I’ve been slowly but surely revisiting all of my childhood stories lately, books and films and TV. I mentioned a couple of blogs ago how I’m in the process of remembering why I love to tell stories and am making my way through wonder tales, imbibing upon everything from Star Trek films to Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. (Side Note: Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here and go work for the Creature Shop. I’ll shovel muppet poo, even, I don’t care, just get me in, man, lol. But really, though……..).
I suppose I’m looking, not necessarily for any content in particular, but how to recapture a feeling. The feeling. The Neverland and Wonderland in me that’s been stomped out through years of analyzing texts and teaching other people how to do the same. I’m looking for that thing you can reach in others that has the power to change, not just hearts and minds, but All Of It. But I can’t expect others to find it if I don’t find it first within myself. As Frost once surmised, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”
I’m getting close, I think. It’s gotta be around here somewhere…
You know the problem with the films and shows we watch nowadays? They’re just…extra. Unnecessarily so. Some of these films, as epic as they are, are basically one long glorified special effect with some plot points thrown in-between to staple the thing together. This whole polarizing good vs. evil shtick has run its course this paradigm. We are starting to gravitate more and more towards complex heroes like Deadpool, sure, but like…idk, man. It’s not that serious. Not unlike the Borg, we’re all collectively adapting to the bells and whistles geared to truss up bad, essentialist, outdated storytelling. It’s a mental drive-thru dollar menu to choose from these day. The same faces, the same talking points, the same plots, the same heroes’ journeys, the same battles over and over and over and rinse repeat. I feel like audiences are getting further and further away from knowing what all those guys are all fighting so hard for and why. We go to the movies as escapism, sure, but also to reinforce the feeling we had when we were being read bedtime stories. Shared experiences re: the artifacts of storytelling create community bonds between audience and storytellers alike. It’s why I’m happy to be winding my way back to theater. There’s nothing like the breath of an audience member quite literally down your neck while you’re running lines before pummeling onstage like you hadn’t been standing there the whole time.
You know why shows like, Sanford and Son, New Girl and The Twilight Zone and The Office, or even radio shows like Paul Harvey’s, will continue to endure, despite the fact that some of their references date them? It’s because life moves episodically like these shows. There’s not one big bad piggy at the end of Angry Birds to defeat in life. You just keep leveling up. I was actually playing that again all last summer probably for the first time since it came out, and you know what? The original version is still the best. Bird in slingshot. Aim at piggies. Release. Knock down blocks. Maybe I think that because I never did have the eye-hand coordination/interest to keep up with gaming, but there’s something about a simple yet sophisticated storyline we can all to connect to where the extraordinary is made manifest in the everyday, and wonder of wonders, it’s actually within our grasp to attain.
I’ll spare you the Rodman Serling (Another Capricorn, btw, just like Alan Watts and Stan Lee) treatise on how he was a 20th century prophet, but this is just one reason why the show was so brilliant: Crazy things could happen to anyone. And when I say anyone I mean a-n-y-o-n-e. Beggar. Socialite. Secretary. Horn player. Boxer. Movie star. CEO. Mob boss. Patsy. Teacher. Kid. Astronaut. Cowboy. It didn’t matter what your status or race was even. What mattered was the caliber of your character which dictated how you handled the extenuating circumstances of occupying the 4D. The audience is just dropped into these peoples’ lives and we see them on an ordinary day going about their business the way the rest of us do. We recognize ourselves in them. We’re all just trying to get by. We’re all trying to figure out what the promised land looks like in our own lives, even if we don’t always agree on the way there (or even how to tell it’s the promised land when we arrive).
My point is that the more villainous the villain and sacrosanct the saint, it robs us of the apocryphal in-between that’s blurry and messy and full of uninformed choices and dealing with the subsequent consequences of forgetting one’s keys that day or taking the right instead of the left on the way home. We create monsters to represent/symbolize tangling with the Other, but the real monstrosity is that we still don’t know how to be neighbors with one another.
I feel like I’m not the only person looking for that feeling these days either. I feel like at the moment, there are real life monsters we have to confront that aren’t going to be showing up wearing prosthetics and bat wings, man. The sensationalized films are fine and all, but because stories are so powerful and can quite literally recalibrate lives, why aren’t we paying more attention to the specific needs of the contemporary audience at the moment which revolve around (gasp) remembering joy and pleasure and peace of mind.
There’s a reason we’re running out of such terrifying monsters. I would argue, for the moment at least, we don’t need them anymore. It’s because we don’t need to fear ourselves anymore. And as Harry Dean Stanton’s character Chancey Bellow observes in “Monster Maker,” “To get the essence of life, you have to draw from life itself. You can’t just copy it. If you copy it, you get a monster with no beauty, no life to it…If you’re gonna make creatures you’ve gotta make them so you show people their own humanity. Their own reality. That’s the responsibility of an artist—to show people themselves.”