12 September 2013

My Invisible Friend Bernard, Freud, Repressed Sexuality, and the Power of Pop Stars to Save Humanity

It had been a terribly long time since I'd had lunch with Bernard. He was animated, his eyes twinkling as he greeted me. When Bernard had an idea, he dismissed preliminaries that others used. No "hello's," no "how are you's." He simply launched into sharing his latest theories.

"Did you know that as early as the 1930s, Freud worried that our repression of our natural sexuality was threatening to make us extinct?"
"What?" I should have been ready for Bernard but still he surprised me. An eighty-some year old man should - at some point - give into social conventions if only out of a weariness from pushing against them. Of course Bernard would have to have noticed social norms to feel such weariness. This did not seem to be the case.

I shook my head. "Bernard, we'll never go extinct. Babies are too cute and sex is too much fun." He looked hurt that I would so quickly dismiss his new ideas. So I started again, "You're saying that Freud was trying to free us from repressed sexuality because he was worried about the future of the human race?"

"Yes! Exactly!" Bernard chuckled. "You're certainly quick this afternoon. You've obviously been spending less time traveling between time zones. I can always tell when you're sleep deprived because you get so cranky and resistant to new ideas." He actually grinned and did a little shake. "Oh boy. This could be a great lunch."

"Talking with an octogenarian about repressed sexuality over a Turkey Reuben? That's your idea of a great lunch?" And as soon as I heard myself say it, I thought, "Yeah. That is a great lunch." But I didn't say that out loud. What I said was, "So where do you get this?"

"Well, I've been reading Freud. And surfing the 'net. I'm working on a theory that applies his notions of the Id, Ego, and Super-ego to the Internet. As it turns out, even though the Internet would - on the surface - seems like a tool for expanding consciousness, a cerebral tool, it is instead the Id that it most appeals to. Mostly people like things that make them feel more secure. The Internet doesn't so much inform us as comfort us. We watch videos of puppies and read sometime poignant, sometimes sappy quotes. We read all the sites that reinforce our own worldviews and opinions. But nobody is reading Freud on the Internet."

"Well if he had a TED talk," I retorted.
"Nothing," I lied. I knew that if I told Bernard about TED talks he'd disappear into the Internet for weeks and when he emerged I'd be subjected to hours of tangential thought inspired by speakers who probably wouldn't recognize their own ideas coming out of Bernard's pinball brain that created connections between so many seemingly disparate things. Bernard on any topic was like watching a man in dress shoes walk across ice; you had no idea where he'd land. "So you're reading Freud on the Internet?"

"No. I'm reading his books." He paused to sip his water. "I'm reading his book on jokes and their relationship to the unconscious and as near as I can tell, he's not very funny. Don't you think it's funny that his jokes aren't?"
"Well maybe once you've taken away all the repression you no longer have jokes. You just have clinical descriptions. It's like taking all the tension out of a drama. It's more relaxing but it's no longer drama." Bernard looked at me quizzically, as if he was seriously considering heading off on this new tangent. Before he could, I spoke again.

"So your reading of Freud has led you to conclude that he was right to worry about the coming extinction of our race?"
"Yes! Think about it! Educated women are no longer having kids. All the secular humanists are busily worrying about careers and global warming, and don't have the time or optimism to bring children into this world. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, we have the religious right who are carefully shielding themselves from wicked thoughts, abstaining from sex as a means of protecting religious ideals. Nobody is procreating! Freud was right."

"So we're dying out?"
"No. But only because of the work of people who get dismissed by the religious right and the secular humanists alike."
"Oh? Who is that?"
"People like Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Brittney Spears, Janet Jackson."
"Pop divas? What?"
"You call them pop diviners if you want. They are the modern fertility goddesses. I haven't read much Jung but I'm sure he probably predicted their emergence. Freud would watch one of their music videos and take hope that we'll procreate our way out of this century."
"Janet Jackson? You found Janet Jackson on the Internet? Wasn't she a radio thing?"
"No. She is a beautiful women. You should see her."

"Bernard," I start to protest his silly idea that future generations will deify the pop stars who so often introduced kids and teenagers to ideas of sexuality. And then two thoughts occurred to me at once. One, it seemed petty to squelch his joy in such odd ideas. Two, he might might be right. It could be that Miley Cyrus was more powerful than the promise of careers or salvation and might just be enough to bring one more life onto this already crowded planet. As hard as it was to believe that birth rates would ever drop enough to make people look back wistfully at past generations of high birth rates, what did I know about the future? This could happen. After all, birth rates had dropped a lot since the time Freud predicted this problem. Maybe there will be future generations who trace their lineage back to impulsive procreation and feel grateful to Janet.

So instead of contesting his ideas, I just said, "That sounds amazing." And then I opened my menu for the first time. "So, what are you having?"
"I'm on a neo-paleo Atkins' diet," Bernard said excitedly. "I'm having just the meat from three different sandwiches. No condiments. No bread. Not even a pickle."
"That sounds amazing," I said as I scanned the menu. And I meant it.

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