I was watching a segment of CBS Sunday Morning today, when a segment was presented about a new Broadway production, “It’s Only a Play.”  During that piece, Lesley Stahl asked the cast about the expected fortunes of this new work and what the reviews might be.  The reactions of the players, whether feigned or real, bothered the hell out of me and were of the tenor of “you don’t EVER talk about that in the theater!”  Eventually, there was conversation on those issues, but that the superstition was much of the cast’s initial reaction was more than a little disturbing.  I realize that there is a lot of superstition in the theater business.  Witness such traditions as the “superstition lamp” lit and placed in many (if not all!) stages of the world when the facility is idle, lest the stage be totally dark, and of course the positively clichéd phrase, “Break a leg!”  I understand why those traditions are there, and I expect that many of those who work on the stage appreciate them as well.

And still they bother me.  I am not down with superstition, regardless of the venue, and to see it still in play in a 21st century world, even in a non-religious setting, is disturbing.  When are we going to recognize that there are no demons in closets or under beds?  Can the time finally come that people can recognize that coincidence is not causation and a word casually spoken is not going to bring down the house, literally or figuratively?  Are we capable of looking forward to a positive future without needing to knock wood?

This kind of woo is at least as endemic to our society as religion is, and it may be considerably harder to kick out than those irrational beliefs.  In Islam it may be even more so, particularly when characterized by a single word: “inshallah” – literally “if god wills it” – which I suspect may be even more a part of their culture than our rapping knuckles on ash or oak.  The sad fact is that we’re sons and daughters of people who either didn’t or couldn’t apprehend how their world worked and imagined supernatural mechanisms which could be theoretically invoked to move events in a more favorable direction.  The fact that these inventions DON’T work, that they have neither functionality nor efficacy hasn’t changed the fact that they continue to occur all over the place.  Reason and rationality and objective understanding of how the world works is a relative newcomer to humankind, with a mere handful of centuries under its belt, as opposed to millennia of beliefs, folk tales, fireside stories … and fears passed down from generation to generation.

It is as much the general irrationality of Homo sapiens as it is the specific madness of religion that we have to overcome, when you boil it down and the enormous social inertia behind it … and I would prefer to find some way to be shut of it without having to throw salt over my shoulder, relying on four-leaf clovers or rabbit’s feet … or telling a fellow performer to “break a leg.”

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Comment by Grinning Cat on October 8, 2014 at 12:32am

I could also do without the common practice of not acknowledging 13th floors of buildings -- as in floors numbered 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16....

Comment by Idaho Spud on October 7, 2014 at 12:32pm

Yes Loren, Marilyn Lovell, in the movie, and in reality was quite superstitious, heightened by her worry for her husband, I’m sure.  When he told her he was going on Apollo 13, she ask “why 13?” He said, “It comes after 12, Hon.” 

Comment by Loren Miller on October 7, 2014 at 12:16pm

I remember that from Apollo 13, Spud, along with a comment I think was made by Jim Lovell:  "Thirteen?  Comes right after 12, don't it?"

Comment by Idaho Spud on October 7, 2014 at 9:27am

I think I've mentioned this before on this site, but one of the parts of the movie "Apollo 13" that I love is when the 3 astronauts were being interviewed by the press, one reporter asked them if the number 13 bothered them.  It was Apollo 13, they were going to lift-off at 1300 hrs and 13 minutes, and they were going to enter the moon’s gravity on the 13th of the month

They said no, and made light of it.  They said they got a black cat, had him walk over a broken mirror and under the lunar lander ladder, and it seemed to have no effect.

Comment by Grinning Cat on October 7, 2014 at 1:38am

Leaving a "ghost light" lit onstage in an empty theater also makes sense. Not tripping over sets or falling into the orchestra pit while looking for a light switch is a good thing.

Comment by Loren Miller on October 6, 2014 at 10:07pm

Not walking under ladders may be construed as common sense.  Fears about black cats or spilling salt is difficult to take any other way than as the foolishness of those who don't know which end is up.

Comment by Loren Miller on October 6, 2014 at 7:51am

Cool beans, Randall.  I'd be interested in hearing what comes of those conversations.

Comment by Randall Smith on October 6, 2014 at 7:35am

Loren, your blog (and the Sunday Morning feature, which I watched)  inspires me to ask my theater (theatrical?) sister if she's superstitious. I also will ask my pastor friend with whom I'll be golfing today. I love a good topic of conversation. This one certainly is edgy as it borders on religious beliefs.

Comment by Idaho Spud on October 6, 2014 at 7:07am

My guess is that some are completely joking, some take it very seriously, and most are somewhere in between the two extremes.

Comment by Loren Miller on October 6, 2014 at 5:39am

Actually, Roland, it was more likely your socks!  [grin!]

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