Monday, May 24, 2010

Live Together, Die Alone

Or, In Which Catfish Explicates a Tenuous Connection Between Lost, Community, and the green movement.

I remember one time, as we were leaving the movies, when my mom said something like: "I like stories where a bunch of different kinds of people become a family."

I don't remember what movie she was talking about, but I certainly remember her statement. And I thought, I like those stories too.

Lately, I've been watching back episodes of the show Community (which I wrote about recently). I watched it all year, but I've been re-evaluating it in terms of the Lost credo: Live together, die alone. OK, so no one on Community is going to die alone (at least, I hope not, because that would be an AWFUL sitcom), but the show does explore the idea that when thrown together, disparate individuals can become a quasi-family. And this quasi-family can make one consider capital-O Others in a way you never would have before.

Lost, which had its series finale last night, more seriously addressed the same theme. When we are stuck together (on a freaky island, on an airplane, in Los Angeles) the need for survival allows our basic humanity to overcome our differences. We know we have to die alone; so in the meantime, we'd rather live together.

Lost is known to be mind-bending. Confusing. Weird. But those of us who watched it for years didn't do so just so we could figure out the puzzles. We did so because we were drawn into the story of human connection. Disparate individuals -- some not even speaking the same language -- becoming a quasi-family.

So many of the stories we're presented (especially on TV) are about people who are basically similar (from Friends and How I Met Your Mother, to 30 Rock and Grey's Anatomy) and how they deal with subtle differences in personality. But there are a few stories being told in which the larger human differences (race, class, nationality) are addressed and OUR HEROES still manage to realize they are a family.

The philosopher Alphonso Lingis writes of these random connections thusly: "We were on opposite extremities of humanity, linked by no culture, language, faith, enterprise, race, blood, or age. Across these most remote distances he had come to put his life in the place of my death. This substitution across the unmediated distances seemed to me to seal a bond of the most extreme kind, an absolute bond ..."

I want more of these stories about absolute human bonds. More stories where a bunch of people who don't even believe in the same God have to mutually save each other. More stories where American TV has to have subtitles because the characters don't speak the same language, but live next door to one another. More stories where smoke monsters chase people through the bamboo ... wait. That doesn't have anything to do with my point. More stories about the places where we all come together.

Ultimately, it is by learning the lessons of these stories, both silly and serious, that we will learn that we're all responsible for one another. Until that happens, I'm afraid our green movement can't get far.


grace said...

Have you read Archbishop Desmond Tutu's "No Future Without Forgiveness"? It's full of really powerful stories about the magnanimity of the human spirit, coming together despite generations of apartheid.

Catfish said...

I haven't read it -- I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but I need to start. So many great books are being suggested to me all the time.