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A small cultural history of the aluminum hat

A man in his prime sits in the dark surrounded by papers and books. He once excelled as the founder of a successful law firm, but today he's just lonely and desperate. A typewriter sits enthroned on the table in front of him - his only concession to the modern world and yet a device from the past.

One of the more unusual side strands of the Breaking Bad-Spin offs Better Call Saul is about Chuck McGill, the lawyer's brother, who withdrew from public life due to a mysterious sensitivity to electrical vibrations.

Electrosensitivity has been hotly debated for a long time and for many is a symbol of a general progress allergy - a kind of conspiracy-theoretic re-edition of Ludism, which in the times of industrialization saw every technical progress as a path to servitude.

In the USA, electrosensitive people make a pilgrimage to cities where there is neither cell phone reception nor WiFi. In these places, products such as curtains that block electromagnetic waves or microwave absorption sheets are often used, which, ironically, are mainly offered online. Simply programmed websites provide tips for "victims of electromagnetism" in bombastic language and describe alleged risks such as "V2K" (Voice to Skull) consciousness control or the abductions by aliens that would be facilitated by electromagnetic waves.

Rejecting technology means rejecting society as a whole.

At Better Call Saul Chuck wraps himself in aluminum foil and hides in a darkened room. Although he suffers from an allergy to the modern world - psychosomatic or otherwise - his appearance is strongly reminiscent of the classic aluminum hats, which are particularly popular among paranoid conspiracy theorists.

The tinny headgear or general metallic surface paneling found its way into all kinds of television series such as the X-Files, Futurama or the Simpsons episode "It's all down, take Focusin!"

But the cultural history of the aluminum hat can be traced back even further: As early as 1927, Julian Huxley — brother of the famous Aldous and half-brother of Nobel Prize winner Andrew — wrote a strange but forward-looking short story on the subject.

Huxley was also an evolutionary biologist and unfortunately made a name for himself there as a eugenicist. The historyThe Tissue-Culture King is strongly colored by his experiences in contract work and tells of a scientist named Hascome who got lost in the jungle. After being captured by a local tribe, he wins the favor of King Bugala through his "magical" gift of being able to grow tissue samples from the king.

What follows is as dystopian and cheerfully cruel as any of Huxley's other works. Under house arrest, Hascome becomes a figure in the best Daidalus tradition, who is forced to make her talents available to a corrupt regime. But the closeness to power goes to Hascome's head and he uses his "perverted intellectual ambitions" to control the minds of the masses.

Finally the scientist succeeds in hypnotizing the king. He flees under a "cap made of metal foil" which is "relatively impervious to telepathic effects". But unfortunately he is overwhelmed during his escape and loses his cap. The narrator laments:

I begged him to use his mind to stick with his decision. How much I regretted that we had left behind our telepathy-proof headgear in our endeavor to shed all unnecessary weight!

The dark end of the story would make any conspiracy theorist proud, by asking the reader if we "would rather be among those struggling to seek power or to learn the truth behind things." Huxley creates a paranoid Atmosphere and emphasizes the Faustian pact that the fabric-mad tribesmen entered into.

Modernization means losing privacy. The Tissue-Culture King goes so far as to equate the love of innovation with hypnotic suggestibility. The knowledge is in the hands of a few, which King Bugala turns into a primitive tech company aiming to infiltrate the privacy of its objects. To reject these innovations and ultimately to disappear with a metal foil on your head means to reject society itself.

Back to the Netflix series: Saul's brother Chuck turns into a remote recluse. The in The Tissue-Culture King The belief in innovation described above and the fact that everyone has a smartphone these days, you can become part of the counterculture just through inactivity. Rejection of technology means rejecting all of society. Even in remote Albuquerque.

Chuck McGill is a strange bird who unfortunately loses his fight in life.

It's easy to get sympathy for Chuck, especially when he's being tasered by the police. But before you swap your smartphone for a silver-sheathed "brain coat" made of nylon, you should perhaps take a quick look at the results of a study carried out by MIT in 2005.

In their experiments, the scientists found that an aluminum hat (they took "the classic, the Fez and the Centurion") only amplifies the electromagnetic radiation on your head instead of shielding it, because the radiation is partially absorbed by the ungrounded foil which makes the waves even more direct to your brain.

The study closes with a smile: “You don't need a lot of imagination to understand that the helmet mania was propagated by the government. We hope this report encourages paranoid society to improve their helmets so that the flaws do not make them easy prey. "

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