The Token Bad Guy: Osama bin Laden is Dead

From Ben Linus to bin Laden, evil has a name.

Now that President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden is officially dead, it makes me think about how there always how to be a “bad guy”, both locally and world-wide.

In Judd Apatow’s Jewish comedy (a franchise he has specialized in for the past decade, based on a strategic formula including Seth Rogen and/or Paul Rudd, a good dose of bromance, a classic soft rock soundtrack, mostly ad-lib dialogue, a heavy and almost dark dramatic element somewhere in the plot line, a running time of at least 2 hours and 15 minutes, an unpredictable ending but no “twist”, and constant references to reproductive organs) Funny People, there is a scene where Adam Sandler’s character is babysitting his ex-girlfriend’s two young daughters. As they play, one of the girls takes him captive like he’s a dragon, while the other has come to rescue him. He looks up at them and says to each one, “Are YOU the good guy or are YOU the good guy?”

While in cartoons and children’s own made-up playtime storylines the antagonist often takes pride in knowingly being evil, in real life the Bad Guy usually doesn’t realize that he’s the Bad Guy. It amazes me that there always has to be a handful of countries in the world that serve as a current Bad Country. It’s been England (watch the movie The Patriot about the Revolutionary War). It’s been Germany (the Nazi’s). It’s been Russia (watch Rocky IV) and still kinda is.

Why can’t the evil leader of a country think to himself: “Oh no! I’m ‘that guy’. I’m the bad person that’s causing problems with the rest of the world. I need to start with the man in the mirror and change my ways”. From what I’ve read about Adolph Hitler, in his own mind he simply was carrying out an ultimate version of Charles Darwin’s concept of “survival of the fittest”. He was only advancing what he saw as in the inevitable. He wasn’t a sadistic tyrant, not the way he saw it. He didn’t see himself as the Bad Guy.

From each holy war ever fought in history, down to the elementary school bully, the true villain is doing what is right according to his own view. The Bad Guy is dead wrong, yes. But he doesn’t see it that way.  While obviously I don’t have the potential to become a radical tyrannical leader of threatening foreign country, I still can find myself in a similar scenario as North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, by simply being the Bad Guy on a much lesser scale in everyday situations and not realizing it. If only Bad Guys always realized they’re the Bad Guy… well, it might help a little.

“We’re never gonna win the world, we’re never gonna stop the war. We’re never gonna beat this if belief is what we’re fighting for.” -John Mayer (“Belief”)

*Some bad guys, like this one, may or may not repent of their evil ways in the end.

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Dr. Deja Vu: The Magically Disappearing Friend

In elementary school, it was quite normal to spend years alongside a friend (or at least a friendly acquaintance) then to come back one Fall and after a few weeks of research, only to hear from a teacher or classmate, “Oh, his family moved away during the summer.” And what could I really do or say? Those concrete words became the end of it. Even as a kid, the realization was simple: Sometimes friends disappear forever.

All I was left with was an inch tall, black and white picture in the yearbook to remember them by. No e-mail address or phone number. Just gone.

There was the blonde haired, red-skinned Jesse Jackson who sat across from me in Kindergarten and got in trouble for making Debi Owen cry when he called her “stupid”. And Katy Petzold who moved after 3rd grade, whom I never had a class with or ever talked to, but her weird last name always stood out to me when I saw it in the yearbook. And she must have worn her green Girl Scouts uniform to school a lot because that’s how I remember her.

Ferne Taylor- I sat next to her in 3rd grade while we were reading Charlotte’s Web and everyone bugged her because Fern is the name of the girl in the story. And I also remember her flattening a Coke can to decorate it with buttons to look like a woman, then Justin Burt sang, “Ugly woman, walking down the street”, as he walked the tin can woman across his desk. It was hilarious. (That’s always what I think of when I hear “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison, now.)

Zack Bain- a cool kid that loved to play basketball and when he had to draw a personalized license plate for his 5th grade homeroom teacher Mrs. Jones’ class, it read “PARTIER”. She hung it up outside her room on the bulletin board and every time I walked by it I thought, “Really? Surely his Ninja Turtle birthday party wasn’t as cool as mine…”

And of course the classic Jon Peterson with his precise chili bowl haircut who moved away after 4th grade, whose dad always smoked a sweet smelling pipe in the den, wore sweater vests, and worked at the First Methodist Church. I’m sure today these 28 year-olds would have no idea who I am, but I remember them clearly.

