|Jinny has been very ill and is currently undergoing rehabilitation in a Bangor facility so she will not be writing her article for awhile. She is making excellent progress and hopes to be able to return to writing her column in the near future... Adele.
It never ceases to amaze me how people will frequently reveal the most intimate details of their lives to total strangers. I can't speak for everyone, of course, but I find myself regularly bombarded with information about complete strangers' lives which I have neither sought nor particularly want. Being a courteous person, I generally attempt to at least feign interest so that people don't feel as if I have blown them off, but depending upon the stranger in question and the information they insist upon sharing with me I often find myself either bored to to the point where I feel as if my brain is leaking out of my eye sockets, mildly amused or shocked, or wanting to go home, take a very hot shower and scrape the top layer of my skin off.
This sort of thing has occurred fairly regularly during the course of my life, but seems to be on the increase in recent years. I find myself wondering if this increase is a reflection of a cultural trend that began with talk shows and tabloids and has extended to the plethora of reality programming that is currently clogging up my television like gunk in a drain. I know that the majority of people must like reality programming. In theory, that would be why there is so much of it. They like shows where amateur performers make fools of themselves, intensely psychotic people tear each other apart in bizarre competitions, and the fatally self-involved attempt to emotionally destroy other self-involved people just to prove how much more self-involved they are. People also seem to like shows where people are willing to do indescribably degrading and disgusting things for money. Maybe watching other people eat bugs and humiliate themselves makes some of us feel better about the marginally less degrading and disgusting things we are willing to do for money in our own lives. Who knows?
The bottom line is that people don't seem to practice the kind of discretion that they used to. Don't get me wrong, I'm not an advocate of denial or secrecy, and I certainly do not have any use for social or moral hypocrisy, but I really can't help believing that there is a lot that can be said for practicing a little restraint in our conversation and behavior.
I recently had a discussion with my younger brother about this phenomenon, which prompted him to remind me of a habitat in the San Francisco Zoo, where we used to go often as children. It was called 'Monkey Island' and it consisted of a big artificial hill in the middle of the zoo surrounded by a moat and a fence. This was back in the days when zoos were not as sensitive to the needs of animals, so it was completely bare of vegetation and about as bleak an environment that could be found outside of the surface of the moon. It had little caves cut into the sides of the hill where the monkeys could go for shelter, but nothing to hang on, swing on, or hide behind. It was horrible. I cannot remember what kind of monkeys lived on this hideous rock, but I do remember how much we detested it. Monkeys are creatures who are entirely without restraint and have no need for either niceties or shame. Consequently, they will do pretty much anything, no matter how wretched or disgusting, whenever they feel like it. The monkeys could be observed grooming each other, which was cute in a National Geographic kind of way, but at any moment, a monkey who was carefully grooming another might suddenly decide that he or she was tired of removing parasites from his or her friend or family member, and that the groomee deserved a solid whack over the head instead. This usually prompted the victim to chase after the psycho hair stylist while screeching monkey threats of retribution at the top of his lungs. A wild chase would ensue, which most of the other monkeys ignored, until the vengeful victim either cornered his tormentor and whacked him back, or gave up completely and decided that the best course of action was to pick up excrement and toss it indiscriminately at any innocent monkey bystander within throwing distance.
Sometimes, the monkeys would appear to get fed up with having an audience and decide to start heaving excrement, fruit peelings, or whatever else they could get their hands on at the people on the other side of the fence. Since the environment was designed specifically to prevent this and none of the monkeys had an arm like Roger Clemens, no human was ever splattered with filth and the monkeys just jumped up and down and screeched in frustration. Even though we found the monkeys and their island repellent, we really couldn't blame them. If we had been forced to live on that miserable, barren rock we might have felt the same way. There was no act too revolting, too intimate, or too obscene for the inmates of Monkey Island. They did it all.
I am sure that things have changed, zoo keepers are far more enlightened, and Monkey Island undoubtedly no longer exists. No one and nothing should have to live like those monkeys did. Nevertheless, it made an indelible impression on our minds and we avoided it as much as possible, which was difficult since it occupied an entirely open space in the middle of the zoo. There was no chance of seeing the rest of the animals without passing by Monkey Island.
In our discussion, my brother used Monkey Island as a euphemism for the behavior we see in modern culture; the fact that many people seem willing to discuss anything, reveal anything, say anything, and do anything nowadays and feel no need whatsoever to practice the slightest bit of restraint or discretion.
"Face it, Adele." he told me. "We are living on Monkey Island."
No wonder I keep feeling this strange and powerful urge to dig a tunnel and make a break for it.