Thursday, May 25, 2023

Big Daddy and a Baddy.

When I was a boy, I was lucky enough to have gone on a class trip to see Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," on Broadway. 

The production ran for just 160 performances, from September 24, 1974 to February 8th, 1975. It starred Elizabeth Ashley as Maggie the Cat, Keir Dullea as Brick and Fred Gwynne as Big Daddy. 

I'd be lying if I said at the age of 16 or 17 I wasn't most excited about seeing Elizabeth Ashley deshabille and she didn't let me down. As Oscar Wilde is said to have said, "Brevity is the soul of lingerie." And he never saw Elizabeth Ashley.

All lingerie aside (and at 16 or 17, I wished all lingerie was aside) there was a play going on that afternoon, and what a play. 

If I remember correctly, that afternoon was the first time I ever heard the word "mendacity." And while I had no smartphone to look up its meaning, I was able to remember the word and think about mendacity for the last 50 years or so.

What's that smell in this room? Didn't you notice it, Brick? Didn't you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room? There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity.

I've memorized those words and shouted them--more like Burl Ives in the movie version than like Fred Gwynne in the stage performance I saw. Ives had the voice of god, a voice that could fairly rattle the marrow out of your bones. 

I don't know if Williams heard Ives when he wrote those lines--but whenever I see mendacity, especially when it affects me firsthand--I fairly bellow like Ives. 

Like the German philosopher Karl Jaspers, a rough contemporary of Tennessee Williams', I have a very hard time with what Jaspers named "the subject-object split." Ask anyone who knows me well--if you can find someone--when perception and reality no longer share living quarters, it sends my Manichean sense of right and wrong for a loop.

When I see commercials on TV of grinning people jumping through a logo and saying how flexible their phone company is and how happy it makes them, all while flashing a smile that would make Sandi Duncan look like the Grim Reaper, or some really insulting bank spot that extols the virtues of a technology that was old and dumb five years ago and no one really cares about, with a musical bed that should be considered cruel and unusual punishment, really, I'm ok with them.

Dreck is dreck. And phone company dreck or a bank's dreck is the run-of-the-mill dreck. Dreck is everywhere. That's life in advertising. You can fight it--but regression to the mean is a mean master.

The subject-object split shit happens for me, in a big, loud Burl Ives' Basso Profundo, when an agency makes all its money doing dreck and then bangs on about the great work they do because of this award or that award.

When 90% of what you make is dreck, chill a bit on the fake-crap you do that mommy hangs up on your fridge. That's like a .213 hitter talking about how beautiful his swing is. Or Gilligan comparing himself to Olivier. Or, well you know the rest.

That's mendacity.

It stinks.


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