Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Television and the Meaning of Life


We watch people in life and death situations on television in an attempt to make our life choices seem like they're powerful or at least escape to a reality where such choices occur. At any given moment we could teeter of the cliff into realizing that our life and job are meaningless. Whether television helps or hurts this is questionable. In some ways it is the ultimate distracter, like many distracters before it and epics before that. Each narrative attempts to help us escape and find a place in our work and lives that is meaningful. Some might argue that pursuing it this fashion we become further removed from true meaning.

I bring this up to you tell you about The West Wing and how it relates to people telling you that they will hit you "in yo motha fuckin' face." I’ve been watching the West Wing and in an episode in the first season Josh gets a card that will direct him to the safe zone in the event of nuclear attack. He is conflicted about this privilege throughout the episode, and the root of this is revealed when he visits his old therapist and explains that his sister died in a house fire. He feels responsible and does not want to feel that he has survived those he loves, again, undeservedly. What a powerful moment. All the history woven together and scored and profoundly acted. Imagine this arc when your holding your coffee cup and wondering if you have time to use the bathroom thoroughly, before driving to work.

At the core of the West Wing is the question: what is it to be a good person?. With our eyes fixed on the figure of the President it is easy to understand why he is held to such a high standard. In the hands of Aaron Sorkin every conversation reaches the sublime with wonderful nuances of language and the gravity of every sentence is seen and felt with the impact of ninth inning World Series pitch. In looking at my life I see a constant stream of tiny choices. Times when I can be rude or, in my mind, justifiably angry in a last ditch effort to draw boundaries with people. In comparison these choices seem small and hollow. 

No, you cannot go to the bathroom. 
Yes, you can borrow that pencil in exchange for your house key. 
No, you cannot have some of the almonds in my lunch box.

I want to be good. 
I want to be a part of something. 

The West Wing makes that dream seem so possible, which is part of the show’s escape. Our office job or classroom seems to carry none of the gravity of the Oval Office. If we turn our ear to a certain Avant Gardes ,they would have us think that this dichotomy only reveals the inherent purposelessness of all existence and necessitates our need to create meaning for ourselves outside of institutions and super structures.

Reading is important. Yes, you have a quiz tomorrow. 

What a daunting task: constructing meaning in one’s life that can carry the weight of drudgery. At times work can become only because the means by which we get to enjoy the people or things that give us purpose and that can be kind of a drag. Man.

Have a seat please. 

It is however a worthy task. But sometimes that task is being undertaken in February. No matter what another teacher tells you, February is the hardest month. We see it on each other's faces. I tell the first year teacher everyday at lunch, “Don’t kill yourself.” He nods like this is valuable advice and really appreciates someone saying it to him. After I told him that Monday, students ran and threw themselves into my door and then when reprimanded told me they’d hit in me in my “motha fuckin face.” Now, they don’t mean it. They really didn't, but the social skills and coping mechanisms necessary needed to not tell an authority figure that you want to hit them in the “motha fuckin face” are severely lacking in our current education system. (For example there aren't any classes about starting a snarky blog.) It is my response to being told that I'll be hit in "my mutha fuckin' face" that can make my classroom feel like the Oval Office some days.


Comic Created by Matt Posky


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