What's amusing about this little film is, of course, the cheesy, low-tech feel you get with so many infomercials. And then there's the choice of soundtrack: the William Tell Overture (the same theme that began the classic Lone Ranger TV show).
But what I enjoyed most was the sci-fi quality I mentioned. Doesn't Perfect Polly bring to mind all those Twilight Zone episodes where people get emotionally attached to some type of robot surrogate?
And despite its comical quality, doesn't this gadget fascinate by the way it subverts the natural with the artificial? After all, what's perfect about Polly is the fact that this plastic bird is an improvement over a real parakeet. No feeding, cleaning or bird shit to deal with!
Perhaps Aristotle was right when he insisted that it's part of our nature to be drawn to acts of imitation. Maybe that's why Perfect Polly got me thinking about "high culture" takes on the relation of the artificial to the real.
Recently I've been reading Windsor Forest, a beautiful long poem by Alexander Pope. As he muses about the "green retreats" of this idyllic place, the poem's forest seems anything but natural. Along with its flora and fauna, it houses allegories of British history, moral lessons and a variety of mythological stories.
One of my favorite moments in the poem is a passage where Pope acknowledges that the forest he so loves has been created, not only by nature, but by the descriptions of poets:
I hear soft music die along the grove;
Led by the sound, I roam from shade to shade,
By god-like Poets venerable made:
Here his first lays majestic Denham sung;
There the last numbers flow'd from Cowley's tongue.
Despite the fact that Pope's appreciation of these woods has been aided by his favorite poets, this in no way detracts from the richness of his experience. In fact, it's probably a mistake to draw a line between nature and culture in this poem. The poets he speaks of, as natural beings, are merely doing their job in giving voice to the forest. This is why he wonders, with their passing, whether the beauty of the woods will still be appreciated:
Since fate relentless stop'd their heav'nly voice,
No more the forests ring, or groves rejoice;
Who now shall charm the shades, where Cowley strung
His living harp, and lofty Denham sung?
To return to our own, media-saturated, time, it's safe to say that our culture today so informs our thoughts about natural beauty, that it's doubtful you can have one without the other. That's one takeaway I get from the following conceptual lyric poem, constructed entirely out of movie titles, by David Trinidad:
Till the Clouds Roll By
A Patch of Blue
How Green Was My Valley
Splendor in the Grass
The Petrified Forest
The River of No Return
Lilies of the Field
The Bad Seed
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Gone with the Wind
Early in the 20th century, the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey already acknowledged the constructed quality of our experience, remarking that "the sense we now have for essential characteristics of persons and objects is very largely the result of art" [in its widest sense].
With Dewey, as with Pope, this feature of or lives can enrich our perceptions. However, often, he argued, the opposite occurred. Rather than add to our experience, this fact of contemporary life detracted from it -- because what we perceived was not richness, but the iron cliches of tradition. This was one way Dewey accounted for the stale, boring quality produced by so many scenes of modern life.
In fact, he felt one task of his philosophy was the act of "intellectual disrobing" -- to help people recogize how much of their experience was framed by cliches. And though he admitted that we could never totally free ourselves of "the intellectual habits we take on and wear when we assimilate the culture of our own time and place", he hoped to make possible a sort of "cultivated naivete."
I wonder if the knowing irony with which we process much of contemporary life might not function as a kind of "intellectual disrobing", in that it's a way for us to acknowledge how prefabricated much of what we experience is. Might irony itself help us see things in a fresh way?
Not sure. But I have to admit that once I brush aside all the cheesy qualities of Perfect Polly, there's something about the bird that's seems kind of cool.