ahead of the bomb mission, which promises promotions for each and every one of them—as if that will matter in a post-holocaust world.

What I proclaim, and what I’ve been set to proclaim for two or three years, is that Strangelove was uniquely audacious to ask its audience to laugh at the present-day horrors of 1964. Two months after the assassination of JFK, and just two years after the Cuban missile crisis, it was surely a sensitive time to be laughing at what was most ominous about the cold war. In preparing this talk, and indeed, in suggesting that Strangelove was “as relevant as ever”, I was barely conscious that this was not quite true of our time…at the time. After all, despite the ubiquity of real-life Rippers and Turgidson’s in our mad men world, I couldn’t quite say (climate change notwithstanding) that we were staring down the barrel of an imminent, world-impacting danger.

Then Covid came along and literally halted my talk. I mean that its previously projected debut, in Charleston last year, was cancelled. Instead, like everyone else, I scrambled to buy toilet paper, come to grips with concepts like social distancing and lockdown, and prepared to use Telehealth tools (my I-phone, Zoom technology) to see patients for…how long was it gonna be originally? A month or two?

Denial

I now get to weave into my talk that as much as Strangelove’s characters are in denial of their horror, we have likewise been in denial of ours. The analyst Glen Gabbard, writing in a recent issue of The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, observes that the world is in the grip of another plague. Death is everywhere, but many citizens have continued to open their shops as usual, go on vacations, and insist that they are free to do as they like. For many others, life is on hold. The passage of time is crushingly slow. One feels stuck. Diets are forgotten. Alcohol intake increases. Hugs disappear. As we collectively wait for Godot, perhaps wondering what our part in all this has been and may continue to be, we return to a semblance of normal, and so among other things, my “talk” is back on.

Wildfires will soon be back on. Hurricanes will be happening. That climate change thing, destined to have our present-day Strangeloves re-thinking that absurd mine-shaft plan, is on the horizon. And as we quietly register the passing of 4 million across the globe from Covid, we may even find ourselves quoting the Turgidson character: we’ve had our hair mussed.

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Coffee, dinner, or a hike

Hey, I’m Ray, bustin’ in here with my say. About dating. I don’t know. What’s the deal with hiking? Why do so many profiles say, “I’m into hiking”, with people offering that as, like, a first date? I don’t think anyone’s really thought this through.

See, it’s not that I’m lazy or that I don’t like nature, or just hanging out while walking. My shrink says that the thing about hiking is similar to being in a car. You don’t look at each other. Then he goes on about non-verbal communication, how that’s more stressful. That’s true, actually, though I find talking trouble enough. It’s like a first session, I told him: if he’s not on his game he won’t ask the right questions, show enough interest, or worse, he’ll ask a question that shows he wasn’t listening, like the time I asked this guy how his wife was doing after he’d previously told me she died. Doh! Yeah, good thing the onus was upon my shrink to talk right the first time we met. Me, I just had to show up and be myself. I never thought I had to impress him.

But I digress, got off the path of what I was saying, which is what can happen when you’re on a hike, which is why I’ve got a problem with this whole hiking trend. So, it’s safer, says the shrink. As in a car, you’re flanking each other, or you’re walking in a line, one behind the other. Don’t have to look at each other, see anxiety in the other’s eye. I get it. But it’s a commitment. Seriously, a hike—on average, what people call a “hike”—is not just a ten-minute jaunt around the neighborhood. It’s an hour, or two, in a park, on an open field, or a plain, in the woods, or some shit like that. Safer? Yeah, not if you’re with some creep intent on stabbing you out of sight or earshot. How about that kind of safety, especially for women? Anyway, even if it’s not dangerous in that way, it’s still a problem of commitment.

Take me. See, as you might guess, I’m apt to say the wrong thing from time to time, offend people. And that’s easier to do than ever these days. So what if you’re on a hike, in the middle of a field or somewhere, and not at the beginning or end of the hike but right smack in the middle, and you say something that the other person thinks is shitty like…oh, I don’t know…I can’t remember all the wrong things I’ve said. I can’t keep track. I say ‘em everyday. On a “hike” you’re stuck. You’re in the middle of nowhere, still in earshot with no buffers as you turn tail and walk away. That wouldn’t be me, of course. I’d be the one standing in the field, holding out my hands maybe, calling out, saying “what’s the problem?”

See, a coffee date is easier, has more exit routes, more buffers. By that, I mean you got the gentle buzz of the shop, or just that fact that there’s people around so you’re less likely to call out or hear some smack being called out to you. Or, if you wanna get out without a fight, you can just quietly edge away, make an excuse, say you gotta be somewhere. Coffee? That could be any amount of time: fifteen minutes? A half hour? Three, if you’re hitting it off. Me? I had one date that lasted five minutes, though not because she left. On that one I bailed, pretended I needed a bathroom, then I slipped out. I’m not proud of it. That was shitty, I guess.

But that touches on another thing: catfishing. You know what catfishing is? Everyone does. My shrink didn’t, which was a change—me schooling him, I mean. He knows everything. He knows about gaslighting, which is a term my ex used to use, saying something about what I did to her. I didn’t get what she was saying. She didn’t talk properly. Or I didn’t listen. Who knows? My shrink says the latter is probably true, as he thinks I don’t listen; I don’t “take in” as he puts it. Well, I took that in, I suppose. Still, I told him about catfishing, the problem of people—mostly women, from my point of view—not being who they say they are, or more specifically, not looking like they looked in their profile pictures. Take this woman I went on a date with, and not a coffee date or a “hike”, but a proper date—like a dinner date.

I selected this place that wouldn’t have been a problem had she looked like her goddamned picture. It was called—get this—“Fat Lady”, or it had those words in its name. You’d think the managers would’ve thought through that one, but no matter. It’s a good place. Good food. Anyway, on this date, our first date, I get there first and I’m waiting in the front area, looking out for her. When she walks in she gives me a big smile, walks up and gives me a hug. It took me a moment to react because at first I didn’t recognize her. I mean, there had to be at least a twenty pound difference—maybe thirty—between image and reality. But we sit down, have a meal and talk, and in the dimmer light of the restaurant I’m thinking that she looks kinda cute, and the conversation isn’t bad. She’s asking more of the questions, which is good. Towards the end, she’s asking if I wanna hit a bar afterwards. I gotta admit, she was doing more of the groundwork, and I was feeling alright. I’m not sure what was going on with me exactly, but then she did this thing, said something that threw me off my game.

My game. My shrink and I talk about that concept too. My game, his game; everyone’s game. Well, I fumbled, made a mistake. No such thing, he says. Words are actions too. They reveal the unconscious, and also what is conscious. Was I conscious? I don’t know. She remarked on the restaurant name, said it was weird. I think she was relaxed by that point, didn’t know what she was saying. I know I didn’t, so I said something wrong. I smirked, I guess, and said “seems about right to me”. She set her drink down, her smiled at once ghosted. She reached for her bag, signaling her departure, though she didn’t leave at that moment. She just got quieter. The room quieted just a tad also, as if everyone in the room had heard me. By the front entry there was a logo, a cartoon image of a fat waitress holding a plate. Even she seemed like she was shaking her head, giving me disapproval.

I should’ve gone on a hike.

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