She seemed to think that if kids watched television one
night a week with parents or stepparents, the effect would be to de-glamorize
the medium in their eyes, make it wholesome domestic sport. [TV's] narcotic
undertow and eerie diseased brain-sucking power would be gradually
The fact that this
passage refers to the effect of TV as "narcotic" is no accident.
Babette wants her children to dislike TV, so she plays the ol' reverse
psychology on them and forces them to watch as part of Family Fridays. She
hopes that by doing this, she'll take away the glamor of watching TV and her
kids won't end up watching so much that they rot their proverbial brains out.
In the modern world, almost all distractions can be viewed as drugs, and it's
necessary to try to make kids consume them in moderation.
It was the following night that I discovered the Dylar. An
amber bottle of lightweight plastic. It was taped to the underside of the
radiator cover in the bathroom. (24.1)
Throughout <em>White Noise, </em>Jack
has had reason to suspect that Babette is secretly taking some sort of
medication. He finds it by accident when he checks out the radiator in the
bathroom and finds the pill bottle. He doesn't really know what to do, so he
goes to the person who knows about this sort of thing: Babette's eleven-year-old
daughter Denise. This scene gives us our first real proof that Babette might
need something stronger than TV or sex to get her through the average day.
"We were to be the test subjects in the development of
a super experimental and top secret drug, code-name Dylar, that he'd been
working on for years." (26.36)
Babette has no choice but to confess to Jack that she volunteered as a test
subject for a secret drug named Dylar. No one knew what the drug's side effects
would be, but the fact that she volunteered anyway suggests that Babette is
desperate to get over her fear of death.
"But he also told me
there were dangers in running tests on a human. I could die. I could live but
my brain could die. The left side of my brain could die but the right side
could live." (26.36)
What would happen if
one half of your brain lived and the other died? Your guess is as good as ours…
but it probably wouldn't be pretty. As the possible side effects of Dylar get
grimmer and grimmer, though, Babette doesn't flinch. She just wants to stop
being so afraid, and is willing to do anything to get to that point.
"This was the only way I could get Mr. Gray to let me
use the drug. It was my last resort, my last hope. First I'd offered him my
mind. Now I offered my body." (26.42)
Babette loves her
husband, but she might fear death even more. She's even willing to cheat on
Jack for the sake of getting her pills. In a way, we might think that her
behavior is extreme. But then we have to ask whether we're being honest with
ourselves. How comfortable <em>are</em>
we with the fact that we're going to die? What would we do to never have to
worry about it again?
"At some level everyone fears death. I fear it right up
front. I don't know how or why it happened. But I can't be the only one or why
would Gray Research spend millions on a pill?" (26.88)
Babette believes that
deep down, everyone fears death just as much as she does. It's a human
universal. The only thing that makes her different is the fact that she's
consciously aware of her fear, while others seem to be better at hiding this
fear from themselves.
"They isolated the fear-of-death part of the brain.
Dylar speeds relief to that sector." (26.132)
Apparently, there's a
specific part of our brain that makes us afraid of death, and we're totally
capable of creating a pill that takes away our fear. But is it really possible
to take something as primal as our fear of death and just turn off that part of
our brain? According to <em>White
Noise</em>, maybe yes or maybe no. It's up to us to decide what we
"It's not just a powerful tranquilizer. The drug
specifically interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain that are related to
the fear of death." (26.134)
Again, we hear that
there are specific parts of the brain that make us afraid of death. We're
working on the level of chemical molecules here, but the book keeps begging the
question: has the modern world really gone that far? Can we take away any bad
feelings we want by isolating a certain part of the brain and sending a
chemical rushing to offer a quick fix?
He gobbled more pills, flung others down the front of his
Budweiser shorts. I advanced one step. There were cracked Dylar tablets all
over the fire-retardant carpet. Trod upon, stomped. He tossed some tablets at
the screen. (39.55)
At this point, we've
discovered that Willie Mink has totally destroyed his brain with all the Dylar
he's been taking. After all, how could you ever take a drug that did something
as massive as stopping your fear of death without causing some collateral
damage to other parts of your brain? As we can see here, Willie Mink has no
ability to take Dylar in moderation. He's an addict, plain and simple. Jack and
Babette might be addicts too if they had more access to the pills. Willie wolfs
the stuff down like candy. If there were any of us who thought at first that
Dylar was a great idea, this might be the part where we start reconsidering.
"Plunging aircraft," I said, pronouncing the words
He kicked off his sandals, folded himself over into the
recommended crash position […] (39.59)
One weird side-effect
of taking Dylar is the way that it numbs the part of our brains that
distinguishes words from reality. Creepy. But in other parts of this book, DeLillo
suggests that this sort of thing has already happened in the modern world,
where kids like Heinrich only believe it's raining if the radio says so, and
not if their eyes and ears say so. Media, in this case, is acting much like
Dylar in that it's fusing images and reality <em>and</em> alleviating a fear of death.