You move the telescope or microscope – or in this case my vaunted “Thinking Mechanism” – the tiniest millimeter and suddenly, instead of a disappointing dry hole,
That’s exactly what happened with this story.
I was planning to write another crabby version of how things were definitely better in the old days – and of course, most notably in the medical and scientific arenas, they weren’t – I recall reading a book on the subject entitled, The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible! (by Otto Bettman.)
Can you imagine strolling down Fifth Avenue, inundated by uncollected refuse, raw sewage and ubiquitous horse poop?
(TO THE TUNE OF “EASTER PARADE”:)
“On the Avenue…
You could see it, and smell it,
And scrape it off
The bottom of your shoe…”
Of course, my area of complainy expertise is entertainment, where the supporting argument is frighteningly easy to assemble:
“It was better back then. People spent decades honing their abilities. Now, you have sex in a limo and they give you a reality show. I mean, how hard it that? All you need are the appropriate body parts and a limo!”
“Bleh! Bleh! Bleh!”
There I was, ready to dive into that Nostalgia-Pit of Unhelpfulness once again. The precipitating incident? A fortuitous rebroadcast of The Crimson Pirate (1952) on Turner Classic Movies.
And I am old enough to have seen it when it originally came out.
SIGH again. And a big one.
“Birth of a Nation!” I saw that in the theater. They charged a quarter to get in. And we thought that was a fortune!”
I love The Crimson Pirate. Burt Lancaster. Energetic! Shirtless! With at least a hundred-and-fifty gleaming teeth!
Accompanied by his one-time circus acrobat partner, Nick Cravat, Lancaster triumphantly – often comedically – eludes his pursuers, shinnying up lattices, butt-sliding down awnings, catapulting between balconies, hiding in wine barrels. (Okay, that one’s easy. But they do it, so I put it in.)
Ah, the energy! The athleticism! The exuberant joie de vivre! You can easily read Lancaster’s mind:
“I’m alive, dammit! And by God, I’m a pirate!”
Think about it. People, executing breathtaking maneuvers. Possibly, stuntmen, but so what? They’re people too!
Today, it’s all CGI. The stunts may be incredible. But they are executed by computers.
“Bleh. Bleh. Bleh.”
And now – thankfully – the illuminating “turn.”
A recollection comes to me concerning this moment in the original Avengers movie (2012), which I saw with my son-in-law Colby, not because I like escapist entertainment but because I like my son-in-law Colby.
And I don’t hate escapist entertainment.
Just before the climactic confrontation with the “Forces of Evil”, or whatever, the hero, via a loudspeaker, rallies the populace with an energizing pep talk:
“The challenge before us is daunting. This is your “Moment of Destiny.” It is time to rise to the occasion. And I know you can do it.”
The guy finishes his inspirational exhortation, and his sidekick sidles up beside him and says,
“Did you write that down first, or was that off the top of your head?”
I immediately convulse with laughter, reveling in this towering moment of ironic interjection.
And then it occurred to me… well, not “then” while I was watching The Avengers, but actually this very morning as I was preparing to crank out yet another, “They don’t make them like they used to” piece of redundancy…
I realized – and this was the “moving microscope” moment I alluded to at the beginning –
I don’t really care whether they make them like they used to.
What I care about is a recognizable heartbeat.
And it does not actually matter what form it arrives in.
They may not be Crimson Pirating through the rigging, but in that moment of revelatory self-awareness in The Avengers…
I felt the tingling comfort of inter-humanary connection.
That’s what I’m looking for. In whatever package it’s delivered.
Buried miners, tapping urgently on a drainpipe.
Do you know what I’m talking about? That invigorating spirit?
Yesterday. Today. Twenty years from now?
Give me a heartbeat in my entertainment.
And I will never worry about when it was produced.