He calls this the “MacGuffin” technique. The name is derived from a story in which a traveller on a train is asked by a fellow passenger what he is carrying in his peculiarly-shaped bag. “ It contains a MacGuffin” the travellers replies. “What’s a MacGuffin?” asks the other. “It is used to trap lions found on the Scottish Highlands” says the traveller. “But there are no lions in Scotland” says the other. “Then there is no MacGuffin in that bag” concludes the traveller.
This technique is applied quite often in real life too. Birthday gifts for children, I have observed, are just MacGuffins. What children want is the thrill of expectation, followed by the process of actually receiving the gift parcel, tearing the gift wrapper, and looking inside. What the gift actually is hardly matters. It is discarded very soon anyway.
I think most of our rituals contain MacGiffins. What’s important is that people must gather in one place, exchange pleasantries and gossip and disperse. The chanting and the mantas of the ritual are incidental and don’t matter one bit.
Update: It is not that MacGuffins are unnecessary and avoidable. They are often the ‘core’ around which other activities are carried out and so are very much essential. But, the core can be anything. That’s the point
Humans have an innate and ‘tribal’ need for rituals and ceremonies. Without the core of a ‘ritual’ you might not get people to participate. Rituals can take different forms in different contexts, the yagna in a religious ceremony, the ribbon-cutting while inaugurating a building, the bottle-breaking while launching ships, the coconut-breaking while buying a car, the lamp-lighting while commencing a seminar… Each of this is a MacGuffin kept alive by tradition. Instead of ‘ribbon-cutting’ it could be balloon-bursting and nobody would notice the difference.