Chevy Chase, late of Saturday Nite Live, reigns as 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 in his dangerous attempt to parody the obvious accident-prone president. Chase 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 shake his habit. I still get a chuckle out this.
Chase’s long ago plight raises the question as to why people get addicted to anything, whether it is alcohol, pornography, immoral sexual behavior, hard drugs, cigarettes, or pain medication. I remember a caller to a local radio station said years ago that he shot heroin for many years, taking himself to the brink of death countless times because it felt good. That reminds 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. I took Old Man’s Yoga for over seven years and that joke was easily adaptable to my aches and pains during stretches and Pilates.
We have become a culture addicted to our sensate pleasures for generations. This includes even legitimate ones like married sex, exercise programs and gourmet meals with fine wine. They all make us feel good. We are 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 do not measure up to the material promises of Madison Avenue or our politicians. Though there is nothing wrong with pleasure in moderation, too much can make us easily forget the eternal purpose all lives have. Getting old helps re-establish that focus. Many, and I mean many years ago, I quipped that I had reached that point in my life when my body gave me much more pain than pleasure.
This incessant drive to gratify our physical needs reminds me of the philosophical underpinnings of the highly successful Nike ad campaign years ago that exhorted us to 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 had serious cultural ramifications. Their unwritten message rests on their belief that we are all hedonists, so if it feels so 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. Of course, running five miles to me only feels good when I’ve stopped running and the endorphins kick in.
We have traveled a far distance since I was a young boy. Of course, we all should realize the it from the 1950s 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 me 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 redundantly, was also a military school. I was told to just do it so frequently 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 Jesuit recreation that usually included marching around the school’s prehistoric 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. In all honesty, in writing this essay, I just got curious as to where the word JUD came from. If it was an acronym, I had no idea what the letters stood for. Jug sometimes means jail or even prison. But the Jesuits always had something cleverer and more abstruse than the obvious. JUG is short for juugum which translates to be burdened. I will buy that.
Their it was an anacronym that was beautifully personified by silent screen star, Clara Bow, who was known as the It Girl. Everyone knew that the it then meant lots of sex appeal. Fortunately, for many of us, those were the days when our moral sentinels kept the gates of our libidos bolted. Today’s adolescents are not as fortunate as my generation was. In today’s parlance, I think most people will agree that Nike is a code word for sexual activity, as in just doing it!
Society seizes every opportunity in its ads, and music to shout loudly at today’s youth to just do it. When a society pushes its pleasure principles to the limit, can its attendant pain be far behind? The tragic result has been that annually millions of teenagers have contracted unpronounceable genital infections and millions of females have been burdened or jugged with the pains and burdened with unwanted pregnancies. Many choose or are forced by boyfriends, parents and even parents to exterminate their unborn children.
Just as Karl Marx stood Frederic 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 hortatory just say no! We would all be better served if we followed the late first lady’s moral advice in all sinful sexual activities.