Monday, June 12, 2006

a mental condition in which fantasy dominates over reality…

I find unproven theories interesting. The wilder they may seem, the more fascinating. Conspiracy theories, not so much. But scientific, pseudo-scientific, or science fiction theories are fun. So are the musings of daydreamers who inhabit study halls and math classes.

Count me in that last group. I have not sat in math class recently, but the patio is a great place for daydreaming about what causes various problems for mankind. Take autism, for example.

The computer dictionary defines it: “Autism |ˈôˌtizəm| noun – Psychiatry: a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts. • a mental condition in which fantasy dominates over reality, as a symptom of schizophrenia and other disorders.”

I know little more about it. I am not a psychiatrist, but I play one around the house. And reports say that autism is on the increase among young people in our society. Why? No one knows. There must be theories other than my own. So if you have one, contribute it, please.

Mine? All right.

It is a long story. An example to start: In the late forties a group called “The Ink Spots” had numerous musical hits. I recently heard one that was a favorite of both kids and adults back then. “You were only fooling, but I was falling in love.” Thirteen syllables in that line, sung to thirteen notes. Slowly. I timed it. Nineteen seconds from the “you” to the end of “love.” That pace was typical for many songs sung for the pleasure of the silent generation. Almost none of whom were/are autistic.

Stay with me. Some of you remember when Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-In” premiered on television in the early seventies. I think it was then, maybe late sixties. People sat around coffee shops and gathered at water coolers the day after each broadcast to laugh at the craziness and marvel at what the program was getting away with on the air.

People also remarked, before they got used to the pace, that “Laugh-In” moved so fast one could hardly keep up with the patter and rapid-fire jokes. But we did reprogram our minds to get used to it.

The so-called “advancements” of technology in music, graphics, filming and editing since then, and the pace of words and images now bombarding each individual conscious make “Laugh-In” seem slow and dated. Re-runs today have us wonder why we once thought it fast paced. Much of television and movie stuff is far faster than “Laugh-In” ever was.

Think about it when you watch the next commercial. For any product. Time each scene. If the camera stays on one person, one scene, one speaker or activity for longer than four seconds, it will be the exception. Try counting “one thousand one, one thousand two,” etc. Start over whenever the camera shifts. You will seldom get to “one thousand four.” Words rattle out accompanying the rapid-fire scenes so fast that if you blink, you miss a bit of action.

Watch a musical number, other than Lawrence Welk reruns. The performer(s) belt out indistinguishable words, partially drowned out by loud instruments, made even less comprehensible by the lack of enunciation. And the camera shots? Not more than four seconds on any one. Start with a close-up of the lead singer. After four seconds, switch to the back ups, giving two seconds to each, go immediately to the drummer for a second, and then his hands and drumsticks for another, then to the guitarist’s hands on the instrument for about two seconds, up to his face for a second, over to the lead singer for three seconds, to the back ups for two, a long shot of the group on the stage for a second before a fast zoom in on the lead for a second, and back to the drummer, the guitarist, the back-ups, the feet of the singer, her legs, her torso, her face, all in two seconds, back to a long shot, as the mind is trying to keep up with processing all that is being flashed momentarily before eyes while decoding the noises pounding the ears at the same time.

Watch a dramatic show. I used to close my eyes at the beginning of “NYPD Blue.” The rat-a-tat-a-tat-tat-tat kettle drum roll accompanying hand held camera shots waving around among people’s faces, people walking, a car, a building, a pedestrian, a crime scene with tape, a body on the ground, a close up of Sipowicz, a building doorway, a street scene, a window in a brick building, and then a pull back shot of the building, seen as the police station. In about six seconds. It made me a bit dizzy and momentarily slightly nauseated.

Most dramatic shows are the same way. Of course they nearly all have background music drowning out the mumbled dialogue. Take a close look.

Movies? I almost never go any more because of the noise overriding the dialogue and the rapid scenes exploding across the screen, seemingly put there simply because moviemakers can. A teen friend loaned me a DVD of his all-time favorite show, “The Matrix.” I watched it, with numerous pauses to allow my eyes, ears, and mind to catch their breaths.

Still with me? Imagine a newborn. The child has seen nor heard nothing that makes sense to a mind without experience. It needs to learn to see and hear and make meaning from what it hears and sees. In other words, the child needs to focus on what it sees that accompanies what it hears and let the mind learn to process it all as meaningful reality. Slowly at first.

Place that kid in front of manic media with ever more rapid-fire delivery during the last twenty years or so. Then wonder why so many more kids are failing to have their brains connect reality with meaning and language. Read the definition again: “Autism; a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.”

I wonder if there is an explanation for an increase in autism blasting us in the face every time we turn on television.

How many have read this far? Did attention deficit disorder (ADD) cause some to quit reading after the first paragraph or so? Those who quit may have barely escaped being autistic, then. That’s another theory of mine.

Crazy theories? Perhaps. So, you explain the rise of both autism and ADD in American society. Air pollutants? Growth hormone residue in meat products? Fluoride in the water?