Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I can Diggit!

OK THEN. It has taken me perhaps twelve years to figure out how to post a video to a blog. It might just be here, and be playable! But I think somehow the two videos I'm comparing ended up in two separate posts. Well, go blow it out your ass, all you perfectionistas!!!

Who knows what brought me back to memories of Diggah (i.e. Digger the Dog, dragged along by an adenoidal little kid with a thick Brooklyn accent). Maybe it was seeing a much more sophisticated ad for an almost identical product called Gaylord ("looks kinda crazy, moves kinda lazy"). In both cases, you just pull his leash and he'll walkety-walkety-walk with you (arf, arf!).

I'm going to do a whole post or series of posts on Mad Men soon, as soon as I can write about it without having an orgasm at my desk. I LOVE OLD ADS. I love them so much that I've somehow transferred that love to my six-year-old granddaughter. On the weekend, during our sleepover, we did a Chatty Cathy commercial (this time called Chatty Caitlin - you can imagine).

Grandpa filmed it, or tried to, saying things like, "The battery is wearing out," and, "OK, wind this up now. . . ten. . . nine. . ." Needless to say it was high hilarity. Grandma dressed up in a frilly nightie with a bow and Mary Janes to play an obnoxious little girl getting a doll for her seventh birthday. All the doll could say was "I HATE YOU!" At one point the hard plastic ring at the end of Chatty Caitlin's string bopped her on the head and she started to cry, and I yelled "CUT!!" into the camera and sent everyone into convulsions.

I can't exactly go back to the '60s, and when I really think about it I wonder why I would want to. I wasn't a happy child, and I'm only a semi-happy adult. But these things are time machines! The first Tiny Tears doll (can't find a video, but watched it on my 1001 Vintage Commercials DVD set) looked Satanic: her eyes were so close together she was practically a cyclops.

I wonder if anyone found her freaky then, or if anyone knew how bizarre Diggah the Dahhg or his chief rival Gaylord were: two plastic canine replicas, legs rotating rapidly (or at least in Diggah's case: Gaylord moved kinda lazy). I picture them now being turned out in the same factory, last-minute changes added to make them look at least a little bit different. Then jacking up the price tag on one of them, probably Gaylord, the more sophisticated faux hound, to start a plastic dog price war. Hey, Gaylord has special features and a pedigree (but Digger is cheaper, not to mention faster).

Which one was I, then, a Gaylord or a Digger? I have to confess, it was Gaylord who stole my heart. He had that magnetic bone and all, and could walkety-walkety-walk upstairs.


Gaylord: let's rename him, shall we?

Carrie Fisher: Romancing The Stoned

Shock and awe

I don't know, I just keep stumbling across things, and they're so interesting. So long as that keeps happening, I guess my brain will be alive, or relatively so.

Bopping around channels trying to find something remotely watchable last night, I fell into a Biography profile of Carrie Fisher. I watched it half-wincing and half-gawking: she has made of her life a sort of public freak show, a dramatic "look at me, world, I'm a courageous survivor," running parallel with a train wreck that is not always in slow motion.

Think of Carrie Fisher and you immediately think of her "iconic" (wince! wince!) role as Princess Leia (or however you spell it) in Star Wars. She was sweet and innocent then, but there was a wild look in her eyes: at times they were glazed, other times spinning like pinwheels.

She was more than an actress, which was probably a good thing during the long dry periods between roles. Her numerous novels, thinly-disguised memoirs with titles like Postcards from the Edge, The Best Awful, and Wishful Drinking, allowed her to write about her distorted life without really committing to the facts. "Oh, that's not really me, so it doesn't bother me," her Mom Debbie Reynolds breezily comments on the Biography show. Meaning, the devastating Shirley MacLaine portrait of her as a shrieking out-of-control drunk in the movie version just bounced right off her.

Oh, and the drugs. This is too complicated to take blow by blow (and I do mean blow). Early in her career she hooked up with Paul Simon, and they did a lot of drugs. Married a man who turned out to be gay. And did a lot of drugs.

And did drugs. And did drugs.

There were blurry allusions to something more murky going on, even between drug binges. I was jolted to see her interviewed on 20-20 some years ago, talking with great gusto and manic, glittering eyes about a massive psychotic episode she'd recently had, requiring hospitalization. She mentioned being on nine kinds of medication.

