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Of Serpents and Shounen Bat, Delusions and Paranoia

A man and woman lived blissfully, blamelessly in paradise. Then, one day, they learned shame. The man blamed the woman. The woman blamed the serpent. They and their descendents were cursed with the overwhelming power of death.

This is the story of the limitations of humanity, of the innocence of childhood giving way to the delusions of adulthood, and it’s starting reruns on Adult Swim tonight at 1:30 a.m. It’s called “Paranoia Agent.”

It’s the story of a young girl whose first menstruation leads to the death of her dog and the birth of a delusion that captures the world’s imagination, taking the form of a kid thug on roller-blades, wielding a golden bat.

As each character sees their pretensions start to fall apart to reveal the horrible truth of their lives – a private tutor with a compulsion to prostitution, a corrupt policeman pressured by the mob into destroying homes, a girl whose father has twisted her innocent love for him into exploitation – the Bat Kid (painfully translated as “Li’l Slugger” in the English dub), just like the serpent in the garden, gives them someone to blame. Anaesthetizing them by pulling them further from the truth, he puts them on the road to ultimate spiritual death. And just as Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve, and the original sin traveled through their progeny – an incurable hereditary disease – Kon shows us the connections between each of these lost souls.

But Bat Kid isn’t passed from parent to child. This is a Satan for the 21st century. He subsists not on reproduction, but on communication.

We live in the Information Age, when a return to a paradise free of the limitations of the body – Teilhard de Chardin called it Omega point – is, some believe, on the cusp of plausibility. When ideas finally rule the world, de Chardin and his allies in theology and futurism dream, we will be ready for heaven, a heaven like that of C.S. Lewis, where the disorder called humanity will finally be cured, the serpent vanquished. Misunderstanding, paranoia, delusion will be overwhelmed by technological connections and human enlightenment. The ultimate arrow of time, the convergence of the teleologies of theology and the philosophy of science.

But like a wizened prophet delivering a message of doom to the architects of the Tower of Babel, Satoshi Kon doesn’t share our Christian optimism. For him, the liberation of ideas from the body does not change the limitations of the human mind.

And real reality shares some of Kon’s doubts. The Internet – the great promise of the futurists – has proven more complicated than we anticipated, empowering terrorists and criminals along with subtler and more sinister demons. The expansion of communication has created “smart mobs” in cyberspace, turning the wrath of hundreds onto men who cheat on their wives and women who don’t clean up after their dogs. The worst fears of Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley come to life.

“Paranoia Agent,” which Kon says he threw together from ideas leftover from his films, proposes that only the scale has changed. The only difference between us and our mythical, fig leaf-clad forbears is scale: Today, our personal moral struggles have a worldwide stage upon which to play themselves out, and like viruses our delusions and insanities have an endless number of brains to infect.

So stay up late tonight, and watch the final pandemic of humankind unfold. Maybe Bat Kid will make you ask yourself the questions: Why were you expelled from the garden? What is your ugly truth? And who is your serpent?

Reruns of Paranoia Agent start tonight at 1:30 a.m. on Adult Swim, continuing Monday through Thursday.

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