I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

O, The Humanity: The Door starring Dr. Jack Kevorkian

by Jake Goldman
Aug. 23, 2012

Being human is tough business. From the moment we’re born, expectations are hung heavily around our necks. Parents dream of what their children might amount to and years of anxious hand-wringing begins. The pressures don’t get any easier as we grow older, either. Perhaps there’s a peak as we enter whatever one might consider life’s “twilight,” but up until that point societal pressures of finding success, starting a healthy and wholesome family, and generally being an impressive human being poke at us constantly like little needles breaching our skin. There are constant reminders too, like the people around us that seem to be more successful or happier or put together. Shit is hard, man.

But, what we often forget is that so much of our lives are wildly out of our control. You may be gunning for a promotion, busting your ass staying late at the office, taking on extra tasks but the CEO may have always had his nephew in mind. You might have the most astonishing singing voice anyone’s ever heard but the agent you audition for is more interested in finding a hot piece of ass that can only sing okay but will look amazing sprawled out on a velvet couch for a Maxim photoshoot. You can only do so much, it turns out.

That isn’t to say that hard work gets you nothing; of course it does. But, when it comes down to it, we humans have very little control on how our lives might turn out. We can make decisions, sure, and steer ourselves down certain “paths,” but what happens along those paths might surprise the hell out of us.

Jack Kevorikian believed in this. You might know him as Dr. Death, the man who helped upwards of 130 people end their lives. He spent time in jail for manslaughter. Michigan created a law banning assisted suicide based on the work he did. HBO made a movie about him. Pacino won an Emmy for that. But Kevorkian was so much more than an off-kilter quack ready to help people die at the drop of a hat.

He didn’t simply launch into the assisted-suicide business because he saw a cash cow; he had informed – if twisted – opinions on life and living. On the topic of terminal illness and helping those sorts of folks “die with dignity,” Kevorkian remarked “What difference does it make if someone is terminal? We are all terminal.” And, sure, there are some problems with that argument: even though we’re all going to pass someday, deadly diseases rob people of precious years they would have had otherwise. Still, he’s got a point about how narrow the generally accepted view on life and death might be.

In his brief and hard-to-find cable-access program, The Door, Kevorkian hammers home somewhat these beliefs in much broader strokes, digging into the operational mind. The show does meander quite a bit as Kevorkian doesn’t seem to have much of a script, constantly tumbling over his words, and pausing to collect himself -- but still, it’s an incredibly engaging episode. Mainly what Kevorkian focuses in on is absolutes. Absolutes, meaning, that we [human beings] focus too much on concretes and don’t engage in the idea of limitless possibilities. For example, he posits that the speed of light isn’t actually the fastest speed in the universe, but it’s the fastest speed we know of. There may be other, immeasurable speeds out there in the ether, ones which we’ve never discovered and may never discover. Written down, or said aloud, the immediate reaction is some sort of combination of “duh,” and “boring, bro.” But, after thinking about it for a bit, that Kevorkian is right on. The more we dub things as absolutes, the more our imaginations are stunted because we humans don’t have, and will never have what Kevorkian calls “maximal awareness.” This “maximal awareness” is impossible to achieve since it would involve having a hyper-awareness, one that would show us every single possibility in the universe. And that’s just crazy talk. Or crazy think. Whatever.

In perhaps the most poignant and eye-opening moment during The Door, Kevorkian speaks of when people deem something as “absurd” -- perhaps a piece of art or just an outcome of an event. Turning to the camera, Kevorkian says “What’s the difference, though, between absurdity and reality?” If someone dreamed up an absurd piece of art, it still came from them, a real, live human being and therefore it exists as a possibility. If the outcome of an event is dubbed absurd, is it really that absurd? It happened, it was a real, true result. The more we view things as absurd, the less our imaginations grow. We rule out possibilities; we try to control too many things.

For me, that’s a pretty powerful moment—it’s freeing, really. It’s freeing to realize that we have very little control over the shapes of our lives. Perhaps a bit scary, too, but freeing more than anything else to realize all we have to do is stay the course and do our best and the rest isn’t up to us.

To be sure, this line of thinking isn’t one that every single solitary human is capable of latching onto. In some ways it can be seen as a pretty depressing outlook, eschewing free-will and perhaps scoffing a bit at the shoot-for-the-stars mentality that is so deeply ingrained in American culture. And it’s not wrong to live otherwise, to live with goals and hopes and dreams. In fact, I think Kevorkian would applaud those people leading a more “driven” life, one in which fulfillment is the ultimate goal. But, it’s always good to know, in the backs of our minds, that the universe (and humanity) does not have a finite number of possibilities; it has an endless stream, almost too dizzying to contemplate.

It’s a shame that Kevorkian will forever be known as “Dr. Death,” a murderer to many. He may have been misguided but his heart was always in the right place. The place in which he housed his heart, of course, may have been batshit crazy, but his intentions were honest and seemed to be truly thoughtful.

I haven’t spent hours poring over the court documents of his trials, but I have a feeling despite his inadequacies he was and forever will be deeply misunderstood.  

Jake Goldman is a writer and a teacher. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.  Occasionally he writes songs.  If you are so inclined, check out Internetdogfist.com for words and Otsego.Bandcamp.com for music.