The Alexandrian Shift by Gary Ives

Gary Ives imagines a world in which Alexander the Great returns as an Olympic god in 1955 and uses television to spread tolerance and peace throughout the world.

As Alexander the Great lay dying in Babylon gods were summoned to Mt. Olympus by Zeus. "Well there you have it. We imbue this mortal with a healthy dollop of our better attributes: strength, wit, an array of intelligences, and this is what it comes to. Before Alexander diverse nations collapsed as barley to the scythe, and then as conqueror he became loved by the vanquished. Like a welcome spring rain, knowledge, tolerance, and peace descended upon all. Hitherto the only thing these idiots had ever understood was brutal conquest, yet when we provide them the conqueror of the ages, a conqueror to teach them compassion and respect for differences, the best they can do is to grumble, mutiny, and now this cowardly assassination, this unmanly poisoning of our dear Alexander whom we had so engendered to fix their dark, broken world. What a wretched disappointment is mankind, promising, so capable with music and poetry to bring us, the gods, to tears, yet that golden creativity is but thin plate over the base metals of perfidy, greed, and sustained, prevalent ignorance. Hades, I'm ready to turn the whole lot over to you."

Athena rose, "Father, may I suggest that mankind needs more time for the seeds that Alexander has sowed to germinate."

"Be specific, what seeds would you argue worthy of saving among such churls."

"Well, for instance, tolerance. In Persia he personally paid the gambling debts of some ten thousand Macedonians and Greeks who agreed to marry Persians whom they disdained. Even his noblemen he encouraged to embrace former enemies. Once man learns tolerance surely respect for others will ensue. Such marriages have yielded children sensitive to differences and with far more compassion than their fathers. Successive generations could continue to unfold benign, liberal, and kind-hearted."

Ares interjected, "Pardon me Father, but those rotten scrubs in Susa are already drafting divorce decrees. I say these too-hungry lice need a taste of their own Greek fire."

Aphrodite stood and said, "It's not too late to save Alexander. Let us, Father, save the one man whose actions reflected our better standards. The noble experiment need not end. I agree with Athena, Alexander was just beginning to master the power to reverse peevish hatred, guiding odium toward understanding. Save Alexander, I say."

"Here, here," chimed Hermes.

"My intent was to scrap humankind, such a fetid dung heap has their world become. Athena, you and Aphrodite have spoken well. I too find enormous favor with Alexander. Though a might too serious, he is too precious to include with that rabble. We shall welcome Alexander to Olympus with love and mirth. Though he will appear to mortals to die, we do now imbue him with immortality to sleep some twenty-five centuries. Then shall he awake, and should he please, once again try to bring tolerance and understanding to the pigs and monkeys whose ancestors saw fit to poison him. Athena, Aphrodite, Hermes and all you gods who love him, from this day forward and ever after Alexander's awakening you are forbidden to interfere in any and all affairs of miserable mankind. This is my command. Ganymede fetch wine, boy." So spake Zeus.

Awakening as a god in the year 1955 Alexander did not present himself among mortals. His old desire still burned within, he wanted to unify the world under Hellenic ethics of honor, trust, duty, compassion, and a love of life through appreciation of knowledge and respect of individuality. He noted that the Jesus thing and the Mohammad thing had failed miserably. From Mt. Olympus he viewed the goings and comings all over the world. Athens had burgeoned into an initially unrecognizable polis. London, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai presented amazing intricacies of structures, economies, and myriads of social problems. He reckoned modernity by reviewing not the written history, which he knew to be mostly lies, rather he relied on his omniscient powers as a god to perceive all past actual events. Knowledge of the future was, however, denied him by Zeus.

New York he selected as the place to begin, and television as the medium to effect initial change, which he preferred to happen gradually; television, which Alexander noted, exuded a hypnotic phenomenon. Enthralled, viewers by the tens of millions sat mindlessly and motionless before the glowing, flickering images projected by the tubes in darkened rooms receiving every few minutes messages to buy cigarettes, household cleaning products, automobiles, appliances, food for their dogs, personal hygiene items, analgesics, toys... stunning arrays of products, the consumption of which fueled the fervent economies of the Western nations. If shortages of consumer goods or incomes occurred, the people became restless and blamed their discomfort on minorities or socialists. Television was a chariot followed by legions of unthinking, consuming saps eager to obey and quick to hate. What saps, Alexander thought.

