Victor Bloom MD
The Hillberry Theater is putting on a play called, "Breaking the Code," by playwright Hugh Whitemore. It was many times more impressive and powerful than I had anticipated, and the excellent acting of this young Wayne State group added to the impact of the content. Especially noteworthy was the performance of Mike Schraeder, who projected the role of Alan Turing in a very moving and convincing way.
The playbill included significant notes from the director, David J. Magidson, who must have been inspired by this play and touched by the tragic figure of Alan Turing. I will quote from his notes, which are excellent, and which adds appreciably to the multi-layered understanding of the play.
"During the millenium run-up of 1999 one of the things pundits were trying to do was figure out who would be the person of the century.... the usual suspects were Albert Einstein, Franklin Roosevelt, Dag Hammerskjold, Mao Tse Tung--- even Adolph Hitler. And we all knew who they all were. Except for one.
Alan Turing? most people thought. Who was he? If he is this famous this century, how come I never heard of him?
Arguably a candidate-- he was almost certainly responsible for helping win World War II (imagine if the world had been run by Adolf for the past fifty years)--- he was definitley responsible for the theorectical and practical underpinnings of the digital computer, the ultimate machine.
Perhaps more than anyone (except maybe Einstein) who won after all, in at least one poll) Turing, a desperately eccentric, anti-social loner, created the world will will live in for the next hundred or more years. So why, when you go on the internet, (his internet!) looking for books about him at Amazon.com, do only two or three titles show up? There are 25,000 for Einstein! Why doesn't anyone know his name?
Because he broke the code.
Not the German Enigma code, although he certainly did that. No, this is the code that says one can behave however one wants in private, but in public he must behave appropriately. And another code that says if you're livng the lie and something bad happens to you because of it, the fault is with you. And still another that says code breakers are not entitled to the services and protections that they pay taxes for, and--- well, you get the picture.
Despite our "ascent" into these "civilized" times, the truth is that there is still fear abroad of anything different, and because Alan Turing was different he died penniless and in relative obscurity at only 42 years of age.
How many codes, how many taboos, how many episodes of intolerance have there been in human history? And what have they cost us? Where would we be with the edgy geniuses who were a different color, practiced the wrong religion, saw visions, made odd ideas, had different sexual orientations, or whatever--- where might we all be if we still had them?
Who knows? But as Turing says in this play which is, really, a poem about how civilization deals with its outsiders, "It's not breaking the code that matters--- it's where you go from there. That's the real problem."
Turing ultimately killed himself by eating a poisoned apple, it was laced with potassium cyanide. We can look at this suicide as the consequence of mental illness, or the impossibility of a rational, sensitive and brilliant man to live in a world full of intolerance and hypocrisy. Tolstoy said that he could barely live in this world, knowing of the needless suffering and injustice which were rampant.
Where did we go from there? Fifty years later homosexuality was voted out of the psychiatric classification of perversions. It's a choice of gender identity, which may result from hereditary, hormonal or psychologic factors, or a combination of all three. There are still homosexuals who would undergo psychotherapy to see if they can change to become heterosexual, perhaps seeking religious approval or the wish to be part of a 'normal' family and have children.
Other homosexuals, supported by gay therapists, resent the implication that there is anything abnormal about them, that there is any need for change. Gay politics have succeeded in turning the direction of pathology toward the straight public. We are 'homophobic' and need to change.
Seeing this play in the perspective of a half century, I cannot help but see that our society's increasing tolerance and acceptance of people who have made alternative gender choices is in the right direction, as tolerance is better than prejudice, and it is always better to love our neighbor than hate him (or her).
Dr Bloom is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University School of Medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and on the editorial board of the Wayne County Medical Society. He welcomes comments at his email address--- email@example.com.