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Follow-Up: More on "More"

The other day I asked as many of you as can spare the time to go watch the Internet version of a short animated video called "More," and (so far) six of you did, and thanks. Adding your interpretations of it to kukla_tko42's, and my own fragmentary interpretation of it, I think I sort of understand. Like all bits of Terribly Meaningful Art, it means something a little different to each person. My primary concern was to try to understand what it meant to Kukla, and why she (mistakenly, this time) thought it would be powerfully meaningful to me.

The opening scene is of what we're given to understand is a dream of a happy memory from childhood that haunts our hero. He wakes from the dream into an ugly room in a dreary city, rides a dreary bus to his dreary job, where his screaming boss bullies him to make the only non-gray object in his whole gray world, a popular consumer product called Happy, faster and faster. Our Hero fancies himself an inventor, and eventually finds a way to design something even better than Happy, into which he's invested some of his own happy memories and his own spirit, which he calls Bliss. Bliss is so much better than Happy that he becomes wealthy and famous, and he takes over the Happy company. Now the same screaming boss pesters the same workers (plus his replacement) to make more Bliss, faster and faster. And in the CEO's office, our hero suddenly realizes that while everybody else is buying Bliss, his original source of bliss, the happy memories inside him, has gone out; he no longer has any joy of his own. Gazing out the window, he sees in the distance a group of children playing ... just like he was, in the happy memories he can no longer reach.

Now, here's the part that seems to be the point of confusion: just what the heck is Bliss? Bliss looks like a high-tech pair of binoculars, and when you look through it, the gray and ugly world stop-motion animated world disappears and is replaced by a bright, cheerful, rainbow-colored cell animated world. Bliss is a product that lets people step out of their ugly world for a while and live in a beautiful world. And the point of contention between Kukla and me was over whether or not that's a good thing. As someone who remembers the time, fairly long ago, when I used to make approximately annual use of LSD, she assumed that I would share her opinion that seeing the world as a beautiful thing instead of as an ugly thing, and feeling momentary bliss, was a good thing. She saw our hero as a man who'd made a messianic sacrifice to share his bliss, the energy he got from his uniquely-preserved memory of happy childhood, with a needy world. To the extent that I have any opinion at all (because the whole thing left me strangely unaffected, truthfully, the way that most non-"doggerel" poetry does), it's that what he's done is a monstrous thing. Because when I compare the world as seen through his manufactured Bliss to the real world, he's doing people a horrible disservice by encouraging them to see the world other than as it is.

Isn't that what I took LSD for? God's teeth and miserable dentures, no. This goofball idea that hallucinogens make you see things that aren't there is a popular media misunderstanding. In my youth, even on the rare and mostly regretted times when I didn't take the sacredness of the drug as seriously as I should have, and even when I've taken far more than the recommended dosages, and regardless of which drugs I've taken, I've never seen anything that wasn't actually there. I took those drugs to learn from them. I took those drugs not to muddle my thinking, but to clarify it. I valued those drugs for their unique power to call my attention to things, both inside me and outside of me, that I had been ignoring. Some of those things were beautiful, and the drug taught me much about the beauty in my world that I might otherwise not have known to look for. (But mostly not. I've always been inclined to see beauty in the world around me.) Some of those things were ugly things that I'd been half-consciously overlooking because I wasn't ready to face them. But all of them were there before the drug showed them to me, and are still there decades later.

She thought that I took the drugs to revel in the roughly 15 to 20 minutes of intense bliss that happens at the peak of the experience. That would be foolishness at best and insanity at worse if it were true. It's an 8 to 14 hour experience. Setting aside 8 to 14 hours of my life, incapacitating myself for 8 to 14 hours, for 15 minutes of artificial mood elevation? God's teeth, I'd never do that. It's what I learned and saw and felt in the roughly 4 to 10 hours of the most powerful parts of the non-peak experience that I valued enough to do it again and again until it had taught me as much as it had to teach me. When Those Who Have Seen It came back to Eleusis for their chemically-enhanced experience, as some of them did several times to serve as volunteer guides to the new initiates, you can't tell me that they put themselves through all that work just for the 30 seconds or so of intense experience at sunrise; I believe that they must have valued the whole experience. As intense as the brief peak from that weak hallucinogen was, the experience of it was repeated from year to year; it had nothing new to show them after that first time. It's the rest of it, and the sharing of that other many hours with a hundred or a thousand other new and returning initiates, that brought them back.

It deeply disappointed Kukla, I think, that I would have preferred to see the gray real world in "More" and to find the beauty in it, than to have paid money for a consumer product that let me escape into artificial hallucinations of beauty that isn't actually there. For this, she called me a bitter pessimist. Would a bitter pessimist think that there was beauty enough in the real world to look for it? I don't need to ignore any ugliness or pettiness or ignorance or casual negligence or even the infrequent actual malevolence in my real world to know that there is more beauty in it than has any right to be there, and to take comfort therein. I'm not an optimist, if by optimist you mean someone who doesn't see the ugliness and pettiness and ignorance and negligence and cruelty. And if there are only optimists and pessimists in the world, and no third or fourth or nth alternative, then I guess not being an optimist makes me a pessimist. And yet, somehow, I don't feel pessimistic.

