Wanted: Listless Heroine

I recently accidentally read the plot summary of a book whose title is not worth remembering. It was in the teenage angst genre which is a sub-genre of young adult fiction (this is not a real sub-genre, but it definitely could be)

It chronicled one girl’s journey to her identity via a challenging choice between two attractive, wealthy, callous – but deep, non-human males. Also half her family had died.

Would that this was a rarity in fantasy fiction.I believe fantasy is a great genre for exposing real world issues. But the fantasy of orphanhood setting you free to be independent while two supernatural humans being are attracted to one average girl is something we need to get past. Not only because it’s absurd, but because it creates in women a feeling that “average” is something to settle for, or as it’s showcased, aspire to.

Specially Average

In fad terms average is the new “unique”. Don’t misunderstand me, everyone is unique. Sometimes so unique that it comes full circle back to being common, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important to find out what’s special about you and make it your own.

Don’t let what makes you unique be your ability to emulate a blank slate. Don’t settle for being the woman things happen to. Be the event maker, the doer, the person of interest in the room. And for goodness sake, don’t expect interesting, sensitive, intelligent, sexy men to find your dull, listless, expressionless self, interesting.

Don’t misunderstand. If you’re quiet, shy, an introvert, this does not make you dull. A lot of research on introversion has shown that many introverts are deep wells of interest. Regardless of your introversion, your extroversion, your sense of humor, your intelligence level, your ability to get things done, you can still be a person “of” something. Be a person of thought, of feeling, of passion, of focus, of dreams, of intent, but be a person of SOMETHING. Not everyone may find it interesting, but that’s their loss. You’re looking for the gems that find you interesting because you ARE INTERESTING.

If you’re reading a book or a watching a movie ask yourself this question “Why do they love each other?” If the answer is “he’s hot” and “she’s human” consider whether this is really a relationship you wish to emulate.

Teenage Drama

In addition to a silly heroine with no discernible judgment, this is a story set to revolve around two boys with our heroine’s deceased family functioning as background plot device.

What?

Right there in the synopsis you find that half her family has died. I don’t know how big her family is, but half of anything is a lot. And yet, it only sets the drama for the romantic tale to ensue.

You know how it is. You family dies and a cute guy or two comes around. Let’s focus on that instead. This, in counseling circles, would be thought of as a poor coping mechanism. It’s certainly not reflective of the mourning cycle of most average teen girls.

In reality, your family is one of the largest single factors in what makes you, you. This influence, or the loss of it is in no way shape or form glancing, or easily resolved with eye candy. And to imply to teenage girls that life is more interesting because of romance than because of complex familial relationships is a tragedy that can only pave the way for disappointment in all future relationships.

Competitive Worth

By far the most grievous offense that teen romance lit has thrust upon us is the idea that a love triangle is common in life. It’s not. It’s really, really not. And a woman’s self worth is not to be found in the quantity nor quality of men competing for her person.

You are not a bride to be bought with camels, and you are not a valuable human because two men desire you. You’re valuable because you’re you. In your desires, your dreams, your hopes, your ambitions, your aspirations, in who you are as a person, the history that has shaped you, the adversity you have faced, the obstacles you have handled, you are valuable.

It’s long time that women put to rest the idea that our interest, our uniqueness, our worth is found in what men may think of us sexually. That couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth, and in this regard, perhaps its perfect home is in the fantasy genre, the best place for unreality.

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Terminally Ill Romances Make Me Sick (Part II)

I’ve known a few people going through terrible times in life. Sometimes they’ve been young, sometimes they’ve been old. Very rarely have they been on the cusp of a romance.

Generally speaking, there’s something about illness that doesn’t lend itself to the dramatic. I think mostly it’s exhaustion. Who has the energy for the “do they like me” and other extremes of emotions when basic surviving is at stake?

Which is why romance films centered around sick people makes me sick. It’s definitely a Hollywood disease to to give romance a disproportionate role in someone’s life. Romance, according to the movies, is the thing that brings you back to life, renews your energy, gives you faith in beauty again, gives you hope, a future, etc, etc, etc. Romance has a exalted status in our society, it’s the high ideal we believe worth striving for. A sense of togetherness and communion that we think can only be achieved by a successful romance. It’s what gives life meaning and purpose: to be loved extravagantly by one other human. But it’s missing the point, and it’s a horrible standard by which to measure your own life.

