Tuesday, March 3, 2009

at the movies

On Sunday last, the New York Times had an article about the uptick in business at movie theaters. Not that the Oscar-winners were packing in the crowds, but rather the small, frothy adventures were exercising an appeal audiences were willing to pay for. Some commentator in the story said that people wanted diversion (from hard times) and they wanted to be with other people.

The story wasn't without precedent. During World War II and the Depression, I believe the same trend was observed. And during blackouts or enormous snow storms in New York City -- a place where individuals are often notably numbed to the presence of others -- I have seen people become much more friendly and considerate.

In uncertain times, huddle and hope ... and laugh a little. Who would deny solace to an upended world, a world whose roots and certainties were ripped up and ravaged? Isn't the appeal of the latest U.S. president, Barack Obama, partly the fact that he exudes a hopeful firmness and apparent decency in the wake of indecent men? Isn't some movie about the high jinks of dogs or kids just the ticket?

"Hope springs eternal" is a saying that some express with an ain't-it-obvious smile, as if anyone might know it was true ... and not just true, but healthy and good. Hope inspires the action that follows and with luck, dreams will come true. Of course hope by itself doesn't put food on the kitchen table. And while it may mask the uncertainties of any life, it doesn't actually solve the dis-ease that prompted it. It feels good, but then the question arises -- is feeling good is really enough? Hope and huddling warmth may be better than the blow of a stick ... but how much better is that, really?

I don't mean to disdain the therapeutic nature of huddling and hoping, of addressing the gnawing, clawing uncertainties with whatever tools are near at hand. But I wonder, in the midst of this very-human panorama ....

I wonder if somewhere inside, we aren't all the possessors of some ancient understanding -- some deeply-embedded microchip or strand of DNA -- that seeks out the laughter of some frothy movie not just because it takes our minds off things but because secretly we know that laughter is the nature of all things? ... that whether we live or die, fidget or fuss, praise or damn, play the stunning analyst or remain dumb as a box of rocks ... still, we know -- KNOW, not hope -- that some before-time-began laughter is the way things really are.

And it's not as if we could escape it either.


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