Midlife for the Media Generation, part 2

(This is the second of an as-yet undetermined number of entries that reflect a few observations about my life experiences as I approach 40.)

As I previously indicated, I consider myself to be a member of the “media generation, ” so naturally I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how I’ve been shaped (for better or worse) by television, film, music, and interactive entertainment.

Music will go into a special category of its own, since my musical journey has been rather unique – and since it has so much impact on my life at this stage — and I’ll probably do something similar with interactive entertainment later. So, for now, I guess it will be TV and film.

Here are the TV/film experiences that have been most influential during the first forty years:

#1 (by a long shot): Star Wars.

I know I risk being mocked when I say this, but Episodes IV-VI (the ones made in the 70s and 80s), without question, have had more impact on who I am as an adult than any other “media” experience. During my formative years, Luke Skywalker was my hero, and I thought of Yoda as a sort-of vicarious mentor. To this day, I continue to think of my approach to litigation as “Jedi lawyering.” I try not to act out of anger or hatred. I try to find peacable solutions where possible. I am always prepared for confrontation, but I never invite it when it can be avoided.

I remember reading the novelization of Return of the Jedi on the day I graduated from High School. The book talked about how Luke felt alone and ill equipped to face the dark universe in which he found himself. I remember thinking: “Yeah, thats me.”

I often compare my experiences with Star Wars to the boomer experience with Woodstock. It was (and continues to be) that powerful. And I find myself hoping that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films will have a similar impact on my kids.

#2: The X-Files.

I discovered the X-Files after it had been on the air for a year or so, and I was hooked from the beginning. The UFO mythology arc that carried through the entire series was intriguing, but the things that distinguished the show enough to put it near the top of my list have more to do with the way it treats the issues that define our times.

Mulder posed the question in the first episode: when all scientific means of explaining a phenomenon have been exhausted, can we finally turn to the paranormal as an explanation? Such tension between the rational and the mystical lies at the very heart of the emerging postmodern culture, and the weekly debates between Mulder and Scully on such issues (while fairly shallow by academic standards) continue to draw me into deeper reflections that relate to the nature of the physical and spiritual realities around us.

The X-Files also explored an equally intriguing question: can two people who have vastly different world views share a meaningful (and even deeply spiritual) relationship? In a world filled with terrorists, multibillion dollar corporations, profoundly poor third-world populations, democratic countries, socialist countries, racial strife, and blue and red states, the importance of that question ought to be obvious.

But the most moving aspect of the X-Files was and continues to be the surprisingly credible treatment that Chris Carter (the show’s creator) gave to the Christian faith. While Mulder spent the better part of 7 years chasing ghosts, vampires, UFOs, government conspiracies, and other assorted monsters in a seemingly out-of-control frenzy, Scully slowly came to realize how much she needed to rely on her own Christian faith in the face of the unknown.

The last scene of the last episode was all I could ask for. Mulder, the skeptic (when it came to Christianity) – who has finally learned the truth about the coming invasion and his own powerlessness to prevent it – begins a journey from despair to hope when – during what I think is the very last frame of the episode – he reaches out to touch the cross that has prominently hung across Scully’s neck throughout the entire series.

Wow.

#3 – Mad About You/Dharma and Greg.

I enjoyed Seinfeld during its hey-day, but – in the end – it was a way too shallow and pointless to make my list. But, as far as sitcoms go, watching the two shows I have listed for #3 is like looking in a mirror.

I’ve often told people that – if they want a good overall picture of what our marriage is like – try and imagine what would happen if Greg, from the latter show, married Jamie, from the former show. The truth is, there is a little of Paul in me and a little of Dharma in Sheila – but we mostly both lean in the other directions.

Its all there. The craziness of in-law and sibling relationships. The bittersweet dialog in which there is conflict one moment and an embrace the next. The insecurities. The reassurances. The inside jokes. Those golden moments where you realize things couldn’t have worked out better for either of you. The tears that come from joy and pain, all at once.

#4: Thirtysomething

The ad copy when the show aired in syndication on Lifetime said it all: “Just like life, only with better writers.” (When IS this one going to be out on DVD?)

#5: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Just discovered this one during the last 2-3 years, after the original run on UPN had almost expired. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now: A single episode of this show has more to say about spiritual reality (and our corresponding spiritual struggles) than every episode of Touched by an Angel and Highway to Heaven combined. But there’s no time to do that argument justice right now, so I’ll save it for another blog entry.

Honorable mentions (in no particular order):
6. Star Trek (original and Next Generation). I’ve grown to distrust this program’s overly optimistic view of how science can solve man’s problems, but I like what it has to say about diversity, friendship, and loyalty.
7. Gilligan’s Island: All of the experiences of Western society summed up in a series of short, corny morality plays.
8. The Brady Bunch: The perfect family. All problems easily resolved within thirty minutes. If only it worked that way in real life!
9. Batman (the TV show with Adam West). When I was 5 or 6, I actually thought this stuff should be taken seriously!
10. Jurassic Park. I love Jeff Goldblum’s speech about how “nature will find a way.” I also love watching dinosaurs dine on lawyers and greedy nerds.
11. Field of Dreams. James Earl Jones’ speech about how Baseball unites American society, combined with Kevin Costner’s child-like request to his father’s ghost to play catch are enough to make me leak every time.
12. The Simpsons. Everything that is wrong with American culture, smartly satirized 20-25 times a year. This show is still going strong after a decade because it is virtually impossible to run out of material on this subject.
13. The Lion King. Best Disney (and my favorite coming-of-age) flick ever. Period.
14. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney version). Way underrated because it is a little dark. “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” I love the way this show answered that quesiton, exploring the relationships between love, lust, and sex in a way that is accessible and appropriate, even for young children.
15. The Breakfast Club. Want to know what life was like in High School during the 80s? Look no further than this movie.
16. Ferris Bueler’s Day Off. Ferris is a guy I always wished (and occasionally still wish) I could be: easy going, charismatic, and fully capable of avoiding even the slightest hint of responsibilty while remaining (almost)universially popular with authority figures and peers alike.
17. Christmas Vacation. Everything that is maddening about the holidays, nicely packaged into about 100 minutes of fun-filled mayhem. Watching this movie as Christmas approaches is way better (and less expensive) than therapy. This is also, by far, my favorite “one liner” movie. I could go on and on quoting hilarious lines from this one!

Well, thats about all I can think of for now, but I’m sure a few more will come to me during the coming days. Anyone else want to share some of your favorites?

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