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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Why "Fantasy Island" was Right!

If nothing else, Facebook is FAT with quizzes. 

What TV Mom are you? (Samantha Stephens!) What funny lady are you? (Liz Lemon!)  What song are you? (Wild Thing!)  What kind of booze are you? (Gin???)  More often than not I pre-emptively refuse to take a quiz, like the one which promised to calculate my ACTUAL age by my taste in music.  Everyone I saw got a flattering number, but based on the Burt Bacharach, John Denver and E.L.O. I have in perpetuity on my car’s sound system, I figured mine would hover in the neighborhood of 100. 

This is the “time suck” factor people speak of when they talk smack about FB (although, to be fair, the quizzes usually take all of three minutes.  That’s how you KNOW they are clinically accurate!)  Recently I saw a welcomed break from all these quizzes:  a POLL.  Fresh!  The question:  what TV show would you like to live in?  (GILMORE GIRLS!!!  I would fit right in to Stars Hollow!  If the people of Stars Hollow all swore like drunken sailors.)  One person, a stranger to me, chose Fantasy Island.  A choice to which my friend David Jay wisely remarked, “Are you kidding me?  Almost all of the “fantasies” on Fantasy Island go badly awry!” 

True ‘dat.

Every one of my generation knows the show Fantasy Island, unless they are Amish.  Paired with The Love Boat (best product placement EVER, Princess Cruise lines!) on ABC Saturday nights, this was the perfect nightcap to a long day spent watching cartoons, playing outside and making our parents wish for a 6 day school week.  Even my folks, who were notoriously strict about our media input, let us watch these shows.  Mainly because Saturday night also tended to be cocktail night or date night, I suspect. 

But no matter!  Always a thrill when the iconic voice of Tattoo signaled the arrival of the new victims (I mean guests) at this tropical paradise.  It looks really good at first:  leis and cocktails (not the kind my parents drank—they preferred Manhattans) and Ricardo Montalban in an impeccable white suit; what could go wrong?  But these paying customers usually leave a little sadder, a little wiser and without what they came for—unless they end up dead. 

Hey, it happened!
Not to go off topic, but I saw the movie Jurassic World (it takes place on a tropical island too!) and as things started to go bad, as they inevitably do in any Frankenstein-inspired tale, one of the characters shakes his head and says, “They never learn”.  What do they never learn?  Don’t go messing with stuff you have no business messing with; anything that smacks of time travel, even if only accomplished in a strictly controlled environment, usually has catastrophic results and BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!  

All of these lessons are well taught by Mr. Rourke on Fantasy Island, too.  In the vast majority of cases, the victims (I mean, guests) show up with a very clear idea of what they think they want and often a well-organized plan for how they think they will get it.  Mr. Rourke is the very excellent father figure who gently suggests these plans might still be abandoned but always lets his “children” learn their own lessons.  In other words, Mr. Rourke would have shaken his head in dismay at John Hammond’s plan to clone dinosaurs, but he would not have stopped him.  Mr. Rourke believes in free will and destiny!  He is so deep!

There seemed to be very little Mr. Rourke could not provide, but one thing he made clear to his guests was that once the fantasy was set in motion, he would be unable to intervene. We were never 100% sure this was true; for example, he was once able to save Tattoo from a rather hare-brained exploit during a birthday fantasy gone horribly wrong.  But very much like the parent who says “If I let you get a dog, it will be your responsibility”, almost always he allowed people to experience the full consequence of their decisions. 

This was the delicious irony of the show:  people came to the island looking for an external intervention that would change life for the better, but more frequently learned it was the internal life that was the real problem.  Arrogance, aggression and abdication of personal responsibility always had the direst of outcomes.  Most of all, the guests were taught that if you are not okay with yourself to begin with, there is nothing you can add to your outside that will make it any better. 

So Fantasy Island was right:  be careful what you wish for.  A myriad of studies has confirmed that once our basic needs are met, there is no dollar amount or success level that guarantees happiness.  We have all had the experience of having a dream-come-true that didn’t bring with it the satisfaction or joy we had imagined it would.  Like visitors to the island, we save our pennies and work towards our desires, often with eyes so firmly fixed on the end-game that we miss a lot of the fun in getting there. 

We all have our fantasies of how we would like life to be; fortunately, unlike the guests on the show, we have an infinite number of opportunities to course correct and re-prioritize.  The whole world can be your “fantasy island” if you remember to stop and smell the roses.  The late, great Iris Murdoch once wrote:  “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” 

So don’t wish your life away; become mad with joy NOW.  There are flowers everywhere.  And even a tropical drink, if you’d care for one.