Beginning in January, each Monday night with the broadcast of the I Love Lucy program, the protagonist Lucille Ball began to appear slightly changed, darker with fuller lips, breasts and derriere. Her red hair stiffened into tight dark curls. And it seemed as though her accent travelled a hundred miles south each week. By June Lucy was fully Negro in appearance and idiom.

Studio makeup artists quickly realized the futility of applying pancake to Miss Ball's face. CBS executives, wont of immediate action from minions, were in disarray. But soon they learned of the similar inexplicable changes occurring at the other two networks. Gracie Allen quipped with her Negro husband George Burns. Robert Montgomery of Father Knows Best had somehow fathered a family of mixed race children, Bud, a Negro, and his little sister Kitten, distinctly Asian. Harriet Nelson watched as her husband Ozzie's visage gradually eased into that of a tattooed Maori, while the two boys David and Ricky clearly became darling mischievous Jamaicans. Popular Jackie Gleason lost inches in height each week, by June was a fat, loud mouthed dwarf who drove a NYC bus and was married to a loveable Communist pamphleteer. NBC news anchors Chet Huntley and David Brinkley closed each evening's news standing and saluting crossed American and Soviet flags during their program's theme The International. Contestants on the popular quiz show The $64,000 Question vied for money to buy tractors and fertilizers for the third world agricultural commune of their choice.

Concurrent to these changes, sales of cosmetics shifted to darker shades favoring olive skinned and black people. As a gradual darkening of her skin ensued, First Lady Maime Eisenhower instructed her hair dresser to dump the bangs and effect "the Lena Horne" look. "Thank God," exclaimed her husband President Eisenhower.

In the big Eastern countries of the Soviet bloc and China television was not nearly as pervasive. And where it did exist, in the large cities, its control was by the state, not by commercial interests. But there as in the West, Alexander noticed how television easily dominated the minds of its viewers who received messages not to purchase things, but to obey the will of the state by effecting good citizenship, thrift, sobriety and hard work. But with such advice came cautionary messages drenched in paranoia warning of threats from spies, enemies, and traitors while lauding the hero leaders and military sacrifices. As television receivers were quite expensive, viewers were mostly persons of greater privilege. Still, their time before the tiny flickering images was every bit as mesmerizing as the wicked commercial television of the greedy Western fascists plotting world dominion.

In Moscow the usual documentary films displaying racial tension and poverty in the West were aired with gradual modifications. Gradually the poignancy of poverty in Appalachia and on Indian reservations eased. Soon happy smiling Navaho children wore the red neckerchiefs of Young Pioneers. Threadbare overalls and flour sack dresses on starving West Virginian children slowly and quietly became neatly pressed practical denim overalls on smiling well fed folks standing not before wash pots and broken steps, but rather neat little cottages with flower boxes. Rusted trucks and automobiles on cinder blocks gradually gained inflated tires and paintwork. Fat policemen in sunglasses with fierce dogs straining at their leads to attack black protesters in Alabama, found the sunglasses and belly fat replaced by slim, handsome People's Liberation Army officers bearing smiles and gifts of garden tools. Everywhere posters adorned the sides of barns and buildings showing crossed flags of the USSR and USA and the People's Republic of China and on locomotives and tractors admired by happy workers and farmers. Voiceovers told of the friendship gifts from the Soviet Miners and Steelworkers to the poor of Alabama and West Virginia. Did not the workers and soldiers of the Soviet Union generously strive to foster friendship among all nations? Rather soon, under the spell of television, the mid level leaders in factories and state bureaucracies pushed for greater understanding and tolerance of the West as a better road to peace than the Cold War. A whispering campaign begun by television viewers spread among millions. The usual violent documentary films of the Great Patriotic War shifted to show the Red Army building bridges, roads, air fields and other public works as the invading fascist enemy was shown to be gradually won over by the workers and peasants, surrendering arms with promises to invoke the miracle of peace and socialism upon their return home.

The Red Army was gripped by confusion but no one questioned the messages transmitted through television sets. What about the horrendous suffering of that war, the deaths, destruction, shortages, and privations the Soviet Union had suffered to liberate the world? Although these remembered facts clashed with the televised version, no one dare question the wisdom of the state.

