BY GARY JOHNSON
Reprinted from Loose Change (TCBMag.com)
The End is a 1978 flick in Burt Reynold’s prime (for whatever that’s worth) starring Dom DeLuise, Robby Benson, Carl Reiner, Joanne Woodward, Sally Field, Myrna Loy, Norman Fell, Strother Martin, Pat O’Brien, etc. It’s about a young-ish rich guy who has been given six months to live. His end will be horrible, he’s told, so he decides to put himself out of his misery early. After a few failed attempts, he ends up spending a few days in a mental hospital where he enlists the help of a fellow patient (Dom DeLuise).
The well-meaning DeLuise can’t seem to get the job done and in a signature scene, Reynolds swims out into the ocean, determined to drown himself. In a dreamy underwater sequence, he reneges and decides he can’t give up. As he swims back to shore he implores God to give him strength—and in return he’ll give away 80 percent of his fortune. As he gets closer to the shore, his promise to God goes from 80 to 10 percent. As he nears the beach he says, “Lord, let’s just forget what I said, I think I can make it from here on my own.”
It’s spot-on human nature. Facing the end, desperation reverts to business-as-usual once back inside the cozy confines of our comfort zone. Washington Post “Outlook” Editor Carlos Lozada recently wrote a fascinating story titled “The End of Everything.” In it, he recounted the string of “ends” that seem to be declared every week. The End of Reason, War, the Good Life, America, Big, Sex, Illness, Poverty, History, Education, Leadership, Overeating, Men, Money, Lawyers, Work, Nature, Reform, Power, Growth, Business As Usual, Free Markets, and Cheap China occupy best-selling book titles. The blog underbelly has been calling an end to everything imaginable: newspapers, television, radio, magazines, the Web. You name it, we’re screwed. Most recently, columnist Michael Wolff called the end to advertising, and Brian Solis claimed the same for social media. And how many times have we heard references to the biblical end in the past five years? You can just see the headstones churning up and tipping over.
Cue the girl in Poltergeist screaming, “What is happening?!”
Lozada observes that it’s simply the “perfect headline for our age, a moment that fetishizes disruption over stability.” We are, he says, “enamored of what is next, not what is here.” Perhaps the notion that a meteorite can blow by Siberia and bust out windows without our foreknowledge (or at least that’s the official version) makes us feel vulnerable to utter annihilation. Perhaps the deluge of doomsayers in the guise of real-time news is driving us all to believe everything’s whacked. Maybe what was and is, bores us. We seem disgusted by the snail’s pace of our own evolution, stuck on a careening roller coaster ride run by a toothless carny down below who seems to have wandered off.
Too, the rapid transit, info-overdose, and clever tools of the digital age have created a parallel reality, in which techno-fluency becomes tribalism, where change is the constant and where lots of institutions may indeed meet their rightful end. Makes one assume it’s the end of everything as we know it, which of course it is not.
As the Escher drawings we live inside become more navigable and less disruptive, and the tiresome hysteria pipes down, I have to believe we will be living in a transformed age, no longer obsessed with threatening ends as much as infatuated with transformation and e.e. cummings’ prayer to rebirth: “the birthday of life, love, and wings, and the gay, great happening, illimitably earth.”
Editor’s Note: Gary Johnson is President of MSP Communications in Minneapolis, MN and authors the blog Loose Change for TCBmag.com.