One of my favorite movie moments occurs near the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Pod people from outer space may have replaced all the real people in a little California town except for Dr. Miles Bennell, played by Kevin McCarthy, who runs to escape the fate of the others and, in desperation, jumps into a traffic jam on a highway. “Look, you fools,” the doctor shouts, dodging slowly moving cars. “You’re in danger, can’t you see? They’re after you! They’re after all of us! Our wives, our children, they’re here already! You’re next!”
Miles wouldn’t allow himself to accept what seemed to him a dismal copy of the real world. He’d pretended for a while to go with the flow — “Keep your eyes a little wide and blank. Show no interest or excitement.” — but knew he’d have to take action, or else end up believing fake was real.
But it’s more complicated than that. Was Miles rebelling because he knew the truth, or was he delusional? If he were around today, would he insist like a Luddite that online social networks are being used to rob us of our privacy? Would he think his Facebook friends weren’t really friends?
It’s dangerous to be totally sure of yourself, as Henry Miller tried to explain in Tropic of Capricorn:
… I was born with a crucifixion complex. That is, to be more precise, I was born a fanatic. Fanatic! I remember that word being hurled at me from early childhood on. By my parents especially. What is a fanatic? One who believes passionately and acts desperately on what he believes. I was always believing in something and so getting into trouble. The more my hands were slapped the more firmly I believed. I believed. I believed — and the rest of the world did not. If it were only a question of enduring punishment, one could go on believing until the end; but the way of the world is more insidious than that. Instead of being punished, you are undermined, hollowed out, the ground taken from under your feet…
Don’t run around shouting “Wake up, fools!” You might end up singing “I Wanna Be Sedated.” Ask your friends on Facebook, they’ll tell you.
Footnote: Tony Wood can be reached at http://anthonywood.zenfolio.com/