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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Changeover 

TPCQ: It's called a changeover. The movie goes on, and nobody in the audience has any idea.

Last night I watched Borat again, since Jesse hadn't seen it. While the faith-healing scene was going on, I began to reflect on the powerful unspoken arrangement that comes out of spontaneous metaphysical performance.

A year or so back, a hypnotist came to the school where I teach and led students and teachers in a hypnosis exercise. I volunteered, and really gave it a shot. Unfortunately for him, the hypnotist used the theme song from Twin Peaks to set the mood, and suddenly all I could think of was Lisa Simpson speaking backwards: "Chief.. Wiggam.. don't eat the .. clues." I was kicked out because I couldn't stop giggling.

Some students (and teachers) were led to do things they probably normally wouldn't. Of course only the people involved know if they really were hypnotized or not; just as in a pentacostal faith revival, only the participants really know if it's a bunch of snake oil, or they're actually being possessed by the holy ghost. Consider a psychic who convinces a heartbroken widow that he can contact her dead husband. These situations all have something in common.

Let's assume that some people go along with the performance because they want to believe that it's happening. An audience member does what they hypnotist says because it's expected -- or the person wants to be the center of attention. The parishoner of a pentacostal ceremony wants to feel the spirit of God coursing through her veins, and everyone else is jumping around, speaking in tongues.

When the audience member goes through with whatever the assumed action is, there is born a profound unspoken bond between him and the person leading the event. They both know they're acting, but they're both in on the theatrical component -- and the key to getting everyone else to go along is the quality of their performance. If either one admits to not "crossing over" (if we may tip something toward John Edwards), then each party stands to lose. So the stagecraft is maintained through a kind of mass-psychology symbiosis.

I'm convinced that we humans believe much of what we believe because we want to believe it. It's certainly true for me -- I want to believe that all humans are basically good; truth be told, the jury is probably out. I want to believe that the conception of the universe I sketched in The Spheriad (the trilogy of fantasy novels I began writing in seventh grade) is the way things really are. I want to believe that the Buddhist approach to suffering and its alleviation are eternal truisms.

Of course it's possible that I just haven't been possessed by the holy spirit and that I will someday experience it. But those who say such things really ought to admit that it's also possible -- even probable, I think -- that a good percentage of the vacations we humans take from our rational minds are driven by a tangible self-interest. There is a freedom and a protection to be found in claiming that we are not ourselves.

We're often skeptical of murderers who claim insanity, aren't we?


The 2006 Decemberween Strong Bad Email is fun. I want the dancing musical SB.

Today I'm listening to: Soldier 2 Soldier!