Why the willingness to believe the ludicrous? I discovered one of the reasons a few years ago during a memorable April First.
It started with a family friend who is a disc jockey. For a while he was working at a local Oldies station, playing hits from the Sixties and Seventies. He’s a terrific guy with a wonderful sense of humor, and one of the things he loved doing was playing an April Fool’s Day prank on his listeners.
One year he asked my husband and me for help with this. He had decided to create a fictitious rock ‘n roll star to interview on his noon show. This fabricated man’s specialty was to be a particular musical instrument, but it had to be something so silly that folks would realize he was playing a joke on them.
I suggested the tambourine. It’s an instrument anybody with rhythm can play, and it’s used in lots of rock ‘n roll songs. Not only that, but two songs from the Sixties–“Mr. Tambournine Man” and “Green Tambourine”–are about it.
And thus was born B.B. McDonald, expert tambourine player. The part was acted by one of the weekend disc jockeys, and he was there to promote his supposed autobiography, Mr. Tambourine Man. McDonald claimed that playing the tambourine was far more difficult than people realized. He had to practice his scales every day (yeah, scales on a tambourine!). Not only that, but since his expertise was so great, he was in high demand to play for groups like the Rolling Stones and the Byrds. If you named a famous rock ‘n roll band, he had played on one of their records. He had to dub for Davy Jones on the Monkees records since Mr. Jones was far too inept with the instrument. Mr. McDonald, however, was so proficient that Bob Dylan had written the song “Mr. Tambourine Man” in his honor.
That April First I played a called to the show. I said I had been at one of McDonald’s concerts and had actually gotten an autographed tambourine from him, which, unfortunaely, I had lost when I moved. Mr McDonald, ever so gracious, offered to replace it for me. Wow, wasn’t that kind of him to offer to replace an object that never existed?
I was the only caller to the show besides another person who was also in on the gag. The phone lines were quiet since nobody wanted to talk to this huge rock ‘n roll legend. And why would they? The story was so absurd, who could possibly believe it?
But then, at the end of the show, my disc jockey friend offered a free copy of McDonald’s book to one lucky listener. All you had to do to win was call the radio station.
That’s when the phone lines lit up like crazy. Apparently, the listeners were then all too eager to buy into this alternate reality. B.B. McDonald, tambourine player par excellence, simply didn’t exist–that is, until it was beneficial to believe in him.
[SIDENOTE: The lady who “won” wasn’t too thrilled about being on the receiving end of an April Fool’s Day joke, but she was appeased when the DJ offered her a far better prize instead.]
It reminds me of all this nuttiness nowadays about reality being only the way we define it. If you’re a man who thinks he’s a woman, that makes you one and allows you access to the ladies’ room. If that embryo growing in a woman’s womb is not considered a person, well, then it isn’t. The Supreme Court says a man can marry another man and a woman can marry another woman, so that supposedly means they actually are married to each other. If the belief benefits someone, no matter how ludicrous and counter to reality it may be, that person wants so badly for it to be true that he declares it is true. Perspective, if it is pleasurable, trumps reality.
It’s like a Warner Brothers caroon in which Wile E. Coyote steps off a cliff but doesn’t fall until he realizes he’s standing in mid air. We laugh at that joke because it’s absurd that reality is defined by our personal perspective. The truth is that if a man steps off a cliff, even if he thinks he’s a bird that can fly, both gravity and the ground below may have something rather startling to show him.
First is was morality that became relative. Now reality itself has become relative.
Unfortunately, I think our society actually has fallen off a cliff.
God help us when we hit the ground below.