Thursday, November 02, 2006

Angus MacGyver explains it all for you


I have never watched an entire episode of MacGyver. When it was on TV, I was either living in Mexico or in grad school; it left the air, in fact, before I earned my doctorate. As for reruns, I've not actively sought them out, seeing as the show was never exactly part of my TV-viewing life. But Mrs. M. has used "MacGyver" as a verb in the past, and I'm aware enough of the show that I knew what she meant when she did so. As to the quality of the show, though, color me agnostic in an apathetic sort of way.

Even so, it may be, I realized today, that Angus MacGyver might be more than a simple pop cultural phenomenon. Maybe, perhaps, if we were to give a tug on that particular thread, the whole tartan that is the universal firmament might end up as a big old pile of yarn in our laps . . . that maybe only the man himself could refashion.

Let me explain, lest you think me mad.

Yesterday, via 3 Quarks Daily, I stumbled on to this MSNBC article about crows:

Bird brained they might be, but crows are the MacGyvers of the avian world, able to turn twigs and even their own feathers into tools for getting at hard-to-reach food. But while young crows are born with a propensity for crafting tools, it's only after watching their elders make and use tools that they become truly proficient, a new study suggests.
[snip]
The crows craft tools to specific needs. They examine a problem and then pick or design an appropriate tool. For example, faced with a snack lodged in a small tree hole, a crow will prune and adjust a leafy oak branch to just the right width to poke into the hole.

Cool, I think--about the crows, that is (as long-time readers know, I'm fascinated by crows).

Then today, I run across this post on TPM Muckraker, ostensibly explaining (and mocking) Vice-President Cheney's legal defense for not releasing his office's visitors' logs to the Washington Post in response to a FOIA request:
Mosaic theory has been around for a while, and it's enjoyed a post-9/11 renaissance. It's an increasingly common government argument for withholding sensitive national security-related information, because of "the potential for an adversary to deduce from independently innocuous facts a strategic vulnerability, exploitable for malevolent ends," as a 2005 article in the Yale Law Review described it.

In other words, even if one piece of information appears harmless, if you put it together with other pieces of harmless information, the sum becomes dangerous in enemy hands.

It's kind of like the MacGyver theory of information: this paperclip could be used to make a bomb, ergo, you can't have this paperclip. However, unlike MacGyver, a mosaic-theory proponent doesn't have to come up with the other ingredients necessary; all they have to do is wave the paperclip around menacingly. Perhaps surprisingly, it works.

How does this apply to Cheney's visitor logs? Well, it doesn't. Unless you take a step through the looking-glass, into a world where Cheney's meetings with lobbyists and energy company executives are a dangerous paper clip in the vast repository of vital national secrets. And that, if combined with (fill in the blank), anyone who isn't within the White House's Circle of Trust is an adversary who could exploit the information for malevolent ends.


Is the universe run after all on a principle more accurately named MacGyver Mechanics? When Wallace Stevens wrote in a letter to his wife, "I believe that with a bucket of sand and a wishing lamp I could create a world in half a second that would make this one look like a hunk of mud," was he not just hyperbolizing but, instead, speaking out of a deeper, spiritual hunger to know the beginnings and ends of things that MacGyver satisfies every time he opens his Swiss Army knife?

I have no empirical evidence--yet. Nor do I fear for the condition of my soul. But I feel in my GUT that I should at least rent MacGyver's first full season on DVD to further my investigations . . . before I end up with the Virtuous Pagans in that circle of the Pop Culture Inferno who lack knowledge of MacGyveranity.

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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think, actually, we're undergoing a bit of a MacGyver renaissance right now -- what with the commercial and the DVD reissue currently.

Another topic: Have you read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"? Are you? I finished it last week, and I'm still cogitating....

Joel said...

Sorry: That was Joel who posted above.

meg said...

If you're going to rent MacGyver, I want to be there.

You will be so disappointed in it, but at least I will enjoy it!

Camille said...

I love crows, too. My normally very grounded mother confessed the other day that she talks to the crows when she is outside gardening. And leaning in conspiratorially, she revealed that they talk back.

John B. said...

Joel,
I've not yet read it, but I started reading it in the bookstore a couple of weeks ago. I didn't get very far in it, but far enough to say that, in terms of his style, he's at or very close to the top of his game.

Meg,
Would you say that viewing MacGyver is analogous to attending a high-church service, or attending one that is less liturgically-bound? You know I'm a high-churcher at heart . . .

Camille,
The crows have just begun to flock here; I've been wanting to post about it, but the link to the MSNBC story will do for now.

Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting.

meg said...

I cannot analogize MacGyver to church. That's sacrilegious (whether that's with regard to MacGyver or church, I cannot be sure). Kidding!

You know, the creators of Lost should have put MacGyver on that damn plane. Of course, there wouldn't really be a show there then, would there?

Aunty Marianne said...

If McGyver is a church At All, it's the Church of Cold War Proxy Conflict Hearts and Minds. Witness the small, baseball-becapped cutely ethnic and surprisingly well fed villagerette rushing to the aid of the scruffy blond American against the big bad totalitarian bullies. Witness the grateful village elders, all with superb dentistry and no leprosy, expressing thanks for McGyver's help to defend themselves against the - foreign-backed - vicious usurping thugs. (How come he never has to bring home a goat? We used to get given goats.)

It was made for export. Or at least for recruitment.

Still, I loved every minute. Especially the bit where he stopped a chemical leak with a bar of chocolate.

John B. said...

Yeah. There is a bit of Connecticut-Yankee-in-King-Arthur's-Court fused with "White Man's Burden" in the scenes you describe.

And this now just occurred to me: MacGyver, I assume, is a Scot in name only, but there IS a book out there called How the Scots Invented the Modern World . . . a little Knoxian Presbyterianism here, a little creative use for chocolate there . . .