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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

WHY THE WALKING DEAD IS A GOOD METAPHOR FOR MODERN LIFE

Wow, it is a relief to have The Walking Dead back!  In the midst of an election cycle that seems to suggest that DONALD TRUMP may very well soon be the leader of the free world, it is good to be reminded that actually, things could be worse.  Like if an incurable virus swept the planet turning it into a barren, doomed, zombie-infested wasteland.  That would be worse, right?  Right???  Oh, how I love The Walking Dead.   Loooove it!!!  I do realize this genre is not exactly everybody’s cup of tea, but it has profound (albeit blood-soaked) wisdom to share about our modern world, so bear with me, nonbelievers.   This show employs a lot of good old-fashioned storytelling that appeals to a broad audience…man vs. nature, man vs. invader, man vs. man, man vs. self.  Some of what I’ve learned in 6 seasons is that a zombie apocalypse is no time for arrogance, laziness, distracted living or abstinence (way to go, Rick and Michonne!!!)...  Seriously, if you can get some, hit that RIGHT NOW.  It may be your final and only chance.  That last lesson may not be such good advice in modern society, but maybe it is?  What do I know, I’m married.  But the rest of it is pretty poignant stuff in light of our contemporary environment.  We all need to get a little humility, step up to the bar and pull our heads out of our smartphones.  It’s time, people.

The Walking Dead is a dramatic gift that keeps on giving…and taking.  Because obviously a lot of people die on that show.   And like in real life, death seems indiscriminate.  It doesn’t care how old you are, how intelligent you are, how well-intentioned you are; death comes for “good guys” and “bad guys” in equal measure.  Often I mourn the death (I’m still not over losing Dale) but just as frequently I cheer (wasn’t all that nice knowing you, Shane, Merle et al).    We are constantly asked to grapple with the notion that one man’s hero is another man’s villain: this speaks directly to our current political environment.  On Walking Dead, tribes of survivors become a stand-in for modern day political movements.  Some tribes want to make the world a viable place for all; others only have concern for their own.  One of the most interesting things addressed on the show is that in spite of the stalwart nature of character in general, there is, by necessity, a more fluid nature to behavior.  In other words, “good” people do “bad” things and vice versa.  And again, as in life, there are enemies both within the walls and without.

 I am not going to steal anybody’s material here, but if you have not seen Louis C.K. explain why releasing lions into the streets would be a good antidote to the problems we are facing, I give you permission to go to YouTube right now and look that up.  The man is a genius, seriously.  And substitute the word “zombie” for “lion” and it all works just as well.  You can keep that one, Louis!  You the man!!!   In early seasons, the zombie-plague DID seem to represent a divine “culling of the herd”; only the strong (and those the strong chose to protect) survived.  But now survival has morphed into a more allegorical and metaphysical challenge.  The first half of this season we were treated to an absolutely brilliant treatise on the nature of humanity in “He’s Not Here”, where we learned about Morgan’s journey from protective Dad and heartbroken husband to fractured loner to Zen warrior.  We all start life from the perspective of wanting comfort and family and if those dreams aren’t realized (or get taken away by circumstance) the instinct IS to go rogue; dismiss the importance of connection and focus on the undoing of our “enemies”.  Based on the amount of violence we have been seeing in the real world, I would say there are a lot of people in this space.  But Morgan’s life lesson came in the form of a teacher who had lost even bigger than he did, enacted revenge more horribly and learned the hard way that cruelty and violence against others is no succor for the soul.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

