Monday, February 28, 2005

I would rather have a free bottle in front of me... 

A large, older man with suspicious looking scars on both of his temples came in. He was being guided around by his helper/handler and was very docile but a little vacant, so I concluded, probably a little bit melodramatically, that he had been lobotomized. While I was pondering the medical history of this possible relic from the dark ages of psychiatry I got an e-mail, like a sign from above, from the Morbid Fact Du Jour. The e-mail was all about Walter Freeman, the doctor who popularized the procedure in the United States. By all accounts, he was a dour, emotionally frigid Calvinist (is that redundant?), who, thanks to his Calvinist work ethic, tirelessly performed thousands of the surgeries himself. Sometimes he would perform as many as 10 an hour in an assembly line like conditions, and even took his act on the road in a camper that served as a mobile hospital. Even after the field of psychiatry abandoned lobotomies for drug therapies, even after the procedure was widely discredited for its horrible side effects and unacceptable mortality rates, he continued to perform the procedure, convinced of its efficacy. Ultimately, over 50,000 patients in the United States were lobotomized. Lobotomies were not always an operation of last resort for the criminally insane, either, but performed on children with behavioral problems, rebellious teenagers, depressed housewives and alcoholics.
Perhaps its cost effectiveness – the operation cost only a couple of hundred dollars while institutionalization cost thousands – contributed to its popularity as a treatment.

Scientology, for all of its bizarre beliefs, predatory financial practices and popularity among flaky Hollywood types, was created as an alternative to the outrageous abuses and procedures of the field of psychiatry in the 1950s. Last night while watching the Oscars, which was only bearable because of the miracle of Tivo, I commented how surprised I was that no actor has thanked Scientology in one of their rambling, effusive acceptance speeches. When is Scientology going to be given some sort of ‘lifetime’ achievement award by the academy? E wondered aloud how many times over the years the statuettes have been inserted vaginally (or rectally).

Lobotomy Hall of Fame:

Rose Williams – Tennessee’s sister, believed to be the inspiration for the emotionally fragile Laura Wingfield of The Glass Menagerie. The operation reduced his sister to an infantile state, and she had to be institutionalized the rest of her life. Williams never forgave his parents for consenting to the procedure, and may have become alcoholic because of the tragedy.

Rosemary Kennedy – mildly retarded, but at 23 was beginning to become rebellious, promiscuous and difficult to handle. Rather than operating on her brain, couldn’t they have just sent her to the Magdalene laundries along with all of the other ‘bad’ Catholic girls?

Frances Farmer – Exquisitely beautiful, but controversial, eccentric, a bit of a hellcat and a seriously hard drinker. She was arrested after violently resisting the police when she was pulled over for driving under the influence. Paraded about and humiliated at the police station, she remained defiant and uncooperative and listed her occupation as ‘cocksucker’ on her arrest form. I’ve always kind of admired that. Her mother blamed her subsequent breakdown on world communism.

In Literature and Cinema:
Randle Patrick McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Narrow Escapes:
Catherine Holly, in Suddenly, Last Summer. In lieu of his sister, Tennessee Williams gets to save another beautiful girl from being forcefully lobotomized, but only in his art. A psychiatrist played by Montgomery Clift is under great pressure to lobotomize patient Catherine Holly (Liz Taylor), because her aunt has promised to donate a large sum to the hospital if he does. He evaluates Cathy and discovers that she isn't delusional - her aunt just wants to silence her from every speaking about that terrible thing she saw happen to Violet's son last summer. Apparently, Louisiana is NOT the place you want to be involuntarily committed.

Am I leaving anyone out? I thought that Benjy, the retarded narrator from The Sound and the Fury, belonged on this list, but then remembered that he was castrated, not lobotomized.

I thought McMurphy was electroshocked into his stupor, but I may be wrong.

By the way, I had a conversation with your boarder about "the shocker" and you were correct regarding its proper application.

i took a class in cults in college. we had an interesting variety of guest speakers, including 'lightning' ted patrick, a pro deprogrammer from the '70s. the best, though, was the high-ranking scientologist. she showed us charts and administered personality tests. then when someone asked her how the church could justify taking so much money from its followers, she said 'what is money when we're talking about salvation'.

which lead me to think, 'if scientology has actors this good, why the hell is travolta so popular?'
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