Mercury Opposition Pluto
By Glenn Perry
The other day, a friend of mine forwarded me a list of politically incorrect remarks allegedly made by Andy Rooney, the satirical CBS commentator who does a weekly segment on 60 Minutes. The list turned out to be a hoax; however, it got me to thinking. Rooney, who has Mercury in Capricorn opposed Pluto in Cancer, is such a good example of the aspect that other people impersonate him in order to propagate their own Mercury-Pluto thoughts! Unwittingly, the sardonic newsman has become a symbol for politically incorrect umbrage floating about in the collective psyche.
Mercury, of course, is the planet of communication, and rules professions that pertain to writing, news reporting, and the like. Its function is to gather and disseminate information. Conversely, Pluto rules processes of death and rebirth. It symbolizes mystery and taboo. Pluto’s function is to penetrate the unknown, integrate the shadow, and facilitate transformation. By making the unknown known, by exposing what lies buried beneath the veneer of social propriety, Pluto invites us to face our own darkness.
When these two planets are in opposition, there is a compelling need to talk about topics associated with collective fear, shame, and resentment. Whatever is disempowering or intimidating is likely to be engaged. The goal is to investigate the shadow side of thought, the contents of which can then be defined and discussed. Topics may include anything that is hidden, painful, or covered over. And because the opposition is an aspect of dialogue, Mercury opposition Pluto is a fitting signature for reporters who have to ask tough questions.
Mercury-Pluto has a penchant for raising issues that make people uncomfortable—issues that are generally avoided yet eat away at us from the inside. Guardedly suspicious, there is a keen awareness of the human potential for treachery, betrayal, and violation of trust. As Rooney put it, “It would be a better world if everyone in it knew all the truth about everything.”
Mercury-Pluto is also a great aspect for the humorist, since laughter constitutes an emotional release of pent-up feelings bound up with repressed wounds and hidden grievances. In effect, the humorist is able to articulate thoughts and feelings that we collectively share yet are too embarrassed to express. With the opposition, power is restored by confronting the upsetting facts, and by naming, objectifying, and arguing against whatever is too emotionally charged to admit into awareness. In short, Mercury-Pluto mentions the unmentionable.
Drafted into the army at the beginning of WWII, Rooney got his start as a writer for the military newspaper Stars & Stripes. His job was to provide firsthand accounts of notable events, like seeing the concentration camps for the first time, or interviewing bomber pilots just returned from raids over Germany (often loosing half their crew in the process). Over and over, Rooney was asked to provide news on the most grisly and horrific facts of the war, stuff that was hard to write about—in other words, Pluto stuff. On one occasion, a bomber pilot had to set down his battered, wheel-less plane with his gunner trapped helplessly in a turret at the bottom, knowing the gunner would be crushed to death upon landing. After witnessing this ghastly event, Rooney had to interview the pilot. That’s Mercury opposition Pluto.
Deeply affected by his war experiences, one of Rooney’s more famous essays occurred nearly sixty years later when he harpooned the French on 60 minutes for protesting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “The French government,” he said, “may actually even be selling stuff to Iraq and don’t want to hurt their business.” Rooney went on to assert:
The French are simply not reliable partners in a world where the good people in it ought to be working together. Americans may come off as international jerks sometimes but we’re usually trying to do the right thing.
The French lost WWII to the Germans in about 20 minutes. Along with the British, we got into the war and had about 150,000 guys killed getting their country back for them. We fought all across France, and the Germans finally surrendered in a French schoolhouse. You’d think that school building in Reims would be a great tourist attraction but it isn’t. The French seem embarrassed by it. They don’t want to call attention to the fact that we freed them from German occupation.
Throughout the essay, Rooney speaks the unspeakable, knows the unknowable; he reminds the French that our soldiers fought and died for them and calls attention to a fact they don’t want to face: their humiliating defeat by the Germans and subsequent indebtedness to the United States. He ends by saying, “I know something about this place [France] you’ll never know.”
Despite his orneriness, Rooney is the classic ‘lovable curmudgeon’. There’s no question he’s bad-tempered, disagreeable, and stubborn, but people like him anyway. In 1990 he was suspended by CBS for, again, mentioning the unmentionable: homosexual unions lead to premature death (AIDS was epidemic among gay men and incurable at the time). But when fans protested his suspension and 60 Minutes lost 20% of its viewers, CBS reinstated Rooney immediately.
Sometimes Rooney will address heavy topics in a bitingly sarcastic manner, like Kurt Cobain’s suicide. “What’s all this nonsense about how terrible life is,” he asks. “A lot of people would like to have the years left that he threw away.” Most people would consider it inappropriate to speak ill of the dead, much less of someone whose life ended tragically by suicide. Yet, Rooney unflinchingly says what we’re all thinking: What a stupid waste of a life.
In 2004, the evangelical leader Pat Robertson pronounced that God told him that George Bush would be re-elected in a “blowout”. Rooney, upon hearing this, reported on 60 Minutes that God talked to him, too, and told him to tell his viewing audience that Pat Robertson strikes Him (God) as a wacko. Again, this assessment was met with riotous approval.
Many of Rooney’s essays are little more than satirical exposes of trivial every day issues, such as the cost of groceries, annoying relatives, or faulty Christmas presents. Yet, even here he penetrates beneath the surface of our complacency, calling attention to ordinary, but unexpressed feelings. Evidence of Mercury addressing Pluto often takes the form of Rooney asking rhetorical questions, like “Why is it that nothing in fine print is ever good news?”
No matter what he’s criticizing, the Capricorn style of Mercury is clearly evident: bland, practical, sober, realistic, no-nonsense, and with an admirable economy of words. In three minutes, Rooney will skewer, roast, and deliver a scathing commentary on a consortium of topics that lurk just outside the bounds of decency. His shorter television essays have been archived in numerous books, such as Common Nonsense, which came out in 2002.
I’ll let Rooney have the last (wry) word:
“If you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it.”
Andy Rooney US news commentator (1919 – )