How I Stack Up To Imaginary People

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:49 pm

We spent a good chunk of this weekend re-watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD. The theatrical cuts won’t be available on Blu-Ray until later this year, and according to a well-placed source (our friend Ed who is somehow wired into the movie scene by any number of invisible-yet-Trans-Alaskan-Pipeline-thick conduits of pure informational flow), the extended cuts won’t be out until after Parat 1 of The Hobbit hits the silver screen sometime in 2011. So it seemed like a good time to give our new TV a chance to really stretch its legs and steep ourselves in fantasy for a weekend.

I had forgotten how much of a workout those films can be. In addition to the fact that the extended DVD versions of each film weigh in at somewhere between three and five geological epochs’ duration, they can also be more than a little wearing emotionally. Unless you are the type of person who is immune to manipulation of one’s feelings through the medium of the moving picture, The Lord of The Rings is something of a roller-coaster ride, at times leaving the viewer awash in alternating waves of exhilaration, sadness and joy.

But this time through, I became aware of another feeling imparted by the trilogy; a sense of my own essential banality.

This should hardly come as a shock, seeing as how a good five percent of my waking life is spent looking at the people around me and finding myself wanting by comparison. I don’t make as much money as her; I have nowhere near the coding skills as him; I don’t have his acumen with languages or her talent with a paintbrush; I weigh three times what he does, yet my boobs aren’t nearly as shapely as hers. There’s basically no end to it. So why should it surprise me that I also compare myself to characters in fiction, wholly artificial beings crafted on practically a mitochondrial level to be inhumanly strong, courageous and noble, and find myself envying them for the very qualities that put them out of just about anyone’s reach?

In case you’re wondering, of course I understand the pure folly of this. Beyond the simple waste of energy represented by such musings, there’s the fact that these people represent a totally idealized distillation of their less distinguished historical analogues. (I’m speaking here primarily of the icon of the Knight or the Soldier, rather than, say, wizards or wood elves; I may while away some unseemly portion of my existence wishing I possessed qualities I do not, but those qualities at least graze the surface of that which might possibly be achieved. I don’t count my inability to ward off Balrogs or teach trees to speak among my many failings. Instead of pining for those particular skills, I left my parents’ house, married someone and have regular sexual intercourse.)

The idea of comparing oneself to “the knights of yore” has any number of pitfalls. First of all, it’s like comparing a horse-drawn cart with a loaded Ford F-250 Super Duty Crew Cab. Neither exists in a vacuum, and both have their advantages and their drawbacks. A pickup truck owner might long for the simplicity represented by the horse and cart, free of the infrastructure of petrochemicals, mechanics, spare parts and insurance bills. On the other hand, a farmer living in any century save the last might cheerfully trade his eldest son for the chance to hook his plow to the tow hitch on that Ford for a planting season or two….particularly if it came with on-command 4WD. The point being, things—including human things—tend to work best in their own environment, and my environment happens to include Asynchronous DSL and hot and cold running lattes.

Secondly, romanticizing the past is a sucker’s game. In addition to overlooking the “romance” of pestilence, starvation, primeval medicine and a life span less than half that ofย  modern First World humans, the concept of “ye parfait and genteel knight” was probably as much a product of fiction then as it is now. I don’t really have the knowledge of history to back this up, but I rather suspect that the warrior class of just about any civilization of bygone eras was built on as much a foundation of oppression, rape and wanton cruelty as any other factor….as cosmically distant from the mythos of Aragorn or Eomer as a Harlequin Romance is from a porn film.

The more I think about it, the more I think that looking back on the days of the Knight Errant through rose-tinted spectacles is like one of those conservative types who look back fondly on the 1950’s while forgetting things like polio and lynchings.

So my unhelpful tendency to compare myself to these “people” and find myself wanting is tempered by my very real understanding that I would in all likelihood not trade places with them—if indeed such a place existed—for love, money or fair-trade coffee. All of which I have in sufficient quantities right now anyway. I’m sure also that at least some of the flaccid envy I feel regarding many of the characters in these films is due to a case of action-movie-surplus disorder. Author Neal Stephenson hit the nail right on the head in his novel Snow Crash:

“Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.”

Now in my 40’s, I’m old enough to know better. Sadly, I don’t yet appear to be old enough to actually start acting my age. Or rather, I probably am acting my age. In fact, by some accounts I could be said to be acting supremely mature for my age….given that, emotionally, I’m probably about twelve years old. ๐Ÿ˜›

So I spent the weekend watching these films on my big-screen TV in my comfortable living room, basking in the company of my wife and my cats and my cushy upper-middle-class life, with a mixture of excitement and a sort of wistful longing. And when I was done, I set both back on the shelf, alongside the DVDs, and got back into the groove of my comfortable, humdrum existence. Or perhaps it’s a rut. Either way, the sides are smooth, which makes it tough to climb out of….not that I want to. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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