Ever heard of “narcotization”? In a short essay by Chuck Palahniuk, he describes narcotization as, “When the problem looks too big, when we’re shown too much reality, we tend to shut down. We become resigned. We fail to take any action because disaster seems so inevitable. We’re trapped. This is narcotization.”
Palahniuk opens the essay by describing a study of three groups of people shown pictures of different mouths and gums. One group was shown moderately healthy gums, and the group continued with their regular brushing and flossing routines. The second group was shown relatively worse gums, and they tended to increase their regimen to be more caring. The third group were shown the nastiest, bloodiest gums you could imagine, and their regimins dropped into the toilet.
That’s narcotization. It’s when the situation looks so bleak that the human mind gives up. I would imagine this is why those black tar lungs don’t really work when printed on packs of cigarettes in Europe. I mean, a black lung is staring at European smokers in the face, and they STILL tug another cigarette out and light up.
Palahniuk uses this opening to give author, songwriter and dramatist a reach around. He says, “In a culture where people get too scared to face gum disease, how do you get them to face anything? Pollution? Equal rights? And how do you prompt them to fight?
“This is what you, Mr. Ira Levin, do so very well. In a word, you charm people.”
Levin wrote books like “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Sliver.”
“On our lunch breaks, waiting for a bus, lying in bed, you have us face these Big Issues, and fighting them,” explains Palahniuk.
“In ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ published in 1967, the battle is over woman’s right to control her own body. The right to good health care. And the right to choose an abortion. She’s controlled by her religion, by her husband, by her male best friend, by her male obstetrician. All this you got people to read – to pay money to read – years before the feminist health-care movement.”
Palahniuk’s point is that Levin used creepy horror to change minds. To make headway with real issues that matter, average people need the right amount of horror to change their minds.
I got a lot out of this essay, but I’m going to relay three points.
- Read. I should read an Ira Levin book as soon as possible.
- Charm. To make headway with issues Levin believed in, he charmed his readers. I know I’m a dick quite a bit, but I try really hard to be charming and kind rather than pompous and smug. This essay encourages me to lean more toward kindness, but the occasional zinger or harsh statement might still rear its head.
- Narcotization. Face anyone with something as mesmerizing and brilliant as the universe, people shut down and say, “Well, then, god did it.” When explaining something as big and wonderful as evolution, that’s too much reality, “So god must have done it.” When shown global warming and the amount of research it took to get to the theories science has reached, it’s easier to blow it off instead of researching it. Knowledge takes work. Hard work. Staying the same is easy. Believing what those who have come before teach, that’s easy. Picking up ten books from ten perspectives on one topic, that’s hard. When faced with that challenge, it’s easiest to just read the books that support one view.
Or maybe you think I’m falling short because I am faced with the bigness of god and shutting down. Perhaps you think I’m the hypocrite here. I’d like to know. I’d like real recommendations for for information, books, articles, ideas that have helped form your views. I don’t care if you just jot down a title and run away without explanation. I’m hungry for information.
Or maybe you think I’m not smug enough, and smug makes headway. Tell me what you think. Otherwise, how would I know?