Saturday, August 27, 2022

TALKING SHOP: What Do HARRY POTTER, CHUCK (TV Show), STAR WARS (Original Trilogy), a new band called DURRY, and SPIDERMAN – Have In Common?

Short answer: HELPLESSNESS

Long answer: read on...

HARRY POTTER appears in the first book as a baby in a basket, being dropped off at his aunt and uncle's house by a witch, a wizard, and a guy riding a flying motorcycle with a sidecar. According to most Earth biology, you can't get much more helpless than a baby.

Most of you are familiar with the story, but if you’re not (“What Culture do you live in – the books are available in eighty languages and Braille!) the story starts with a helpless boy who remains pretty helpless for 1.2 million words. He also manages to defeat the Ultimate Evil with the help of hundreds of individuals who sacrifice their lives (including the most powerful wizard of the age) and wreaks havoc on TWO universes…and remains basically helpless except for the fact that he’s deeply connected to the Ultimate evil and destroys him through that fact with little effort of his own.

In CHUCK, we watch the ultimate Stanford University failure-turned-Nerd Herder (aka Best Buy Geek Squad member) accidentally become the most powerful database known to Humanity, the Intersect. Instead of overthrowing the world and becoming the Emperor of Man, he stays basically the same and is handled until he becomes one of the most powerful tools on Earth; while remaining a clueless, helpless nerd who loves his sister, and has a total dork for a best friend, wins the love of a deadly CIA agent who happens to be Greek goddess-level beautiful – because he IS who he IS: a helpless nerd who loves his sister and his mediocre job, best friend, family, and life.

In the STAR WAR Original Trilogy the same story is reiterated: LUKE SKYWALKER on the brown-end of the Universe on a farm in (almost literally) the middle of nowhere with a grumpy uncle and an aunt who knows everything but can’t do anything about it because she, too, is helpless. When Luke leaves, he’s helpless. When he gets two robots he’s helpless. Even when he finds out he can wield world-bending power…he’s helpless. He remains so for some nine-plus movies.

In 2020, quarantined siblings Austin and Taryn joined forces under their family name DURRY to make music together for the very first time. In 2021 their careers were launched by their tiktok viral track, “Who’s Laughing Now”. Quickly gaining notoriety because Durry bottled up a few inner monologues — everyone from parents, to society, to their church doubted they could “make it”. Their paean to helplessness and lack of support brought them to the attention of Limp Bizkit front man, Fred Durst and became one of Jade's Music You Should Know picks one week. Here's the video:

SPIDERMAN, in all of his iterations, was a kid who lost his parents, then lost his uncle to gun violence (sound familiar?). On a field trip sometime in high school, he’s bitten either by a radioactive spider or a genetically engineered spider and suddenly has the powers of a spider – strength, speed, senses, and no fear of heights – oh, did I mention the ability to stick to anything?

So, Peter Parker has everything any kid could possibly want. He can beat any of his enemies to a pulp, he can take on super villains and after getting beat up some, beat them and live to go home to his Aunt May (who has variously been depicted as elderly to barely middle-aged…). He’s also friendly, works in his neighborhood, and is known as Spiderman. But his most defining quality? He’s shy, quiet, and has so few friends that virtually no one knows who he is. He has no influence on society except for the tiny lives of people he interacts with. Of course WE know he’s destined for greatness, but HE doesn’t know that. In fact, for much of his book-time and absolutely through a big chunk of his movie time, he continues to lament that he’s basically…helpless.

It's been my experience that the vast majority of people feel helpless. I venture to believe that it’s this basic piece of the Human condition that drives everything from the Mother Theresas of the world to the Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin’s

So what?

All of these people, whether real or imaginary, whether musicians or CIA agent, have somehow managed to draw to them literally MILLIONS of fans. Not necessarily billions of dollars…oops, I guess BILLIONS OF DOLLARS is correct, AND millions of fans.

In the beginning, they attracted people just like them – geeks, dorks, the unnoticed, the ones “real society” labeled losers. These losers – and let me tell you up front that I AM one of them. I made countless Batman costumes out of paper grocery bags and carved a STAR TREK phaser out of a block of wood and nailed another one on it for a handle, then pounded five nails into the front end for a barrel – and then when I shot someone, I made a shrieking sound while vibrating my tongue…

These people, like myself, live lives of helpless normality. NOT desperation. Regular people will never get a government data base crammed into their heads, and the only thing a normal person will get after being bitten by a radioactive/genetically engineered spider, is a rash. They will not receive letters with wings announcing that they’ve been accepted to a wizarding school. Dorky farm boys will not suddenly discover that their father left them a light saber that will symbolically challenge an interstellar Empire, and be hailed as one of the last of an extinct order of Jedi knights. A brother and sister will NEVER discover that a TikTok they made in their basement has a million hits, they have an agent and a tour...rather than mom and dad upstairs as their only audience.

What sets all of these stories apart? It’s not the “powers” they got – magic, technology, arachnid power, or a zillion dollar record contract and road tour?

They remained the same: helpless, endearing, dorky. What changed was the world around them. And everything changed around them NOT because they were different. It changed because they were NORMAL people who kept choosing to keep going and not giving up when their worlds seemed to be going to hell-in-a-handbasket.

They believed that what they COULD do was important.

Because Harry, Chuck, Peter, Austin and Taryn, and Luke didn’t become jerks because of their suddenly power. Of COURSE they could act like jerks sometimes (and did, “Are you listening Harry?), but there were normal people around them who brought them back down from their High And Mighty Spaces, elbowed them in the side, and reminded them that while they may be “The Chosen Ones”, their close friends knew better.

They were just normal people tasked with doing extraordinary things WITH THEIR FRIENDS, FAMILY, AND LOVED ONES.

Lisa Cron writes in her book, WIRED FOR STORY, “…we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world” (p 2). She also writes that our brains experience a story as if it were REAL: “A recent brain imaging study reported in Psychological Science reveals that the regions of the brain that process the sights, sounds, tastes and movement of real life are activated when we are engrossed in a compelling narrative.” (p 4)

When I read a story that is ABOUT a king, emperor, superhero, alien, or a 15-year-old guy, I’m just not as interested, because I can’t really connect with them. They aren’t part of my reality. I can, however, keep reading and putting away my pre-judgement, I can let myself sink into the STORY.

Harry, Chuck, Peter, Austin and Taryn, and Luke are all stories I can fall into because they’re about normal people. They’re about helpless people just like me. But ALL OF THEM BROKE OUT OF NORMALITY AND MADE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD.

They all inspire normal people NOT by their greatness, but by their persistence and stubborn resolve to keep moving ahead and make a difference in their stories.

Which leads ME to believe that maybe, just maybe, I can break out and make a difference, too.