Camera and Flask
The Photography of Steven Gray


Camera and Flask // Steven Gray: Photographer. Storyteller. Artistic journalism and storytelling around the globe. Based in Pensacola, Florida.

"Touch" and the raising of a prophet.


Touch is an intriguing television show.

If you haven't seen it yet, Touch is about a father, Martin Bohm (Keifer Sutherland) with a son, Jake (David Mazouz), who possesses the unique ability to perceive numeric patterns behind everyday events.  Jake doesn't speak, and cannot abide physical touch.

The treatment is sentimental, but the themes and the implications of Touch's evolving story, are much deeper than than just a melodrama.

Touch explores humanity and its desire to know and be confidant in its purpose.  Through its character's connection to numerology, be it a cognitive ability or a supernatural one, Touch dissects the human experience to expose the core elements which tie us together as a species.  The show is actually very refreshing, because instead of going out of its way to be a "gritty drama," it tries to give its audience hope.

As human beings, we want our lives to have purpose.  If something happens that we do not (or cannot) understand, we desire to know that even things which are out of our control are not random, cosmic hiccups, but part of a plan.  And even if there is no divine plan, can't there at least be a larger purpose?  This enduring question, what is the point?, is confronted in different ways by different individuals.  Some people surrender to confusion and drown in sorrow or self pity.  Others are more constructive, seeking their answers in science and the tangible comfort of empirical evidence.  Those with the capacity to place trust in the unseen turn to faith for their answers.

Most television networks restrict their programming to increasingly desperate reinterpretations of legal, medical and police procedurals.  But, now and again, a show comes along that attempts something different.  However, in just its inaugural season, Touch is investigating the meaning of life itself, exploring themes of hope, cause and effect, chaos theory and the consequences of small actions.  It is going so far as to attempt  synthesis the answers provided by both faith and science to the deep, unsettling questions surrounding human purpose.  I am hard-pressed to imagine any other show, past or present, which would open an episode with a child's voice reciting an opening monologue like this one:

Numbers are constant. Until they’re not. Our inability to influence outcome is the great equalizer. Makes the world fair. Computers generate random numbers in an attempt to glean meaning out of probability. Endless numerical sequences lacking any pattern. But during a cataclysmic global event — Tsunami, earthquake, the attacks of 9/11— these random numbers suddenly stop being random. As our collective consciousness synchronizes, so do the numbers. Science can’t explain the phenomenon, but religion does. It’s called prayer. A collective request sent up in unison. A shared hope. Numbers are constant, until they’re not.

During cataclysmic global events, our collective consciousness synchronizes. So do the numeric sequences created by random number generators. Science can”t explain the phenomenon, but religion does. It’s called prayer. A collective request, sent up in unison. A shared hope, fear relieved, a life spared. Numbers are constant--until they’re not. In times of tragedy, times of collective joy--in these brief moments, it is only this shared emotional experience that makes the world seem less random.

Maybe it’s coincidence. And maybe it’s the answer to our prayers.

- Touch Season 1, Episode 7 - "Noosphere Rising"

In every episode of Touch, Martin Bohm is challenged on his ability to be a "good father" to Jake.  His success or failure as a father is questioned because very few people understand what Jake really is, and therefore focus entirely on the wrong thing.  Martin's antagonists continually make the faulty assumption that Jake is simply a disabled child with a talent for math, basically equating him with autistic children who excel at music.  They further assume that Martin cannot possibly be a good father to Jake, because his responsibilities as a widowed breadwinner preclude him from "providing a suitable environment" for a boy the system has marked off simply as having "special needs."  Such naysayers are repeatedly and frustratingly incorrect, because they never even consider Jake's true identity.

Jake Bohm is not a child; he is a fully-formed prophet in a child's body.

Touch is about a man realizing that he is the steward of a prophet.

Martin's primary role in relation to Jake is not to provide a "caring, nurturing environment."  In their unique relationship, Jake sets the rules.  The pilot episode's entire point was that Martin had to accept Jake's rules if he wanted anything like relationship with him.  Jake doesn't "need" Martin in the conventional sense of a son needing father, but Martin's desire to feel connected to his boy helps Jake expedite the delivery of his prophecies.

Martin was responsible for helping to bring Jake into the world, but he has no control over Jake's divine purpose.  His conventional duties as a father end at provision.  As long as Martin fulfills his voluntary role as mediator between Jake and those who are affected by his numbers, Jake will maintain a relationship with him.  But at the end of the day, it is not because Martin is Jake's father, or even special in any other sense; Martin is merely one of few people on the planet who has accepted Jake's authority and is willing to listen.

Furthermore, Jake does not require "therapy;" his intolerance of physical touch is not as quantifiable as an autistic "sensory defensiveness."  Touch never shies away from a spiritual reference or metaphor, and in this spirit Jake's refusal to be touched is an echo of the Biblical Nazarites.

In historic Judaism, Nazarites were consecrated individuals, devoted to purity of mind and body.  Their identity in modern times has been carried on to a certain extent in the Rastafari practices of uncut hair and a strict, Levitical diet.  Many of the famous spokespeople of the Bible, such as Samson, Samuel and John and the Baptist, were Nazarites.  Their personal lives were marked by complete abstinence from grapes, grape derivatives and all forms of alcohol.  Publicly, they could be identified through their hair, which was to be left uncut for the duration of their vows, which could be as short as thirty days or as long as a lifetime.  They were also to have no contact with corpses.

Why do I see a correlation between Nazarites and Jake Bohm?  Both crave purity in order to fulfill an ultimate purpose.

Jake exists as a strictly cerebral being.  Call it a divine plan, call it the will of the universe, Jake passes on glimpses of some ultimate plan to a fresh group of people every week, helping them understand that everything happens for a reason.  Just as the Nazarites sought a closer connection to God by not allowing alcohol to cloud their minds, Jake's intensely focused mind cannot by distracted by touch.  His manifestation as a child is inconsequential to his ultimate purpose, which is to provide hope to individuals.

The idea of a prophet requiring purity shouldn't be so unfamiliar.  Even James Bond dealt with the subject in Live and Let Die.  The character Solitaire loses her ability to read tarot cards after Bond takes her virginity.  Again, purity of one form or another is necessary for a prophet to perform his or her function.

Historically and in entertainment, prophets always separate themselves from the rest of the world.  It is not a petty declaration of superiority, nor is it an expression of some disability of which second sight is a coincidental side effect.  Purity is necessary to a prophet's fulfillment of purpose.  This purity requires some kind of separation.

For Jake Bohm, this separation is physical touch.  Jake looks like a child, but he is not a child.  His abilities simply manifested themselves at an inconvenient time.  Jake is a prophet, and a prophet's identity is not constrained by age or appearance.  Jake knows his purpose, and as long as he is given the space to work, his purpose manifests itself.

There are so many possibilities for a character like this.  There is an unimaginable level of depth to which the show's writers could explore Jake's identity in the context of history, religion and mythology.  I wonder if the writers are even aware of this themselves, or if they will take the easy way out and and pause at the lower common denominators of father/son sentimentality and easy explanations.

External Links:

Touch, "Noosphere Rising" - IMDB

Nazarites - JewishEncyclopedia

Live and Let Die - Wikipedia

Solitaire (James Bond Character) - Wikipedia