It’s an especially poor standard to give sick people. Sure, they may have a supportive family, a loving family, a mother that dotes, a sister that sacrifices, a brother that entertains, a father that carries them, but do they have a boyfriend/girlfriend? They’re probably missing out if they don’t. At least that’s what I’ve learned from terminally ill romances.

Deifying romance is dangerous under the best of circumstances. Pitting illness against romantic love is abhorrent. It’s bad enough to be sick, let alone having to feel like your life is missing yet another component because you’re not dateable or marriageable because of something you can’t control.

Sure, romances for the terminally ill sounds like a nice idea in theory, the fluffy notion that “love strikes at any time!” And the staunch romanticism of “everyone should be loved!” Both of which are true axioms, but their placement in these situations only serves to add glamor to love and to signify that without it, you’re, well, without love.

But this is far from reality in many situations. Truth is that there can be advantages to being sick. It brings those who were close in closer and those who only wanted to pretend intimacy to go away all together. It makes moments with those you love that much sweeter. And it may be surprising to discover how many people you can love when you’re not caught in a romance movie trope. Which is why this trope is so very harmful. Instead of applauding the myriad of non-sexual relationships in someone’s life, relationships that are sweetened by loss and adversity, it creates a situation that drives home the point that meaning and purpose and happiness in life can only be found in a romantic situation. Souring an already sour situation.

Being ill is not easy, it’s not nice, it’s not good. And it’s not a fairy tale that needs to be sold with romance to support life having meaning. People are so much more than their illness or their romantic relationships.

Terminally Ill Romances Make Me Sick (Part I)

Movies can fetishize a lot of things that in real life are less fun: klutzes, jumbotrons, romantic stalking, etc, but by far one of the most horrific fetishized tropes is sick people.

There’s a huge market for romances where someone dies of cancer, a bad (see “broken”) heart, or perhaps a terribly obscure incurable disease. The common storyline is that our sick person is eccentric, well-loved, and coming to terms with death (in an offbeat, adorable way). Their healthy love interest is at a loss, perhaps listless, uncertain of the future, and timid. Alternatively, they could be wealthy, preoccupied with status and their own self-importance achieved through busyness and technology. Through loving each other they are able to blah, blah, blah, (s)he dies at the end.

Rarely, if ever does this trope really work in a way that brings dignity to those who suffer with chronic illness without making them a strict moralizing influence for the sake of the bored and healthy.

For film story structure, it’s the equivalent of a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who meets a wealthy snob. The poverty-stricken is the unblemished sacrifice so the wealthy can gain a soul. In a cancer movie, it’s just more mortally revolting.

There’s a good deal of adventure to be had along the way as the healthy person assists in last wishes of the sick and falls in love with their life, their spirit while simultaneously feeling jealous because they just can’t manage to live their own life to the full.

Also at several points along the way our sick hero(ine) will have any number of profound phrases to bestow on our life-novice who’s just now figured out that perhaps it’s time to take living seriously. But how could anyone be expected to figure that out without the assistance of the dying?

Equally disgusting is the way we’ve glamorized visuals of cancer with fashionable baldness that never seems to stunt the eyelashes nor make a dint in the eyebrows. Similarly, they may be wasting away to nothing, but in an enviable way. Is cancer all it takes to get thin? Who said that anorexia isn’t a fetching in the right environment. Cancer pale is the new heroin chic, too. The sick look just sick enough to appear otherworldly and enlightened but never sick enough to dull the romance of their mission to rescue the healthy.

Watching these movies gives the watcher a kind of feeling that they wish they too could suffer in an important way  and through their sacrifice bring some (wo)man to redemption. But suffering isn’t a romantic prop, and it’s not a ministry to the well. The healthy should perhaps expend a little more of their own energy on discovering how to live life to the full and stop leaning the full weight of the importance of life on the already weakened.

