Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lessons of Nostalgia

For the past couple of weeks I've been revisiting favorite TV shows and music, mostly from my teens and twenties (the 1970s and 1980s). I'm not sure why. Perhaps it has something to do with feeling overwhelmed with the bad news about where the world is headed. Or maybe it's a way of saying goodbye to my past in preparation for the future. The reason could be as simple as the fact that my experience from those years is becoming more relevant to the here and now, such as the education research I did with my father, the tough lessons I learned as a young test engineer, and the tragic loss of my mother due to cancer.

Three shows stand out: MacGyver, Airwolf, and The Incredible Hulk. MacGyver reminds me of my father's exploits, and the many hours I spent as an engineer verifying and troubleshooting problems. Airwolf was mainly escapist entertainment, though I could somewhat identify with the loner aspect of the main character, and maintained some hope that technology like the title's helicopter could solve any problem. I identified most, however, with David Banner in The Incredible Hulk, who felt that his calm, cerebral self needed to always dominate over his brutish, dangerous physical self.

In my late thirties I finally allowed my physical self to grow, and achieved the equivalent of what Hulk's David Banner got stuck in during a pair of episodes called “Prometheus”: a state half-way between his two selves. Unlike Banner, I was able to fuse the two selves together into a healthy whole, completing the transition to maturity that should have naturally happened a decade earlier.

Reviewing my past, I've abandoned the belief in the quick fixes that characterizes MacGyver and Airwolf. MacGyver's solutions were always just stopgap measures, dealing with immediate needs but never intended as permanent solutions. Airwolf's utility was limited to very specific circumstances, even if you bought the simplistic premise, still dominating action theater and the delusions of militarists, that a strong show of force is necessary to achieve peace.

During my review, ultraconservatives were demonstrating a new level of viciousness in their efforts to remove societal control over the pursuit of personal power. Unlike David Banner, whose innate goodness was reflected in the Hulk's goals (if not his methods), these folks appear to prefer being sociopathic hulks, willing to kill anyone or anything that gets in the way of their perceived path to personal gratification. For the time being, compromise seems to be keeping the worst from happening, reversing the “metamorphosis” in time so that they are merely human sociopaths, but it is unlikely to continue working. Unfortunately, a lot of damage is still being done in a world that has already been beat to a pulp, a world we all depend on for survival. That damage and the motivation behind it fits my definition of evil; just thinking about it makes me angry, and “you wouldn't like me when I'm angry” (though at least I'm able to get past it without doing any harm). 

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