Drink the Kool Aid
This article is a reprint of one that appeared in Elephant Journal
i went with Abigail and her friends to see Wanderlust last night and really enjoyed it. Mostly because the film was pretty funny, but at least partly because it is an excellent parody of the culture i hail from. Someone had done a bunch of research on US communes from the late 60s and early 70s or they have lived at one.
One of the parodies was about doors. The bedroom that Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd end up in have no door. The charismatic leader explains that doors separate people and they want to create a more connected culture, it “interrupts the natural flow”. While we never did this with doors to peoples individual rooms, it was certainly the case that there were some toilets which were not hidden away in stalls in the bathrooms in the community when i arrived. Mostly these have gotten covered up with curtains, but there once was definitely the idea/belief that we wanted to move people away from the shame of naked bodies.
The movie ends with Rudd closing the door to his “small and expensive” apartment, symbolic of creating the space and privacy which he needs.
It would be way too much to ask such a film to have the heroes decide to stay on the commune. The fact that one of them had gotten to the place of loving it and wanting to stay was slightly rewarding for me as a recruiter to a commune. We actually had a couple who just graduated from Dartmouth come and live at Twin Oaks for a while and when he was ready to leave and pursue law school, she decided that she wanted to stay and enjoy the “good life”.
i am inspired to go thru some of the key points from this parody which need to be reclaimed.
Sharing: One amusing scene in the film is when one communard asks the city folx to borrow their car “because we share everything here” and then puts the car in the middle of the lake. I have written often about sharing systems and how this is what the communities movement should be exporting to the mainstream. As we would expect from a Hollywood film, they get the stuff about sharing completely wrong. It is exactly these types of failures that we have designed our sharing systems to avoid.
Truth Circle: One of the more interesting scenes is where the city types are invited to a truth circle in which they are pushed and heckled, but ultimately both say things of significance which were being withheld. This mimics our transparency group work (and lots of mainstream folx personal growth work, communes have no monopoly on these techniques). But as happened with some regularity in the film, while the commune culture was being parodied, it was also pointing out how it addresses and heals the failures of the mainstream culture. At the point where Aniston’s character somewhat dramatically reveals her inner feelings the commune charismatic leader says “Linda i think you have just met Linda.” This is exactly what we do on a good day.
Free Love: No movie about communes would be complete without the promiscuous sex theme. This was actually handled better than i had guessed it might be, with Jennifer Aniston pleading with her partner to go have sex with someone else after she had sex with the communes charismatic leader, so that they would be balanced. The sloppy agreements they made around their forays outside of monogamy were certainly reminiscent of many enthusiastic newbies trying to figure this complex stuff out. And while sexually permissive subcultures make great fodder for comic scenes, my take is that the real discussions around open relationships (at least my commune) are deeper, more complex and far better thought out.
Drugs: Another classic commune stereotype is that most of the members are drug crazed or addled. The scene where George is asked by Linda “Are you stoned?” makes for an amusing moment in the film, but does little to recognize that early in the list of causalities in the communities movement were the places where people sat around and got high all day. Turns out that the accounting does not work when everyone is high and these places crumble and fall apart like tumble weeds.
Sneaking away for Steaks: One scene shows the founder of the commune with Aniston at a diner where they have run from the communes vegan diet to get some real food – specifically steak. There are certainly some vegetarian and vegan intentional communities out there (especially on the spiritual side). But far more use the “embrace diversity” platform, in which they do not dictate food choices to their members. This is not to say that meat lovers are fully satisfied at Twin Oaks, and they are not shamed about their choices either. I always appreciated the Acorn approach where excellent vegan food was regularly served, making it easy for people to believe that if the food was this good, they could have this unusual and healthy diet choice.
Twinkling: One of the perfect parodies in the film is around communards rubbing their fingers together to express approval, rather than noisier clapping. This is actually not directly a parody of the commune culture, but rather consensus culture, where twinkling (wiggling you palms forward hands) is a silent expression of approval. It is part of a collection of hand signs, which are useful for both facilitators and other members of the decision making process. An example of another case where the film pokes fun at something which is done in the counter culture in a way which is superior to the mainstream, information-thin manner.
Drinking the Kool Aid: When the films heroes realize that the commune is the wrong life for them, Rudd says to Aniston that he “drank the Kool Aid and then made some more.” Wikipedia tells me, that “drinking the Kool-Aid” means that i am unquestioningly buying into someone else’s ideology, without critical examination. A reference to the Jonestown cult mass suicide/murder in 1978. It is here i feel the most animated. The life in the commune that is depicted in the film is largely sustainable, crime free, largely fair and colorful (like my commune). The urban life the films heroes retreat to is on a collision course with climate change and peak oil, crime pained, abrasively stratified and grey washed. If you ask me who has drunk the mind altering hypnotic drug, my response is most clear.