The Nicest Guy

There’s a lot of negative things that have been said about so-called “nice guys”. And there’s been some assertions that nice guys don’t actually really exist at all. It’s just a ruse to lure women into a false sense of security. I have one thing to say to that, and honestly it probably helps support the assertion.

Bill Pullman.

Or should I say Jack?

Of all the celebrated lovers of the screen, few are more fondly regarded and longed for than Jack of While You Were Sleeping.

If you need an education in the psyche of romance, this movie hits a lot of the right notes. It destroys most female notions of “the perfect guy” and supplants it with the “right” guy.  Jack is nice. He’s responsible, he’s mature, he’s protective, he’s considerate, he’s quiet. And yet he’s never boring. I know, unfair comparison. Next to a comatose man anyone looks interesting.

Here’s the kicker. Did Lucy start out by falling in love with Jack? No. She thought she loved Peter. Boy, was she wrong. He looked like everything she wanted and she couldn’t have been luckier that he never noticed her at all.

This can happen in life all too frequently, to women AND men. You like what you like until you realize what you thought you liked isn’t anything like what you really like. Sometimes we want the ideal, not a person. It’s why so many “nice” people get missed.

Yes, Nice Guys. Some women don’t get it right off the bat. Some women think they like the shiny successful, super attractive, confident jerks. And some women…actually DO like these types (we’re weird that way, in that we’re all very different from each other).

But honestly, women are looking for Jacks. Someone who cares about them, listens to their dreams, walks them home across an icy sidewalk, protects them from “the lean”, and knows old fashioned methods for moving sofas (“push it really hard”).

In fact, the only downfall in the entire movie that Jack has, is not owning up to what he wants. He’s too nice. One of the fundamental problems with being nice is that you’re afraid to make waves, too afraid to brave disappointment. Niceness risks nothing. It settles.

So realize with Jack that sometimes it’s okay to say, “you suck”. Even if you’re not sure if it’s the person or the outfit that sucks.

Rom-Com Dreams

I’ve only seen about a thousand romantic comedies in my life. It’s not all of them, but it’s a sizeable chunk out of the genre. And it’s certainly enough to know exactly how I’d want my life to be like a RomCom.

  • I don’t need an Indie music montage.
  • I don’t want to cry in front of strangers while declaring my love.
  • I’m not interested in having a bitter sexually aggressive best friend or a quirky irresponsible little sister.
  • I don’t have the nagging mother, the indulgent father, the pet cat, or the adorable vehicle (anymore).
  • I don’t want the high paying job that requires seemingly minimal time at work and endless opportunities to go to black tie balls, meet wealthy bachelors, and engage in crazy shenanigans like tipping over a tower of champagne flutes.
  • I have no plans to live in New York, L.A., or travel to some place exotic on a crazy whim using all the credit on my card.
  • I won’t kid you that I don’t want the leading man. Let’s face it, if I had a meet-cute with [Insert your favorite leading man here]  I’d let that little story play out as far as it would go.

But what I DO resonate with is that apartment. That quirky, colorful, aged and worn but happy yellow patchwork apartment. And the giant wine glasses, and the seemingly endless supply of wine. Yeah. At the beginning of the movie when our heroine is puttering around her apartment all alone and we’re supposed to feel sorry for her, all I can think is how can she waste that amazing opportunity??

In an hour and a half she’s going to be selling it, moving in with some boy she kind of knows, but let’s face it, doesn’t really understand, and goodbye apartment, goodbye solo wine drinking, late nights watching A Roman Holiday and eating lasagna in bed.

The next time we see her she’s going to be playing a dramatic lead in some film about the complexities and perils of married life and how difficult it is (think Kate Winslet from The Holiday to Revolutionary Road). She has absolutely no idea how good she has it at this exact moment. Her clothes thrown about the place, and the apartment being so much of her own identity that the second the audience sees it they know who she is. And here comes this guy and sure, he’s suave and attractive, and charming, and adorable. And he’s probably an architect. Or he makes furniture. Or he’s a puppy doctor. But isn’t he mostly just hair gel and a smile in a pastel blue sweater and well fitting jeans?

