In case you haven’t noticed, we’re making some headway.
I’m not talking about the recent slew of largely positive articles about psychoactives in the press or the controlled human studies that have finally been given the go-ahead by the Powers that Be.
I’m talking about the way that psychedelic consciousness has permeated and informed popular culture.
Now I know that this is not exactly a recent development. I myself was raised on a cartoon about a swarm of little blue elves that live inside of what appear to be giant Amanita muscaria mushrooms. I’m just pointing out that it seems to be coming on a little bit stronger in recent years.
I’m a nanny for very young children, which is rather like being a professional tripsitter most of the time. The pre-school set is given to rapidly fluctuating emotional states. Commonplace objects can provide them with hours of amusement. They live in the eternal Now. And they positively adore the Teletubbies. In case you’ve been busy being a grown-up for a while, the popular television show features brightly colored and oddly elf-like tykes who live in an organiform spaceship and have TV monitors in their bellies. They seem to be trying to communicate something about the nature of language. I might be too old to understand exactly what these little mediamorphic ambassadors from the land of eternal sunshine are trying to get across, but whatever it is it’s coming in loud and clear to the carpet cruising contingent in millions of otherwise straight-laced households every day, for the simple reason that that it affords Mommy the only twenty minutes of peace and quiet that she is likely to enjoy before bedtime.
Fundamentalist parents were aghast at the wild success of Harry Potter and company, decrying the pervasive occult themes and the notion that strange potions can work wonders. They were so focused on the hocus pocus that they missed the real magic, I’m afraid, but their kids soaked it up like blotter and are largely the better for it.
Video games have been chock-full of psychedelic imagery since Mario powered up on his first pixelated mushroom. Today some games look and feel like a full blown ayahuasca trip, complete with animal spirit allies, terrible gateway guardians and bejeweled palaces packed with unexpected treasure.
TV shows all seem to have their psychedelic episodes, whether it’s as literal as Homer Simpson getting puddled on Guatemalan Insanity Peppers or as subtle as Buffy the Vampire Slayer wondering if her whole life has been a hallucination brought on by a schizophrenic break.
Hollywood is on the bus as well. I can think of ten movies off of the top of my head that just had to have been conceived under the influence of something illegal. I bet you can, too. Go to your local video store and look around. The new releases section is jam-packed with bizarre time loops, nested realities, psychic powers, alien encounters, existential uncertainty, eschatological scenarios and messianic inflation. Heck, they pretty much have to make trippy movies at this point, or their costly special effects programs will go to waste.
Then of course there is the Internet—the most boundary-dissolving force on the planet, smearing the wonder and the weirdness around at a totally unprecedented rate.
Now you can look at this situation in two ways. On the one hand, the media is trying to co-opt the psychedelic experience to sell tickets, toys and advertising minutes. Big whoop, right? But on the other hand, the trippers and visionaries are successfully embedding their memes in packages that get opened by a wide variety of people, and that is a much more interesting phenomenon in every respect.
The Matrix is probably the most successful example of this, and it’s certainly one of the most overt. Take the red pill, kids, and find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes. It’s not cool because the psychedelic experience is directly referenced or glorified, it’s cool because it gets the point across. Millions of people walked out of the movie theater after seeing The Matrix and cast a suspicious eye on what we are pleased to call reality for the first time in their lives. Even if it was just for a moment, that was a victory.
Because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing, isn’t it? We who have nominated ourselves as our community’s designated shamans and explorers have a tradition to uphold, if not a sacred duty to perform. The Hero’s journey is not complete until he or she brings the goods back to the tribe for the benefit of all. Our job is to take the experience home with us and pump it back out into the community in the form of art or the commitment to catalyze change. Otherwise it’s just psychic masturbation. Nothing wrong with that, of course, everybody does it; but imagine how much more legitimate and justified you could feel about your practice if you were using it to liberate your fellow man as well as to amuse yourself!
It’s never been more important. We’re making some headway, yes, but things are speeding up and most people aren’t going to be as ready as we are when the world starts getting strange fast. When the future comes to test us, it’s not just going to test the shamans. Our species’ survival may well depend upon the sophistication of the population at large, and the number and type of concepts that it can handle without seizing up and shutting down. It’s up to us to stretch that limit. The tribe needs a guiding vision. It needs a million guiding visions. It needs to be warned and enlightened and shocked and inspired, as quickly and efficiently as is humanly possible. It’s a moral imperative. So go earn your next trip by sharing what you learned from the last one. If you can’t write a brilliant screenplay at least write up an experience report. Write a game or a song or a subversive children’s book. Write a program. Paint a picture. Put up a video. Organize large-scale performance art. Share your vision. Slip it in however you can. Remember, we take drugs so the straights don’t have to.
I’m not suggesting anything in particular about the personal habits of the creators of the specific entertainments that I mentioned, by the way. The Teletubbies sure are some trippy shit, though. I mean, whoa.