Saturday, March 10, 2018

Thinking Out Loud on the Homefront: Keeping an Open Mind

As I wrote in this space last time, I've challenged myself to read 52 books this calendar year. Since last time, I have completed two and a half books, which means my pace slowed a bit. Part of that was because I was sick, and part of that was because I spent some recuperating time at home at the same time as my kids were on mid-winter break. That led to less time spent on pages.

One of the books I finished was completed in a day. Was it cheating? Nope. It was a full book, and therefore it counts. Plus, it was one I had started years ago as a pre-teen but never finished. Had I done so then, the book likely would not have struck such a chord in me.

The book was the many things to many people classic, The Little Prince.
Given the state of interpersonal communication in today's world, I found the message of the book to be quite extraordinary. And, perhaps, the greatest message is that we all should do our best to remain young at heart for as long as possible. The second we allow ourselves to essentially shut down our imaginations or to limit our perspectives is the second we allow our childhood to truly end. That was the message I took from the book, although since I will likely read it again at some point down the road, it is possible that message could change.
The Little Prince is a story about a little boy from Planet B-612, which is the name of an asteroid. The planet's inhabitant is the prince, and he presides over a single flower, three volcanoes, a gifted sheep in a box, and he is on the constant lookout for baobabs (bad seeds turned sprouts) to remove. His journey in the book involves him talking to a variety of adults too busy to give him the answers he is seeking, for they are all focused on "matters of consequence."
Each adult met on the prince's journey to earth fits a type that too often we find in today's world, where certain types are easy to pick out...especially if we are on social media with any frequency at all.
There is a king, a conceited man, a tippler, a businessman, a lamplighter, a geographer, and finally, the narrator of the story on Earth. Keeping in mind that the novella was first written and published during World War II, I am sure Antoine de Saint Exupéry had certain things or people in mind when he crafted each character. Plenty has been written on this very subject, in fact. However, in modern times, each character can be still be found around us. Or at the very least, I think so.
The king and his roundabout way of speaking without saying anything is a politician. The conceited man is a celebrity, whose very existence is predicated on being admired. The tippler, who is basically a drunk, is someone who has crawled into such a cocoon of self-pity that he no longer even knows why. The businessman is someone so focused on money to the point that it almost no longer has value. The lamplighter is someone who has become so unfortunately obsessed with his job that life is passing him by. And the geographer can easily be linked to the aptly titled "keyboard warriors" who know all about everything without ever leaving their parents' basements (in a manner of speaking, of course).
Finally there is the narrator, who in his interactions with the prince has realized everything he had let go of as he made his way into adulthood. Whereas he once had an imaginative side, he had allowed the process of growing up to stifle far too much of his creativity. For instance, he wanted to draw, but early in his life someone told him his drawings were no good, so he stopped. After his encounter with the prince, he began to wonder whether that was a mistake.
I found much to like about The Little Prince, and I found myself realizing that it is imperative that we take a step back every once in a while and just live. Enjoy life, because unless you believe in reincarnation, it's the only one we get.
It is ok to be confident and it is admirable to work hard. But never be afraid to change your perspective, to broaden your horizon. And keep an open mind to others' ideas.
With that, I transition into my frequent soapbox in defense of movies. Remember, they are meant to entertain. And this month two highly anticipated films will debut in theaters around the country. Both are based on bestselling books, and both seem to have audiences chomping at the bit to see their favorite stories on the big screen and done right.
The first of these is A Wrinkle in Time, and the second is Ready Player One.
Sure enough, both are beginning to face both negativity and criticism - some warranted, some not - on the web.
My daughter and I will finish reading Wrinkle this weekend, and we'll probably see it within the next week or so. The book came out in 1962 and it had trouble finding an audience. A fantasy/sci-fi novel for kids with a young girl as the main character? Many thought it wouldn't work, but it did to the point where author Madeleine L'Engle found enough inspiration for two sequels and two more follow-up stories. (We have a boxed set here at home.)
The story in A Wrinkle in Time is a basic good vs. evil one, as is the story in Ready Player One. However, too many "geographers" have decided their opinions are the ones that matter, and they may unfortunately affect the movies many of us highly anticipate watching.
Perhaps that is a byproduct of the marketing of each film. For instance, this nation still has a problem with change, and the color of the cast in A Wrinkle in Time seems to have rubbed some the wrong way. The heroine is of mixed race, the director is African American, and many of the stories surrounding the movie up to this point - at least the ones I have seen - haven't been about the movie, but about how this is the largest budget ever bestowed upon not only upon an African American director, but an African American director who is also a woman. (Gasp!) Seriously, Hollywood, what took so long? Ava Duvernay is getting plenty of accolades already, but there are plenty of outliers, too.
And those outliers are critics. As of this writing, A Wrinkle in Time was holding steady at a 43 percent rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. That site combines reviews from all over to come up with its score, and it has become the bane of many filmmakers. It has also led to too many people deciding whether to see a movie based on what someone else tells them. (But if Twitter is to be believed, fans are more than satisfied with Ms. Duvernay's efforts, and young people's reactions to the film are making parents smile.)
The story, though, is just as important, and for many, A Wrinkle in Time stuck with them from the time they read it as a child. Full disclosure, reading it to my daughter was my first time though it, and I've enjoyed it. Spending time with my daughter is a plus. Reading a book to her where the main character is a young girl around her age? That's an added bonus. She'll likely love seeing a girl on the big screen saving the day.
As for Ready Player One, I've discussed the criticisms of that book in this space before. I'll spare the rehashing of them here. What I will note, however, is that with Steven Spielberg at the helm of a blockbuster celebrating the 1980s and a culture he helped create is oozing potential. The story of Ready Player One includes a virtual world where people get to know each other almost exclusively based on personality - a fact lost on many. The writing is not perfect, but it is fun. And the most vocal critics come off as some combination of the satirical adults met by the prince, as in most of them believe their opinions to be facts, and those who disagree are unworthy of their time. The same goes for critics of the movie version of A Wrinkle in Time, who likely went into the movie expecting something made for them.
A quick message to the critics: these movies are not for you. Movies made for critics come out in November. And no one sees them.
So with that, enjoy the start of March. Go see Black Panther, or A Wrinkle in Time, or Ready Player One. Read what you want, watch what you want. Check out a review, if you so choose, and don't let it make a decision for you.
Listen to the message of The Little Prince.
Live your life to the fullest. Do what you want. Like what you want. And unless there is imminent harm - physical or otherwise - coming your way, let others do the same.
Howie Balaban likes to be critical of critics. After all, many of them missed the boat on Sgt. Pepper.