Saturday, March 19, 2011

Plato, The Monkees, and Jumping Dandruff

"The tragedy of your time, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want" ~Inspector Shrink, from The Monkees Head

If Bill and Ted ever stop by my house in their phone booth, I need to borrow it and bring Plato back to the present and, given my advanced knowledge of Ancient Greek, the conversations we would have.... He would be amazed, I think, with our houses, with the lights and electricity, air-conditioning, all the comforts we have. But I think, after looking at our lives, he would conclude that we haven't progressed much since his days at the Academy, where he would argue with his students and reveal truths about mankind. Specifically, the passage in The Republic, where he creates the analogy of "The Cave."

Imagine Plato sitting in the town square, trying to engage his students in a conversation. Amongst the idyllic manufactured town park, the planted trees, the statues of the local hero, the ancient philosopher sits unable to carry on a lesson in metaphysics, because someone is sitting in their polished crimson sports car blaring music, the female accountant is talking on her cell phone about plans for tonight, the electronics store is showing the football game on the new 50 inch flat screen in the store window. Then there's the kids walking behind their mother, but who often bump into things because they have their heads buried in the latest Pokemon game on their Nintendo DS. But of course, Plato doesn't know all this... all he sees are lights and sounds and images being projected on the walls. For that's what we have, our own walls, projecting unreal images onto themselves and into our minds. We live, unchained, seeing the images that others wish us to see, on the wall.

What Plato doesn't realize is that the metaphor that he used is correct, but incomplete. Seeing the reality of things, the "forms" outside the cave, the man comes back in, tries to tell his friends about the outside world. And it's not that they don't believe him, they simply find it boring. There's so many other wonderful things going on in the images, who cares about the sunlight and the flower and the perfect chair. It's all about the images. So, the man realizes that he now is free, and that he can now take advantage of his knowledge. He goes up to where the images are made, kills the people controlling the fire, and makes his own images. Further, he allows those watching to determine what images they see, as long as they pay him a monthly fee. In the cave then, there are two kinds of people, those that produce the entertainment, and those that consume it.

A break to tie in the quote at the top.  While looking for the exact wording of the quote above, I chanced upon IMDB's page on the Monkees' movie Head, which had a page of quotes.  Among which was the follow up of Peter Tork's conversation with the philosopher in the sauna.  The swami is included on the Head soundtrack, but Peter's communicating this to his fellow band mates (which is overlooked just as the man in the cave's communication was), is left out.  Here that quote is in it's entirety:

We were talking with the Master regarding the nature of conceptual reality. Psychologically speaking, the human mind, or brain or whatever, is almost incapable of distinguishing between the real and the vividly imagined experience. Sound and film and music and radio. Even these manipulative experiences are received more or less directly and uninterpretative by the mind. They are cataloged and recorded and either acted upon directly, or stored in the memory, or both. Now this process, unless we pay it tremendous attention, begins to separate us from the reality of the now. Am I being clear? For we must allow the reality of the now to just happen, as it happens. Observe and act with clarity. For where there is clarity, there is no choice. And were there is choice, there is misery. But then, why should I speak, since I know nothing?

It further solidifies Peter Tork as the wise fool, the Rousseau-ian Noble Savage, as it were. He becomes the free man, the one who has looked outside of the cave, or, as the Monkees have deemed it, the world in which the band was manufactured, created, and manipulated, and has come back into that world to tell his band mates how they may become free. Of course, much as the metaphor ends for Plato, the Monkees realize they can never be free at all. They are trapped as characters, as images on the wall.  And in real life, the characters of Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and others, become those they portrayed on Television.  As Tork said in the boxing ring, "I'm the dummy. I'm always the dummy."  Moving on...

The entire quote from the inspector is:

Pleasure, the inevitable by-product of our civilization (cut scene of a butcher pounding meat)...A new world, whose only preoccupation will be, how to amuse itself. The tragedy of your time, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want.

After this, the Monkees are taken into a scene where they are dressed in white, and are encouraged to jump up and down in what looks like hair. They are dandruff you see, for a shampoo commercial. I wonder what Plato's opinions would be on the suppositions made by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World.  A government that not only provides justice and peace, but controls it's subjects through the pleasures it seeks.  Much like baby Robins following a worm dangling from their mother's mouth.  In order to get the entertainment we desire, we would give up our liberties and our freedom and our education all to be happy.  The philosopher kings would be exiled, to Iceland, as Mustapha Mond reveals to Helmholtz Watson at the end, and the commoners will all be perfectly happy never to achieve self-awareness, as long as their free supply of drugs and religion-sex is unabated.  But we were talking about dandruff...

Because the scene where the Monkees become dandruff is as telling as the rest.  Imagine the Three Tenors having to do such exercises just to fulfill a contract.  The Monkees must sacrifice their dignity in order to pursue their music.  Which brings the money they can use for drugs and other entertainment.  They become the amalgamation of society, both consumers and producers of the entertainment they so are addicted to.  As viewers of the images on the cave wall, they become puppets for the image makers, as well as images themselves for others watching on other cave walls.  There is no freedom here.  No sunshine, no perfect forms, only illusion. 

I guess I need to split this into two posts, because the making, selling, and consuming of entertainment develops into an economy that is quite interesting, and is best laid out in a Phineas & Ferb  episode. 

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