Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Leslie Nielson, Nietzsche, and the Metaphysics of "Airplane"

R.I.P. Leslie Nielson.

The seminal film "Airplane" starring Leslie Nielson was treated as slapstick humor in its time, with Nielson's Dr. Rumack serving up deadpan jokes while the plane was "in danger".  But this was where Nielson was having the last laugh because his seemingly funny lines were actually infused with important existentialist thinking, with the stricken crew and airplane serving as a multifaceted flying platform for many metaphysical concepts and unsolvable paradoxes.  Let's explore.

In the dramatic "Airplane" scene in which Dr. Rumack tells brainy stewardess Elaine that: 

"You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital." 

Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it? 

Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now. 

In this passage Nielson's character is signaling that all life is an illusion and that the airplane could just as well be a hospital, but in this case it "appears" to be an aluminum tube flying through the air at 500 miles per hour.  If suddenly, all of the passengers were sick and plugged into medical devices….it would then be a hospital.  

Significantly, no one in this scene attempted to roll down the windows and check if they were actually flying or simply parked….or maybe just in a movie set…perhaps in the back of a large hospital.  Neitzsche would have a lot to say about this. 

In another scene, Nielson adroitly combines existentialism, metaphysics and politics in an interesting paradox….one of his favorite tricks. 

Dr. Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it? 

Ted Striker: Surely you can't be serious. 

Rumack: I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.

Brilliant!  This one has Nietzsche rolling over in his grave searching for a more comfortable position.  The paradox is obvious…..how can you both fly a plane and land it and the same time?  Landing the plane means that it is on the ground…flying it is in the air.  How can you fly the plane both on the ground and in the air?

This is reminiscent of the "unstoppable object and impenetrable force paradox" that is discussed so frequently in freshman philosophy, unusually in smoke filled dorm rooms.  Striker's response signifies the complexity and absurdity of the question simultaneously, but is still polite.

Nielson deflects the emerging philosophical conflict by immediately bringing politics into play when he alludes to Shirley Chisholm, the famous African American women who ran for president.  He says…."don't call me Shirley".   By making it clear he is NOT Shirley Chisholm, while obvious, he is saying that on this airplane, we are in the moment…we have an issue, i.e. that plane is in trouble and that Shirley Chisholm, while important, certainly can't fly and land the plane at the same time.  Even SHE cannot fix the paradox.

Ah, but as with any great paradox and in the case of the tireless philosopher Nielson, you can never give up the discourse.  Later in the film this scene is telling:

Rumack: I won't deceive you, Mr. Striker. We're running out of time. 

Ted Striker: Surely there must be something you can do. 

Rumack: I'm doing everything I can... and stop calling me Shirley!

Again…its a film…they are not in an airplane, so only in theory are they running out of time.  This is a classic philosophical debate strategy when is comes to discussing paradoxes….you force a decision which will necessarily be absurd…then you ridicule your adversary.   When Striker successfully deflects the debate back to Rumack he bails on the debate yet again by bringing up Chisholm.  

I argue Nietzsche would have loved this style of debate, saying that since it is totally meaningless it necessarily should be both unstructured and illogical…but that is where it gets its meaning.  I think Leslie Nielson totally agreed, and this is what he was going for in this deeply considered metaphysical masterpiece.

It is regretful that "Airplane" is not more respected in academic philosophical circles…although it is talked about with reverence outside the lecture halls by forward thinkers who are not so constrained by the formalistic thinking of the 17th and 18th century icons.

I am convinced that Leslie Nielson and his "Airplane" ilk will emerge sometime in the coming decades as representative of 20th century Nilhilsm…sort of a demonstration of the practical application of that type of thinking.  Nietzsche would have argued passionately that his thinking was not designed to save an airplane in distress…but even he had not considered the possibility that such a man as Nielson could grab hold of such difficult material and ride it like a cowboy.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The World's Sexiest Music

For those of you that will try anything to improve your sex life, now there is a list of music that purportedly will help.  So now you should keep an iPod on the bedside table along with the vitamin supplements, the little blue pills with the big V on them, the tequila and the Victorias Secret catalogues.

BTW, the list was compiled by the Fox News Health department which appears to be staffed with some of those ditzy blondes who report “the news” on the cable channel.

FYI, other than this list of sexy songs, the other most read articles on Fox Health were:

1. Doctor Admits to Performing Wrong Surgery (he was supposed to be performing a  sex change but instead replaced the persons hip).
2. Erotica: Sexy Bedtime Stories (coming soon to Kitty’s show), 
3. 10 Ways to Become a Better Lover (one was “don’t get a hip replacement”).
4. Sex Toys at the Drive-Thru (“no..no I do not want fries with that and do not want to try the Frappe!”). 
5.  New Phone App Will Test for STD’s (unfortunately this does not work on AT&T’s network...but of course nothing does).

Since I always believe everything I read or watch from News Corp, the owners of Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The National Star (latest headline read while in check out line at the Food Lion, “Jen says Angelina refuses to potty train her kids....Brad furious”),   I tried to download all the songs from Limewire.  I was unsuccessful...they said the service had been “cease and desisted”  by music industry lawyers, in advance of the whole music industry shutting down.  I suggest looking for the music at yard sales...8-track tapes are down to 10 cents in that market.

Meanwhile, Kitty was familiar with most of the music on the list and thought many were “buzz kill” with the exception of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails and “On the Couch” by Prince.  I agree with her, but added that “Shining Star” by the Manhattans reminds me and some of my friends of liquored-up UNC sorority girls, which has some merit in this regard.

Here is the list: 
1. Dreamworld by Robin Thicke
2. When The World Ends by Dave Matthews.
3. Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover by Sophie B. Hawkins
4. Halo and Naughty Girl by Beyoncé
5. Woman Like A Man by Damien Rice
6. Possession by Sarah McLachlan
7. You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC
8. Just Say Yes and Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol
9. The Woman in Me by Donna Summer
10. On the Couch by Prince
11. Avalon and Slave to Love by Brian Ferry
12. Summer, Highland Falls by Billy Joel
13. I Love You by BareNakedLadies
14. Shining Star by The Manhattans
15. Every Woman in the World by Air Supply
16. Mozart's Symphony No. 2
17. Zoo York by Paul Oakenfeld
18. Closer by Nine Inch Nails
19. When it's Love from Van Halen
20. Feelin' Love by Paula Cole
21. Little Freak by Usher
22. I Want To by Nazzereth

Kitty, sensing an opportunity,  is working on a collection of sexy songs tentatively titled “Kitty’s House Rocking Love Tunes”, cleverly playing off the famous song, “If the house is rockin’...don’t come a knockin’.  Her love of music, entrepreneurial instinct and knowledge of the subject matter will no doubt have this collection on everyone’s bedside table very soon.