I have memories of these random people, now serving as wallpaper in the attic of my brain. Obviously, I have already searched for them on facebook and Google, with no results. It’s strange to think that somewhere out there these long lost classmates are living normal lives just like the rest of us. And surely they have to remember spending their first couple of years in that small school back in Alabama in the late ‘80’s. Who do they remember from my school? Would the people they remember in turn remember them?

People come and go. But when they go, they go somewhere. Sometimes forever a mystery.

“If you’ll be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal.” –Paul Simon (“You Can Call Me Al”)

Manspeak, Volume 11: Responsibility

People tend to accept that there is a difference between what is normal in the movies and what is normal in reality, and for the most part we know not to confuse the two. In the world of Hollywood, a 39 year-old playboy bachelor who is “too free-spirited” to get married simply lives for himself in his classic arcade-filled apartment. And he is cool. He is Owen Wilson. Adam Sandler. Vince Vaughn. But in reality, this guy is not cool at all. He’s a guy who needs to grow up.

Because here in reality, we equate responsibility with manhood.

There is of course a false, glamorized idea that a man is defined by his freedom; a lifestyle where he needs to answer to no one. In this unspoken concept the ultimate goal in a man’s life is to win the lottery and never have to change diapers.

But this man is not the kind we truly respect. Instead, we admire a man who while he is still young, gives up his freedom to be become responsible to another human being in marriage. And then of course, within the next few years he is expected to become a father. And an involved father, at that. Responsibility is what helps a man to be normal and have a purpose.

A funny and true proverb I heard a lot in college was this: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” On the same token, men without real responsibilities are rarely respected. So much of life is showing up and participating. And in order to do that, a man must actively become involved in other people’s lives. The closer I get to age 30, the further away I am from being able to relate to what it’s like to be a child, and therefore the more aware I am that I once was an annoying kid.

I think back to all the hours my dad patiently listened to me tell him all the Ninja Turtle trivia I knew. And the way he made sure I had the coolest project in science and social studies class each time. And since he knew I didn’t like sports, he became the leader of a Cub Scouts group to inspire me to be involved in an extracurricular activity I actually enjoyed- being an adventurous boy with my friends. I couldn’t have really known it back then, but his sincere involvement in my life has everything to do with who I have become as an adult.

It’s amazing how much one man’s involvement makes or breaks his child’s life. I was blessed and still am. I still need my dad. I still learn from him.

And now I’m not all that far from being in the position he was in the early 1980’s. I will become the man looking into the googly eyes of a helpless baby, both of us completely clueless. But that’s the way God planned it. No instruction booklet on how to be a parent. Instead, it all comes down to the humility of a man who makes a conscience effort to be responsible.

“My dad’s been dead for more than 20 years. I still want him to be proud of me.” –Dave Matthews, taken from the linear notes from his solo Some Devil album

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Manspeak Table of Contents:

Volume 1: Humor http://wp.me/pxqBU-1i
Volume 2: Heroism http://wp.me/pxqBU-1m
Volume 3: Filtration http://wp.me/pxqBU-1p
Volume 4: Stance http://wp.me/pxqBU-1s
Volume 5: Movement http://wp.me/pxqBU-1v
Volume 6: Law http://wp.me/pxqBU-3h
Volume 7: Bromance http://wp.me/pxqBU-3W
Volume 8: Relaxation http://wp.me/pxqBU-6a
Volume 9: Appearance http://wp.me/pxqBU-6f
Volume 10: Exploration http://wp.me/pxqBU-6O
Volume 11: Responsibility http://wp.me/pxqBU-8v

Would You Define Your Life as a Comedy or a Tragedy?

The same question goes for the movie Garden State.

I have struggled for a solid ten years trying to figure out what makes things funny. Universally, seeing someone fall down (who doesn’t get hurt) is always funny, but I don’t know why. Defining what humor is, is almost impossible to simply and briefly put into words. What I can do is make a judgment call on whether something as a whole is a comedy or a drama.

One of my college professors taught me there is a clear way to distinguish between the two: Comedy involves a protagonist who in the beginning of the story is standing outside the borders of his society and by the end of the story is accepted into it. Therefore a tragedy is when the protagonist in the beginning is accepted as part of the society but by the end is expelled from it.

