Bad brain days

WE live in skin city, a place where no billboard, bus rear or fried chicken protest is complete unless someone (usually someone with a Pam-tastic set of knockers) gets their kit off.

Yet in the peep show of contemporary pop culture, one incredibly sexy organ remains coyly hidden from view. Its not allowed out of the house without an Amish ankle frock and women in particular tend to view it as a shameful organ leading only to trouble.

I speak, of course, of the brain.

For me, there’s nothing more arousing than someone who works out upstairs, whose muscular grey matter snaps to attention rather than wobbling flaccidly.

People who attend only to their exteriors have the reverse effect on my libido. When I see human Barbie and Ken dolls, I can’t help thinking how many mindless hours a day this sort of high-level window-dressing involves.

And where’s the conversation to go after you’ve politely observed that yes, Mr Steroids is freakishly large, and no, Ms Plastic Surgery is not?

“So, I hear you’ve been mainlining stool-shattering sugar substitutes and straddling a vinyl bench in obscenely flared shorts grunting a lot lately. How’s that working out for you?”

My social dexterity is not the only thing at stake, either.

According to new University of NSW research, mental fitness may be just as important as the physical variety when it comes to warding off the illness evils of old-age. Apparently the part of the brain responsible for memory shrinks twice as much in wrinklies who have not kept their beans busy. A puny little hippocampus is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, while mental activity also has been found to delay the onset of degenerative brain diseases such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s.

Yet in an era where the average American can’t change bra styles without a reality television show recording the awesome challenge of their journey to embetterment, beautiful minds — and citizens striving to achieve beautiful minds — are shamefully uncelebrated.

Where is the intelligence equivalent of Miss World? Or a makeover reality show in which fat-headed contestants sweat it out at cranial boot camp before emerging with a stunning new ability to examine and engage? I’d also like to see a Rocket Scientist Big Brother where contestants must discuss Kepler’s laws of planetary motion before turkey-slapping anyone in the communal spa.

TV shows that depict citizens becoming better people rather than just better looking may not taste too terrific at first but, like steamed broccoli, could be crucial for our long-term health.

In the meantime, commentators in the quality media — supposedly one of the last bastions of braininess — should also be sent to the naughty corner to have a good, long think about all the things we’re not having a good, long think about.

Time and again, we conveniently confuse correlation with causation as we try to pass off polemic as rational debate. Time and again we make simplistic either-or assertions rather than wrestling with life’s ideologically inconvenient complexities.

At this point I should obviously point out that I do realise it’s possible to look like Jayne Mansfield and have an IQ of 163. But even this falls into the common meninges media trap of defining intelligence solely by factors such as formal education, ability to spew high culture references and Mensa membership.

Beautiful thinking is so much more than posh honorifics, making it past “scrotumtightening sea” in Ulysses and knowing that lived is to devil as 6323 is to blah blah. It’s about embarrassing curiosity, toddler-esque questioning and the ability to shout “Holy crap, I was wrong!” as new information arrives. It’s about being willing to think ’til your head hurts.

Some of us will always struggle with bad brain days, just as some of us will always battle bums with a penchant for blimpishness. But that’s no excuse not to do the best with what we’ve got and to try to svelte up when we start getting sluggardly.

And now, if you will excuse me, I’m off to wolf whistle at commuters daring enough to read books or ponder the meaning of things on public transport.

Hopefully no one starts calculating pi or I may lose control completely.

- originally published in The Australian on 24-07-2008.

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