So anyway, my point is, the real romance of rom-coms is the single life that’s unappreciated. Take time, my friends, to appreciate puttering and lazing, dance parties for one, drinking wine in the tub, and the occasional late-night impulse decision.

Seize the quirky solo nights my friends, while you’ve got them.

“That’s Not a Knife” and Male Confidence

Last night I was watching in a black hole of youtube clips and I came across the clip from the first Crocodile Dundee (because we needed more than one of these) movie where Dundee thwarts a mugger. The famous “that’s a knife” scene.

If you’re unfamiliar, Crocodile Dundee is a fish out of water movie where an Australian more comfortable in the Outback comes to New York because of a beautiful New York reporter and has no trouble adapting to the big harsh city because his knife is bigger than yours. The scene starts with our New York heroine being terrified, and our hero being surprised by the mugger, but in an amused way, like how you respond when your drunk friend starts singing in public.

Despite Sue, our heroine being terrified, she keeps her wits, “Give him your wallet, Mick.”

“What for?”

“He’s got a knife.” She says with growing terror.

“That’s not a knife.” Mick says, scoffing at our mugger — TO HIS FACE. He then pulls his own knife out of a sheath strapped to his back and branishes it in front of the mugger’s face. “That’s a knife,” he says.

He slashes up the mugger’s horrifically vinyl? pleather? jacket.  The mugger runs, presumably just embarrassed to be exposed as someone with awful taste in jacket quality.

Mick turns to Sue, and says, “just kids having fun. You all right?”

She swoons, if not physically then verbally when she utters, “I’m always alright when I’m with you, Dundee.”

It’s a gem of an 80s scene: total camp and silliness. If I had left it at just that, it’s all it would remain. Alas. I love reading youtube comments, it’s such a fascinating look at people that share your same viewing habits, and this was no exception. The one comment that really caught my eye was from someone asserting that “women love guys with big knives”.

Naturally, I blushed at his (clearly a man wrote it) assessment of women. It was so obvious that Sue got all hot and bothered because Mick had a big knife, and as all women know, the bigger the knife wielded, the bigger the penis of the knife holder, and really that’s all women are impressed by.

Oh sigh.

Trouble is, I do like the scene though. And I do think of Mick Dundee as being very manly. Am I really sure that it’s not his knife euphemism that’s the draw? But the more I thought about it, because honestly when you’re just watching youtube videos until 1 am your mind really wanders, I reckoned there was a completely different, more compelling element at play.

It’s the “no worries” of it all. Mick’s a master of de-escalation. There’s nothing more comforting than being around someone who’s not bothered. This is an amazing quality that gives Mick a distinctly reassuring vibe. Everywhere he goes he’s interested in having people chill out. Even animals blocking the entire road just fall to the ground sedated. It’s such a refreshing change from the manic American approach to masculinity which seems to be centered around who has the most intense gun collection and who can get into a fistfight first.

But this is always the trick, confidence sits back and waits, it doesn’t feel the need to rush to action. Confidence sits and listens and then reacts.

The truth is that confidence in a man or a woman is incredibly sexy because it’s calm, focused, interested but not combative.

Confidence means you have a knife strapped to your back because you recognize a knife as a useful tool, not because you need a way to protect women on a New York street.

Confidence  also means, apparently wearing a crocodile vest in public. I don’t understand the full rules of confidence myself, and I’m definitely not at that advanced 80s level.

Or hey, maybe it is about the knife. Maybe it’s just really cool to see an Australian in crocodile boots pull a giant knife out of a special knife sheath on his back (that I didn’t even know was a real thing until this movie), and it’s the movies, and knives and Australians are cool. Maybe it’s that. Who knows?

Romance: the Quicksand of Adulthood

“I always thought that quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be. Because if you watch cartoons, quicksand is like the third biggest thing you have to worry about in adult life…” is part of John Mulaney’s intro in his comedy special New in Town.

For me, romance is what my childhood and adolescence billed as one of the most essential aspects of an adult life. According to all the media I consumed, romance was a crucial, critical, life-changing, recurring phenomenon. Since as a hormonal teen you’re already obsessing about your dating life or non-dating life, the external reinforcement of this fixation doesn’t help.

