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The Massey Lectures Essay


One of the foremost aspects of today’s living is the fact that, as time goes on; people in Western grow increasingly less capable of exercising a full control over the surrounding post-industrial realities. In its turn, this explains why the motif of existential alienation appears to affect the lifestyles of more and more individuals in the West.

It is needless to mention of course, that the earlier mentioned issue fits rather well within the methodological framework of the Massey Lectures, as such that are supposed to serve the purpose of enlightening listeners on the actual significance of discursively acute socio-political and cultural subject matters.

Therefore, there is nothing particularly odd about the fact that the motif of alienation is being featured rather prominently, throughout the course of Douglas Coupland’s 2010 book Player One, which was initially introduced to the public in the form of one-hour lectures.

Apparently, the author had a good reason to believe that, while exposed to his book, people would be able to gain an in-depth insight into what accounts for the most pressing challenges of Canadian post-modernity.

This also explains why, contrary to the tradition of Massey lecturers providing the non-fiction analyses of contemporary issues, Coupland made a deliberate point in delivering his lectures in the format of a literary fiction.

The reason for this is simple – the author’s adoption of the earlier mentioned format enabled him to expose the actual roots of contemporary Canadians’ existential inadequateness, without facing the accusations of his lectures being ‘politically incorrect’.

The foremost discursive characteristic of Player One, is that the very context of how the featured characters of Karen, Luke and Rachel position themselves in life, implies their physical and cognitive ‘whiteness’. As such, these people are supposed to profess the so-called ‘Faustian’ (Western) existential values (Greenwood 53).

After all, it was namely the White people’s endowment with the ‘Faustian’ mentality, which created dialectical preconditions for them to indulge in abstract philosophizing, and to consequently to be able act as the agents of a socio-cultural/technological progress.

Nevertheless, even though that there are many scenes in Player One, where the book’s characters reflect upon the philosophical implications of the surrounding reality, they tend to do it in a manner that presupposes the concerned characters’ perceptual infantilism.

For example, while looking at the sky, Karen comes up with the following mental-statement: “Wouldn’t it be great if stars turned black during the day – the sky covered with dots like pepper? A crescent moon is visible to the south. Imagine looking up at the moon and seeing it on fire!” (Coupland 12).

This, of course, implies that, throughout the course of its life, Karen was never pressed to have her thoughts remaining meaningful at all times, as the main precondition for her to be able to attain a social prominence. Allegorically speaking, Karen was brought up in the ‘greenhouse’ environment of the political correct Canadian society, without having to apply any active effort into securing her place under the sun.

Hence, the sheer irrelevance of many of her thoughts, which in turn imply that, despite being a grown woman, Karen appears to be more of a child, in the psychological sense of this word. This is exactly the reason why, despite Karen’s age of ‘almost forty’, she was never able to find a man to settle with – the character’s infantile attitudes prevented her from doing it.

The same perceptual infantilism, on Karen’s part, prompted her fly from Winnipeg to Toronto to meet up with a stranger on a ‘blind date’ – hardly a smart move. Thus, while exposed to the particulars of Karen’s ‘brain wiring’, readers are able to gain a better understanding of what may be considered the reason why many Canadian women appear to experience a hard time, when dealing with the real world’s ways.

The author’s deployment of the format of a literary fiction came in particularly advantageous, in this respect, because it allowed him to tackle the subject of Canadian women’s existential ‘unfitness’, without sounding gender-biased.

The validity of the latter suggestion can also be illustrated in regards to the character of Rachel, featured in Player One.

As it appears from the book, despite having been a great looking and intelligent woman, Rachel never ceased experiencing the sensation of an ‘emotional coldness’, while being unable to take a genuine interest in other people: “Rachel has never fit into the world… she doesn’t understand humor or the notion of funniness… she knows that she has always been a barely tolerated sore point among her neurotypical classmates” (55).

This, of course, suggests that Rachel is in fact an autist. After all, it is specifically the absence of emotional empathy towards other people in a particular person, which contemporary psychologists consider the main justification for him or her to be diagnosed with autism (Bronsard, Botbol and Tordjman 1).

There is another aspect to it – the lack of emotional empathy in people signifies their reduced ability to compete for the same environmental niche with the representatives of other human sub-species, because ‘emotionally cold’ individuals can never relate to the concept of solidarity.

