Within the past week we posted a poem, Institutionalized. I’m going to do something here that I typically would not. The themes depicted in this site’s poetry are usually presented in an oblique fashion, especially in free verse. It is my belief that the power of this medium resides in two factors: brevity and flexibility of reader interpretation. I will in this instance offer the actual intent of the message as it resided in the author’s head at the time of composition.
The poem plays with the varied meanings of the word institution. There is, of course, the “institution” as celebrated in song by The Beatles ( Revolution: ” you tell me it’s the institution”). That is the institution as the amalgamation of our many “institutions” of education, media, church and state, etc. Then there is also the institution as in the sanitarium or mental hospital. This conjures the image of bars, barriers and yes, even cages. An individual may literally be placed (against their will) within one of these institutions for any number of reasons. This poem observes that our compulsory insertion into those broader institutions is likewise a form of detention, a means of protecting us from ourselves.
There may be those of a certain age in our audience who recognize this title as one being shared by a post-punk anthem performed by the band Suicidal Tendencies (viewed at this link https://youtu.be/aYItTxqTc38). Upon hearing this one is almost immediately struck by the timelessness of the message contained. It laments the eternal disconnect between teens and their parents, and by extension all of the varied adult institutions of which they may be members. Poor Mike. He hasn’t figured out all of the answers, he’s still working it out. Fortunately for him he hasn’t yet been fully indoctrinated. He still has an eye to see all of the hypocrisy that resides in those institutions. His only crime is that he has not accepted the institution, and thus does he face the prospect of being placed in an institution. All he really wanted was a Pepsi.
Well, you may be all grown up now, but have things actually changed? Don’t be too quick to answer that. In 2016 America decided all it wanted was a Pepsi, but the institution decided NO! That is not in your best interest! They banded together to tell us that “We” (meaning they) have decided to do what is in your best interest. To which I must echo young Michael’s query: “Wait! We decided? How can you decide what my best interest is?” We’ve followed all your rules, we’ve played along with all of your games and you can’t follow the rules yourself? (I went to your schools, your churches, your institutional learning centers, and I’m crazy?) The white coats are everywhere, waiting with their hypodermic needles to inoculate you from the truth: the USA has become one giant nuthouse.
You are grown up now, aren’t you? Here’s a little piece of advice for you. Abandon the institution. It’s a hollow shell. It’s like a tree that through some miracle still stands straight in the forest, but is hollowed from tip to trunk. There is no “there” there, as they say. If you want that Pepsi? Go out and get it. No one is going to hand it to you. For those of you who may be generationally challenged I may also suggest this reboot of the classic song as performed by Ice-T’s Body Count: https://youtu.be/X9jXnZS3ouU