"He was always ready to fly too high. And in the end, the wings of fortune proved for him, like those of Icarus, to be made of nothing more substantial than wax and feathers, and like Icarus, when he flew too close to the sun, they melted. And the man who's fame exceeded the most illustrious filmmakers of today spent the last 17 years of his life shunned by the film industry he had created. I've compared Griffith's career to the Icarus myth, but at the same time I've never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be, as is generally accepted, "Don't try to fly too high," or whether it might also be thought of as, "Forget the wax and feathers and do a better job on the wings."
The 1940's saw the emergence of a miracle drug called penicillin (abbreviated PCN, or pen). Hundreds of thousands of death sentences were avoided worldwide. In terms of soldiers, tens of thousands of the walking wounded returned home from the battlefields of WWII. These brand new survivors created a new population, a critical mass of post traumatic stress disorder and undiagnosed mental illness which ushered in a new age of domestic abuse, alcoholism, and emotional withdrawal.
The modern American dysfunctional family was born. The patriarch was immune to criticism, he was even venerated, due to the allegiances of honor, respect, and gratitude. If the old man got drunk and took a swing at you it was for your own damn good. If the old man went weeks without uttering a single word, it was better than the alternative. But PTSD and mental illness are not confined to the individual like cancer or heart disease. The symptoms of the sufferer affect everyone in proximity, especially within the confines of the home. Everybody swims in the shit.
Our legions of Icarus did not drown, they were pulled from the sea and laid to rest on the beach with broken legs and twisted arms. They stitched the body back together, but they couldn't heal the mind. They were given a job in a factory, a powerful car, a wife, three kids, a dog, a pack of smokes and a fridge full of beer. And a TV. They were praised, prayed for, and pardoned. But they weren't healed, and the sickness smoldered, exploding and imploding, and imprinting pain and confusion on the vulnerable and the weak. The strongest escaped, out of survival, while the weak slowly drowned.
"The flames are all gone but the pain lingers on"
"Do a better job on the wings"
The chemical structure of penicillin was first determined in 1945 by Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin. The first detonation of a nuclear device, Trinity, occurred in 1945. The codices of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures were first discovered in Egypt in 1945. Lysergic acid diethyl amide was introduced as a psychiatric drug in 1947. All of these discoveries provoke intense arguments about the value of their use, and whether or not they act more as miracle or curse. Penicillin, the first antibiotic, which once offered salvation, might now be responsible for indefensible super infections. Christianity, nuclear power, and LSD might also turn out to be more destructive than ever imagined. What we must remember regardless of our fears is that they are all made of more complex materials than wax and feathers, and they challenge us to go higher, faster, farther. We have better wings, we now need better pilots.