For some time, I’ve had this intriguing idea for a play. I’m convinced it would be entertaining because I lived through the events I’d be chronicling and they were surreal, hysterical, and more than a little profound. The main reason I’ve hesitated writing it is my fear that it would hurt the real people who were involved. The chances of them seeing or reading any version of the play would be relatively slim, but it’s not a chance I’m willing to take. Today, anyway. There might come a time.
Meanwhile, I wonder how many people out there have felt the sting of seeing themselves in a less than flattering light in the mirror of the media, whether intentional or not. Here are a couple of areas I’ve been contemplating recently where that could easily happen.
One of the most successful TV advertising campaigns of late has been the “alternate” Rob Lowe commercials. The awkward, hairy, paranoid, and other bizarro Rob Lowes are simply hysterical. Although they’re all over-the-top stereotypes, they are types, after all. The world is filled with creepy and painfully awkward people. Do they recognize themselves? At least one group does, according to this Time Magazine article. (Who knew there was a “shy bladder syndrome”, never mind an advocacy group thereof?)
The one that really gets me with respect to recognizing oneself, though, is “meathead” Rob Lowe. I know this guy! If you’re honest, you probably do, too. These musclebound no-brain-no-pain dudes are everywhere, but sighted most often in fitness centers picking things up then putting them down. When this commercial plays at “Fitness World” or wherever, as it surely must, how could there not be a meathead revolt of Bolshevik proportions? Huh, Bro?
On a far more serious note, there are the neanderthal racists (excuse the slight at neanderthals – do they have an advocacy group I need to be wary of?) portrayed in disturbingly large numbers in excellent films such as “Selma”, “Glory Road”, “Mississippi Burning”, and “Remember the Titans”, to name just a small sample. Given that the actual events on which those films are based occurred only 50 years ago, give or take a decade, a lot of those bigots are still slithering around. How do they view those portrayals? I can think of a few possible reactions:
- People of such low IQ wouldn’t see quality movies. Or any movies.
- They wouldn’t understand what they saw, mistaking antagonists for “good guys” and vice versa.
- They have, since those dark days, recognized the error of their ways and look with deep regret at the characters who most resemble them.
- They grind their brown, crooked teeth as they yearn for the “good old days” when they could carry out their psychotic acts with impunity.
I get it. The whole point of a good movie is to hold up a mirror so we can see ourselves in a new and unexpected light. Not everyone is up to the task of seeing themselves as they really are. I’m reminded of the quest of Atreyu in “The Neverending Story”. At one point, the “mad scientist” Engywook has this exchange with Falcor, the Luck Dragon:
Engywook: Nonsense! You don’t understand anything! The worst [test] is coming up. Next is the Magic Mirror gate. Atreyu has to face his true self.
Falkor: So what? That won’t be too hard for him.
Engywook: Oh! That’s what everyone thinks. But kind people find that they are cruel, brave men discover that they are really cowards. Confronted with their true selves most men run away screaming!
I’ve run away screaming from many a mirror – especially in the morning – but wonder how I’d react to seeing my “true self”, i.e. the person I could be under the worst possible circumstances. Having witnessed the depths to which people can sink, I can only hope I’d do better.
May I never find out.