AMID all the banalities the box bestows on us— and enthusiast though I am for the fearful machine I must admit that the majority of its output is banal — last week was lighted up for me by a rare selection of thought. provoking oddities.
They were presented in the week's edition of Man Alive on BBC-2, sometimes an infuriating programme but almost always one to watch. This edition, entitled "Another Way of Life," looked at a whole selection of people who had in various ways rejected the pattern our society imposes and attempted to live in the way they thought best.
We had the Tribe of the Sacred Mushroom, a band of ex-art students who live a mystical sort of floating life. We had a bearded ex-public schoolboy nursing a positive hatred of money. We had an odd community living in Scotland and prospering exceedingly on advice from an inner voice.
Splendid examples of genuine walk-outs (as distinct from drop-outs) from our society. And all the more so in comparison with another programme I saw, by accident, during the week, the BBC-1 American series, Run for Your Life, which, being about a man who has been given only a short while to live and thus feels free to roam about living an unencumbered life, had a certain parallel to Man Alive's oddities.
But if I had wanted an example of the banal at its banalmost I could have done no better than this however hard I had looked. Glossy acting emphasised everything and distinguished nothing; a predictable story duly doled out its predictable surprises; heavy music underlined every already underlined point.
Only a modicum of charm in the performance of Ben Gazzara as the hero did anything to relieve the tedium. I was aware that a number of people reading this will have seen and enjoyed the programme and if a nice sugary drug did its hour's work for them I am not one to object.
But thank goodness television does also provide sometimes something with a bit of bite in it such as the curious insights Man Alive gave us into the way other people can five in this Britain in 1969.
Fascinating, for instance. to
watch the Sacred Mushroom fraternity at their self-made rites, which vet had noticeable affinities to the Mass in a sort of Kiss of Peace ritual. a ritual moreover which obviously meant much more to these long-haired young men than the ritual of the Mass often seems to mean to some of those moving through it.
The Mushroom tribe wore long pure white robes, decorated in the front with mildly cabbalistic looking designs, which even in the black-andwhite of my set looked distinctly attractive. But when they rose from their squatting meditative positions, alas, real life struck home and there were dirty smudges where they had sat.
Fascinating. too, the antimoney man. It was the actual stuff, the coins and what he called the "bits of greenprinted paper" that plainly gave him the willies, and incidentally drove him to work for elderly and deserving people for nothing, maintaining himself on gifts of food. Apparently market-traders, suspect to most of us as perpetual outsmarters, are the generous givers for this sort of life.
Perhaps the most fascinating of the whole Man Alive lot was the Findhorn Community in Scotland, which is run by an ex-Squadron Leader (one almost got to feel that being an ex something or other was a
prerequisite for the odd life out).
Certainly the Findhorn leader was very much the sort of cheerful character one expects former R.A.F. officers to be. and the hearty simplicity with which he explained the life he now led contributed powerfully to the overall picture.
Although, he said, he had never before sown so much as a seed in his whole life, under the guidance of an inner voice which his wife hears in the still hours of the night the community has been extraordinarily successful in turning their rather bleak patch of land into a richly productive garden.
And, curiouser and curiouser, these are no spartan dressers in sacks and eaters of root vegetables. They believe instead that, having given up everything, they should try to live in as nearly perfect a style as they can. And mysteriously whenever they order, say, a well-appointed caravan as living quarters some distant wellwisher feels impelled to send the necessary substantial cheque. They have no hesitation in calling the voice that guides them God.
A fine crop of way-out people. But the editors of Man Alive were not content simply to go from one group of them to another, record their way of life and opinions and pass on.
Instead, having done this, they
then brought representatives of each group to a similar turnmy-back-on-it-all community that had been founded some seventy years ago and had self-confessedly lost much of its original impetus.
And in the bare, tin-roofed meeting-hall of this "colony" they staged a grand confrontation. It was, as most such confrontations are, more productive of vehemence than of anything else, but it did serve cunningly to put all the splendid new starts we had seen into a nicely middle-aged perspective and thus gave the whole programme a really meaty something extra.