Thursday, March 1, 2012

Eating the Elderly

Last Friday, with my big guy doing a sleepover and the wife doing a mother-daughter overnight, it was just me and the little dude.   That night, he and I hit a restaurant, snagged some ice cream, and then together picked out the movie for the evening.  We'd initially thought we'd go with Godzilla, but he decided maybe that wasn't quite right.  And so, after much deliberation, I steered him towards Soylent Green.  It's one of the classics of sci fi, set in 2022.

Back in 1973, that seemed a ways off.  Now?  Not so much.

The film, starring a scenery-chomping Charlton Heston in all his toothy, man-slab glory, involves a detective living in a crumbling, overpopulated dystopia. Unemployment is rampant, and the vast majority of human beings are desperately poor, with a tiny minority of the wealthy controlling everything.  "The Greenhouse Effect" has turned the world into a desert-like hothouse, in which crops struggle to grow, and big corporations control the entirety of the food supply.  Most of that is now processed food.

So, yeah, total fantasy.  Nothing at all like 2012.  Nope.

The movie revolves around a murder, as Charlton finds himself trying to figure out why a muckity-muck in the Solyent corporation has been assassinated.  The answer, of course, is that he's realized that Soylent Green...the latest and last hope for the dwindling supply of protein...isn't made out of soy and plankton at all.  The seas are dying, and increasingly devoid of life.

If you haven't seen it, stop reading now.

It is, of course, reprocessed human beings, either those harvested from the streets or those who get old and volunteer to die.  Those who volunteer?  They're gently euthanized, given wine and beautiful images and music to soothe their passing.

My little guy wasn't quite sure to make of it.  "A good movie, but it's so depressing," he sighed.  "And it's not even European!"

But here's the crazy thing.  I'm not sure that the way that this horrific imagined dystopia dealt with its elderly is any less kind than the way our culture deals with the old.

As a volunteer for Meals on Wheels, I encounter the radical isolation of the old in our communities.  I take the time to talk, as much as they need, when I do deliveries of food twice a month.  What I experience is a life of closed blinds and clutter, as human beings spend the last of their days slowly fading to black.  Families are distant and distracted.  Friends are aging or dead.  Too often, it's life as a shade, as a shadow.

The Industrial Retirement Warehouses into which we put our grandparents and parents are no better.  They tend to look pretty for visiting distant family, but honestly?  That's just a whited sepulchre.  They're grim, grim places.  Some are passable, but most?  Most are devoid of the laughter of children, closed off from the sky and the air and the sun, smelling of stale flesh and antiseptic.  If this is in my future, then I'd almost rather be processed into a Tofurky.

And what to do about it?  Our consumer-cultural tendency to get us to adolescence as quickly as possible and to keep us there as long as possible means we're just not paying attention to the passing of time.  We cling to youth, blind ourselves to our own mortality, hide away from any hint of aging and dying...and then the next thing we know, we're alone in a room, estranged, confused, alone.

Fighting it seems both as necessary and hopeless as the wounded Heston's shouts as he's carried away at the end of the film, that we've got to do something, something, somehow.

Because it's made of people.  People.