Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Telling It Like It Isn't"

The following conversation reminded me of something I have long believed deserves blogatorial attention.

At our recent Seder, my brother-in-law Shelly, an accomplished musician who plays a killer clarinet rendition of “Diyanu” (a traditional Seder song) mentioned his daughter, a former practicing attorney, complaining about some clever maneuver on The Good Wife involving Chicago’s Cook County States Attorney’s Office where she had once been employed, insisting,

“It would never happen that way.”

This observation did not surprise me, athough, as mentioned above, it reminded me to write about it.  (Far be it from me to allow a non-practicing attorney from Chicago to deliver the ultimate pronouncement.)

One of my all-time favorite sitcoms was The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966), showcasing three television comedy writers.  Years later, after I became one, I retrospectively realized that that also “doesn’t happen that way”. 

Rob, Buddy and Sally almost never rewrote until two in the morning, and almost always “broke” for lunch.  The only time I recall breaking for lunch was when President Reagan was shot.  Honest Injun.  You needed an assassination attempt to avoid Styrofoam “take-out.”

Today, I am regularly reminded of the egregious contrast between the way things actually are and their portrayal in the media by a spouse who is a practicing psychologist.  Dr. M is highly resistant to watching a TV show or attending a movie in which psychotherapy is the primary concern.  (The Exception:  The Sopranos, which she claims has verisimilitudinal resonance.)

Anyone who has been in therapy – and arguably most people who haven’t – is aware that one does not get cured of their psychological afflictions in an hour.  (TV)  Or in two hours.  (a movie.)  Or even twelve to fourteen hours.  (a miniseries.)

It takes longer than that.  Sometimes, considerably longer.  Sometimes you have to go back for more therapy, which would never happen in a movie, unless the original version was a hit at the box office, in which case, I Think I’m Still Crazy would be hurried into production.

“A psychologist would never say that” is the familiar complaint.  Plus, there’s the inevitable oversimplification.  An individual’s history and layered personality are ill suited for brisk, commercial representation.  But they continue making such movies, probably because the writer has been in therapy his or her self and they are convinced that this time they will “get it right”. 

(Then the producer insists, “We don’t need the middle part where they’re just talking.  Go straight to where he bursts in tears and they hug.  Insinuating that it is more than a comforting hug.  My God, I’m a genius.”)

There’s a movie we will not being going to see.    

I suspect you do not have to be an attorney, a television comedy writer or a practicing psychologist to detect the glaring inaccuracies in the cinematic depictions of your actual livelihood.  I’ll bet it happens with everything.

MUSICIAN:  She’s not playing the harmonium!”

TRASH COLLECTOR:  “He’s lifting it up wrong.”

SUPERMARKET BAGGER:  “They’re putting the eggs on the bottom!

And I imagine that could be extremely disappointing.

TRASH COLLECTOR:  “The first movie they ever made about trash collecting.  And the guy doesn’t lift with his knees.”

Well… what are you gonna do?

Do we really want to see a lawyer entering the Cook County States Attorneys Office for some essential legal attention, only to discover they have closed early to celebrate a long-time employee’s “Retirement Lunch”?  (Which in no way advances the storyline?)  Are you interested in a depiction of exhausted futility in which a room full of frustrated comedy writers pitch a single, “replacement joke” for over an hour?  Do you want a “psychoanalysis movie” that lasts for twenty years and in the end, the patient is still not certain they’re cured?

We understand.  It’s “Artistic License.”  

Bending the facts to fit the story you are trying to tell.

In a reasonable amount of time.

The alternative?

“I can’t believe it we made it through a twenty-year-long movie.  Oh my God!  You’re old!

I don’t know.  Movies “based on actual events.”  Jobs distortingly different from what they actually are.  I should be used to our entertainment never telling us the truth.

I’ve been watching cable news broadcasts for years.

(Note: The depiction of “blog writing”, including the obligatory punchline?  This is actually the way it is.)

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I am that musician. My objection, though, is really that given the number of excellent musicians there are in the world, some of them can act. So why not hire someone who can actually play the harmonium?