According to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, we all have within us a "destructive instinct," also known as the death instinct?an unconscious desire for eternal rest that, oddly enough, manifests itself in aggressive behavior. The instinct, said Freud, "only comes to our notice when it is diverted outwards" via an act of destruction. So, while we unconsciously seek to destroy ourselves, says Freud, we appease the death instinct by destroying other things.
If we follow Freud?s theory, then, someone like Mother Teresa could be described as repressing the destructive-death instinct to the utmost extent. A soldier in combat, on the other hand, is appeasing his.
For normal folk, the destructive instinct explains why there?s an inherent pleasure in breaking and smashing things. The everyday act of eating, for example?literally destroying food?also appeases the destructive instinct. Crunchy foods, Freudian theorists have opined, make the destructive instinct especially happy because with every bite, one hears and feels the act of destruction.
Smashing videotapes to bits with a shovel, pick ax, sledgehammer, crow bar or metal stake no doubt provides even more satisfaction. One hundred San Diegans can now attest to that.
In the Sports Arena parking lot on Saturday evening, a local rock-music radio station and a digital cable company paired up to promote the latter?s new service, which allows subscribers to tune in to a certain station and, for a small fee, select a movie from an extensive catalog. It?s a service that the cable provider asserts is far preferable to going to the local video store and renting a VHS tape.
In order to drive that point home, employees of this cable company "donated" hundreds of videotapes?everything from unopened double-tape sets of Titanic to brand-new blank videotapes, now dinosaurs in a digital age, still boxed and sealed in their plastic wrappers. One hundred lucky people who showed up early for the San Diego Riptide football game Saturday (yes, San Diego has an arena football team) got the chance to choose their weapon from the five listed above and smash a videotape into oblivion. Under each tape lying prone on the parking lot asphalt was an envelope; inside the envelope, a slip of paper declaring a prize. Prizes ranged from t-shirts to sports watches to a grand prize 65-inch, flat-screen TV. The unlucky ones walked away with a flimsy sporting-event seat cushion.
"Is that fun or what?" the male half of the guy-girl emcee duo gushed as a group of five, all wearing safety goggles, whacked away at their selected tapes, sending plastic shrapnel flying at onlookers. "I recommend everyone, when you get home, take all your tapes and just start smashing," he told the rest of the crowed. "Hit ?em with your car.
"Don?t mutilate your envelope, dude," he cautioned one contestant who was taking the task a little too seriously. "Do it and you can?t claim your prize."
Reporters from local Channel 4 news and the WB and their accompanying cameramen waited poised for someone to win the grand prize. When a burly gentleman with a moustache opened his envelope and yelped in glee, the cameras rushed over. When both media crews agreed that they hadn?t gotten a good shot of the lucky guy?s tape smashing, he was asked to re-enact it for the cameras. Afterward, he was pulled aside for one-on-one interviews that verged on infomercial.
News guy (wearing a hat given to him by the cable company): How long have you been using [name of service]?
TV-winning guy: About a year.
News guy: What do you find convenient about it?
TV-winning guy: Not having to remember to return tapes to the video store.
News guy: What would you say to people out there who are thinking, whoa-digital cable-sounds too complex to me.
TV-winning guy: Oh, it?s easy to use.
News guy: First time you used [name of service] were you surprised, like, "Oh my god, this is awesome!"
And so on.
For the evening's denouement, a 15-ton steamroller, driven by two guys appearing to be reps from the cable company, and flying banners from both the radio station and cable service, did its work on a mountain of tapes-an over-the-top enactment of the cliché "crushing the competition." A rental tape from a well-known chain sat propped on the vehicle's main wheel, placed there by a gleeful publicist.
A crowd of less than 200 watched in semi-amusement as the steamroller went forward over the tapes and then back. And then forward and then back again. "He's having way too much fun!" the female emcee said of the driver.
As it began its third, fourth and fifth rounds over the increasingly flat pile of tapes, the crowd began to thin. Lack of audience, however, didn't seem to matter. Back and forth, back and forth the steamroller continued, the drivers enrapt by their task.