The Metamessage


Art in its many forms---poetry, paintings, songs, plays, novels, movies---has a metamessage.  The message is captured in the movie Instinct when the patient grabs the therapist and warns him that he will kill him unless he answers the question correctly.  The question is: What have I just taken away from you?  The first answer given is: Control.  The second answer is: Freedom.  Both are wrong because he never had either one.  He only thought he had them.  He gives him one more chance to get the answer right or he dies.  He finally provides the correct answer: "My Illusions."  The illusion that we are in control, that we have freedom, is what great art helps us to see.  Great art shouts out to us that we need to break the rules that inhibit us, we must become the free and creative person that our souls long to be.


Cave dwellers, thousands of years before humans developed civilizations, painted beautiful pictures on the cave walls---even under the most demanding of circumstances, where food was hard to come by, where life was very tenuous, humans engaged in art.  We wanted to express ourselves.  To be creative.  That is what it is to be human.


Films help us see how personal, social, psychological, economic, political forces undermine our creativity.  The primary way that these basic urges are undermined is through the creation of illusions---that is the business of advertisers and public relations companies……and tragically, that is the business of politicians more often than not.


Louise Bryant in the movie Reds is testifying before congress after she has witnessed the Russian revolution.  They are concerned that the Russians are not Christians.  She points out that the Church in Russia was historically linked to the ruling class and was a force of oppression.  Bryant pointed out that the Communists promised that they would pull out of World War One within six months of their coming into power….and they did so.  President Woodrow Wilson promised that he would keep America out of the war and within six months of his coming into power he had us in the war.  She is pointing out the hypocrisy that plagues American politics…she also pointed out that in Russia women then had the vote and this was still denied women in America.  (The movie Reds has Warren Beatty playing the role of John Reed, the reporter that wrote Ten Days that Shook the World.  This movie is filled with historical events that can help you better understand American history and make you less vulnerable to the illusions that are often sold as history.)


Thinking, feeling, acting.  That is what we have to understand.  Who is manipulating the way we are thinking, feeling, and acting?  What illusions do we hold that are manipulating us?  What hypocrisies exist that undermine our ability to live a caring and creative life?  So many people claim to be Christians….but how do they behave?


As Bruce warns us in Lenny, we need our deviants.  We need to have people pushing us to change.  Human existence is all about change.  Change can only happen for the better when we have free speech, when information flows freely, when we do not have censorship.  In I Shot Any Warhol, Valarie Solaras is rejected because her ideas are too radical.  In a more open society, we would make more room for such individuals, we would be more accepting of them even if we did not agree with or like what they have to say.  Maplethorpe took beautiful pictures….he also sometimes took very disturbing pictures.  The film Dirty Pictures examines the effort to censor his art.   In Ordinary People the choice is presented---we can remain cold and unfeeling, we can hide from the world and remain distant from our emotions, or, we can take the risk and shout back.  In Trapped in Silence we saw an alternative---it was safer to be crazy, safer to be locked away from the world.  But, if we are willing to take risks, we can, through love, come to change others, change ourselves, and make the world worth living in. 


When the Who's Pete Townsend was first trying to learn how to express his artistic talent, his grandmother gave him a terribly bad guitar.  It was impossible to make beautiful music on it.  His grandmother then complained about the racket.  She threatened to break the guitar if he didn't stop making the racket.  He said, no, he wouldn't let her do that, and, a split second later, he smashed the guitar himself.  I see this as a metaphor---we need to break out of the illusions, we have to stop being butterflies pinned to the Collector's wall, we must act, we must express our talents, our emotions.  We must begin to take the messages of Cuckoo's Nest and Harold and Maude to heart and begin a new journey, a journey at first inward, to our heart, and then outward towards others to nourish our souls.


Your task is to begin the journey of a thousand miles.  Your task is to take that first step.