Thursday, February 17, 2011


One of the perhaps subtle bits behind the genius that is Douglas Coupland's Miss Wyoming is a theme that we can track back to Rousseau. It's basically the Doomsday Device from Dr. Strangelove and it's an idea of which any archaeologist is familiar.

Consider the following: herpes, the first pet you watched die, your first kiss, and your grandmother's very annoying manner of greeting you that you couldn't take issue with because she is/was (does it change in death?) your grandmother (and trust me, they all have their own particular actions to get the same results, it's one of the things they teach in the grandmother surveys when your mother is preggers with you or whoever's the first born on that side of the family). What do all of those have in common? Well, I'm pretty much bullshitting by this point, in fact that long parenthetical was supposed to throw you off that whole trail. But what they have in common, or what I'm claiming they have in common, is that they are with you for life.

Now the relevance for the above paragraph is circumstantial at best and I admit that no one is going to get convicted on that piss poor evidence but here I am getting stuck into another metaphor rather than actually speaking; the relevance is this: Rousseau has a line somewhere, if my memory holds up, about how you can't go back to the way things were. See, people call Rousseau a primitivist, but he isn't because he's just a joker. His view of the primitive world is not essentially accurate--he points this out when he makes it irrelevant: we can't go back there. So then what does it matter what the there was like? Of course it doesn't.

Hidden in the folds of the amazing technicolor dreamcoat that he has woven in Miss Wyoming, Coupland places a similar thought. Basically the same-old, same-old you can't go back story. Coupland is basically writing about the end of the solitary man. In 1911, Ishi, the last Yahi man, came out of the forest in California. Ishi is a good man to allude to here because he was not solitary, although you might expect it from him. After all, the white man killed his entire society. (This is what I don't understand about people who try to argue with Indians about rights today. It's like, and this is an understatement, shooting three members of a guy's family and then turning to him and saying, Hey, can I borrow your umbrella? It's raining outside. Or rather it's like taking his umbrella after that and wondering why he's angry.) And what does Ishi do when his family in hiding in the forest dies? He comes back to society; he's no solitary man.

Orangutans are solitary apes. That's the findings of primatologists, and not just me talking out of my ass, although it's that too. We aren't solitary apes, but we've always had this sort of vision of the solitary life: Tarzan and all that jazz. Or was Tarzan talking with monkeys and does that disqualify it? Anyway, I'm not going to put that much more thought into another example, so deal with it, rock'n'roll!, as you'd get from Sean Bateman. In Miss Wyoming, Coupland gives us two characters who become solitary critters--one intentionally, one accidentally--and for both of them it fails. I'm just saying that's there's an understanding that you come to when you read this. The book is teaching you something. I'm not sure what other than the fact that if we ever could live on our own, we can't now.

So what does it matter what it was like back then? as we might paraphrase Rousseau.

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