Good morning, Class — Today’s vocabulary lesson comes from biologist Rupert Sheldrake, author of “The Sense of Being Stared At.” Ready?
“Morphic resonance.” Say it together. Morphic resonance: A phenomenon wherein collective memories are transmitted and shared between members of a species as if telepathically, which results in disparate entities, completely autonomous of each other, developing the same idea. A mouthful, surely, but occurrences of morphic resonance are evident all around us. Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell, both inventors of the telephone — though one made it to the patent office and then the bank before the other — come to mind as examples.
In Hollywood, a market place of ideas where inflation is the rule, one bright idea can yield the price of a Hummer in a matter of hours. However, two iterations of the same bright idea occurs with nearly as much regularity. It’s often difficult to discern if similarly developed projects are the result of a moonlighting muse whispering the next big thing into the ears of more than one filmmaker or simply outright theft (or in Industry parlance, a “market trend”). The two virus movies, a pair of asteroid spectacles, Alexander the Great and Alexander the Also-As-Great are all big budget examples of films hailing from either morphic resonance or the litter box of Hollywood’s most prevalent pet (Latin name feline xeroxes) the “copy cat.”
On a smaller scale, I witnessed the phenomenon first hand when taking pitches in my capacity as a producer at the annual ScreenExpo Pitchfest. Inevitably, each hour brought another breathless screenwriter rhapsodizing about deceased spouses returning to their lovers but reincarnated in the wrong sex. Original? Sure, to them. All five of them. The day only brightened when some dude pitched me the imaginative, but fatally asinine, “Hitler’s Bath Tub,” about a claw-foot tub that drains the life from bathers. The sensation of having heard something new was squelched when some schnook pitched “Mussolini’s Ottoman” about an angry footstool.
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In a script I’m currently drafting (smatterings of it have appeared in this space), one of the subplots involves a journalist covering an apocryphal story about the number of suicidal swan dives taken from the Golden Gate Bridge. In the film, the number is thought to be 999, consequently, people wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “1K” are being fished off the bridge as each attempts to be the landmark thousandth person to jump (a showdown eventually ensues between two characters each vying to be 1K — their spat leads to their salvation, laughs and tears, the end).
As I’ve been developing the work, I’ve kept files on the bridge and its suicide lore. Thus, it was with a modicum of both affirmation and professional envy that I learned of filmmaker Eric Steel’s flick about the bridge as a suicide hot-spot. Steel had apparently approached the Bridge Authority with the notion of doing a documentary on national monuments. Then he fixed a camera on the landmark, and over a period of months, captured a couple dozen suicides, resulting in an ersatz snuff film, which he claims was not his intention. http://www.kron4.com/Global/story.asp?S=2831713
When I asked Steel if he would be interested in speaking to the matter for this column, he declined in an e-mail:
thanks for your inquiry but i am in discussions still with the bridge
district authorities and cannot comment.
Mutual morbid curiosity or morphic resonance? More likely, Steel and I each had a case of the memes ( http://www.memecentral.com ), ideas that formulate and spread like viruses of the mind (with obviously different expressions in our individual cases). Memes can be passed person to person or from person to media to person. E-mailed pictures of weird shit count as memes — they incubate in our inboxes, infect us with the notion that they should be shared and we reproduce them by sending them onward to our buddy lists. A simple but very effective meme in my estimation is Homer Simpson’s ubiquitous “D’oh!” Count how many times you’ve heard the curse from someone other than a Simpson over the past decade and you can begin to assess our culture’s memetic viral load.
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I first learned the term morphic resonance when my producing partner Jerry Rapp and I were researching a documentary on that increasingly rarified phenom in the music business — an actual Beatle. Not one of the fab four, but the fabled not-so-fab fifth: Pete Best, the band’s original drummer, the steely young man that would board the express train of pop stardom only to be excused before the last stop.
A canny promoter had uncovered Best just as his legend as “the Beatle that wasn’t” came back into public consciousness with the release of the Beatles Anthology, the demo sessions and other musical ephemera to which Best had contributed several tracks. Leveraging newfound interest in Best, the promoter launched the drummer on a tour across Cananda as “Pete Best: The Beatle that Time Forgot.” Appropriately, the tour began in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Rapp and I believed a documentary lurked somewhere in Best’s near-miss with superstardom.
It was through Googling “Nova Scotia + rock ‘n’ roll” that I came across the following quote from Leon Bottman, associate professor, Halifax Community College:
“There exists an extraordinary species of sedge bamboo known as the tichenessus alterranus, or ‘White Knuckle’ bamboo. Though separated by thousands of miles, this plant grows all over the world, sharing, more or less, identical characteristics… But one primary shared trait that is hard to ignore is its time of bloom: The tiny, off-white flowers emerge every year, at more or less the exact same time, in every part of the world. This morphic resonance phenomenon occurs in many kinds of flora and fauna. There’s no earthly reason why this same potentiality can’t be happening — all the time — in rock and roll.”
What the hell? This is what he was referring to http://thepoolies.com