I’ve been enjoying some vintage Stanley Kubrick films again. Although I watch “2001: A Space Odyssey” frequently, I have left his other films on the back burner. I finally returned to two Kubrick movies late last month: “A Clockwork Orange” and “Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Love the Bomb”.
The theme that ties these three films (and some others) is madness. In “2001” the computer HAL goes loopy and kills most of the spaceship’s crew. “A Clockwork Orange” is blatantly about the extreme insanity of a juvenile delinquent. “Dr. Strangelove is a black comedy about the absurdity of the Cold War. So, with these excellent films revolving around insanity, the subject of madness has been on my mind.
As a word, madness has various meanings. It is used colloquially to describe severe mental illness. It is also a synonym for intense anger or rage. Rabies in animals is described as madness. Human behavior that is extremely foolish or dangerous is often described as madness.
People have been fascinated with lunacy for eons. Maybe that’s because there are times when we all question our own sanity. Although the word “madness” is bandied about a lot in popular discourse, the actual subject of madness remains taboo.
The mundane act of living day to day has been described as a form of madness. We get caught up in routines and jobs we don’t absolutely love yet do little or nothing to change those situations until they become unbearable. We have illusions about what life is supposed to be like and complain when life doesn’t live up to our ideals. We want others to live life according to our rules, yet our hypocrisy reveals that we don’t meet our own standards.
What is often not discussed is how we harbor some outrageous thoughts and fantasies that, if actually carried out, would result in lengthy prison sentences or even capital punishment. Yet, there are people who are slaves to their thoughts and beliefs who cause great misery to others.
There are extreme social maladies like genocide or oppression. Most of us read or hear about it happening in some remote places like Uganda or Chechnya. There seems to be nothing we can personally do to prevent it, so genocide becomes just another perishable news story that tops the headlines one day and is forgotten the next day.
Then there is the news, itself. News is basically a collection of stories about aberrant human behavior and natural disasters. Don’t news editors and producers say, “If it bleeds it leads”? If newscasts were filled with pleasant stories about nice things done by nice people, the viewership ratings would plummet to the cellar. We are drawn like moths to flames to follow the news. We cannot resist natural disasters, transportation accidents, murders, scandal, and deranged politicians that monopolize reportage. Isn’t our news fascination a socially acceptable form of voyeurism?
Hidden, dangerous thoughts and desires provide the fuel for some of our culture’s greatest literature, drama, and poetry. Our species enjoys a good murder mystery. Pornography is the outlet for letting off forbidden steam. Video games fetishize violence and even fight global war with impunity.
Then there is “March Madness” which is extreme fascination with NCCA basketball tournament games. Sports fans become ecstatic with enthusiasm about this time of year. And that’s OK.
Sometimes, while in contemplative moods, we realize that our lives and our memories are nothing but illusions, dreams, and embellished stories. Honestly, aren’t these mental images some form of madness, too?
There’s a 1963 movie title that expresses our shared aberrations: “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.