Friday, November 11, 2011

Defining a Lose-Lose Situation

"There was only one catch and that was Catch–22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to."

Joseph Heller

I have several favorite authors.

I don't like to categorize — or qualify — them by era or gender or nationality or genre or anything else. I've always been a writer. A well–written story is a well–written story, as far as I am concerned.

Oh, sure, I have my preferences. I like just about anything Mark Twain ever wrote. Ditto the works of Charles Dickens. While I didn't always agree with his politics, I admire the political novels of Allen Drury, and I love the rich detail of the books by James Michener.

I have loved the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien since I was in high school. And I have devoured most of Stephen King's novels.

But almost no one whose works I have enjoyed has seen the title of one of his books become accepted slang for a specific condition.

"Catch–22," though, has achieved precisely that. When someone says that something is a "catch–22," it is immediately understood that it is a lose–lose situation from which one cannot escape.

I suppose the modern equivalent — at least in the film world — would be "Groundhog Day."

And a movie that was based on "Catch–22" was made in 1970. It was good. It had some talented people in it. It was faithful to Heller's original work. But no movie could do complete justice to it.

In the literary world, "Catch–22" made its debut half a century ago today, and it received its share of praise. The Chicago Sun–Times said it was "the best American novel in years."

Others weren't quite as generous, and hardback sales were sluggish in the United States. But sales were more robust in Great Britain, and the paperback enjoyed enormous commercial popularity here, selling millions of copies during the Vietnam years.

It really is no wonder to me that it was so popular during the Vietnam eraIts influence continues to be felt.

That is because the concepts that were expressed in "Catch–22" are vividly seen in the world of 2011.

Just recently, in fact, the local Occupy Dallas protesters agreed to relocate to City Hall Park. Their permit to camp in Pioneer Plaza was revoked because organizers of the protest did not purchase a $1 million insurance policy — which no insurer will sell under such circumstances, anyway.

For Betty Grable's legs, yes. For a protest, no.

The protesters can camp in City Hall Park for up to 60 days and have continued protesting in Pioneer Plaza during the day.

Joseph Heller would be proud.