One of the most fascinating things the show reminds us of is that those decisions between self-interest and global interests are frequently made minute-to-minute.  We see the better instincts of our “tribe” constantly being challenged, by both the environment and the divisive behaviors of others.  Our expectations are continually tested; we root for the survival of the people we identify with at ANY cost.  At the same time we are confronted with the reality that even the most bleak and desperate situation retains an element of hope.  Morgan’s moral mandate to respect life was recently questioned not only by a seemingly amoral prisoner, but also his own comrade-in-arms, Carol.  Again, the enemies are both within the walls and without, which is an excellent lesson for people who think walls solve problems, btw. Morgan wanted to break the grip that moral apathy had taken on the prisoner’s mind; Carol saw Morgan’s behavior as dangerous to their tribe.  So who was right?  At first it appeared that Carol had called it, when the captive escaped, taking a hostage of his own…who he subsequently died trying to save.  His motives were deliberately left cloudy, but the message was delivered:  sometimes “why” is not the important question.  Our ability to overcome our indifference to the plight of others and take action on their behalf should never be impugned.  Because indifference to the plight of others IS the epidemic of our time.

The point that The Walking Dead (and I) are making is this…we need to wake up and start identifying with the other “survivors” to work together for the greater good.  We are living in a time of scary climate change and escalating natural disasters, partisan division and vitriol unparalled in our history except during the civil war and chaotic, distracted, abstract, “viral” contact with even our nearest and dearest.  Yes, there is an epidemic in our country, and while it may not cause us to eat each other’s brains just yet, we are inching dangerously closer every day.  The callous disregard displayed in the refugee crisis, the targeting of Muslims and yes, the talk of building “walls” all speaks to an unsettling detachment from the well-being of the brotherhood of man.  We need to look each other in the eye and hear each other's voices so as to not be “infected” by moral apathy.  Our technology apocalypse has removed us from our inner compass as we abdicate more and more of our human  experience to perfected sound bites. Technology allows us to voyeuristically observe both the victimization and “zombification” of our fellow man with more and more detachment.  Do we leave our brothers behind and save ourselves?  Or do we band together to try to create a more beautiful sense of communion against insurmountable odds?  Tune in to AMC, Sundays at 9 to find the answer.
 
 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Why I am No Longer Bewitched

When I was a kid, I loved the show “Bewitched”.   Actually, when I was a kid I loved TV, period.  Too many shows captured my attention to name, and the fantasy of living on an island making coconut cream pies seamlessly merged with my desire to wear harem pants and turn into a puff of pink smoke at the blink of an eye.  But “Bewitched” was a very particular favorite, mainly because I wanted to be Samantha, at least as played by Elizabeth Montgomery, when I grew up.  Samantha was beautiful, smart and had excellent values and priorities, especially considering the fact that she was a witch.  A devoted wife and mother with nary a hair out of place (unless it would be very funny for her hair to be out of place, then Samantha might comically blow air up at her messy bangs, as if that would solve the problem), Sam never came up short.  Samantha Stephens could and would solve any problem, and much of the time she’d solve it without the use of her magical powers.   Just a regular problem solving machine she was, and always with dinner on the table for her man!  A gorgeous, competent, devoted wife and mother, I absolutely adored her and wanted to be just like her.

