Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Long Musing: including a little bit about Serenity (not really a review)

On the bulletin board in my office, where I keep (like Homer Simpson) the little reminders of why I do what I do, there are several cards from my wife and children. My wife is a master of many things, and cards is one of them. Birthdays, anniversaries, etc., are always a pleasant surprise (she's even handmade some really fantastic ones).

Her Father's Day cards are the best. On my bulletin board, that memory space of memory spaces, the card of cards is from Father's Day a few years ago. It says, simply, "Do what's right, not what's easy."

This is, to me at least, a summation of what a good father does. I would argue that it is what any good person does. I'd like to believe that she gave me this card because, in her eyes, this is what I do. However, being a mere mortal, I don't always do what's right.

(I wish I did, and perhaps that's why one of my favorite song lyrics is from the John Mayer song, Split Screen Sadness:
'Cause I can't wait to figure out what's wrong with me
So I can say 'This is the way that I used to be'
Being a Christian, I do know what's wrong with me. I also know that merely knowing what's wrong will not suddenly fix it, and that saying, "this is the way that I used to be" will not come anytime soon ("this side" etc.). But I still look forward to that day when I can say it.)

Nonetheless, doing what's right, instead of what's easy, is a great way to sum up the aspirations that I have, both for myself and for my boys.


My first car was a 1980-something Fiat Brava. Ugly car. Abnormally ugly, to be honest. It looked a bit like an amphibious landing craft. The ladies were not fond of this car. You know that car that Cameron drives in Ferris Bueller's Day Off? The ugly one? Bingo.

This was not the kind of car you would think could avoid notice, but the day before we bought this car (for $500), I had never seen one in my life. Then, the very next day I spotted one driving down the road in my hometown. The next week, another one on the way to school (plus that same first one a couple of more times). Now, all of a sudden, they were everywhere.

This was my first experience with that curious phenomenon where, having really paid attention to something one time, you begin to recognize it all over the place.

So I'm having a hard time telling if it's just me, or if there is a real cultural trend going on. But more and more in popular culture (books, movies, TV), I'm starting to see presented as heroes people who seem to live by that motto, "Do what's right, not what's easy."

Growing up in the 70's and 80's, (at least in my memory) the heroes were singularly selfish. Snake Plisskin writ large, like a Greek Tragic Hero whose downfall we never got to witness, they were all highly flawed characters. But the flaws were most prominent; it seemed that the writers, director, and actors wanted only to showcase the warts and defects. The hero was their throwaway canvas. Man pleases man, man conquers all, roll credits, no consequences.

But recently . . .

Maybe it's just what I choose to watch. Lots of Joss Whedon, I must admit, and doing what's right (not what's easy) seems to be a mantra of his. All of his main characters, Buffy, Angel, and Mal, constantly try to do what's right, eschewing the easy path available to them. One of the most interesting things about each of these shows is that one of the main enemies being fought by each main character is the temptation to just walk away and let other, weaker, unaware and often ungrateful folks fend for themselves. These new heroes never do.

But it's not just them. In Garden State, Zach Braff's character stays in New Jersey with his new girlfriend, in a sort of anti-Graduate. In In Good Company, Dennis Quaid's character stays with his suddenly crappy job, working for a weasel that is literally half his age, in order to provide for his family (including an ungrateful daughter who wants to go to a better college). The dad in Cheaper By The Dozen does something similar, quitting his dream job to spend more time with his family.

Staying, it would seem, is newly important.

These are movies by different people, in different genres. There should be no connection, no evidence of a Rovian plot. But they all have in common an idea foreign to popular culture of the past 30 years: sacrifice. Not just sacrifice of life, which we have all seen and can admire. We're all used to "I'm going to chose to do the right thing and will die in the process." What we're not used to is "I'm going to choose to do the right thing, and then I'll live with the (probably painful) consequences." This is something new: a sacrifice of comfort, of ambition, of self gratification. A "living sacrifice" as it were.

Anyway, there have been, and will continue to be, lots of movies with spaceships and explosions and weird-looking locales in them. But the presence of this type of hero, along with the honest showcase of the struggles involved in being this kind of stand-up guy, is what makes Serenity more than a little different, more than just another space flick.

Will you enjoy it if you haven't seen the show? Probably so. There's a lot there, including a fun movie. But I'll be seeing it again in order to have a harder look at the other layers. I also hope that enough folks go see this movie, so that its creator, who shows such a knack for creating characters and telling stories that illustrate "do what's right, not what's easy", will be able to do so again and again.


At 10:22 AM, Blogger Splitcat Chintzibobs said...

I am glad you enable the comments for this one. Gives me chance to reply to your next one as well. I am not sure that it is necessarily a trend. It IS hard to tell. I think you are seeing the Fiats that were always there (btw I loved that car, but it drove me crazy--the cloth on the ceiling always flapping down in your face). There are certainly a large number of movies/shows made today where the characters are celebrated for their selfishness (anything by Tarantino, Gladiator, Alexander, Friends, practically any sit-com, most TV dramas). Perhaps some movies today are better at showing the consequences of selfishness than before. There are also many movies of the past thirty years that have celebrated sacrifice: Glory, Star Wars IV and VI, The Mission, the Simpsons. I agree about Whedon's work. I finally caught a Firefly over the governor's holiday and now want to see them all and Serenity. Buffy was good at showing sacrifice and the consequences of selfishness. Unfortunately, Whedon does not include sexual appetite as part of his view of selfishness. He uses it to titilate no better than the worst of Hollywood. Maybe the movies and shows about sacrifice have been done better recently than in the past and so we notice them more.

As for your Blog-iversary, happy one. Thank you for writing. Someone also defined a writer as someone who writes. I prefer that definition. You do it very well. I am glad you are done with WOW.


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