I voraciously read the entirety of the church’s library, which as any other church-going woman knows, is dedicated to Christian couples finding love. Sure, they find God along the way, but the plot ends with romantic culmination. God’s part of the journey, sure, but romantic fulfillment is the happily ever after God promises, or whatever.

Maybe it would have been different if outside my fictional favorites this concept hadn’t been reinforced by friends and adults throughout these years. It’s a concept we (as a culture) start enforcing at a very young age. Pairing toddlers up as “boyfriend and girlfriend”, teasing girls about cooties, asking pre-teens who their boyfriends or girlfriends are, obsessing over when you’ll get your first kiss, the fear of looking like a loser if you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

When you’re a teenager questions about your love life are as ubiquitous as questions about the weather, and almost as interchangeable in terms of how they affect you: either ruining your day or transforming it miraculously.

I spent hours of my life, in class, creating wedding dresses with my immature artistic talent. Hours planning weddings with doves flying and the appropriate number of bridesmaids. I spent probably decades of life doodling new signatures with different boys’ last names. I wrote notes to friends, we made hasty stupid calls to boys we liked, and came up with every excuse under the sun to get cute boys to talk to us. My friends even organized dances in our small Dutch town (gasp!) to get some decent flirting opportunities in.

It’s hard not to be boy crazy when your entire environment supports this perspective. The scholastic calendar year resolves around three things: the Tolo dance in fall, the Junior and Senior Banquet in spring, and then summer vacation where you are free to obsess about how to get boys to notice you next year. Maybe by tanning, or if you’re lucky, growing bigger boobs over those months.

And yet, I find that as an adult, 99% of my life has nothing to do with romance. The 1% that does have something to do with romance is probably dedicated to watching Pride and Prejudice and When Harry Met Sally once every year. I actually spend most of my time trying to be a functioning human being, holding down a paying job, and being a decent friend and family member.

It’s weird to me now that I expected something from life that turned out to be utterly absent from my life. It’s like discovering quicksand probably won’t be a real life concern I have to deal with. It’s almost shocking how much of life I’ve handled and experienced without romantic love to cloud the scenery. It’s remarkable how much life I’ve managed to enjoy without romance guiding the way.

Every so often it dawns on me that I’m short a romantic sub-plot, and it catches me off guard because how can I be missing something that “great”? Where’s the obvious gap in my life where romance is supposed to go? Even in a TV show like ER romance was a prominent subplot. If it’s not inescapable for busy medical professionals, how is it possible I’ve got such a dearth of it?

The way I figure it is like this: I realized at some point that marriage wasn’t a guarantee for me. I don’t know what the odds are on my successful romancing, but since I knew it wasn’t going to be a sure thing I decided pretty early that I was going to put my energy to the things that mattered for me.

Hell, maybe that’s even the arthritis talking. I have a finite amount of energy anyway, I can’t afford to waste any of it on “I hope something magical happens.”

It’s surprising the sides of yourself you can discover when you’re not worried about landing a male lead in your life. Although the female Indiana Jones of archaeology dream has died, I’ve had the chance to supplant others in its place.

The pursuit of marriage isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. It’s the pursuit of romance I’ve had to wean myself from. You know in the 31 years I’ve been alive, almost all of the people I haven’t been romantically interested in have been the best people I’ve ever met.

Or put another way, I’ve met more great friends than I have romantic futures.

I know a lot of people desire romance, desire a romance that leads to marriage, and I’m not trying to knock romantic literature (that’s for another blog post) or romance movies (again, another post), but I am trying to say that it’s good to every once in awhile remove ourselves from environments that saturate our minds with romantic fantasies.  It’s important to remember that the bulk of your life is lived outside of romance,

Don’t let pining for romance take away the value of the life you’ve got.  Because in this case, romance is like adult quicksand. Don’t get sucked into the void that fiction can promise.

The Review No One Wanted

This goes out to the two people who asked me why I hated La La Land so much. I’m sure you’re regretting that now.

