Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It Certainly Is a Jungle Out There!

Living in Athens, Greece and choosing not to have satellite television coverage, we are somewhat limited in the English-language programming we can receive. Late at night, we get reruns of American-made movies, usually interrupted by 30-minute commercial breaks! Earlier in the broadcast day, we get reruns of such notable television series as “Hart to Hart,” “Charlie’s Angels” and “The Nanny.” One of our all-time favorites, however, is the on-going saga of the quirky, slightly mentally fragile, private detective, “Monk.”

Adrian Monk, formerly with the San Francisco Police Department, is the quintessential acute obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) sufferer. His condition has been exacerbated by the murder of his wife, his unstable reaction to which resulted in his suspension from the department. Despite his emotional problems, however, he is a brilliant detective, styled along the lines of Sherlock Holmes with a little of Inspector Clouseau and Colombo thrown in. Monk has a record 312 phobias, chief of which are germs, milk, needles, death, snakes, mushrooms and elevators. He refuses to touch door handles and other normal objects with his bare hands, preferring to use sanitary wipes even after shaking hands. In addition, he is unable to eat food that other humans have touched!

Among the typical evidences of artistic genius in the development of this show, the people in charge chose Randy Newman’s ecological warning ballad, “It’s a Jungle Out There” as the theme song. Newman’s otherwise serious words of warning about the poisoning of the environment, placed against the backdrop of the slightly unwell Monk, are seen in a new light:

It's a jungle out there
Disorder and confusion everywhere
No one seems to care
Well I do
Hey, who's in charge here?
It's a jungle out there
Poison in the very air we breathe
Do you know what's in the water that you drink?
Well I do, and it's amazing
People think I'm crazy, 'cause I worry all the time
If you paid attention, you'd be worried too
You better pay attention
Or this world we love so much might just kill you
I could be wrong now, but I don't think so!
'Cause there's a jungle out there.

The genuine irony about this TV series is that it is precisely Monk’s relative illness that is, at the same time, the source of his detective genius. While his fears may often be ill-founded, it is his attention to detail, his penchant for symmetry and his obsession with orderliness which so often help him to notice the clues at the crime scene. And this is how Randy Newman’s appropriate warning about ecological concerns and Adrian Monk’s obsessive behaviors actually come together for me.

It truly is a jungle out there! There are very sinister and powerfully authentic and ugly realities about which each of us should be frightened and careful, at a minimum, if not active and corrective, at our best. Despite the fact that some may label us alarmist, overly-cautious, or moral sticks-in-the-mud, this good world has, in many instances, gone bad! How, then, can we be appropriately aware of the presence of evil in the world? How can we take seriously the many indications that this creation has been warped and thrown off-course from the original trajectory of its divine designer? How can we live with courage and fear and face our own, as well as the cosmic demons that destroy life’s happiness for so many? How do we dare to confront the social, personal and global "germs” that so easily pollute our world?

Adrian Monk’s trademark method of examining a crime scene may help us here. In what Monk’s able assistant, Sharona usually refers to as his “Zen Sherlock Holmes thing,” Monk wanders through a crime scene with apparent abandon. He holds up his hands, as though framing a shot for a photograph. Tony Shalhoub, the actor who portrays Monk, explains that Monk does this because it isolates and cuts the crime scene into discernable pieces or slices. It allows him to look at parts of the crime scene, rather than the whole.

Maybe that is what you and I need to do in this dangerous world. Perhaps we should stop easily ignoring and passing over the little evidences that our world is out of whack. Perhaps, we should give minute attention to the small evidences of discord, both in ourselves and in the cosmos. In all of the furor over health care, immigration, the economy and global peace, it might be Monkly wise of us to sense that something is way wrong, look at the small pieces of the puzzle and reflect on potential corrective scenarios, because, “It’s a jungle out there!”

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