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The Influence of TV, Film and Radio in Thomas Pynchon's 'The Crying of Lot 49' (Part 4)

By Edited Oct 19, 2016 0 0

From this point on, Oedipa finds herself drawn not behind the screen, but in front of it; having sought the truth backstage of The Courier’s Tragedy, attempted to use her knowledge of the radio industry to help The Paranoids and learned the story behind Cashiered she now becomes part of a media event. On visiting Dr Hilarius’ clinic, she finds her psychiatrist toting a gun and firing out of the window. Oedipa becomes involved, but soon queries her actions: “Oedipa stood hipshot awhile, questioning her own sanity. Why hadn’t she split out through Blamm’s window and read about the rest of it in the paper?” Oedipa is now engaged with the media; she can take part and learn something of its construction. For here we see, through Dr Hilarius’ story of his Nazi past, and the story of Lago di Pieta, the reality behind the ‘John Wayne’ version of the Second World War decried by Metzger at the theater.

Sailors Watching a Film
The stock Gestapo officer accent used by Dr Hilarius in Chapter One, what seemed an unintentional echo of the false voice used by Inverarity, was the real deal; the false magnate Inverarity’s was the mocking echo, with Hilarius the reality disguised by false media narratives absorbed by Oedipa and unchallenged up until now. The soldiers killed by the Tristero in Wharfinger’s play had their bones turned into ink; the facts of war are here turned into a fantasy, ‘based on a true story,’ to use the language of Hollywood. This real version, of history and Hilarius, is another setback to Oedipa, another piece of reality exposed as the kind of fiction she thought confined to television: “Most of her experiences prove to be betrayals of one kind or another and the fact that other characters try to exploit her links them analogically with the effects of the media” (David Seed). The fact that these betrayals of the truth in her life lead her no further in her own defined narrative increases her frustration, causing psychosomatic illness and a false feeling of pregnancy (Oedipa is ‘carrying’ her fictional narrative).

By contrast, Dr Hilarius seems more concerned by the methods of the medium: “‘they walk through walls. They replicate: you flee them, turn a corner, and there they are, coming for you again...Your Israeli has access to every uniform known.” This describes the electro-magnetic waves upon which radio and television signals travel, the incessant duplication of visual imagery (the Tristero symbol could be taken as a kind of inescapable visual catchphrase) and the disguises it employs to distort our perception of history. The present's fiction overwhelms Dr Hilarius as the truth of his history (the mock Nazi of earlier was a myth covering the truth of the myth) combines with his fear of the very real Israeli (is-real-I?) Secret Service to threaten his sanity. Here, reality crushes fiction; the media cannot be used as a defence against fictions of one’s own making.

Before Dr Hilarius's arrest, Oedipa finds how the media works to put together ‘reality,’ as a police officer stops to take Oedipa’s details “for the news media.” Television alters the geography of the event; Oedipa’s world becomes a stage once the police officer tells her the “‘TV folks would like to get some footage through the window. Could you keep him occupied?’” The technical equipment she sensed during her first meeting with Metzger has become a reality, while the window which offered escape for Oedipa is now just another screen, in an almost literal version of the ‘media framing analysis’ technique described by David Giles. Mucho forces artifice upon Oedipa, who advises “‘You’re on, just be yourself,’” then announces to the listeners “in his earnest broadcasting voice,” changing his wife’s name (“Mrs Edna Mosh”) in line with the distorting condition of the medium as Oedipa – or rather ‘Oedipa’ – beams into the homes of others, through their walls, she replicates.

Talking of DJ Mucho, we should not underestimate radio as a medium in comparison to film

Listening to the Radio
and television: “Radio is arguably the most important electronic invention of the century. Cognitively, it revolutionised the habits of a nation,” claims Douglas. At the beginning of Lot 49, Mucho Maas, aware of the public/media perception of the car sales rep, leaves his job on the car lot to become part of the media itself (he has already attempted this by changing his image to resemble that of film actor Jack Lemmon). Funch, his boss at the radio station, tells Mucho to change his image into something more neutral and less sexualized: “‘I’m too horny, now. What I should be is a young father, a big brother. These little chicks call in with requests, naked lust...’”

Changes were afoot around 1964 in the way youth-friendly radio was broadcast, with the ‘Drake format’ and its heavy rotation of a diminished number of songs, which slowly neutered the rowdy and rambunctious DJs of the later fifties and early sixties. This new format, according to Douglas, disrupted “the process by which people identified themselves, and their relations to others, through the consumerist mirror of taste preferences” that rock music stations fostered among American youth, who found transistor radios ever more affordable due to competition from Japanese imports (although in San Narciso at least, radio is so popular that someone is selling radios cheaper and at profit, to judge by the “wildcat transistor outfit” located near the Tank Theater.

Pynchon places the two next together as a comment on the transient, but more nimble medium of radio compared to the stage play). Greater availability meant greater exposure to stations playing black music, seen as a bad influence on young white Americans, hence the reigning in of DJs like Mucho by federal authorities. By the end of Lot 49, we can see how this change is one too many for the insecure Mucho, who becomes “‘a whole roomful of people’” while turning ever more towards his interior, although of course the LSD has helped (both the drug and the music of Leonard, Serge, Dean?) The further inward he goes, the more he needs to communicate to an increasing number of people, as if subconsciously crying ever louder to compensate for his diminishing self, until he reaches a stage where he believes in the voice's spirituality, millions of people reciting a clichéd advertising phrase (“rich, chocolaty goodness”) a mantra upon a point of mental singularity, his own mediated God-head, from which he cannot return.

Announcer
Mucho without the ability to transmit like “an antenna,” would be like the Paranoids without a pose or Driblette without a production – note how Driblette dies “right after they struck the set of The Courier’s Tragedy,” removing the artifice of the framing needed for his self. For Oedipa and media narrative, read Mucho and the mediated self, but unlike with Metzger, “she couldn’t even tell what the tune was.” Mr and Mrs Maas go their separate, opposite ways: Oedipa losing her self in search of that pattern promised by the media, Mucho convinced he has found his self in becoming the “pattern out across a million lives a night,” via the media.

    By L49‘s conclusion, only Oedipa and Genghis Cohen are left standing, with even Professor Bortz succumbing to a filmic rendition of the Tristero history, which starts with casting and costume (“‘He looks like Kirk Douglas...he’s wearing this sword and his name is something gutsy like Konrad.”), and ends with stage direction for the extras (“‘Prolonged cheering’”). Before she enters the auction room, Oedipa considers copying “a scene in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest” (Grant) to rescue her from potential danger – she will literally “cause a scene.” Tellingly, Oedipa thinks on this while “stood in a patch of sun, among brilliant rising and falling points of dust,” as if before the beam of a cinema projector in a darkened auditorium. Inside await villainous-looking men direct from central casting wearing “black mohair, and had pale, cruel faces.”

We too are within the auction room when the novel ends; the doors are not closed in our face; there is no literary equivalent of swelling music and THE END employed by Pynchon; to do so would implicate himself as a great projector, as with Driblette. Instead, Pynchon concludes by dashing our expectations of a narrative climax; in projecting this for ourselves, Pynchon sounds a warning, by turning us into that warning. There are no endings, only continuation, and Pynchon asks us not to continue the story, but to allow it to expire. As for Oedipa, she must throw out the script she has followed, with all its amendments and changes, to find her non-mediated, non-narrated self and realize television, as Michael J Arlen puts it, “is something we are doing to ourselves.” If she does this, Oedipa will end the quest to find out what is behind the crying of lot 49 – and simply leave it behind instead, for the adventure of her own life. 

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