Samantha was married to a mere mortal named Darrin Stephens, at first played as an angry and frazzled man by Dick York.  What Darrin had to be angry or frazzled about I’ll never know, but he had an avuncular yet overbearing boss and Samantha’s magically interfering relatives to deal with, much to his ire.  Samantha’s mother, a fabulous creature named Endora, distained Darrin and his churlishness, telegraphing her disrespect with every new mispronunciation of his name.   The essential war between them was one for control…control of Samantha and dominion over her magic.  As played by York, Darrin was a fumbling and crude Frankenstein of fury, often rendered speechless by the shenanigans of his enchanted extended family; but always, Samantha was able to smooth over his rough edges and soothe his wounded pride, and in the end all was well between them.  A problem solver, that Sam!  Later, Darrin was recast and Dick Sargent took over the role, providing a more urbane and sarcastic foil to Endora and her various cohorts (my first clue that gay men are better company than straight ones!), but the theme remained the same…in order to retain Darrin’s love and provide a stable and “normal” home environment for their children, Samantha had to give up her magical powers.  Never minding the fact that it was eventually revealed both of their children had inherited supernatural abilities as well!  Sam kept the ship on course, no matter what the obstacle.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE!  THIS was my “role model”???  THIS was the woman I hoped to be when I grew up???  A woman who was born to a culture of unlimited mystical powers and complete authority over the elements, but GAVE IT UP in order to be a proper wife and mother???  Holy CRAP!  Sol Saks, what kind of devil ARE you?  Come to think of it, Sidney Sheldon, what is UP with Major Nelson keeping Jeannie in her bottle all the time so she doesn’t annoy him with her desire to fulfill his wishes???   And HEY, Hans Christian Anderson!!!  Why should the Little Mermaid give up her voice and walk on knives for the rest of her life for a DUDE???  Notice when the proverbial shoe is on the other foot—say, Samson and Delilah—the woman who convinces the man to give up his special powers is branded as E-V-I-L.  In fact, the name Delilah means “she who weakened or impoverished” (fun fact for anyone who has ever considered that name for a girl).  So from a very young age, I prepped to believe that in order to be a good and valuable woman, I had to give up my powers (Samantha), my freedom (Jeannie) and my voice (the little mermaid)…but if I asked a man to give up anything for me, I was a real bitch.  Huh.   Huh, really?  Sometimes there is nothing to say, right Ariel?  Nothing to say at all.

Except I’d still like to look like Elizabeth Montgomery.  Damn, she was a beautiful lady.
And you know what?  I actually have PLENTY to say about this.  One thing that strikes me as an adult is that Samantha’s relatives, who were constantly cajoling her to return to her essence and power, were painted as “the bad guys”.  True love was the epitome of accomplishment for a girl like Sam, birthright be damned!  Sacrifice is the order of the day, sacrifice your power, and subjugate who you are or you are not loveable!  You are not worthy of the peak experience of approval.  A powerful woman is an aberration that needs to be brought into line, stat.  And do you think I am the only girl who heard this message?   I certainly look around and see Jeannie’s aplenty, woman who are caught in the “bottle” of their own sexuality and body image, women who vamp and preen like porn stars at a Mardi Gras parade, because they believe that their beauty is their power.  But it is a power that is handed over to men to judge as worthy, and a power with a shelf life that does not encompass a healthy life span (R.I.P. Marilyn Monroe).   We all know Ariel, the friend who would “never say that” to her Mother or “never ask that” of her husband, the woman who believes that voicing her opinions and desires is the death of acceptance.  But the larger question remains:  how many Samanthas are out there?  How many women gave up their power for convention?  How many times has the call to return to power been ignored, or worse yet, vilified?  Interesting to consider:  when Superman gave up his powers for Lois Lane, they both quickly realized that Lois wasn’t in love with Clark Kent.  She was in love with Superman, and all the magic and mayhem his abilities brought with them.  Can a man love a woman, not in spite of the fact that she is a witch, but because of it?  Can a woman love herself, while accepting with grace that she is a creature with power, freedom and a voice?  Or will we always be bewitched?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why The Sound of Music is My Favorite Film (and should be yours too)

If you are reading this, but for some reason have not yet seen The Sound of Music, stop.  Stop what you are doing right now and go to your Netflix account, or Red Box, or your local library, or wherever it is you go when it is time to see a movie.  Because it is time to see a movie, my friend.  It is way past time you see The Sound of Music.  Not because it won an Academy Award for best picture.  Lots of awful movies have won the Academy Award for best picture, Forrest Gump.  Not because it is considered a “classic”.  Lots of boring movies are considered classics, Jazz Singer.  No, you should drop everything you are doing right now (which is reading a blog, so you obviously have some time on your hands) and watch The Sound of Music immediately because it is simply the best movie ever made. 

