I just finished watching The Faculty for the umpteenth time (I like that word “umpteenth”). Of all the “body snatcher” movies, it’s one of my favorites. For those that have never seen it, the movie borrows heavily from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which in turn (as the character Stokely points out) takes its premise from Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. Essentially, aliens invade Earth, replicate themselves in human bodies (or as in the case of “Invasion” replicas of human bodies) and slowly attempt to assimilate all of mankind. It’s a slightly more elegant form of what the Borg attempt to do. (Resistance is NOT futile, thank you very much) And if you don’t know who the Borg are… sigh… I’m afraid we have reached the line, dear Reader where we may not be able to communicate clearly at all. My apologies.
Of course, these scenarios are always played out in a horror fashion. The aliens always seem to have some kind of collective consciousness or a “hive” mentality if you will. Individuality is washed away and all the “converted” become calm little worker drones. The primary theme is the fear that humans seem to have of losing ourselves in a sea of conformity. “I don’t want to be a follower!” the subconscious screams. “Let me be me!”
And yet, how much individuality do we really have? We pretend that we are all free thinking, self expressing singularities, but as I look around, I wonder about that. All around the world we see people following trends: Fashion trends, language trends, social behavior trends, food trends, etc. Media, advertising, music, sports, television and movies all form a collective culture that stretches beyond our national borders. We bond together in screaming masses to see our favorite band or singer or sports team. We gather around the water cooler at work to discuss last nights awesome episode of Game of Thrones (insert popular TV show here)
I see in my own country of America divisions of groups, but within each group exists almost a hive mentality. Republican and Democrat. Christian and Atheist. Men and women. Black and white (and other cultural divisions). So often I see people expressing their “individuality” by their association with groups. I can’t help but think of the Goth kids from South Park that always rail on about how everyone outside of their little group are “conformists” and yet the Goths all dress the same, do the same things, talk about the same subjects within their group, etc. Where are the true individuals?
The dynamics of group behavior are notably different from those of individuals. Without referencing a stack of research papers and books on the subject, I think all can agree that humans can and do change their behavior patterns when influenced by group mentality. So then, if we are already subjects to the ever-changing whims of social currents, why do we still fear the idea that we might lose ourselves into a greater collective? Are we merely fooling ourselves about our own identities? Are we just blind to how little original thought passes through our brains? I suspect so. Even now, as I write this, I am aware that this thought, this premise is not new. I’m just rehashing a conversation that has been had many times over from my own perspective. In fact, my realization of this is not new or original either, as seen by these quotes:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. ~ Jim Jarmusch – Moviemaker
“All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Only those with no memory insist on their originality.” – Coco Chanel
“There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.” – Marie Antoinette
“An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them.” – Stephen Fry
“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” – Abraham Lincoln
Great thinkers all with the same thoughts. And the wheel goes round and round. As a writer, it used to bother me that I never seemed to come up with anything truly unique. Even when I thought I had, eventually I would find that my idea had presented itself somewhere else at some other time. Now I think that in some ways, repetition is necessary. Humans seem to need to be constantly reminded of our past, of the lessons we have learned, for the consequences of forgetting can be costly. One mention of the word “Holocaust” and I think you know what I mean.
Conformity is not necessarily a prison sentence. We are far less unique than we want to admit, but knowing that at least allows us to be aware of our biases. In knowing this, we can change. A hundred years ago, women could not vote. This was conventional thinking. But some spoke out and slowly, the group dynamic changed. This happens again and again.
The problem is, each of us is experiencing this thing called life for the first time (assuming you don’t believe in reincarnation) and so from our perspective, so much seems new and unique. Only through studying history, sociology and other soft sciences are we made aware of our place in human development. Once we discover that what we may have just recently learned has been done many many times before are we aware of the repetitive nature of our existence. Perhaps this is where our fear of losing ourselves is derived. It comes from the understanding that humans are more like bees and ants than we care to admit.
I concede, it’s fun to watch paranoid people try to convince others that aliens are taking over the world and running from monsters that only want to absorb them into some kind of amorphous blob of existence, but the truth is, that’s just a fun way of telling the same old story. In many ways, we’re already Pod People.
[Author’s note: My very favorite “body snatcher” movie is John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’m talking about the Kurt Russell version. An absolute classic. Also, here’s a trivia question: What actor played in BOTH Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Puppet Masters? Answer… Donald Sutherland. You’re welcome!]