Tuesday, April 24, 2018

80's movies probably shouldn't determine how we live in the world.

I'm digging in the archives here.  It was third grade.  My elementary school was starting a basketball team for the parochial league in Little Rock.  All of us who were interested gathered in they (carpeted) gym.  We all figured on being the next Michael Jordan or Larry Bird.  Together we would be the Cathedral School Saints, and we would be unstoppable.

Image result for shack
And this was the only "Shack(q)" we knew.
Coach Faulkner (for whom I would later scoop ice cream at his Baskin Robbins store) walked us and our parents through the details of the season, and then he opened it up for questions.  There was one question I really needed answered.

"Coach, what will you be wearing to the games?"

"What?"

"What will you be wearing to the games.  On TV they usually wear a suit...I'm just wondering what you plan to wear."

With that kind of laser focus on the important things, you can imagine how well we played.  In my elementary basketball career, our team had a perfect record two out of three years.  We lost every game those years.  The third year we won exactly one game, and we won it because the other team had a scheduling snafu and didn't show up.  So we didn't even play that game we won, and it's probably better that we because if we had played, even with no oponents on the floor, we might have lost.  What I'm saying is we weren't very good.  Bless our hearts. 

Based on my current, exceedingly athletic physique, it might surprise you to learn I was without a doubt he worst player on the team.  Everyone knew it.  I knew it.  I played the league minimum time in each game and not a second more.  In my final season I earned the nickname "Pockets" because during practice one day I got tired of playing offense, so I just camped out on the defensive end of the court while the rest of the team went down to the other end, trusting that the ball would come back my way eventually.  I just stuck my hands in my pockets and waited on the inevitable.  Coach, for whatever reason, was not thrilled with my performance at that moment.

I was so bad.  But I didn't give up on it.  I played again at my new school in junior high (still a parochial league, so there was still no tryout).  After about a year of that, though, I hung up my basketball shoes for good.

I've often wondered what I was thinking.  Not about playing.  That was worth a shot, I guess, even if it wasn't meant to be.  I've wondered why I felt like I needed to know what Coach was going to wear to the games.  What did that even matter?  In retrospect, I think it's because I didn't actually care anything at all about the game of basketball.  What I cared about was my own image of what playing basketball would be.  Basically, I had written a script in my mind, and at that moment I was concerned about the costuming.  It seemed a good time to ask.

Psychologists call this a "mental picture album."  The idea is that as we go through life, we create in our minds mental pictures of our experiences that in turn shape how we exist in the world.  It's a lot more complex than that, and I don't really know enough about it to offer a primer.  What I do know is that we get out of whack when the world around us doesn't match up with our mental picture of what it should be.

Image result for hoosiers
So if my coaches didn't look like this,
I was totally lost, because this was
the only basketball I knew.
Go Huskers.
The realization that my understanding of what basketball should be (that is, my mental picture of basketball) came from a movie  has really messed with me (even if that movie did star Gene Hackman).  I started thinking about other movies and how they have shaped my mental pictures.  My concept of what brotherhood is supposed to be came from Red Dawn.  I always wanted to have that close bond with my brother but never really did.  He is 4 1/2 years older.  This sort of movie/real life connection that exists in my head is the reason I can't walk through a parking deck without hearing the theme song from a 70's buddy cop show where somebody's about to get run down by a burnt orange land yacht.

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The driver is wearing flannel plaid.
Don't judge.  We all experience this sort of dialogue with our entertainment.  Why do you think war movies are so popular?  It's not because we want to storm the beaches ourselves.  It's because we crave the kinds of relationships that storming beaches grows.  Or romantic comedies, where we can montage the hard work of relationships and fast forward to ther resolution on a bridge in Paris.  Like it or not, we learn what it means to be friends and enemies and parents and children and and and from the pictures formed by our real experiences combined with the experiences we've absorbed from our entertainment (which includes TV, movies, books, video games, advertisements, and more).

That scares me.

What scares me even more is that just as our lives are shaped by our entertainment, our entertainment choices are shaped by our lives.  Is it possible that super hero movies are so popular right now because on some level we all feel like we need a hero?  Or is it possible that fantasy is popular because on some level we all feel like we need an escape from the world as it is right now?  If only we could travel back in time...a long time ago, in a galaxy far away...

We can become so encapsulated by our symbolic world of mental pictures that we lose touch with reality and disengage from the world around us.  It's happening on social media, and I wonder if it makes up the bulk of the sizable wedge that is creating the cultural divide we are experiencing all over the world (not just in our own country).

It reminds me of this episode in Star Trek where these two worlds had been at a peculiar war for a long time.  It was peculiar because instead of fighting battles, they would simulate attacks, and for each simulated attack the worlds would actually kill the requisite number of victims.  Until the crew of the Enterprise was "killed" in an attack and they managed to escape.  That disruption of the virtual war with real consequences led to a real re-engagement between the two worlds rather than a simulated one...and an end to the war.

I wonder if it might do us some good to put our mental photo albums down for a minute and consider the reality around us.  Forget for a moment what things should be and engage each other about what they are...how we might like to change them...and what steps we can take to bring those changes about.

Image result for hoosiers picket fence
Probably run the picket fence.

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