I have never seen anyone talk about a "breakdown" (a term I despise almost as much as "iconic") with such verve and even excitement. The drama obviously appealed to her. She talked about announcing to her friends that they were all going to have "a race to the end of my personality". It was grandiosity in the farthest extreme. Her eyes were glassy and her gestures almost violent. "I'm mentally ill!" she announced, like someone telling us she'd won the lottery.

But hey, she was well now, it was all OK (because these shows/articles always strain for the happy ending that the public demands). Eventually she popped up again doing a one-woman show which was also a (real, this time?) memoir.

Then, oops. It all got strange again.

In the present-day interviews on Biography, Carrie just looked weird, like a bag lady. She had gained maybe a hundred pounds and was wearing mismatched clothing, florals with garish plaids, and thick glitter on her eyelids. She looked like a drag queen with extremely poor taste.

She talked about having ECT (sometimes called "shock treatments") for an intractible depression, and raved about how well they had worked. I also dug up an article about how she had experienced profound memory loss and hated the way she looked, as if getting back your sanity was a tradeoff in which you lost great chunks of your identity.

Not a happy story, and it ain't over yet. There is still a raging debate over ECT, and those who are against it call it barbaric, a form of brain damage that should have been done away with decades ago along with insulin shock and ice baths.

The other day I posted about Janet Gotkin, a young writer who was ground into hamburger by the state hospital system in the '70s. Janet was subjected to numerous ECT treatments, and at one point personally requested them (which means they must have done some good). The story ends very strangely, with Janet taking a massive overdose of Mellaril which does not quite kill her. Somehow it reboots the computer of her brain and she is "cured", at which point she realizes she has been "fucked over" by the doctors, treated like a cipher and tortured by ineffective therapies. So she devotes the rest of her life to raging against the system.

I couldn't find anything more recent than 20 years ago, but by then Janet was raging again, this time about being an incest survivor, the diagnosis du jour of the early '90s.

I don't know if there's a point to all this. The vibrant but obnoxious and egocentric Carrie Fisher claims she has been "cured" by shock treatment, while at the same time looking and sounding like a badly-distorted version of herself. This isn't just ageing, it's something else.

Her speech is slowed down, and her eyes don't look normal (not that they ever have). Could it be that all the past drug abuse has caught up with her, and her brain has begun to fall in on itself? Why shock treatments, when there are gazillions of drugs out there to treat depression? Was it really depression, or an even more extreme episode of mania (which is always less socially-acceptable, especially for women)?

Carrie seems convinced that this worked for her and gave her her life back. Meanwhile we have the "anti" faction, no less convinced that ECT is a killer. The truth is that nobody really knows how it works. It's supposed to be less violent and intrusive in its present form, but you still wake up with a wet nightie and don't know where you are.

What part of you is humbled or subdued by this process, then: the nuts element, the raging craziness, the wild delusions? To put those down "once and for all", you have to be pretty forceful. One part of you has to be killed so that the rest of you might live. Or so the naysayers think.

Dick Cavett has also gone on the record to say that ECT saved his life. He was diagnosed with severe depression, but at a certain point in mid-life, that changed to bipolar disorder (as if it can take years, even decades, for the ravaging shark to really get hold of you). I don't know how many shock treatments he has had, or if he will need more. The brilliant writer William Styron described depression perhaps better than anyone in his memoir, Darkness Visible. But depression became his career, and he had to revisit the shock wards again and again before he died.

Don't tell me there's no cost to this.

Don't tell me there "might" be "temporary" memory loss.

This treatment has a price, potentially a very steep one. Worth it? I don't know.

Another thing occurs to me. (Oh, what a ragbag my brain is!) I saw an episode of House in which a man's memories had to be erased for some medical reason. So. . . they gave him ECT. Before doing so, there was a sad discussion in which the reluctant staff talked about the "cost" of the lifesaving process. "But his memories will be completely gone. How will that affect his identity?"

Finally they decided, fuck identity, we need to wind up this bummer of a show. They went ahead with the ECT, meanwhile putting out there in the culture yet another myth: that this treatment leaves you an emotional vegetable, your memory slate wiped completely clean.

Shades of Jack Nicholson.