An Allegory for the Internet Society
[Betty Sue Flowers is a poet, editor, business consultant, a former professor, and currently the director of a presidential library. Her publications range from poetry therapy to the economic myth, including four television tie-in books in collaboration with Bill Moyers, among them, Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth. J. Mitchell Johnson is the President of Abamedia, LP, and the director and originator of World Without Waves.]
Clearly, we Americans are involved in a kind of emotional repositioning after the turn of the century and the recent collapse of “the new economy.” It’s also true that many of us were deceived, both by ourselves and by the self-proclaimed prophets of a new world economy where old rules didn’t apply. Technology was supposed to have written new rules that set aside traditions, financial accounting practices, and common sense. What other illusions does technology tempt us to reach for? What new delusions does the imposing and revolutionary medium of electronic communications hold in store?
Welcome to the Internet society where, as the communication’s philosopher Marshal McLuhan prophesied fifty years ago, the medium has become the message. He’s the same man who said, “everybody becomes nobody at the speed of light,” a quote featured in this web site dedicated to the soon to be released motion picture, World Without Waves. Deceptively packaged as a story of love and redemption, the World Without Waves movie offers more to those willing to dive deeper into its multi-layered world of subtlety and symbolism.
“The uniqueness of the film led me to engage in numerous discussions with Mitchell while it was in various phases of production,” says Betty Sue Flowers. “A decade ago, while traveling in Greece, Johnson--a veteran film maker, musician, poet, and businessman--wrote a poem called ‘The Artist Against Electricity.’ When he read this poem to me, I encouraged him to write a screenplay using his poetic image of a man plagued by the buzz of electricity, a symbolic agent of self-destruction.
“When I asked Johnson about this central image, he said, ‘While the idea of centering a story on a character who at the height of his career develops an instant and debilitating allergy to electricity has its pluses and minuses (pun intended), for sure it is a powerful symbol in the world we now inhabit, that world of information overload and negative social effects caused by electric over-saturation.’”
“My drug of choice was technology, and the ease of an electrified life…When does an addiction turn into an allergy?” This is the essential question posed by Louis, a 31-year-old yuppie from New York City’s fast lane, who suddenly finds himself in a tiny place in the heart of Texas and on the edge of civilization. Laid out in a solid three-act structure, the film introduces and establishes the main players in the story and quickly puts them into conflict.
The first level of the multi-layered structure seems like a simple love story, but by the end it becomes something darker and more complex. Louis, a high-tech television director, suffers a sudden breakdown in a New York studio and flees his city in pain. He shows up in a remote Texas town with both an “electrical allergy” and a pledge to “forget his past.” After stealing an ax and chopping down a local power line to claim peace and quiet, he settles into an abandoned bus on an idyllic river. Up stream he comes upon a local woman, Sarah, with whom he falls in love. She is both beautiful and mysterious. He sees within her truth, beauty, and a passport to the essence of his soul. He gets some art supplies and begins to paint, recovering his childhood passion – and eventually reconnecting with his authentic life’s work and his soul.
But Sarah has a long-standing relationship with a local man, Doug, who isn’t pleased to see the arrival of the odd stranger, whom he unsuccessfully tries to run out of town. Eventually, Doug decides to befriend Louis. An uncomfortable friendship develops between the two men, giving Doug the chance to bring Louis into a deeper world than Louis has known.
As Sarah’s past begins to be revealed, we learn that she is a victim of childhood incest, still hounded by her devilish step-brother (Loy), who manufactures speed. She is also a recovering drug user whose mental stability is maintained through a discipline of her twelve-step program, lithium medication, and Doug’s faithful support.
The idyllic love story begins to unravel when Sarah begins using again, and Louis reclaims the memory of his past life. He finally begins to question why he is in this place where the power will eventually be turned back on – and why he is in this situation with Sarah, who is now clearly a highly disturbed woman.
“In some ways,” said Mitchell, “ I see this movie as an allegory about Modernity and Nature, clashing over the meaning of life, love, and time. Modernity has stolen electricity from Nature in order to gain time and productivity. In the end, however, Modernity can’t handle the intensity of an artificially paced life. Stricken down and wounded, Modernity must crawl back to Nature for guidance and resurrection. Nature agrees to help – but extracts a price. Modernity must learn the truth about love in a world overtaken by numbness – a numbness that insulates feeling from electricity. Like an addict letting go of a drug, Modernity finally walks away from electricity. Nature takes back all the stolen time and leaves Modernity to recover the grace and feelings so long ago abandoned.
“The third and final layer of the tale involves the metaphysics of numbness itself. A man from another world arrives in a state of nature, trying to forget his past and his identity. Once in this place, the man meets a woman and falls in love. He seems to have discovered himself and his heart. He no longer feels the need to forget his past, or judge himself or the woman whom he finds in this place.”
“Does the movie suggest some kind of causal connection between numbness and identity?” asked Betty Sue. “As long as Louis chooses to ignore his memory and identity, he seems to function in a kind of bliss of nature and artistic productivity. Then when he decides to reclaim his past life, he seems eager to abandon the place of healing, which he has pretty well wrecked by his intrusive presence. The movie offers a kind of hope at the end, but it’s hope out of the ashes. Louis seems, ultimately, like a destructive character.”
“I think the strong character is Doug,” said Mitchell. “He’s a kind of shamanistic teacher, who immediately understands that the outsider is filled with illusions. The teacher understands everything about the woman and the man, but he can only watch as the woman leads the man and herself into a place of denial and despair. She seduces him into complacency and brings him to a false attainment of peace.
“In the end, the shaman aids the outsider in his decision to physically move on, and helps him to confront his demons head-on without numbness, without mental escape. The shaman shares with the man the lesson about the power of love, a love which can only be embraced when let go, a love that suffers no illusion – a love which forces us to dive deep within for survival. This kind of love forces us to abandon the need to numb ourselves, and it allows us to continue to observe as we habitually fall into a state of denial.”
“I find it interesting that although Doug is a shaman figure, he, too, is someone in recovery—from alcohol addiction, as it turns out,” said Betty Sue…..that the movie creates a parallel between dependence on technology and drug and alcohol addiction. Both lead to a kind of self-deception.”
“Part of what I’m exploring in World Without Waves are certain core questions, such as: Can the power of ‘information now’ materialism blind us to the basic and ancient truths about the human condition and history? Is our fate as media-savvy consumers of information relegating us to a world otherwise inhabited by drug addicts and alcoholics? Are we as an information society any better off than those others of us who struggle with addictions to substances or sex? Can we travel towards doom at the speed of light and not even notice?”