Friday, February 13, 2015

the last book I ever read (David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, excerpt three)

from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace:

Sunday-morning syndication is also intriguing because it makes for juxtapositions as eerily apposite as anything French surrealists could come up with. Lovable warlocks on Bewitched and commercially Satanic heavy-metal videos on Top Ten Countdown run opposite air-brushed preachers decrying demonism in U.S. culture. You can surf back and forth between a televised mass’s “This is my blood” and Gladiators’ Zap breaking a civilian’s nose with a polyurethane Bataka. Or, even better, have a look at 8/050/90’s St. Elsewhere episode 94, originally broadcast in 1988, which airs in syndication on Boston’s Channel 38 immediately following two back-to-back episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, that icon of ‘70s pathos. The plots of the two Mary Tyler Moore Shows are unimportant here. But the St. Elsewhere episode that followed them was partly concerned with a cameo-role mental patient who presented with the delusional belief that he was Mary Richards from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He further believed that a fellow cameo-role mental patient was Rhoda, that Dr. Westphal was Mr. Grant, and that Dr. Auschlander was Murray. This psychiatric subplot was a one-shot; it was resolved by episode’s end. The pseudo-Mary (a sad lumpy-looking guy, portrayed by an actor whose name I didn’t catch but who I remember used to play one of Dr. Hartley’s neurotic clients on the old Bob Newhart Show) rescues the other cameo-role mental patient, whom he believes to be Rhoda and who has been furious in his denials that he is female, much less fictional (and who is himself played by the guy who used to play Mr. Carlin, Dr. Hartley’s most intractable client) from assault by a bit-part hebephrene. In gratitude, Rhoda/Mr. Carlin/mental patient declares that he’ll consent to be Rhoda if that’s what Mary/neurotic client/mental patient wants. At this too-real generosity, the pseudo-Mary’s psychotic break breaks. The sad lumpy guy admits to Dr. Auschlander that he’s not Mary Richards. He’s actually just a plain old amnesiac, a guy without a meaningful identity, existentially adrift. He has no idea who he is. He’s lonely. He watches a lot of TV. He says he “figured it was better to believe I was a TV character than not to believe I was anybody.” Dr. Auschlander takes the penitent patient for a walk in the wintery Boston air and promises that he, the identityless guy, can someday very probably find out who he really is, provided he can dispense with “the distraction of television.” Extremely grateful and happy at this prognosis, the patient removes his own fuzzy winter beret and throws it into the air. The episode ends with a freeze of the airborne hat, leaving at least one viewer credulously rapt.

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