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I can see them. They're not there

A day of media coincidences disgorges its meanings to the last
Jim Gabour
4 August 2011

I may have experienced a version of satori, one of those oft-ridiculed blinding flash moments, this Sunday, via a combination of modern media.  The revelatory incident started in the morning when, after digesting the Times and searching for something further to stall off performing needed housework, I picked up a volume of Haruki Murakami short stories.  The bookmark placed my reading progress as nil, so I started Chapter One and entered a fifteen-page tale that ended up changing my day, and week, completely. 

The story had at its heart a line of dialogue from the 1948 Western blockbuster film “Fort Apache”.  It was odd, finding forties cowboy talk in an English translation of twenty-first century Japanese literature, but I suppose that sort of unexpected discovery is what draws me to Murakami as a writer.  As always I was especially intrigued by the story’s lingering aftermath, an altered mood that followed me about.  Like when you leave a particularly emotionally or physically involving movie, walk out the theatre door, shocked by going from freezing air-conditioning to blistering summer heat in just a few seconds, and suddenly find yourself still living in the setting and action of the film. 

That last cinematic atmosphere sticks to the roof of your brain.

So I was a bit dazed after I closed the book, but continued to more mundane and required household chores.  Reading had been a delaying tactic.  Laundry was not an emotional life goal that day, but needed attention nonetheless.  I had read the story.  So then I had to wash the clothes. 

After a few hours of similar manual labor on remote control, it was still with me.  I needed to shut off the remaining moodiness.   Mindless television was the prescription of choice.  One of those weird Travel Channel food programs, maybe.  A bald guy eating grubworms in Morocco, or insects in Thailand.  Appetizing, too.  I grabbed a beer and peanuts, went upstairs, and sat on the couch.  The idea was to relax for a few minutes and get happier before dealing with the rest of the day’s reality.  I switched on the tube, fired up the remote and surfed.   A manly pursuit.

Up it comes. 

Satori.  Three clicks, and a revelation, after less than a minute of roving channels, just like it had been programmed for me.  The exact movie scene mentioned in the story is there on my television.

Veteran captain John Wayne turns to newly-arrived commanding officer Henry Fonda, after Fonda says he saw Indians on the way to the fort.  Wayne replies, “Well if you saw them, then there weren’t any.”  Paraphrasing the Duke, of course, and without the “Ayyyyuh”, that precedes many of his most sublime quotes. 

The line had been in a written script, had been voiced by a Hollywood actor, and half a century later had been used by a Japanese writer, back in print, to evoke a whole different metaphor.  The cowboy banter had become metaphysical in Murakami’s hands, though of course he did not state it outright. 

But now my smaller and less complex mind was reinforced by actually seeing the images and hearing John Wayne’s voice.  From what he said, and what Murakami implied, I finally got the larger point:  “Don’t bother looking for Indians, because if you can spot them they aren’t there.”

And in the manner of multi-media dissemination, now I relate this on a website for your review, and a possibly larger implication/application.

Because it all came together when, later that very same evening, I watched some generic version of network broadcast news.  The lead story dealt with the host of Washington characters involved in, and creating, the American default crisis.  One senator or representative after another, after another, after another, stood before the cameras, voicing his or her completely conflicting version of the “truth” – the quotation marks mine – while evoking the Real Will of the People – the capitals were theirs. 

Each man or woman claimed to be the true representative of the real government of the United States. 

There were so many of them. 

And all I could see were Indians.

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