I make frequent recourse to the joke about the Thirteenth Beatitude: "Blessed are they who expect the worst, for they can be pleasantly surprised." I don't, truly, expect the worst. (One could say that I aspire to that blessed state, but that would be being silly.) But I know that I live on a planet that only evolved intelligence a few hundred thousand years ago, that only evolved even rudimentary civilization perhaps twenty thousand years ago, and among a species to whom the blessed gods who live forever only revealed to us the happiest and best way of life (perhaps because they had only just learned it from some of us) and began to reward it less than three thousand years ago. I know, with the certainty of mathematical proof, that it is hard for human beings to do the right thing some times, that the temptation to cheat each other and war against each other for short term personal gain is part of our biological heritage. Knowing these things doesn't make me a pessimist. It makes me someone who is delighted every day to see, every day and everywhere I look, the vast majority of people doing more or less the right thing, doing not only the best that they can but sometimes even doing better than there is any reason to think that they could. And I refuse to call someone like myself who sees that and delights in it on a daily basis a pessimist.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 21st, 2006 07:08 pm (UTC)
I watched that short a much longer time ago, and I always thought of it as a depressing thing - the guy who was looking to get his happiness back still couldn't find it, and even more, it got commercialized and sold in tiny little bits.

Still, finding a flower in the ruined city is something you can't really simulate.
Jan. 21st, 2006 07:55 pm (UTC)
Your description of LSD for learning is quite apt; I think "Bliss" in the movie is (and was intended to be) almost the exact opposite of that. Denial of reality. Sort of like Brave New World or the Matrix movies, only here the villain is the consumer mentality.
Jan. 21st, 2006 08:56 pm (UTC)
I'm reminded somehow...
...of a poem that I enjoyed immensely as young adult.

"Terrence this is stupid stuff"

(I wish I knew how to embed links in a post like you cool people can)

Anyway, the poem describes a conversation between two brothers, one who wants to drink and one who wants to think. The basic idea is that if you prepare yourself for bad things, you can handle them better than if you just drink to escape the bad things.

Anyway, my interpretation of the movie is similar to yours, and I would rather see a grey world of reality than a colored world of fantasy, though I wouldn't mind escaping now and then to the fantasy, I find myself always drawn towards the reality.

My attraction to drugs isn't in the bliss, either, but in the ability to see things I don't normally pay attention to.

Jan. 21st, 2006 09:22 pm (UTC)
links - Re: I'm reminded somehow...
How to embed links:
<a href="link goes here">text goes here</a>

<a href="http://www.poetryconnection.net/poets/A.E._Housman/16721">Terrence this is stupid stuff</a>

Terrence this is stupid stuff
Jan. 21st, 2006 10:55 pm (UTC)
I've watched it only twice. I thought the middle section was a sort of dream sequence. It never stirred and sort of flashback in any case.

RE: Your observations about mind altering drugs.

Ditto, LSD (first time genuine Owlsley), peyote and mescaline were genuine learning/religious experiences. Did some 'shrooms also. Did also, at least, one Acid Test, and was a 'ground man' for another in the Haight, BTW. At the time I did NOT consider them 'drugs' in the sense of getting high. I'm not sure any of them were even illegal at the time.
Jan. 21st, 2006 11:34 pm (UTC)
I'd call you a somewhat optimistic realist, if anything...

There was a tiny touch of beauty shown in the grey world, if you like shiny sparkly things... so it's a safe bet there's more beauty hidden there, if people just learn to look...
Jan. 22nd, 2006 03:26 am (UTC)
But they won't look.

The sheeple out there will spend money on trinkets, toys, mind machines, and mood-altering drugs to make things seem better even though there IS beauty in the world, if one knows where to find it.

But that requires work. And thought. Ambition.

Jan. 22nd, 2006 10:32 pm (UTC)
LOL... my ex had one of those mind machines...
Jan. 22nd, 2006 03:28 am (UTC)
I had to wait until you managed to wrap your head around the story before I could fully explain why I like this piece of art.

And I'm not going to do it here, either. Sounds like you get it, sort of. So the next time we meet I'll be happy to further explain to you what I like about this one.
Jan. 22nd, 2006 03:29 am (UTC)
Not even sure where to begin...
Not being a part of the drug culture, and not having experienced the effects of LSD/peyote, I am thinking perhaps a point is being missed.

Find a need, Fill a need.

Obviously, there is a need to escape this grey world of theirs. Happy was a good product, but Bliss did the job better. Ok, maybe it was a reality bending device, and such devices are evil, BUT, they were already in place. Happy was probably JUST that kind of device, moulding reality to make it more acceptable in the drudge's eyes.

OK, let's take a look at a couple of options:

1) Bliss is a drug.
OK, so Bliss is a drug. So is Prozac. So is Morphine. It changes your reality to make it more pleasant. Drugs can be used in positive and negative ways. What the character did in More was neither evil or good, but opportunistic. As it turns out it didn't help him much in the end.

2) Bliss is a piece of plastic joy.
OK, so Bliss is a gadget. A device. Bliss is representing an iPod, or a computer, or a gaming console, or a boat, or something else that you want that is mass produced He poured himself into the making of it and then it sucked his soul. Gadgets, like drugs, are neutral. He was opportunistic, and in the end, he was not happy.

Going by these two examples, I don't think it matters what you think Bliss is, it doesn't bring any Bliss in the end.
Jan. 22nd, 2006 05:10 am (UTC)
How's about this link: http://www.realization.org/page/doc0/doc0036.htm

If I hadn't seemingly missed the whole point of "More". I might have caught the reference without you shining a light on it. DOH!!!
Jan. 23rd, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
For what it's worth, I agree with you and disagree with your friend. I think that the inventor hasn't fixed anything or made anything better - the fact that you can see your horrible boss as a smiling, waving clown doesn't improve the actual state of the world that you live in, and certainly doesn't mean you aren't still being threatened with the loss of your livelihood if you don't make more more quickly. And how great is it going to be if you rely on that image and /don't/ take your boss seriously, and really do get firedd? (Obligatory Simpsons reference, sixth season episode, co-workers on fire appearing to be happy dancing clowns due to advertisements infilitrating Homer's brain.)

The thing about artificial happiness is that it sucks. It's always more work for less reward than real happiness is.

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )