The Primal Scream: A True Victim Of Fakeness

Ryan Vogt

I sometimes think that a human’s greatest talent is sucking the fun out of things that have great intrinsic potential.

Few writers affirm this feeling better than David Foster Wallace, whose goal in life seems to be uncovering the dread that lies underneath the supposed luxuries and high points of our lives. In his book “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” Wallace coined the term “the Professional Smile.” Specifically, he cringes every time a service employee smiles at him, because the forced glee that now surrounds us make us suspicious of and insensitive to the real thing.

Of course, humans have been fake-smiling for social betterment for eons, but the point is that fake things are not just bad on their own. They damage our appreciation of authenticity in ways both overt and very subtle.

Numerous examples of deception have plagued us in many different contexts. Tolstoy railed against depictions of romantic love in the novels of his day, not surprised that people everywhere were crestfallen when the heat wore off and they realized they actually had to live with a real human the rest of their lives. A real human who digests.

Mainly because I love fake-killing people on video screens, I’ve always bristled when some pundit has suggested that violent video games – or any extreme form of media – are desensitizing us humans to real life. I’m now amazed by how much I subscribe to this notion.

Easily accessible Internet porn is another example. I truly believe that arrangements of pixels that resemble submissive naked girls are warping the minds of an entire generation. Porn is “sex lite,” a means of instant gratification that leads guys my age – not I, of course – to react with confusion to real girls with real clothes on. What the hell are we supposed to do? Where’s our mouse? Almost every guy I know has been trying to wean himself off porn for years.

Fakeness is most insidious when it breaks the bonds of sitcom plots and professional smiles, and creeps into more sacred realms of our personal lives. As a human, I’ve been assailed by falsity my entire life. But it was at the end of my first quarter at NU that I came across a cultural practice so perfect in its illustration of fakeness that a team of geniuses set to this task could not have come up with it.

I’m talking, as the headline suggests, of the primal scream. I hate to waste paper and ink (and your time, dear reader) to point out something so obvious, but no one seems to get that anything with a countdown is not primal.

I understand that this is a tradition on many, if not every, college campus. When I first read about it as a high school senior, I naively assumed that around finals time, a few miserable foreign graduate students actually cried out in distress to lucky passersby who got to witness the phenomenon. When, instead, all the most popular (read: self-promoting) kids in Willard gathered in the sorority quads at the end of Fall Quarter to start their countdown, I felt betrayed. These were the same kids who loved to talk about living authentically, in the moment. Didn’t anybody else notice that they were lying?

A similar phenomenon is applauding in movie theaters. I concede that there must have been times in history when someone was so moved as to start clapping at the conclusion of a film, but in this day and age what purpose could applauding serve other than to announce to those around you that you lived up to the intellectual challenge provided by the film?

Maybe I’m just a spiteful jackass, but I hate to see the forces of fakeness continually appropriate authentic human behavior. My advice: Only smile if it’s real. Realize that you will someday watch your spouse have diarrhea. Go talk to a real girl. Don’t clap at movie theaters. And please, if you scream, make it primal.