The night before Halloween, I watched Stanley Kubrick’s iconic adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. I had seen the film before and certainly enjoyed it the first time, but a few nights ago, when I watched it with some friends, I followed along on a website I had found the week before. The page showed screenshots of an edited version of the film in which the movie is shown simultaneously both backwards and forwards, with both directions superimposed on each other. Doing so revealed to me a fascinating symmetry in the film, with distant scenes paired to create enriched levels of creepiness. Jack is shown in the forwards version throwing a ball against the wall; in the backwards version, Wendy carries a baseball bat. Forwards Jack rubs his son’s back while backwards Grady wipes off Jack’s coat. Here was an entire plane of symbolism that I missed despite paying close attention during my first viewing. (Fans of the film should Google “the shining forwards and backwards.” I visited the ‘kdk12’ website.)
In the context of all this, I’m reminded of an experience I had in the eleventh grade in Mr. Kutner’s “Love in Literature” class. We were reading Beloved by Toni Morrison. At one point, Morrison describes a woman, who we later find out is the titular character, rising from the water as Sethe, the protagonist, is stricken with mysterious abdominal pains. I took this all at face value, believing that Beloved really did just swim out of the water and that Sethe had a stomach bug or appendicitis. Only when we discussed our reading the next day did I learn that the entire chapter was one big birth metaphor. I really should have been on the lookout for that when Sethe’s water broke (I thought she was having a bizarre pee attack).
While nested symbolism like Kubrick’s and Morrison’s is far from commonplace, we must never forget to look for it. And I’m not just talking about our consumption of art—oversimplification plagues our day-to-day lives and decisions. Donnie Darko said it well when he lashed out against the uniaxial spectrum of emotion proposed by his health teacher: “There are other things that you’re missing, like the entire spectrum of human emotion. You can’t just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else!” Too often we do just that, imposing false dichotomies onto issues and situations that warrant much deeper analysis.
It’s an election year, so we as a society are obsessed with politics right now. It seems that every news segment is placed within the frame of the showdown between Romney and Obama. Don’t worry, I will not write about the merits and shortfalls of these candidates. Instead, I aim to critique the Darko-esque uniaxial spectrum of political views. Our notion of ‘left’ and ‘right’ is useless for expressing a set of nuanced, well-thought-out political beliefs. Worse yet, our bipartisan system only truly acknowledges two points on this flawed and incomplete scale, exiling those with so-called “extreme” views from the political discussion.
There are currently only two independents in Congress: Senators Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders. Their “Independent” labels are tenuous at best. Lieberman is a registered Democrat, but ran under a third party and is actually listed as an “Independent Democrat.” Sanders, for all intents and purposes, is a Democrat, running as Independent only because he is not a member of a formal political party. The rest of Congress is made up of Democrats and Republicans, blues and reds, asses and elephants.
A wise man once told me, “there are two sides of every coin.” While the sense of duality intrinsic to this metaphor is one I like to avoid, the notion of complexity here is a good one. You might be staunchly in favor of Obama, so to you he may appear a faultless political messiah. To a Romney supporter, Obama’s policy is Swiss cheese and he is poised to ruin our democracy. Both polarized versions of Barry’s character are, with slight consideration, very obviously false.
But remember that this note is not just about politics, but about the way we perceive the world we live in. Perhaps the problem is that too many people live their lives without thinking, especially in this age of non-stop screentime and engagement. Perhaps it is part of what makes us human—did our primitive Serengeti ancestors get a leg up (two legs up?) on the evolutionary competition by categorizing their experiences and the world in which they lived? Many scientists think so. But that’s no excuse. While being alive precludes us from ‘escaping’ evolution, I believe our abnormally large brains enable us to buck our genetic tradition in a conscious attempt to enrich the state of our world. Unfortunately, the very nature of my argument dictates that I delve into the nuances of anthropology, but I’m already over 800 words.