It goes without saying that these are challenging times.
A few days back, over the course of an evening together, Michael and I began to realize some of the impact that continual coping has produced.
Seeking to discipline my psyche out of the misery that is being responsibly well-informed, I was cooking a marginally complicated dish for our evening meal while simultaneously and continuously washing dishes. Busy hands may not make light work, but concentrating enough not to burn yourself on the oven or slice yourself with a cleaver at least occupies the mind, however briefly.
Michael knows these stress-based symptoms and asked, “What can I do for you?”
I handed him the remote control and set him to do the really difficult work.
“Find. Something. Frivolous.”
When the meal was served and we were comfortable in our chairs, he hit the “play” button on a Netflix movie.
The movie began with a back-story meant to establish for us some justification for the main characters’ upcoming behavior. Having made sure that we understood said justification for the next hour or so’s events, the storyline dissolved into the present and unfolded as a cavalcade of irresponsibility, class-based ridicule, and wanton destruction of other people’s property.
It was classified as a comedy. It was listed as PG-13.
After a few minutes of weary staring at the screen, I turned to look at Michael’s face and saw there the same fatigued resignation I could feel on mine.
“Are you enjoying this?” he asked.
He pressed stop. He tried again.
The next offering was a caper. The premise here was that one group of thieves was stealing from another group of thieves. So, since all the main players were “bad guys” anyway (albeit attractive and witty…since it’s a movie), the viewer need not feel guilty for enjoying watching their dishonesty and any damage done due to their illegal shenanigans set in expensive locales.
This movie’s relentless action proceeded at its dizzying pace with notable brands featured (one suspects endorsements were involved, but one is cynical), many explosions and collisions, and an utter disregard for peripheral damage done to non-starring fictional persons. This action adventure was also listed as PG-13.
I assume that the “good” (i.e., not so bad) guys eventually won, but our two simultaneous sighs stopped this movie in its tracks, too.
“Is this bothering you, too?”
We were lucky all those years ago, Michael and I, that we found someone with whom to share perceptions. We talked for a long time in the now-darkened room about the specifics of what was bothering each of us in these films. I harked back to the many times when my family’s business property had been either burgled or vandalized, and what the personal costs of both financial loss and an eroded sense of security had been and, in my heart, remains. Michael shared some of the same experiences of my youth, and he has in his business and personal dealings been witness to the consequences of a cavalier, adolescent, “me first” attitude. We both know what happens to the real-life “extras” in these circumstances.
It will come as no shock to me if someone declares that I “take things too seriously.” I’m so familiar with the criticism I’m thinking of having it monogrammed on my hankies. We might in fact, in another era, have soldiered on looking for the release of laughter or the frisson of excitement in spite of our ethical discomfort with these films.
These days, however, asking us to forget that real people suffer real losses just like this when people act irresponsibly – particularly when those who take on power fail to shoulder their ethical responsibilities – was simply too much for us that evening.
I do not expect this heightened perception ever to change for us. You can’t un-know something.
After a while, we had said what we had to say, and Michael made a brilliant selection. It was just right, a comfort in the face of bad behavior and too-imminent dangers. It glows in my memory even now.
You should watch it yourself*, but here is the ethical summary:
“…when I first met Paddington, I wanted nothing to do with him. But my wonderful wife, she opened her heart to him, and so did my incredible children. And now I have, too. It doesn’t matter that he comes from the other side of the world, or that he’s a different species, or that he has a worrying marmalade habit. We love Paddington, and that makes him family. And families stick together. So, if you want him, you’ll have to take us all.”
This seems an appropriate guiding ideal for this week and onward, regardless of one’s age. Furthermore, it isn’t frivolous.
Take care, gentle reader. Remember your manners, and keep safe.
*As a starting point for Paddington and his exploits, I suggest https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paddington_Bear. That will give you the basics on the books, the television shows, the movies, and even the statue.