I’ve loved musicals since I saw Singin’ in the Rain the first time as a kid. The singing, the dancing, the sets, the costumes, the actors. I loved everything about musicals and I’ve watched them feverishly since then. Bollywood’s enhanced dramatics are just as irresistible. So when La La Land came out naturally the assumption was that I would love this movie.

Modern singing, dancing, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, what could be there to dislike?

Let me just roll up my sleeves and start at the beginning, the beginning that comes out of nowhere and includes no principal leads. It’s a nice number that tells you absolutely nothing about what you’re going to watch.

Then we meet the two most unlikable leads in a long time. Ryan Gosling is condescending, a know-it-all, and never able to admit defeat or error. What he finds to like in Emma Stone is baffling. It also seems like a role he’s tailor made for. He embodies it too naturally and is so awful that I felt surely he’s familiar with the personality type.

Emma Stone plays an aspiring actress. Despite the fact that obviously at one point in her career she didn’t have to play this role, she embodied this role, it’s tough to see her as the mousey, timid, self-doubter that she plays in this movie. She has several genuine moments of sparkle that remind me of why she’s so likable in all her other movies, but here the spark is only shown as an anecdotal and random trait.

Neither can sing or dance and while the film tries to use these rough edges in a charming way, what happens is parody shtick of all the great classic charming moments of the old classics. The banter in their dances feels forced given the speaking tenor of their relationship, and the romance of their singing and the sets employed feels trite next to the rough, uneven and unremarkable dialogue of their meet-cute and subsequent falling out.

The concept of a modern day jazz pianist rescuing jazz from itself to bring back to dark night clubs would also be charming, if not for the insufferable, arrogant lead. I was so against our hero that I was actively rooting for John Legend’s character who is half-heartedly played as a “villain”. Naturally, in a movie like this the only villains are the leads themselves, but he must of course play the negative catalyst, trying to do something unique with jazz music which makes it an abomination to jazz in general. Naturally.

There are no other side-characters of import or note. None with speaking roles, no good cameos, nothing to distract us from these two ill-suited individuals who we’re just waiting to break up for the entire length of the movie.

There is one charming scene, and that’s it’s ending. It’s a fast montage of what might have been and it gives us a fresh tempo, something to get the heart beating again, and for a moment there’s a small amount of regret that they’ll never be able to have this idealized world they could never have held onto. And it passes and the credits roll.

The costumes were lovely, the sets were creative, the colors were memorable. I’d like to forget all the rest.

I realize that musicals are rare these days, which means that for the most part we’re content with a musical existing and demand no more from it than that. It doesn’t have to be good it just has to remind us of the good movies we watched before, or could have watched if we could stand to go all the way through a movie made before our birth year.

If i want to see an arrogant, insufferable know-it-all fall in love with an ingenue, struggling actress trying to make it in Hollywood, I’ll watch Singin’ in the Rain again.

So thank you, La La Land for reminding me through tepid call backs and shoddy footwork of a true classic, thanks for getting me back to Singin’ in the Rain.

For Love of the Cubs

I’m not a sports person. I don’t play them, I don’t watch them, I don’t understand what the big deal is. Except for one sport and one team.

When you grow up the daughter of a Cubs’ fan, in a long line of Cubs’ fans, you are a Cubs’ fan. My great-grandmother memorized and recited Cubs’ player stats to my Dad. His enthusiasm for the team led him to ditch school and bum enough money to catch a ride on the “L” downtown to the game where he’d get a hot dog and peanuts and hang out for an afternoon. He raised me on stories of Ernie Banks. And when I got old enough, he’d take me and my sister out of school for Cubs games too.

Sanctioned school skipping is a guaranteed way to become a fan for life. But if that wasn’t enough, I’ll never forget the first time I saw Wrigley Field. You come out of the tunnels, up on to the field and there it is all laid out before you, and I’d never seen anything more beautiful in my life. I loved the spring days we’d spend there. Shivering in the nosebleed section, peeling peanuts with icicle fingers. I love the sunny afternoons in the bleachers, sweating in the sun and watching for fly balls.

