Friday, August 7, 2009

We have been invaded by pod people

I had a Victor moment. For those of you who don't know what a Victor moment is (which is everyone, because I just made up the term) it has to do with a book called Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater. The book is a delightful little story about a young boy named Victor who meets a man that hangs out with a very intelligent chicken and together they go on an adventure to find the source of mysterious TV broadcasts that are only on late at night which show music played by human sized lizards who like to dress up as chickens. Yes, the book is a little odd. Try reading it if you haven't and it will all make sense. But that is not why I mention the book, nor why I say I had a Victor moment.

There is a part of the book where Victor is staying up late at night watching TV waiting for the lizards to come on after all the regularly scheduled programming is finished (yes there was a time when TV stations did not broadcast 24 hrs/day). On one particular night Victor watches the late night movie which is a Sci-Fi thriller called The Invasion of the Pod People (a thinly veiled renaming of the classic Sci-Fi movie The Invasion of the Body Snatchers). In the movie normal everyday people are replaced by mindless clones who take over their life, but have no self-will nor personality, nor (real) emotions. Later on in the book Victor is again watching TV and waiting for the lizards to come on, and while he is watching TV he notices something not quite right with the people on the show he is watching, but he just doesn't know what it is. He thinks that there is something about the people that is wrong but he just can't put his finger on it.

A few days later he is again watching TV and the same feeling comes over him. As he watches a particular talk show the people and their reactions seem fake and unreal and it is in that moment that he realizes that the people he is watching are pod people and the movie he had watched earlier was actually true and Earth really had been invaded by pod people. It is in this sense that I had a Victor moment. I don't mean that we have literally been invaded by pod people from outer space but sometime in the last few years our society and culture has been effectively taken over by "pod people".

My realization started last year when I was watching a movie trailer about a group of friends and acquaintances living in New York. The movie was apparently about how these people struggled to live and find friendship in our modern world while along the way they must fulfill their dreams and live their ambitions. From my description this movie would seem like a classic story of hope, friendship and good character that has been so pervasive in our history. But while I was watching the trailer there was something wrong that I just couldn't put my finger on. It was like watching a video where the sound was ever so slightly off that it is hard to notice but still there. At the time I could not think of what was wrong with the trailer that I was watching.

A few months later I was again watching a movie trailer (again about a group of friends living in New York, but different movie). While I was watching the trailer I kept thinking the same thing, "Something is wrong, but I just don't know what." And then it hit me, the whole culture, society and lifestyle portrayed by the film was not mine. That is, I did not identify with it in any way. It was not anything major such as how someone from the US might view the culture of North Korea, or even as different as say a French film might be, but it was more subtle and nuanced in the differences. It was like the brief awkwardness when you go to shake hands with some one and they extend the left hand, or someone tells a joke that isn't quite funny (or lame enough to be considered a bad joke). It was in that moment that I realized that I was watching the cultural equivalent of an invasion of pod people. It was my Victor moment.

At that moment I was like Plato walking out of The Cave and I started seeing things like never before. The more I watched movies and trailers the more I realized just how far the invasion had gone. Now that I look back in retrospect I could see this coming, but it has only been in the last 10 years that the invasion of the pod people has really taken root in some of the most visible portions of society. I started seeing pod people in movies, on TV and in just about every form of mass media. Not all people in Hollywood have been taken over by a pod but it seems like most have. I have not seen many movies (or heard of movies, since I have since stopped watching most new movies) that have not been overrun by pod people. Because of this I have since stopped watching new movies, or even have the desire to go see a new movie.

It is a little difficult to describe exactly what a pod person is like, though if you have ever really noticed one then you already know exactly what I am talking about, but for the rest of you who have not noticed so far I will give a brief description so you can be on the lookout. Pod people are characterized by shallowness of character, and especially a distinct lack of rational thought (I should point out that I do not mean "educated" rational thought, as one might find in a formal education, but a stronger more fundamental propensity to rational action, which does not always go with education). Pods also have a distinct self-interest, self-centeredness, self-appeasement, self-indulgence, self-importance, self-worship and in general an inflated sense of self. They are also quick to express anger and outrage (especially outrage) at the very notion that their self-importance (and influence) is not what they think of it and they especially see fault in every thing that is not themselves. Their actions are always motivated by self-interest and self-aggrandizement, even those actions which they call "charitable" and "in the interest of everyone". Their self-identity is inextricably bound up in the "me" generation, though it is not limited to one specific age group. The one consolation in all of this is that the pod people will not outlast themselves, as it is a distinctive trait of pods that they are inherently self-destructive.

At the time that I had my Victor moment I realized that I was watching people who did not have the same culture, values or outlook on life that I did, nor did they have anything like unto it. I realized that their extreme emphasis on self was so different from the way that I view the world that I could not honest call what they were doing my culture, or my society. I did not relate or identify with them in anyway, nor would they relate to me and my life and my self-identity. If it had been the case that I was watching a movie or film from a foreign country it would not have been so shocking, because I would have been prepared for the difference, but what I was watching was supposed to be my own society complete with familiar social standards and cues, but instead I was being presented with something that was not familiar to me, and that is why it was so shocking.

****As an after note, I mentioned a lot of "self-" things that are negative and detrimental to oneself, but do not misunderstand me, I do not advocate excessive self-deprecation as a remedy to selfishness, but rather self-worth instead of self-inflation.


Michaela Stephens said...

I think I agree with you. I noticed things were "off" probably 10 years ago. But for me it wasn't the self-absorption, but rather the type of humor. I noticed more sassy smart-alec dialogue passing for humor and it really started to grate on me. That's not my idea of humor, because it is usually at someone else's expense and involves an element of pride.

Not MY culture. We have indeed been invaded.

Amy said...


Very nice essay.

Euripides said...

I like you Captain Nesterman. You're a man who likes a chicken, a rare quality in these evil times.

Or something like that.

Pod People...aliens...Obamamites...

Who are these people and what are they doing in my country?