Moon #17: “Jupiter is a King Who Never Came Back”
“This is precisely why I get a little tired of people not understanding what I mean by ‘secret histories.’ Because you don’t need to be a conspiracist; you can just open your fucking eyes. I remember reading those reports. I read all those fucking reports. I remember thinking, this seems reasonable. This seems terribly reasonable. It is very hard to see the difference between someone’s constructed fiction and what really happened when we’re all humans and we all construct fictions constantly. It’s very difficult to see what is going on. If you don’t understand that, if you truly don’t understand that at this point, you need to keep going to McDonald’s.”
Early in Episode Seventeen of All the Faces of the Moon, storyteller Mike Daisey references his 2008 play, If You See Something Say Something, which concerned itself with the development of the first atomic bomb in 1945 in Los Alamos, New Mexico. I was lucky enough to see the monologue when it played at Joe’s Pub. The piece cunningly tied the fallout (both scientific and societal) of the nuclear arms race in the mid-twentieth century to the public anxiety caused by the “War on Terror” in the twenty-first century. In it, Daisey eloquently illustrated that the consequences of war, especially war that justifies itself by appealing to the lowest common denominators of fear and paranoia, have a longer half-life than is immediately apparent.
Daisey spends some time talking about half-life at the beginning of this installment too; only it’s in reference to McDonald’s French fries and not plutonium. He bemoans the way these highly processed delicacies “turn to shit” within minutes of being pulled out of the fryer – true enough, but I wonder if Daisey has ever tried putting leftover McDonald’s fries in the freezer? Because that’s the way to fucking do it, sir. Freeze them and then reheat them in the oven; along the way they accumulate a quasi-metaphysical radiance, probably when all the chemicals bonds re-adhese. Rainbows fold back into themselves, the choir of angels sings, and they actually turn out pretty good.
Tangents aside, Daisey counterpoints the bit about McDonald’s by revisiting the territory of If You See Something, Say Something, citing a recently declassified report about a near-catastrophic Air Force accident with two fully operational hydrogen bombs in the 60’s. According to the new report, the utter annihilation of the East Coast was only averted by sheer luck. The original report, however, was spun into a tall tale of how thorough our security protocols were at the time. Daisey’s point, made most potently in the quote above, is in the way we humans are able to simply not know about the things we don’t want to know about, whether it is the fish bones in McDonald’s ice cream or the human bones on which our Department of Defense was built.
It’s also interesting to think of the “Open your eyes” speech above in response to George Soros’ “Close your eyes” speech from the last episode – especially considering that Daisey possesses a mystical all-seeing eye, like Dr. Strange’s Eye of Agamotto, and that Soros, king of the vampires, is literally eyeless. The difficult choice of perception – to look or not to look – is a perennial theme in Daiey’s work, and within the context of this 29-part narrative he has mutated it compellingly to serve the fantasy elements of his story. Douglas Adams, the British humorist and science fiction writer, played with a number of similar concepts about perception or the lack thereof in his book The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. In it, ancient gods walk around in the modern world but are simply “filtered out” by everyday folks who can’t deal with being confronted with such a high degree of mysticism. And so in Adams’ stories, people tell themselves that these things are merely “someone else’s problem” – SEP’s for short – and create a handy fiction to avoid it.
“Tonight is all about fiction,” Daisey says, “Tonight is Luna Park.”
Daisey then picks up with Jack and Mary Jane as they enter Luna Park – a ghostly, old world carnival suspended above the Atlantic Ocean off Coney Island and woven out of moonlight. The original Luna Park burned down back in the 1940’s, but this one exists now as a kind of shared dream of a bygone era of barkers, impresarios and sideshows. “It’s the boardwalk writ large,” Daisey says. And since it is a shared dream, all our ideas of what this period was like filter up into it. The practical offshoot is that everyone looks straight out of Boardwalk Empire. “You should have seen this place after The Untouchables,” Jack says, “This is much better, though there are a lot of suspenders.”
The walk through Luna Park includes a lot of delightfully Daiseyian detours, like the folly of Amazon (“Art can’t change everything! You know what can change everything? Shopping recommendations!”), Law & Order as a performative ritual (“It’s exactly like Greek Theater is supposed to work!”), and ultimate fate of M. Night Shyamanalan (“That guy needs to pay for what he’s done!”). And just when you think he’s fired off all of his narrative cylinders, Daisey evokes one of his more spectacular images: an “illustrated man” at the carnival, covered in tattoos that undulate and move. On his chest is a tattoo of a female fortune teller, who offers Mary Jane a fanned out deck of cards to choose from. It’s simple enough, but perfectly suited for Daisey’s grand story of fortune, fiction, and myth.
An epilogue finds Daisey and his wife Jean-Michele about to leap out of a zeppelin – another spectacularly described scenario, where fiction overtakes reality in a different way. As they are about to embark on a death-defying adventure of fantastical scale, Daisey and Jean-Michele reference The Empire Strikes Back in the final moments.
“I still love you,” Jean-Michele says.
“I know,” says Daisey, and he pushes her out of the airship.