Amid this paradigm shift, the tremendous cost to the nation for the support of the military was being discussed by millions. Hushed circles of enlisted men and junior officers conspired. The slogan "You've done your bit, comrade soldier, now go home and build peace and freedom!" became ubiquitous graffiti from Vladivostok to Leningrad. Other popular graffiti such as "Tractors not tanks, comrades!" appeared simultaneously all over the East. American and British rock and roll music and mod fashions were seen and heard free from the usual derisive comments. Soon Soviet and Chinese youth were sporting fantastic haircuts and colorful bell bottoms and even mini-skirts.

And in the West a "Build bridges not missiles" campaign took grip all over the nation and legislators were besieged by popular calls for disarmament. Following the AFL/CIO and the Teamsters, all major labor unions struck so called defense plants, refusing to fuel the arms race and demanding the retooling of weapons industries. Chinese artists and dance troupes were invited to perform on North American and European tours as were Russian sports teams and ballet companies. Rock and Jazz bands toured the East holding huge dance fests in stadiums and arenas. Elvis Presley, now a dark negro, became the world's most popular and beloved entertainer and Yevtushenko the world's poet laureate. East and West were for the first time harmonious.

Very soon the hatred engendered by nationalism, racism and militarism had diminished greatly among the millions and millions of world citizens. International folk music became as popular as rock 'n' roll. The United Nations launched an international exchange program in which a million high school students from the US and Western Europe clamored to exchange places with schools and families in Eastern Bloc countries and the Third World.

In the haunts of the powerful, however, the wave of peace and understanding launched via television was met with anger and derision. From Mt. Olympus Alexander watched as in the Pentagon, the Kremlin, the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, in the corporate boardrooms and stock exchanges of the world's capitalist industrialists, politicians, generals, admirals, archbishops and certain popular film stars sought to stem the rising tide of goodness and understanding. In Washington the CIA strained its resources to discover how the KGB could exert such powerful and inexplicable control over television. In Moscow, a similar reaction seized the KGB. Dozens of television executives and technicians had been arrested, but no trace of a CIA fascist plot could be detected. Members of Congress and of the Politbureau called for the elimination of all television. Alexander laughed heartily when television was outlawed worldwide in 1960. National governments turned to the United Nations for leadership as Dr. Paul Van Noord, the charismatic Secretary General, organized and directed great programs for peace and the improvement of world health, welfare, and education.

The decade of the 1960s was later called by some The Great and Beautiful Silence. The effects of Alexander's experiment with tolerance, understanding, and peace had taken root it seemed, however only among the working classes. Without television the ideals that all people deserved equality, that peace was infinitely better than war, and that minorities enriched majorities were discussed and accepted, and extolled in books, poetry, plays, and all art forms which in the absence of television flourished. An explosion of progressive, imaginative and stimulating ideas burgeoned. Shanghai, Vladisvostok, and Jakarta saw the resurrection of popular performances. All across the world street plays, poetry readings, and a spate of imaginative novels printed in pulp editions and selling for pennies. Across the African continent songs and dances celebrated Uhuru as ships and airplanes from the northern hemisphere unloaded experts with agricultural technology and supplies. All over the African and South American continents construction of schools, hospitals, railroads, affordable healthy housing units, irrigation projects and outdoor theaters and stages for the rising popular arts burgeoned.

And all over the world people united against the machinery of the states, the industrialists, even the structures and leaders of organized religions. Soldiers deserted military units by the tens of thousands returning to the villages and cities to join the great restructuring as grass roots leaders united to shift community efforts to the causes of humanity and peace. The United Nations declared desertion from military units to be the model of good world citizenship and a medal was struck to honor the millions of ex-military. War ships were left at anchor without crews. Fleets of fighter and bomber aircraft were left untended, falling to corrosion, weather damage, and vandalism. Cathedrals, mosques, and temples became common usage areas for communities, as many priests, nuns, ministers and imams quietly looked for honest work in the theater, acting being a profession in which they were not unschooled.

