By Kevin Rock Rowan
It is now 1998 and the turn of the millennium is just around the corner. The pressure is on for us to affirm that we are technologically, socially and intellectually enlightened enough to be worthy of passage into the 21st century. The pressure is also on to make epic plans for New Year's Eve 1999, which is being anticipated as the biggest party in a thousand years (I hear New Year's 999 was a real ripper). Of course most of us will probably wind up doing the same old thing: go to house- party, drink beer, count down to midnight, drink more beer, pass out, wake up, go home, spend most of January 1, 2000, in bed with a hangover.
As far as asserting our technological, social and intellectual enlightenment, it seems to me that a hallmark of modern western society is the tendency to down-play those instincts, actions and rituals that suggest that human beings really haven't changed that much in the last, oh, three or four thousand years. A prime example of our need to justify primal behavior is the modernization of ancient, Pagan-like rituals. Look at the aforementioned standard New Year's celebration: welcoming the arrival of a new season by gathering in large groups, shouting, singing, consuming mass amounts of fermented beverages and carrying on with outlandish and lewd behavior. Let's not kid ourselves: human beings have been doing this for thousands of years. Other delightful--although sometimes more subtle in their reflection of ancient behavior--modernized Pagan rituals of note: Halloween, civil riots, Hockey Night in Canada, The People's Court, and World Fairs (remember Expo 86?). Its creepy, how we hide prehistoric-like ritualistic activities behind a flimsy veneer of cultural refinement.
If we look at how all of these bizarre modernized rituals are related, I believe that it is possible to draw some rather insignificant conclusions regarding sociology, developmental psychology and human behavior in general. It seems that there is some sort of primitive human drive--some crude, primal instinct-- that compels us to disregard our more sophisticated dispositions, regress back to our uncivilized roots, gear up in strange outfits and go completely nuts. And we're not just talking once a year holidays and major festivals here: if you really think about it, you'll see that this behavior occurs much more frequently than one might believe. A few examples: when I get all geared up to go mountain biking--helmet, gloves, biking shorts, cool shades-- I'm no longer just another menace to my own safety out on the trails, but I'm transformed into some sort of wheeled kamikaze. When I squeeze into my wetsuit in preparation for an epic session out in the pounding surf I become... Batman! Not that Batman ever surfs, but I somehow always fancy myself looking a little like the Caped Crusader whenever I don my wetsuit. When I gear up for a hockey game in so much equipment that I could probably be hit by a bus and walk away from it, I become a post-modern gladiator, clad in a suit of armour and heading out onto a field of ice to do battle against my deadly enemies. Oh, the drama!
Snow boarding, skiing, jogging, skateboarding, pumping iron at the gym, formal evening wear--its almost frightening, the bizarre costumes required for common activities. And then there is the simplest yet most frightening activity-related outfit of all: the Speedo swimsuit. I suppose all of these strange costumes and outfits can be justified by serving a specific purpose. Although I'm not sure if the prevention of mid-thigh tan lines is sufficient enough justification for the use of Speedos by 350 pound tourists.
So, just where does all this sociological soul-searching leave us? Teetering on the brink of the year 2000 with a hundred years of 20th century technological, social and cultural advancement under our belts--yet we are left with the nagging uncertainty that maybe we aren't all that different from our ancestors, riding around on horseback beating each other with long wooden poles, or rubbing two sticks together to start a fire and cook up a big old hunk of woolly mammoth for dinner. You can believe whatever you want, but just to be on the safe side you really should stock up on Aspirin, Tylenol or your own personal headache remedy of choice. The way things are going, you'll probably need it on January 1, 2000.