Chevy Chase, late of Saturday Night Live, is one of the all-time great psychical humorists. I believe his cynical humor, laced with some daring pratfalls, cost President Gerald Ford the 1976 presidential election. During one episode, just before the election, Chase fell off the stage while clumsily dismantling a voting booth. He broke a few ribs and became addicted to his pain medication. In an ironic twist, Chase had to enroll in the Betty Ford Clinic in Palm Springs to kick his habit.
Chase’s plight raises the question as to why people get addicted to anything, whether it is alcohol, hard drugs, cigarette, or pain medication. A caller to a local radio station said, sometime ago, that he shot heroin for many years, taking himself to the brink of death many times because it felt good. That reminded me of the classic ethnic joke about the fellow who kept hitting himself in the head with a hammer because it felt so good when he stopped.
We have become a culture addicted to our sensate pleasures. This includes even legitimate ones like married sex, exercise programs, and gourmet meals with fine wine. They all make us feel good, at least for a short time. We have become a nation of itinerant pleasure seekers, hopping from one new high to the next with the freedom of careless abandon. Pleasure provides a great escape from the powerful and painful realities of daily living, which never measure up to the material promises of Madison Avenue.
This incessant drive to gratify our physical needs also reminded me of the philosophical underpinnings of the highly successful Nike ad campaign, Just do it! Though I still do not have a clue what their innovative swoosh, the omnipresent check mark has to do with anything, I am fully aware that the hortatory slogan has serious cultural ramifications. Their unwritten message rests on their belief that we are all hedonists, so if it feels good, just…! It is a sobering thought to learn that we have a multi-billion dollar business that flies in the face of the nation’s once traditional Judeo-Christian morality.
We have traveled a far distance since I was a young boy. Of course we all realize the “it” of the fifties was something that had little to do with pleasure seeking. When mom, dad, or Sister Gabriel said, Just do it, they usually meant something that was good for us but I did not want to do because it was inconvenient or hurt a lot.
I went to Xavier High School in New York City, which was also a military school. I was told to just do it so many times my head could do a quick 180 degree turn at the blinking of an eye. If I did not do it quickly enough, I got JUG. For the uninformed, JUG was that form of Jesuitical recreation that usually included marching around our quadrangle, lugging a 9.1 lb. M-1 rifle for two hours after school. Let’s just say, I got very good at just doing it.
Now it has more in common with silent screen star, Clara Bow, who was popularly known as the it girl. Everyone knew that the it meant lots of sex appeal. Fortunately for many of us, those were the days when our moral sentinels kept the gates of our libidos tightly bolted.
In current parlance, the raw it is used synonymously with sexual behavior. Society seizes every opportunity in its ads, and music to shout loudly at today’s youth to just do it. And often they just follow the suggestion. When a society pushes its pleasure principles to the limit, can its pain be far behind? The tragic result has been that annually millions of teenagers have contracted unpronounceable genital infections and a million or more females have been burdened with the pains and responsibilities of unwanted pregnancies. Unfortunately many choose Planned Parenthood’s abattoirs rather than the opening arms of Pregnancy Care Centers.
Just as Karl Marx stood Hegel on his head with his dialectical materialism, our cultural elite has turned the parental imperative on its head, employing the same rhetoric to promote opposite behaviors. Perhaps the just do it,” should be replaced with a just say no!