Hell Toupee on the Coconut Runway

It’s a society that lies in wait for the consumer goods messiah. A comic and impossibly perfect metaphor, the cargo cults of the South Pacific illustrate the blazingly crazy outcomes of magical thinking. If you’ve not heard about these groups before, they basically emerged as a response to the enormous transfer of supplies by the Allies during World War II. The pre-industrial tribal groups were agog at the sheer amount of crap being deposited on their islands. Unbelievable riches lined the PX shelves and hulking metal contraptions appeared on these islands which previously lacked nails.

The conclusion drawn by many of these Micronesian, Melanesian, and Polynesian groups was that the goods were simply a manifestation of some pretty damn powerful sorcery. The industrial production process was unknown to them, so naturally they looked to explain the manifestation of these items through a belief system they were familiar with –that of ritual and magic. The organic birth of these supplies looked to be a very powerful mojo indeed and the islanders decided that they wanted in on this bounty.

In response to the desire to obtain goods, cargo cults popped up throughout the areas that were touched by wartime supply chains. Slight regional differences appeared, but the overwhelming theme was that of a delicious enjoyment of any manufactured goods islanders could get their hands on. There was an accompanying reverence for those who seemed to have the magical capacity to provide these items and the American GI overwhelmingly was seen as the magical font.

On Tanna, Vanuatu one of these cults persists to this day. They have the added distinction of having a charismatic focal point, that of the mysterious John Frum. Reports differ and it’s difficult to know if this individual really ever existed. He was reported to be an American GI who promised to continue providing material goods if the islanders would forsake the imperatives of the missionaries and worship him. It’s quite murky if there was a “John Frum” or if he was simply someone named John, from America. Whatever the germination, John Frum Day is an actual holiday for these individuals (February 15th — mark it down and make reservations early).There’s a sad longing about the tale, however, as the islanders continue to worship and wait for his return. And wait. And wait a little more.

The cults have tried an astounding number of schemes to cause the goods to reappear. Perhaps the most magnificently insane attempts to bring back the items have involved making airport runways complete with radio towers and airplanes. On that information alone, it’s not so crazy, right? Well I should mention that said airport facilities were made of coconuts and straw. That seems pertinent. “If you build it he will come” was totally stolen from these guys. Except nobody came.

Much has been made in regard to American economic theory and “terror fightin’” as being guided by something of a cargo cult mentality. Not really based on reality but simply the semblance of it. I think this notion is certainly worth revisiting as we descend into an even more fantasy based landscape here in America and to some extent, industrial civilization worldwide. We enjoy viewing these islanders as quaint and primitive but we have far more in common with them than we would like to believe.

A stunning example of the new shirking reality mentality can be gleaned from the following quote. It’s from Ron Suskind’s article “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush”. The author is describing his exchange with a high ranking aide in 2002. Yes, it’s a few years old, but in retrospect it is obvious that this was an opening salvo in the war against reality. The only war we are truly winning.

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

One can imagine a very similar speech being given by a sanctimonious Pro-Moai party member on Rapa-Nui.The Obama phenomenon was nothing but a continuation of that non-reality based thinking. During his campaign Obama did nothing but spin lofty rhetoric that masqueraded as concrete populist ideals. He taxied down that straw runway with many willing passengers. Voters chose to view him as they wished to perceive him, not based on tangibles. It has been amazing to hear disillusioned Obama supporters complain that he didn’t follow through on ideals like universal healthcare. The thing is, he never even said that he would. He has performed like the Corporatist that he clearly always has been. Once again magical thinking and projection took over.

We continue to see this flight from reality from the remaining Obama advocates even now as issue after issue is rationalized to the point of gibberish. Sadly those hitting a moment of epiphany don’t have a logical alternative to throw their support to. What… Trump? He’s as wispy a figure as possible- a billionaire bankruptcy machine. Truly the ultimate in coconut and straw airplane technology.. And a really, really terrible joke. I saw someone refer to him as “Hell Toupee”.

You really have to wonder what fate befell most of the realists throughout history. Those not open to these collective flights of fancy. “I don’t think carving out 20,000 hearts per year will keep our civilization going.” Make that 20,001 hearts the day that guy uttered that.

History is full of examples of civilizations, especially in their dying stages, which disconnect from the real. Our time is no different save one small wild card. We have the ability to connect with the other realists through mass communications such as this. This was not an option in the past for the poor soul who languished alone with only reality to keep him company. Well, reality kept him company until his likely untimely demise, that is.

It’s an incredibly daunting task, but we must continue to remain connected to reality. Yes, it’s something of a ridiculous imperative and certainly not slogan-worthy, but it’s true. We’re not facing anything newly invented. The escapist lunacy has been present every single time humans have merged together and it seems to find fertile ground when society is in upheaval. The craziest, loudest kids usually make the rules when playing games, and it’s no different for adults. The exhausting truth is that reality is very lonely right now and has few followers. Everyone is far too busy fashioning dreams of coconuts and straw.

Kathleen Wallace Peine welcomes reader response. She can be reached at: kathypeine@gmail.com. Read other articles by Kathleen.