I haven’t been a good fan over the years, haven’t stuck with the sport enough to know what’s going on. I shared my dad’s paranoia that the more invested you got the more you doomed them to failure. I loved them from afar.

But there is something to being a Cubs’ fan in a line of Cubs’ fans that sinks in to your life, even day to day.

“Next year.”

Cubs’ fans have hope like you can’t explain. Some years the disappointment almost chokes them when they say it. But they believe “next year” just might be the year. I’ve heard my Dad call them “bums” and every other old-timey insult under the sun, but even though they’ve lost all of his 60+ years on earth, there is a glint in his eye, and an excited tapping of his foot when he says “next year.”

Despite over a hundred years of losing, Cubs’ fans have hope. It’s not romantic, it’s not cynical, it’s just hope. It’s a simple, clean expression of their love. These fans are patient, they are long-suffering, they are eternally hopeful, and impossibly loyal.

I’ve never been embarrassed about being a Cubs’ fan, or being related to a fanatical Cubs’ fan. It’s a badge of honor believing in the unbelievable and hoping for the impossible. I’ve always been proud that my Dad rooted for the ultimate underdogs. I’ve been proud of that legacy he gave me.

And for once in my life the Cubs winning the World Series on November 3, 2016 is the one and only time I can truly understand what the big deal is.

This was the “next year”.

Saps and Cynics

That guy is either the dumbest, stupidest, most imbecilic idiot in the world, or else he’s the grandest thing alive. I can’t make him out.

— Babe from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is the most recent Frank Capra movie I’ve had the pleasure to view. And despite stiff competition, it’s now my favorite.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story (this does include those who have seen Adam Sandler’s Deeds), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is the story of a simple, small-town man who inherits millions and moves to a big city where he is quickly swarmed by greedy vultures eager to take advantage of his backwoods ways. This includes a scheming, quick-witted, jaded reporter, unfortunately named “Babe”, (Jean Arthur) who finds herself won over by his kind, open, earnest perspective.

What happens when Longfellow Deeds realizes he’s just out to be had? Will Deeds be just another victim of the greedy? Or is it possible he can turn the entire system on its head, changing hearts and minds in the process?

I’m sure that for a lot of people it qualifies as Norman Rockwell schmaltz. And indeed, I could accuse Mr. Capra of a lot of sentimental drivel, but to do so would be undercutting the story and the performers.

I didn’t root for Longfellow Deeds because the camera shot his profile well, but because of the way he turned a snob on his head. I rooted for him because he’s curious and joyous and compassionate.

I didn’t fall in love with Deeds because the music swelled when he spoke, I fell in love with him when he slid down the banister in his mansion and tickled his finger along the instep of the statue at the bottom. I very much fell in love with Gary Cooper.

I didn’t cry when Babe read Deed’s poem because the poem was exceptional, but because Jean Arthur was exceptional.

Perhaps I’m a sap and always have been, but what Capra gets right over and over and over again, is that the saps who seem like easy prey to the world are the strongest of champions in the world. It’s the truest of paradoxes, the weak things of this world overcoming the strong, the humble Davids overcoming the world’s Goliaths.

Which is not to say we should forget the cynics. No, Capra found a use for them and so do I. We need cynics. We need those people of critical intellect who devote huge portions of time to ferreting out those who are fake, vile, who are hypocrisy themselves. It’s these cynics who live in the soot and darkness of public spheres who serve the purpose of refining the rough diamonds.

In two of Capra’s movies it’s Jean Arthur who does the dirty work of putting the diamond under a bit of pressure. She’s so used to the double talk and the false advertising that she doesn’t see a gem when she’s in front of one.

But look what she does when she steps back and sees the thing for what it is, after all her abuses (intended or accidental) begin to reveal the quality of what is underneath rather than crushing it. It’s the cynics who must rally the troops, marshal the masses, encourage (how preposterous!) the reluctant, and fight for the saps.

It’s a brilliant and unbeatable combination. Saps and cynics, unlikely friends as they should be, manage to bring out the good in each other. For it’s these two unlikely heroes who both expect the best from the world, and will fight most passionately to make it so.