Yesterday I watched The Great Debators, a movie about a debate team at a black college in 1930's Texas. It was an excellent and moving film, but as with many great films, this movie is much more about the historical backdrop than it is about the plotline or even the characters. When I look at stories (told mostly through films these days), I can't help but notice that most consist of a formulaic plotline for the main characters to follow (love, rags to riches, misfits, underdogs etc.) and then get pummeled by the overwhelming power of the context in which they live (Racism in the deep south, World War 2, Vietnam, etc.). Movies that mix these personal dramas with such historic events can be immensely powerful, but it makes me ask one question:
What are future historical movies about today going to be about? Great and tragic events have defined the lives of previous generations. How do you grow up black in 1930's America without having that oppression seep into your soul? How do you fight in World War I, World War II, the Korean war or Vietnam without it changing your world view forever? The trauma of the last century has given purpose to those generations. But how about our generation?
We are lucky. We are phenomenally lucky to live in a world (parts of America, not the whole world) surprisingly free from overwhelming oppression and suffering. But as a result, we are a disjointed generation, free from purpose but left wallowing as a result. Our challenge is to find purpose with our freedom, and this is a great opportunity. But it requires us in some ways to divorce ourselves from the stories of the past.
We are mostly free from violence, and yet it seems that our culture cannot free ourselves from violence. In our happy peaceful world, why do we still have toy guns? Why are all our movies about war or crime? I love martial arts movies, but I've never punched someone in my life. Why? This pervades not just our view of the present, but our aspirations for the future. All the beauty imagined in the world of Avatar, all the advancements in the biological sciences, leads at the end to a good old fashioned ass-kicking. Even most fantasy children's stories have fighting and war in them (Narnia).
We still yearn to fight. We still yearn to triumph. And yet I hope that violence is NOT a universal truth and that one day it will disappear from our library of stories, and that those movies, devoid of fight scenes and battle scenes, won't suck.