Sunday, December 11, 2005

Monkey Think, Monkey Do by Chuck Palahniuk

This summer a young man pulled me aside in a bookstore and said he loved how in "Fight Club" I wrote about waiters tainting food.

He asked me to sign a book and said he worked in a five-star restaurant where they monkey with celebrity food all the

"Margaret Thatcher," he said, "has eaten my sperm."

He held up one hand, fingers spread, and said, "At least five times."
Writing that book, I knew a movie projectionist who collected single frames from porno movies and made them into slides.

When I talked to people about cutting these frames into G-rated family movies, one friend said, "Don't. People will read
that, and they'll start doing it."

Later, when they were shooting the Fight Club movie, some Hollywood big names told me the book hit home because they, themselves, had spliced porno into movies as angry teenage projectionists.

People told me about blowing their noses into hamburgers.

They told me about changing the bottles of hair dye from box to box in the drug store, blonde into black et cetera, and coming back to see angry wild-dyed people screaming at the store manager.

This was the decade of transgressional novels, starting early with American Psycho and continuing with Trainspotting and Fight Club. These were novels about bored bad boys who'd try anything to feel alive.

Everything people told me, I could sell.

On every book tour, people told me how each time they sat in the emergency exit row on an airplane, the whole flight was a struggle not to pop that door open.

The air sucked out of the plane, the oxygen masks falling, the screaming chaos and "Mayday, Mayday!" emergency landing, it was all so clear.

The door, so begging to be opened.

The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, defines dread as the knowledge of what you must do to prove you're free, even if it will destroy you.

His example is Adam in the Garden of Eden, happy and content until God shows him the Tree of Knowledge and says, "Don't eat this."

Now, Adam is no longer free.

Thee is one rule he can break, he must break to prove his freedom, even if it destroys him. Kierkegaard says the moment we are forbidden to do something, we will do it. It is inevitable.

Monkey think, monkey do.

According to Kierkegaard, the person who allows the law to control his life, who says the possible isn't possible just because it's illegal, is leading the inauthentic

In Portland, Oregon, where I live, someone is filling tennis balls with hundreds of match heads and taping them shut.

They leave the balls on the street for anyone to find, and any kick or throw will make them explode. So far, a man's lost a foot, a dog, its head.

Now the graffiti taggers are using acid glass-etching creams to write on shop and car windows.

At Tigard High School, a teenage boy takes his shit and wipes it around the walls of the men's bathrooms.

The school knows him only as "The Una-Pooper."

Nobody's supposed to talk about him because they're afraid of copycats.

As Kierkegaard would say, every time we see what's possible, we make it happen.

We make it inevitable. Until Stephen King wrote about high school losers killing their peer groups, school shootings were unknown.

But did Carrie and Rage make it inevitable?

Millions of us paid money to watch the Empire State Building destroyed in Independence Day.

Now the Department of Defense has enrolled the best Hollywood creative people to brainstorm terrorist scenarios, including director David Fincher, the man who made the Century City skyline collapse in Fight Club.

We want to know every way we might be attacked.

So we can be prepared.

Because of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, you can't mail a package without going to a post office clerk. Because of people dropping bowling balls onto freeways, we have fences enclosing highway overpasses.

All of this, reactive.

As if we can protect ourselves against everything.

This summer the man convicted of killing my father said, hey, the state could give him the death penalty, but he and his white supremacist friends had built and buried several anthrax bombs around Spokane, Washington. If the state killed him,
someday a backhoe would rupture a buried bomb and tens of thousands would die.

What's coming is a million new reasons not to live your life.

You can deny your possibility to success and blame it on something else.

You can fight against everything-Margaret Thatcher, property owners, the urge to open that door mid-flight, God... everything you pretend keeps you down.

You can live Kierkegaard's inauthentic life.

Or you can make what Kierkegaard called your Leap of Faith, where you stop living as a reaction and start living as a force for what you say should be.

What's coming is a million new reasons to go ahead.

What's going out is the cathartic transgressional novel, now that we have someone to hate more than each other.


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