Linda’s prompt: piece / peace
“A Piece of the Action“ is surely one of the most memorable episodes in the original Star Trek series. There’s something amusing about Spock, Kirk, and McCoy wearing 1920s clothing and talking the tough lingo of mobsters. Of course, this is another one of the episodes in which the “Prime Directive” — the principle that the Enterprise and her crew must endeavor not to interfere with the developing culture on the alien planet — comes into play. As usual, that principle is violated, but there is some justification: an entire culture centered on a book about early twentieth-century Chicago gangsters is unhealthy, to say the least.
At any rate, “A Piece of the Action” is a light-hearted, campy look at what happens when a society is based on something that is inherently flawed: in this case, the world of gangsters, in which power, violence, bravado, and wealth are paramount. Admittedly, my understanding of 1920s gangsters is rather vague and mostly informed by movies like The Untouchables and The Great Gatsby (more the Robert Redford version than the Leonardo di Caprio one, although there is an ongoing debate in my household between younger and older generations as to which version is superior). In those two movies, illegal alcohol is a basis for gangster profits, among other sources of revenue: by providing a rare commodity, the mob is able to make a big profit, at the price of bribing or coercing the law to look the other way.
Who doesn’t want to get a piece of the action, really? The desire to make a profit, particularly to reap a large award from a small investment, is inherent in human nature. How strong the drive to profit is varies from individual to individual. Not long ago my high-school daughter and I watched part of a series on turn-of-the-century American industrialists: unbridled by the law, people like J. D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie were able to turn straw into gold. Straw into gold, magic beans, the goose that laid the golden egg: fairy tales are filled with the dream of getting something from nothing, or almost nothing.
When I transfer the desire to get “a piece of the action” to a more personal level, it seems that I am motivated not so much by the profit itself as by the fear of somehow missing out on a good thing. To put it in Ten Commandment-terms, what does my neighbor have that I don’t have? The idea of sitting idly by while the guy across the street is raking in the big bucks can seem intolerable, and so we want in on the action. The fear of missing out is real for me and, I suspect, for many others: surely this is part of the reason that trends spread and grow so rapidly? We glance at what our neighbors are doing and, more often than not, we, too, end up with a smart phone, or a different style of blue jeans, or a trip to the beach.
It’s not all envy, really: more often than not, it’s just that some folks are quicker to try out a new invention or fad than others. Once I’ve seen a new product being road-tested by someone else, I am more likely to give it a whirl myself or to acknowledge that there are benefits. I was late to the texting party, for example, but I have to admit that texting has many useful features that facilitate communication with one’s spouse and children. I’ve dragged my feet on Netflix and DVr, however: yes, I still record shows that I want to watch on a blank DVD or VHS. Such reluctance is usually due to an economical instinct inherited from my Scottish ancestors, and that thrifty instinct rebels at adding monthly charges to the budget. And, boy, did I resist the big-screen HDTV: only when the cable channel forced us to get boxes was I willing to consider buying a flat-screen TV, and, even then, my husband needed the added incentive of a Rooms-to-Go deal that threw in a TV when you bought a living-room package.
But I’ve paid homage to the god of fads frequently enough in my life. With embarrassment, I admit to using my own money to purchase a Wacky Packages T-shirt back in the day, and I used part of my graduation money to buy a genuine Izod polo shirt. That desire to have what our friends have is deeply embedded in the human psyche (says she who took sociology rather than psychology in college). Whether it’s wanting to make a profit or wanting to fit in, there is something within us that awakens with interest at the thought of getting a piece of the action.
Getting a piece of the action doesn’t mean that we will ultimately have peace — far from it! I’ve just remembered that the word “piece” can also refer to a gun, and there are plenty of weapons waved about in that old “Star Trek” episode. No, making a metaphorical killing in the marketplace is by no means a guarantee of peace or contentment, and neither is success in keeping up with the neighbors. But, given that I’ve been trying to finish up this post for more than a week now, I’ll assume that most of us learned that lesson a long time. My mind knows it, even if my heart isn’t always convinced. The next time I’m craving a “piece” of the current must-have trend, I’ll try to remind myself that temporary gain of any kind is fleeting and insubstantial.
As you can probably tell from the surfeit of adverbs, this post is unedited (mostly), per the requirements of Linda’s challenge. I was interrupted more than once as I wrote — hence, the post’s piecemeal nature.