Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A cynic and his fairytales are soon parted


My uncle Rodney, the last of the three Martin brothers, died two days ago at 94. He was married for 72 years. It's hard to know if all those years were happy years because he was prototypically the man who wouldn't say shit if he had a mouthful, but I think he was happy. I cite this as a pre-counterpoint - a preterpoint, if you will - to what follows.

I will now wage war with the concept of happy endings. (No, not that kind, you pervert.)

From toddler-hood we are marinated in happy endings. Wicked queens (no, not that kind, you pervert) and ugly stepsisters and predatory wolves in the woods always get what's coming to them. Handsome princes and damsels in distress find true love and always live happily ever after. We learn fast. At about age 5, my daughter whispered to her grandma during a stressful moment in a Disney movie, "Don't worry, they get married in the end." This was a movie this child had never seen before. She was already primed to believe in happy endings.

SPOILER ALERT: BELIEF IN SANTA CLAUS MAY BE VIOLATED IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH.

Some parents don't like to "perpetuate the Santa myth" with their children. They believe the dashing and dancering of Santa hope that inevitably happens is a scarring event that can be avoided by never buying into the scheme in the first place. Likewise, some scotch the idea of God with their progeny, having had themselves some type of existential letdown, most likely while sucking on a bong in high school. As repugnant as I find that type of painfully realistic thinking, I'm trending toward joining the band and adding the happy ending to the list of things with which we should not infest our children.

Sure, peg me with a tracking device to study the behaviors of the middle-aged cynic! But let's examine the facts, shall we?

Can you quickly name a person who's lived out the fairytale? Someone for whom true love was requited and lasting? Someone nasty who actually suffered their deserved fate? Someone brilliant who was recognized as such before suffering and ignominy?

I propose the fairytale ending in our human affairs is, in fact, "the big lie." Pots of gold don't get found at the ends of rainbows, nice guys really do finish last, and true love blinks in the glare of frailty, pragmatism and self interest.

Funny, but I only have to look as far as my list of all-time favorite movies to find a reasonable truth that makes my point. Ilsa gets on the plane with Victor and Rick is left with only memories - Rhett gives the finger to Scarlet - Charles Foster Kane dies alone and friendless dreaming about his sled, for Christ's sake. THIS, my friends, is the truth of the truth. I love Capra, but he lied.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

it's the journey, barry
your friend,
pollyanna

Anonymous said...

Oh Barry, what you don't get about the fairy tale is that is is not about empty promises of happy endings- fairy tales are much more complex and important. First of all they have been developed over time by a largly illiterate population, (they have only just begun to be recorded in the last hundred years or so)tales have been told for thousands of years.. they perfectly address subliminal fears within the childhood psyche and give the child tools of desicion making power, not promises...big conversation and your friend pollyanna was right.. its the journey old man..

Anonymous said...

It is indeed about the Journey. What is a "happy ending"? Really have you thought about it? The Journey that is? Faery Tales and Happy Endings are what you make of them in each moment of each day. It is sharing a belly laugh with a co-worker, where you laugh so hard you want to pea your pants, or it's that you are notorious for singing wrong lyrics, and someone call's you on it, and it makes you giggle every time you think of them calling you on it. That is a Happy Ending to me. Or the time my son said to me, "Mom, where did the first tree come from?" Ummm, uhhhhh...really? that question, now? It makes you sit and think about what a "Happy Ending really is? Does it really matter where the tree came from? To me, not so much. But to my Son, Your damn straight, he wanted to know. Did he get the answer he wanted to hear? Who knows. Does Anyone really know? Our Faery Tales are the dreams we make for ourselves, not some Movie or scrip somebody decided "I" needed to fulfill.

So, in Summation a Faery Tale is the dream....the happy ending....maybe that's why there is an end.

Anonymous said...

Barry,
During Rodney's formative years, a sense of place and strong family ties were in order. America was rural. Civility, values, earning and paying your own way, and accepting personal responsibilty were rules to live by. You took the first good job that came your way and, if lucky, retired there. Along the way you married one of the first girls you dated, if not the first, and stayed married for life. You taught your children your values and they carried on that tradition. Rodney lived that American Dream.
B., from G.

Dilettante said...

My parents will celebrate their 50th anniversary next year. Has it been beer and skittles the whole time? Of course not. But their love, respect and mutual support have seen them through the inevitable challenges they've faced.

Remember, Barry, the stories end with the fairy-tale wedding, but we don't get to see what happens next, which is the hard work of nurturing a marriage.

For all we know, Prince Charming tires of Cinderella's cheery disposition, post-baby weight gain and obsession with sweeping the hearth. He sets off on an endless series of Crusades, returning to the castle sporadically to swill mead and boff the chambermaid.

Idealistic, yes, but Frank Capra's movies weren't fairy tales. George and Mary Bailey's life together was marked by hardship and disappointment. It took a near death experience for George to realize how lucky he was. Would that we all had an angel to give us a sharp slap upside the head.

Cynic? You sound more like a romantic to me. The only people I'm aware of who've lived the fairy tale are its characters.

Barry said...

Oh, crap, Dilletante, you've outed me as a romantic. And you give good comment, thanks.