By 1978 a new standard had evolved. There was no war. The human condition in what had been called the Third World had been elevated beyond misery. As the driving force of the restructuring had been grassroots work and art for peace and community, it was thought that perhaps mankind at last was mature enough for television. After all, had not this dormant giant, this marvelous medium once shaped collective thought with effortless ease? Imagine, proposed the advocates for the renewal of television, imagine television as a force for goodness in the now enlightened world. The Secretary General was convinced by advocates for television to lift the ban, however, on a trial basis. "Six months. The trial will last six months. If at the end of the trial period should there be any adverse effects evident, we pull the plug!" decreed the Secretary General. Thus television was restored worldwide as the perfect agent to present the marvels of the arts from all lands to all people. The effect was immediate. Singly and in groups people sat before television receivers installed in theaters, apartments, and village centers. Initially prime time broadcasts featured only the culture of art and educational programming. There were nightly shows featuring folk dances from Chile, puppet shows from Indonesia, Icelandic choirs, opera from Italy and Austria, rock and roll from America, Russian ballet.

But quite soon after the introduction of athletics, soccer, hockey, baseball, and the myriad of lesser sports dominated the schedules. No more were viewers passive. Competition on the screens roiled viewers who yelled at the flickering boxes, cheering teams and cursing officials. The world was shocked at the first large scale violence in years as tens of thousands of soccer fans rioted after the Olympic games. In Rome the Vatican was sacked by mobs of angry fans upset by Italy's loss to Brazil. Televised coverage of these troubles exacerbated the violence and senseless anger, and like some dark catalyst television unleashed a lethal virus that spread stupidity and violence the world over. Soon soccer riots, race riots, food riots, and senseless bombings plagued cities and towns on every continent. Five months into the television experiment the worst tragedy yet occurred when a military aircraft crashed into the United Nations building in New York killing nearly a thousand including Secretary General Van Noord.

With the destruction of the United Nations, General Mboutu Nwa'ang, former police chief of Lagos, seized control of NetSatCom, gaining control of worldwide television. To quell this terrible spasm of world ire, he reintroduced public service announcements urging peace and order through strength, cleverly guiding young men towards the benefits of military service promising glory, uniforms, adventure and generous pensions. Supported by the guile of slick public service announcements showing General Mbouto as a great leader and man of the people, he declared himself Benevolent Secretary General of Planet Earth.

Facing Zeus, Alexander shrugged his shoulders. "Can you believe this? At least I gave it a try. While I cannot see the future, Zeus, I believe I know where this is headed. Why not turn the whole catastrophe that is mankind over to Hades?"

Zeus looked knowingly at Hades, the two gods smiled then laughed heartily. "Oh Alexander. Ha ha. The joke's on you, my boy. It's been in Hades' hands from the beginning of your long nap. Oh ho, ho." Zeus wiped a tear from his eye. "Where do you think all those assholes came from anyway? Ha ha ha. Don't take it so hard, Alexander. I know how you hoped for mankind, but man has been flawed from his very beginning. Now the seas will be clean once again, rainforests will restore themselves unimpeded, and left to just us gods, no animals will be hunted or starved into extinction. Magnificent work, Hades, truly godlike. Oh but I love a good joke. Let them suffer; that's what they've proved they're best at. Ho, ho, I promise you Alexander it gets a lot worse, ha ha ha, before every man is completely consumed by his stupid adherence to self, to nationalism, and greed ho, ho, ho. But wait, Alexander, it's only men who will perish. Oh this is so funny, I cannot stop laughing. Women, I instructed Hades, are to survive. There will be women. Women only. Let's see how this works. Ha ha ha. How amusing can this get? Ho, ho, ho. Ganymede, where's that boy, Ganymede I say, bring wine for all of us, boy.


  1. Hilarious and very serious, a powerful combination. You use a significant number of long sentences - but they work well, that's quite a skill. Will there be a sequel to show how the women do? Thanks for a good read.
    Ceinwen Haydon

  2. I've often thought that sports brought out a tribal element, its fans, tatooed and painted, chanting the ritual slogans of their chosen tribe. This story only reinforces that thought and goes beyond. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault is not in the gods, but in ourselves. It's our nature. This story mirrors it well.

    PS: If it were possible, I wouldn't mind being part of a world populated by only women, but alas, I think the gods wouldn't allow it.

    James Shaffer

  3. Hilarious. Thanks for sharing the fruits of your fertile imagination.

    Oscar Davis

  4. ...Puts me in mind of the poem 'Moon Landing' by WH Auden, another modern-day take on the Classics.
    Gary's piece is superbly well-read, fantastic, but why does it read like non fiction? Maybe shorter bursts of dialogue?