So, this is a sort of a continuation from my last blog, in as much as I am going to try and microcosm the Ken Kesey / Prankster concept. It is more a literary connection of two novels than anything – ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ and ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’, which takes the whole world of the former and crams it into a lunatic asylum of the latter!
For a double quick re-cap, Tom Wolfe wrote a novel called The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, charting a period of time in the life of Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters. A synopsis of that novel can be found in my blog post, ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: Social Media’. However, I guess most readers and film lovers will be more familiar with the novel written by Ken Kesey himself, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’, later made into a film.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) is set in an Oregon asylum, and serves as a study of the institutional process and the human mind. It refers constantly to different authorities that control individuals through subtle and coercive methods. The main protagonist, McMurphy, when brought into the asylum from a standard prison, immediately and continuously tries to undermine the system and authority being imposed by the nurses. The inmates are sedated and subtly lead to believe they should behave in a particular fashion.
In its most simplistic terms, the authoritarian team of nurses that McMurphy is continually trying to undermine, by trying to get the inmates to think and act for themselves, is in microcosm reflective of Kesey’s wider societal views, as particularly alluded to in Tom Wolfe’s novel. The nurses represent government and its mechanisms; the inmates of the asylum symbolise a society sedated.
Traditional relevance to us would be in taking the premise that government and its mechanisms is as the nurses, that the masses are the inmates, and a small faction of us are ‘McMurphy’s’ – and likely to find trouble!
However, this is not the case anymore, and it’s not a point I got across particularly well or strongly enough in my previous post. Control of communication channels is a key mechanism of authority, only now it is the inmates that are beginning to seize control of the asylum through possessing these channels. The number of ‘McMurphy’s’ is increasing daily, the power of the nurses diminishing; social media platforms are fast becoming the antidote to corporate and governmental control of media messages.
What is becoming clearer and what is most brilliant about this situation, is that, certainly from where I sit from my local authority perspective (re-iterating that the opinion expressed being my own), is that there are people driving the recognition from the inside that it is not for us to sedate or control the members of the asylum, but that the most productive and meaningful way to nurse authority through this change, is to become a part of it. The nursing team that was once required to look outwardly at the inmates, is now required to look inwardly and change itself.
I believe this brave new world is offering up nothing but opportunity for local authorities, to seek ways of engaging with the masses more than ever before. It is massive opportunity matched equally by the massive challenge – authorities need to make sure they have their nursing teams in place, and maybe these nurses should, in part, be drawn directly from the asylum itself.