While taking a long run across the country, Forrest Gump was making his way along a suburban neighborhood road when a young man sighted Mr. Gump and flew out of his front yard in a mad dash to catch up to him. The young man gasped, “It’s you! I can’t believe it’s really you! I mean, it was like an alarm went off in my head, you know. I said, here’s a guy that’s got his act together. Here’s somebody that’s got it all figured out. Here’s somebody who has the answer! I’ll follow you anywhere Mr. Gump.”
Most of us tend respond automatically to people who seem to know what they’re doing. Perhaps it stems from our capacity to be influenced by our surroundings. It is said that the people we spend the majority of our time with begin to “rub off” on us. As social creatures, humans begin to exemplify the characteristics of those around them. The mannerisms, phrases, memes, body language, and ideologies of our surrounding peer groups permeate into the individual merely through proximity. For this same reason we are all influenced by advertising, even though most claim they simply tune ads out. We are influenced by whatever we find in our surrounding environment. Over time, many of us will begin to make similar observations, share parallel realizations, and produce equivalent output. Often the sudden appearance of a cutting-edge invention will be accompanied by a facsimile invention by a completely unrelated party on a completely different corner of the globe. We can refer to this “universal consciousness” as our overmind.
but the very concept of overmind implies a difficult question: Where do our thoughts come from?
We all are influenced by everything we come into contact with to some degree. It is impossible not to be. By teaching us how to act through their actions, the observable behavior of our parents is the first of many programs to be installed into the biological hardware of our nervous systems, and among the most important. The early installations have greater impacts than later ones, for the earlier a program is installed the more it has a tendency to become hardwired. Schools install a great number of operational programs into the individual, and our friends, neighbors and communities teach us what we should expect from the greater society.
But how might this be especially true of television programs? Might the fictional characters on the silver screen have just as much impact on shaping our behavior and mentalities as our families, friends and neighbors?
How many times have you quoted a film or show during otherwise natural conversation? People adopt mannerisms, body language and even phrases and tones of voice from watching actors express feigned emotional states in films and television. Fictional characters often exemplify characteristics we wish we possessed, and we tend to relate most to hero figures, be it Achilles, Joan of Arc, Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Han Solo, Mara Jade, Robin Hood, Wonder Woman, Zorro, King Leonidas, Batman or anyone else who exhibits courage, integrity and ethics. Everyone wants to be a hero, though I believe the term deserves additional specificity before we move on. So what are the qualifications for someone to be considered a hero? And when people refer to heroes, do they actually mean protagonist? Because we all see ourselves as the center of our own universe. The difference between heroes and villains often seems a matter of perspective. “If God be for us, who be against us?”
Here’s the rub: when an audience gathers to hear a lecture or speech, a concert or a film, a sporting event or television show, something very interesting is happening with the exertion of consciousness. That is, how people use their powers of observation.
Observation is not necessarily a spectator event. We know now from intersecting interpretations of quantum mechanical experimentation in particle accelerators that the act of observing, itself, influences objects and events that are observed. Looking at objects involves interacting with them. Looking at the world changes the world. Looking at something changes it.
In his 1988 book The Essential Guide To Guys, Dave Barry jokes that football game spectators often feel as though they posses concern-rays that shoot out from their foreheads onto the field, and can actually influence plays on the field by focusing intensely on the game while willing a particular outcome. Concern rays seem a decidedly apt phrase to describe this phenomenon, because we know now that spectators actually do influence the world merely by observing it. We are always the observer but sometime we identify with the events so much so that we even lose the aspect of the observer. When we attend a concert and witness our favorite rock star on stage, we can actually forget that we individual egos in the crowd as we focus every ounce of our attention upon the star of the show. This is just one way that our individual consciousnesses can merge with the overmind of the hive.
Tyler Durden put it in another way:
“People do it every day. They talk to themselves. They see themselves as they’d like to be. They don’t have the courage you have to just run with it.”
Having the courage to “run with it,” seems to be a take on the phenomenon of being true to one’s self. “Just be yourself.” That so often we succumb to society’s demands of what we should be or what constitutes appropriate conduct or even how we should think. In our culture, appropriate conduct entails toiling at a loathsome, often unnecessary job, to make money to pay rent and become a “productive member of society.” But as we squeeze ourselves in the vice of society’s demands, we forget who we are and what we truly want from life. This is a symptom of programming.
Rarely do we ever bat an eye at the phrase, “television programming,” since shows are colloquially referred to as programs. But the word choice here hardly seems a coincidence, since we are susceptible to influences of all types. Television programs are exactly that; Programs.
Programming, like advertising, has profound influential effects on our behavior. I’m thinking specifically of an instance wherein my grandmother and great grandmother watched the gangster film Casino starring Joe Pesci. The film was riddled with cursing, inundating the audience with f-bombs and profanity for nearly three long hours. When the film was finished, the three of them exited the theater, sat down in the car and began to make the drive home. Despite the fact that no one in the family ever heard either of these ladies say anything profane, a new vocabulary emerged from the two women during the drive home from that mobster flick. “F-this” and “F-that” and “Can’t these F-ing F-ers get the F out of my way?” Other drivers were fuckers, traffic was decided to be in “the fucking way” and potholes in the road were referred to with other colorful expletives. Over a relatively short period of time, a single film had actually reprogrammed these sweet, old ladies with the vocabulary of the Mafioso protagonists.
When Alexander the Great went to battle, he always led his army by marching into the fight alongside the front line. By placing himself at the forefront of the danger, he exemplified the appropriate conduct of leadership. With legions of men and horses that other generals might rely on as a source of protection and security, Alexander took his place at the tip of the spear. Leading by example produced a fanatic loyalty within the hearts and minds of Alexander’s soldiers, and they fought with all their might as a result. Either that or none of the generals wanted to find out what would become of their careers should the intrepid Alexander be hurt, pushing their soldiers especially hard to keep the Emperor safe.
It’s natural to admire those who demonstrate great intelligence, or dexterity, or passion. But we mustn’t lose sight of leading ourselves through our own lives. We mustn’t export our free will onto those presented by society as our “heroes” and “leaders”. Through meditation, we can begin to see how important it is that we unlearn what we have learned. Rewire your mind. Take control of your destiny. And remember that the Matrix cannot tell you who you are or write the story of your life. Only you can do that. You are the hero of your own destiny. So take the reigns and ride the wave. It’s all out there waiting for you.