I enjoy going to the movies. It’s a little old-fashioned but there’s an extra energy that goes along with seeing films on a big screen in the company of other people. This month I wanted to see both A WRINKLE IN TIME (mentioned in last week’s post) and Steven Spielberg’s READY PLAYER ONE.
For me Spielberg’s last film, THE POST, and this new one, are a pair. The earlier one is for my generation, the people who still read newspapers and remember the time when the Pentagon Papers were published. READY PLAYER ONE, its partner, is for the young people who have grown up with video games, social media, and avatars. I had to just ride along with most of this movie since I’ve never played computer games and had no reference points for really understanding what was going on, but at the end I just wanted to cheer! Both of Spielberg’s most recent movies are “political.” They are about societies at risk of being run by a few people driven by greedy fear who want to grab power through lies and violence.
Glenda Jackson, who won two Oscars and also served in England’s Parliament, is now 81 and acting on Broadway in Edward Albee’s THREE TALL WOMEN. She has a rare perspective on both theater and government. She was quoted in a TIME Magazine interview as saying:
“All great drama is essentially trying to tell the truth about what we are. All Shakespeare ever asks is, who are we, what are we, why are we? And I think politics at its best is trying to find out how you do create a society in which there is genuine equality which acknowledges that we are different.”
Both of Spielberg’s movies are about who we are and the ways we can create societies with a genuine equality that doesn’t demand that we give up our differences. In fact, these are dramas about developing individual strengths that can be used for the common good while knowing that our differences are necessary.
These movies are about ordinary people who meet challenges with courage and, together with others like themselves, rise above destructive events. Spielberg’s modern Parzifal is young, poor, and as an orphan, largely alone. He’s nothing special. He’s an unlikely hero. Like Harry Potter, another young orphan, he has to face harsh realities and fight through difficulty. Potter and Parzifal are both hemmed in by disadvantages. Both deal with constrictions that even include where they sleep – Harry Potter in an under-the-stairs cubby hole and Parzifal in the “stacks,” a high-rise slum made of trailer homes piled one on top of another. But with one step, one choice at a time, and driven by a wish to be more, to be free, they both face and overcome their circumstances. Because of their sense of what’s right, their willingness to undertake great challenges, and most of all because they become part of a gang of equals, they triumph.
These are very good adventure stories, but they are also teaching stories, metaphors about what can happen when the individual self confronts the outside world with courage and intelligence. These modern heroes transcend conditions and, together with others, transform themselves and their societies. It’s crucial that they do not do this alone!
Some conditions are part of what we are given at the start of life – Harry Potter was born with that special scar. It was not a choice. He was destined to be Harry Potter. But the kind of Harry Potter he was to become was determined by the choices he made. One of them was to accept help from others. Harry Potter and Parzifal both gathered vitally important companions who were their equals but with different challenges and different strengths. (This included strong and smart women – but that’s a post for another time.) No one of us wins alone. That’s the difference between autocracy, rule by a single despot, and democracy, rule by a group of people and their representatives.
Potter and Parzifal show us how to put the “dem” in democracy. And, in a current true story, so have the students in Florida who lived through the murders of their friends and teachers on Valentine’s Day. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teenagers were spun into action by witnessing tragic violence. They’ve been supportive of each other and focused on the changes they want to make. They’ve netted together with others who care deeply about what happened, and about each other. Along with the others, Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg caught the public attention with their truth-telling strengths. They all have something they want to change as equals with different gifts: it’s been a group effort with individual voices, individual people with a common goal.
They aren’t the only activist groups – there’s also Black Lives Matter and Me Too. These are among the people who are putting the “dem” (it means “the people”) back in to our democracy. The villains of our time are those who say, “I alone can do this,” or “I built this all by myself.” The one who rules by himself can quickly become an autocrat, a lone self, and a despot.
These are times when we need to bring our differences into play together, to give up fear and go for the good.
So, be yourself, find your own gifts, join up, and speak up.
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The Glenda Jackson quote is from the April 16TH issue of TIME MAGAZINE in “11 Questions.”
The illustration at the head of the post is a vintage poster of the hand of the Statue of Liberty.