Do you doubt this?  Perhaps you do, because who am I to be making such a sweeping pronouncement anyhow?  But I can back up my pronouncement with FACTS, not opinions, which may allow you to see the irrefutable truth about this film.  Starting with 1) Julie Andrews sings in it.  JACKPOT, am I right?  Any film that features Julie Andrews singing is instantly elevated to top contender status, because when Julie Andrews sings, you are listening to the voice of God.  The Heavenly Host.  The entire Choir of Angels, in one person.  She is just that good.  If you question this, you have obviously never heard Julie Andrews sing, or else you are insane.  So there could be that.  But also, the songs she sings in this film are just 100% suited to her voice.  If ever Julie Andrews voice has been married so perfectly with the tunes she is singing, I would like to hear about it.  I have a soft spot for the vocal gymnastics of “The Lonely Goatherd”, but ALL of the songs showcase her perfect voice perfectly.
2)  Christopher Plummer is smoking hot.  SMOKING hot.  This is empirical and cannot be denied by any human with eyes that see.  However, as an aside, and this is just my opinion, The Sound of Music represents the pinnacle of his hotness.  Now, this man has been in so many movies it would be difficult to track the exact peak of his empirical gorgeousness, but I defy you to find a movie where he is any more beautimus than he is here.  I think it’s the high boots and the short jackets.  And the whistle.  And the way he falls madly, smolderingly in love with Julie Andrews even though she dresses like a dork and wears her hair in a Peter Pan haircut.  Also, he sings!  Not Julie Andrews caliber singing, but well enough to make his case complete.  Yowza, he BURNS it up.

3)  The plot of the movie is so crammed with story gold, there is actually enough material for TWO great movies, not just one.  You heard that right.  The thing that actually makes The Sound of Music better than any movie ever made is the fact that it is the gift that just keeps on giving, long after all other movies have petered out.  This is not a function of length.  There are plenty of great movies that are longer (hi there, Gone With the Wind!) and plenty of stupid, boring ass movies that are longer (sorry, Titanic).  This is a function of the fact that just when this movie has come to an absolutely beautiful and satisfying conclusion, a second plot string begins that is equally as interesting and captivating as the first.  You would think that a free spirited nun who is essentially ejected from the abbey into the arms of a lonely widower with seven (!!!!!!!) children is enough of a movie, and you would be right.  With the gorgeous, scheming baroness as foe, Maria not only wins over the difficult and prickly brood from preschooler to teen, but woos this impossibly sexy man right out from under the nose of her wealthy competition.  Did not see that coming, right?  Plus there’s singing!  And dancing!  And a big wedding finale!  SWOON!
But The Sound of Music doesn’t stop there, where any ordinary movie would be over and out.  An ordinary movie would think, “I’ve given you singing, dancing, romance, marionettes, disapproving nuns, adorable children and clothing made out of drapes…you have had enough fun for a lifetime!”  And the ordinary movie would be right.  You got your money’s worth and can go to bed happy.  So realize: this is NO ORDINARY MOVIE.  Just when you think it has no more to give, it rolls out the NAZIS.  And the SINGING COMPETITION.  And more NUNS, this time fully approving and behaving badly themselves.  And a heartbreaking BETRAYAL.  And finally, a daring ESCAPE.  Another ENTIRE movie worth of goodness, people!!!  It’s two, two, two treats in one!  It simply doesn’t get any better than this.

For these reasons, and many, many more that are just a product of my opinion and not the cold hard facts I have presented you with here, The Sound of Music is my very favorite film of all time.  My “desert island movie”.  A movie I have watched at least once for every year of my life on this planet and will continue to watch for every year God blesses me with in the future.  But, even the best movie ever made cannot be 100% perfect.  Just to prove to you that I have perspective and am not being swayed by the slightest hint of sentimentality, there is a flaw in this film.  A flaw with a silver lining, but a flaw nevertheless.  Here it is, haters:  Mother Superior singing “Climb Every Mountain”.  Yeah, it stops the perfection dead in its tracks.  Just long enough, however, for you to go to the bathroom and get a snack.  So you can watch the rest of the glory with a full stomach and an empty bladder.  Ah, bliss!