Monday, September 16, 2013

The Post-Man Always Rings Twice

'All the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.  They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them."' - Genesis 19:4-8

Here's the rest of the passage to show you how it turned out, but the Tl;dr version is below.

Suffice to say, the next time eHarmony offers you a choice between extraterrestrial visitors (however angelic their looks) and a pair of teenage virgins, take the virgins and don't look back.  Hellfire and Brimstone might be breathtaking to look at, but they are lousy for intimacy.  What's that?  The Bible not your thing?  Then take it from the Greeks - nothing good ever came from submitting to Zeus' animal charisma. Semele got incinerated by his divine form, Io got turned into a cow and poor Ganymede ended up spending eternity as Canteen Boy to Zeus' Alec Baldwin.

It appears, however, that my generation (Gen Y, though as a 1985 baby, I can claim both X and Y, just like my sex chromosomes) has dismissed the conclusions of the existing literature on extra-human relationships. The anti-miscegenation laws that once governed our mythology are falling to a new breed of progressives. One by one, disenfranchised classes of Gods & Monsters are gaining unfettered access to the relationship classifieds: vampires & werewolves (Twilight), aliens (Avatar), demons (Hellboy, the revised Beowulf), pagan gods (Thor), mutants (the various X-Men), zombies (Warm Bodies), robots (Terminator Salvation, the Battlestar Galactica reboot), hamsters (check the latest Kia commercials), even cartoons (Enchanted).  In some cases, real humans are dropping out of the picture entirely, making way for a new set of post-human couples.  Slum with a bunch of muggles and bald simians and they're likely to pee in your sparkling new gene pool.

Why should my generation be so eager to cuckold good old homo sapiens?  Previous generations have flirted - Spielberg's fetish for the inhuman has spanned generations (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., A.I.) - but this widespread, blatant cheating is unprecedented.  I can see three possible reasons for this infatuation:
  1. Peak entertainment - with so much entertainment at our fingertips and so much time devoted to its consumption, we've reached (to paraphrase Wikipedia's peak oil definition) "the point in time when maximum satisfaction extraction from existing entertainment forms has been reached." Boredom encroaches, prompting the urge to subvert even the most fundamental norms to create new combinations and new experiences. When you've messed around with the full spectrum of humanity, the eyes start to wander.
  2. Inhuman rights - with the Boomers having planted their flag on all the real world social issues, the pioneering crusader impulse has to have an outlet somewhere.  Getting out in front of a future alien encounter with a solidly progressive take on the issue merits a hearty clap on one's own back.
  3. Self-esteempunk - with technology charting an exponential course to sci-fi utopia (and special effects that can bridge the gap) and a culture that seeks to overwhelm any self-doubt with waves of positive reinforcements, it's a lot easier for this generation to believe in its own superhumanity.  Having gracefully bounded a mile in Avatar's alien moccasins, we are not only more likely to be sympathetic to inhuman rights, but we have an inflated opinion of our ability to walk 500 more.
We can see evidence of each of these generational attributes on display in one of the first post-humanist romances and the quintessential Gen Y movie: Shrek (released in 2001 - the coming of age year for the first crop of millenials).   

Bored to exhaustion with the dominant Western fairy tale formula, Shrek sets about subversion from the opening frames (Shrek using a storybook ending as toilet paper). Cherished humanist icons including Pinocchio (he wants to be a real boy!) and Robin Hood (the original venture philanthropist) are recast as punchlines and villains.  The only fully human character among the leads is the villain Farquaad (voiced by John Lithgow, building up quite the CV of post-humanist roles), whose defining characteristics (other than his name) are his puny stature, impotence and unattractiveness.  The role of hero falls to the ogre (after he demolishes an assortment of nondescript human knights in try-outs).

The subversion stops abruptly after the embrace of post-humanism.  The cheeky snark crosses paths with Shrek's character arc and flees headlong into maudlinism.  Deep down, Shrek just wants to be loved, and his misanthropy stems from man's incessant meanness towards him.   The sticks, stones and burning torches of the bigoted humans can't break his bones, but words hurt him every time.  By taking poor, ugly Shrek's side, we show our evolved sensibilities - that Gen Y mutation that allows us to see that beauty is exclusively on the inside. 

We millenials have also evolved a helpful cognitive dissonance that allows us to claim victimhood and supremacy simultaneously.  Shrek is a case in point: while he mopes about ugly discrimination, he suffers no equal on the field of combat.   The closest he comes to a worthy opponent is a huge dragon.  Not that Shrek need worry about a hard fight - the dragon joins his side for the 3rd act, rendering all attempts at human resistance even more futile than they had been for the rest of the movie. 

Shrek's fairy tale ending prophecies a blissful post-human marriage and a happily ever after-party, but I remain unconvinced that this generational romance with the alien and the unclean is a progressive (in the original sense of the word) development.  A movement driven by  boredom, misplaced pity and delusional self-image can hardly be constructive and will almost certainly become destructive, if it hasn't already.  This is not a marriage but an affair with a mysterious stranger.  If the warnings of the Bible aren't enough for you, check out the endings of some noir films from the 40's - Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice for starters - to see how those types of decisions pan out.

Mankind might be too old and tired and genetically inferior to keep up with our postmodern imaginations, but the only sensible means of addressing the gap is to slow the latter down.  Whenever we experience the urge to leave our own kind in the dust to pursue some beautiful chimera we should weigh the costs.  How foolish would we be to discard so rich a heritage and find nothing? How much worse still to seek the chimera alone and find him.