To test this theory on comedies, I will take Adam Sandler for example: Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Water Boy, The Wedding Singer, and Big Daddy all involve a character who starts out as one or more of the following: incompetent, poor, lonely, selfish. By the end of the movie, Adam Sandler’s character is accepted into the fold as these previous attributes are resolved. So I can see how the definition of a comedy works here.

For tragedies, I will take some horror movies for example: The Blair Witch Project, Skeleton Key, The Strangers, Quarantine, and Carrie. The protagonists end up either dead or in a really bad situation by the time the credits roll. So I can see how the definition of a tragedy works here, as death or loss of freedom is a way of being ousted from a society that the protagonists were once a part of.

The end of a movie ultimately defines it as a comedy or tragedy. Garden State, which is more a drama than anything, ends with Zach Braff’s character being able to overcome his dependence on his doctor’s/father’s misdiagnosed prescription of anti-depressants and feel alive for the first time as he moves back home to New Jersey, making new friends and finding love: That’s a comedy.

Using this theory, these other genre-vague movies would also be considered comedy: Fight Club, Forrest Gump, and Elizabethtown. And these would be tragedy: Into the Wild, Vanilla Sky, and One Hour Photo.

Life is comprised of rotating moments of comedy and tragedy. Times where I’m on the outside looking in and I get in (comedy) and times where I’m inside but am pushed out (tragedy). In ways big and small. But a person’s general perspective will cause him or her to see it ultimately as one or the other:

If life is comedy-in-progress, then life is me trying to figure out how to be normal enough to succeed in being accepted by my immediate society, eventually dying satisfied, knowing I’m surrounded by those who love me.

If life is tragedy-in-progress, then life is me already having everything I need and want in life but having it all taken away from me in the end, eventually dying sad and alone.

Big decisions, big decisions. I’ll go with comedy-in-progress.

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Manspeak, Volume 1: Humor

It was April 2002 when I first learned/realized that humor is an expected male trait. My sister and I went to this $5 concert some new young musician guy was doing in Birmingham, AL. Supposedly he was about to make it huge and this show was to thank the local radio station for being the first to play his songs. It was none other than the pre-Jessica Simpson, pre-Jennifer Anniston, pre-tattoo sleeved John Mayer.

For months following the concert, I was unable and unwilling to remove his No Room for Squares album from my CD player. I picked up on the fact this 24 year-old kid swam in something I could relate to, and it wasn’t just our shared love of the year 1983. He spoke my language. The third track, “My Stupid Mouth”, had a line that said, “I just want to be liked, just want to be funny, looks like the joke’s on me”. That’s when I realized that I was not alone in that I felt responsible for having to be funny, because I am a guy.

While no doubt there are countless social expectations from the female gender, one that is not important and vital is humor. That’s a guy thing. Compared to the overwhelming number of male comedians, it’s more difficult to find successful female comedians. The ones I can think of right off, are not the norm for what is considered feminine: Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes, and Roseanne Barr.

I’m a personal fan of Ellen. I watched her talk show every day my senior year of college. She’s like one of the guys. And I think that’s why I relate to her so much.

The big exception to this “guys have to be the funny one” rule of comedy is Friends. Three men, three women, and they’re all funny. The show was co-written by a man and a woman. That 50/50 designation of both the actors and writers was part of the massive success of the show. Both men and women could relate to the humor and the characters. Even Seinfeld had a 3 to 1 ratio of male to female actors. Friends broke the mold.

Yes, attractive and feminine women can definitely be funny: Anna Faris, Tina Fey, Cameron Diaz, and Chelsea Handler. But I still see a tom-boyish quality about them. Where it at least seems like they grew up with all brothers. And for every one exception, there are five Seth Rogen’s, three Jon Stewart’s, and four Adam Sandler’s.

Men are expected to be funny, at least in some degree. Even Ben Stein, as dry and drab as he is, is still hilarious. (“Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? Anyone?”) And the Terminator in his violent mission of destruction, right before he returns to the police station by running a squad car through the glass doors and blows away all those in his path, declares, “I’ll be back”. That, is funny.

While this may put extra pressure on a guy, there is a trade-off. Guys don’t have to find the perfect pair of shoes to match every “cute outfit” they own. Or give birth.

“If you can make a girl laugh, you can make her do anything.” –Marilyn Monroe

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

 

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