Pakeha - Column for 7/15


To all you culturally bankrupt losers who haven't read or even watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, beware: Thar be spoilers ahead, matey.

To all you zombies and zombiphiles out there, I hope this week's installment of dross makes you drool.

No one appreciates a good lobotomy these days.

There was a time when slicing through your frontal lobes was the remedy of choice. There was standing room only for the procedure. It was all the rage. Our hero, the man responsible for the noodle-slicing fad, is Doctor Walter Freeman. He brought lobotomy to the masses:

"Walter Freeman lifted the patient's eyelid and inserted an ice pick-like instrument called a leucotome through a tear duct. A few taps with a surgical hammer breached the bone. Freeman took a position behind the patient's head, pushed the leucotome about an inch and a half into the frontal lobe of the patient's brain, and moved the sharp tip back and forth. Then he repeated the process with the other eye socket."

"Leucotome" is Greek for "brain cutter". No one could accuse the brain slicers of having a poetic bone in their body. The original leucotomes were a like a long, sharp, butter-knife blade that the lobotomist inserted after trepanning at various points from the temples to the top of the head. Apparently, the Doc grew impatient with all the surgical procedure and instituted this new, quick, out-patient procedure. They say he used an ice-pick-like instrument. This isn't entirely correct. Doc Freeman grew to enjoy shocking his colleagues and took a certain pride in using "an ice pick from his kitchen whose handle bore the name of the Uline Ice Company and later a type of leucotome that he designed and always carried with him in a felt-lined case." Talk about style.

Speaking of style, Dr. Freeman is alleged to have tamed one of the most beautiful and rebellious women in show business: Frances Farmer. All it took was a couple of taps and a little swinging about.

I've always wondered if, after the procedure, your old personality is still there, trapped inside your head, cut off from its ability to express itself.

The main point is that you've proven to society that you are unfit to participate as you are. You may be too aggressive, too amorous, or maybe even schizophrenic. So therefore, you need to be made to fit in. The nail that sticks up will be pounded down. Speaking of Japanese proverbs, a number of unruly, underperforming schoolchildren were found to be much more tractable after they'd had their prefrontal lobes severed. You know you're in deep doo-doo when your principal has an ice pick on her wall instead of a paddle.

One of my favorite books and movies is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It presents a perfect example of what I'm talking about. You have the loony bin that is a microcosm of a perfect society. It is an orderly world. Everyone knows their place. Everyone knows their role. Everyone is civil. There's no confusion. There's no uncomfortable chaos. Then in walks chaos incarnate in the form of Randle Patrick McMurphy. Before you know it, things get pretty damned uncomfortable. People forget where they are and who they are and start partying and drinking and sticking their dicks in loose women. All the while, poor Nurse Ratched does her best to foster an atmosphere of order and rationality. The put-upon woman is merely doing as she knows best. What is her reward at the hands of the fiend? She's sexually assaulted! Luckily there's a moral to the story. In the end, order wins over chaos. The agent of that triumph is the lobotomy. Wild and crazy, hyper-individualistic McMurphy gets his brain filleted. But that's not all. As final retribution, Chief sends the nut to burn in perdition and snuffs him with a pillow. The guilt of taking a human life, even of one such as that parasite, is too much for the simple aborigine. He lashes out in a dumb rage and happens to bust open a window. Heeding the savage call of his people, the he runs off into the night, forsaking civilization and all its inherent benefits. You don't defy society. You find a way to live inside or outside, otherwise you'll be steamrolled.

In a final, spine-chilling twist, my home area, the South Bay, figures prominently in this history of the lobotomy. Cuckoo's Nest was based on Ken Kesey's experiences while working at the Agnew correctional facility in San Jose. Fascinating. Dr. Freeman spent his twilight years living quietly in Los Altos, performing the odd lobotomy for the few odd patients who found their way into his parlor. Ack.


Much thanks to the Washington Post for the source material.