You lied to me, Mick
It was in the 1970s that I discovered, thanks to the sagacity of my father, that a part of the world was a hoax. It began with cosmology and ended with wrestling, as you might expect.
Actually, it wasn’t really cosmology, but Erich von Daniken’s best-seller Chariots of the Gods? For a boy entranced with science fiction but able to understand that it was fiction, this was a book that promised to bring the mystery home. The gods weren’t gods, they were aliens! Look at these cave drawings! Doesn’t that look to you like a space helmet? It did to me. Well, it would.
Having weighed the evidence that this planet was visited by aliens millions of years before a teenager bought a paperback for about 3/6d, and found it convincing and even irrefutable, I showed the book to my dad. He looked at it, read the blurb, raised his impressive eyebrows – mine are even bushier – and said,
‘You can’t believe everything you read, son’.
Scarcely the Delphic Oracle, but still.
Dad’s unravelling of a hitherto secure ontological landscape continued when I would join him for Saturday afternoon sport on Grandstand, a famous British TV sports show from the 1970s. Dad would watch any sport, clay-pigeon shooting, gymnastics, curling, anything. I liked the ice hockey from Canada, which seemed to consist of burly men in space suits flicking an invisible brake-pad around ice, pausing only to slam into each other and smash their sticks over one another’s heads. We would also watch any rugby union together – I played at school and he always watched me – and motorcycle speedway. Dad hated football, and we went to Wimbledon speedway at every home meeting on a Thursday. It is still the most exciting sport I have ever seen.
And we would watch what English people always called ‘the’ wrestling. Now, this had none of the futuristic razzmatazz of the WWF, that extraordinary north American institution, but the principle was the same. There were no costumes either, just portly men in bathing trunks hurling each other about and body slamming and bouncing off the ropes like pool balls before being nutted or pole-axed or otherwise interfered with.
There were superstars, obviously. There were Giant Haystacks, a sort of genetically modified hillbilly, and Big Daddy, who looked like – and probably was – a huge ex-doorman. And then there was my favourite, Mick McManus. Mick was a stocky Irishman who looked like a Bull Terrier who had just accidentally consumed a wasp with his pie and mash. He would grunt and bounce his way around the ring, and always had the crowd on his side. One day, as a match was starting, I said to Dad something like,
‘I want Mick to win this one, Dad’.
And he replied,
‘Well, they already know the winner’.
Mystified, I asked him what he meant. As with von Daniken, the master deconstructionist chipped away at my sureties a little more.
‘Wrestling’s fixed, son’.
It had never occurred to me. Dad went on to explain the choreography, the pre-planned results, the fakery of it all. I wasn’t devastated, but I have always been keenly aware that my surname, were it a word in the dictionary, would be perilously close an entry to ‘gullible’.
So it was that I went into the adult world with at least an idea that all was not as it at first seemed. I had some catching up to do. I have always trusted. I think now it reflects an almost anti-instinctual drive to be accepted, as I wanted to be liked and accepted for a good deal of my life, up until I was about 40, when I veered the other way and invited dislike and even hatred. I still do. As with the animal kingdom, however, trusting another species – and to me everyone is another species – or even the malevolent elements of your own, can be a bad mistake to make.
Of course, something that we are surrounded by every day is based on fakery, on hoaxing, on trickery and subterfuge, on lying, and that would be the colourful world of advertising. Since Vance Packard’s seminal The Hidden Persuaders (1957? Not sure), it has been common knowledge that advertisers are not, how shall I put it, being entirely square with you. Yes, that detergent will get your tiles clean, but you don’t live in that house and you don’t have that gleaming smile and those happy kids and the sun is not fucking shining. Yours is another world.
And so to politics, which makes 1970s British wrestling look like free-form poetry. Every day we are bombarded by the pronouncements of the weak-minded and everything they say is predicated on lies. You are lied to about immigration, about ethnicity, about Trump, Farage, Robinson, Wilders and hundreds of others. You are lied to about everything. See how many British politicians have worked in PR and advertising. How do we learn that the world lies to us?
My point is that everyone needs their epiphany, not as to what is and isn’t real and what is and isn’t staged, but to the fact that that dichotomy is always an option. Some people, essentially, still believe what they hear and read and see because they want and wish to believe it. An example close to home.
I live in a small complex of five apartments here in Costa Rica. My four neighbours comprise two north Americans, one from Chicago, one from New York, a Dutchman and a German.
The New Yorker does yoga, paints really badly and has manic episodes. She also implores me to listen to a particular strand of online broadcasts she has been listening to. They are, she says, the truth. All I can remember in the way of excerpts from today’s podcast, which I didn’t listen to voluntarily but could not avoid as I did the hand-washing of my laundry:
‘...these intergalactic beings have been manipulating human history…’
‘...electromagnetic signals of this wavelength are not...’
‘...when enough humans have awoken…’
There was plenty more where that came from.
The other north American, a few years older than me, is far more straightforward. He has been abducted by aliens. How do you come back to that in casual conversation?
Neighbour: I was abducted by aliens.
Me: Um, I’ve met The Clash?
So, in the end, everyone needs setting straight about the possibility at least of what is and isn’t real. One of the many names Satan has is the father of lies.
My father didn’t lie.