Therefore, there it is fully explainable why the mental condition of autism appears to target predominantly Whites – this is nothing but yet another consequence of these people being continually deprived of their biological vitality, which will eventually cause them to face the prospect of a physical extinction.

Even a brief glance at the statistical data, concerned with the demographic trends in today’s Canada, confirms the legitimacy of this statement.

Apparently, by exposing readers to the character of Rachel, Coupland strived to accentuate the main problem with Whites in Western countries – while capable of operating with utterly abstract subject categories (due to their high IQ-rate), these people are ‘defenseless’, in the biological sense of this word.

In plain words – they are not even nearly committed to ‘baby-making’, as much as they should have been, if they wanted to ensure the survival of their sub-specie. This is the reason why Rachel thought of conceiving a child in terms of an ‘unpleasant duty’, as opposed to thinking of it in terms of a particularly enjoyable activity, which in turn explains her decision to become artificially impregnated.

It is understood, of course, that had Coupland promoted the earlier outlined idea in the format of a non-fiction analysis, he would end up facing the accusations of ‘racism’.

This points out to another advantage of the methodological approach to delivering his Massey lecture, chosen by Coupland – the fact that the deployment of the format of a literary fiction made it possible for the author to discuss the implications of Canadian Whites growing progressively more degenerate, while ensuring the discussion’s ideological neutrality.

Another controversial subject matter, tackled in Player One, is the idea that people’s sense of religiosity should be referred to in terms of a psychological atavism. The full soundness of this suggestion can be shown in regards to the character of Luke – a former Christian minister, who stole $20.000 from his Church and escaped to Toronto, along with his ill-gotten money.

There is a memorable scene in the book, where Luke contemplates upon the irresistible appeal of money: “Why it is that having money makes people feel so good – medically, scientifically, clinically good. What chemicals does it release? What neurons does it block? And just why is it an absolute given that having money – some money, any money – always feels better than having no money?” (34).

As this innate monologue implies, even while acting as a minister, Luke never ceased being fascinated with money – just as it happened to be the case with the rest of Christian self-appointed ‘representatives of God’. The reason for this is apparent – one’s ability to ‘think’ is conceptually inconsistent with his or her ability to ‘believe’.

Therefore, there is nothing too surprising about the fact that in Canada, the religion of Christianity has long ago been turned into nothing short of a meaningless quasi-religious ritual, which explains why even the most committed Christian churchgoers often experience a hard time, while trying not to fall asleep during the course of sermons (Dobbelaere 167).

Given the fact that the subject of religion is considered especially ‘sensitive’, Coupland would end up being ostracized, had he deployed a non-fiction analytical approach towards discussing the Christianity’s conceptual counter-productiveness.

This particular consideration served him as yet another reason to decide in favor of tackling the subject matter within the framework of a literary fiction, as such that provided the author with the advantage of being able to promote his point of view, while remaining above an ongoing dispute between religious believers, on the one hand, and atheists, on the other.

Nevertheless, there are also some disadvantages to the Coupland’s choice of the fiction-format. First, the format of a literary fiction presupposes the audience members’ ability to ‘read between the lines’.

What it means is that the earlier mentioned subtle messages, conveyed by Player One, may only be recognized by the intellectually advanced members of the audience. Second, the chosen format provides listeners/readers with an unrestricted liberty to interpret the actual meaning of the conveyed messages. This, course, could not result in anything else but in undermining the book’s discursive integrity.

Works Cited

Bronsard, Guillaume, Botbol, Michel and Sylvie Tordjman. “Aggression in Low Functioning Children and Adolescents with Autistic Disorder.” PLoS ONE 5.12 (2010): 1-5. Print.

Coupland, Douglas. Player One. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc., 2010. Print.

Dobbelaere, Karel. Secularization: An Analysis at Three Levels. Berlin: Peter Lang, 2004. Print.

Greenwood, Susan. Anthropology of Magic. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2009. Print.

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"The Massey Lectures." IvyPanda, 18 Apr. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-massey-lectures-essay/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Massey Lectures." April 18, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-massey-lectures-essay/.


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IvyPanda. "The Massey Lectures." April 18, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-massey-lectures-essay/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Massey Lectures." April 18, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-massey-lectures-essay/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Massey Lectures'. 18 April.

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