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Saturday, May 31, 2003

In soap operas and telenovelas, you encounter very few characters with mixed motives. Most people portrayed on those shows are either saints or devils, and you're required to cheer and hiss appropriately, as if you were watching an old-fashioned melodrama. Which, in a lot of cases, you are.

That's why it's so easy to get drawn in by the more complex characters, like the mob boss who's also a devoted family man, or the boy who plays nasty tricks on his teacher but has a soft spot for animals. These people are more like the ones we know in real life, I think.

Most of us are capable of great things, and most of us are equally capable of meanness of spirit. The world might perceive us one way or the other, but those who know us best can see past the surface to the complexities beneath. They can even distinguish between our behavior and our essential nature, the part of us that takes away the sting of a bad moment or gives greater meaning to a good one.

There's little context in a melodrama, and that's why heroes and villains are so clearly defined. Movies and television give us a little more to go no, but it's still a stretch to say we know why people do what they do. So we paint them with a broad brush and move on to the next episode, or we give them an hour to keep us interested and then dismiss them.

Ah, but in a book, in a well-written novel, you get inside someone's head. You live with them, see the world as they do, and get a sense of why they sometimes act against their own best interest, or why they make sacrifices that would otherwise be incomprehensible. You learn that the villain is a human being, with more than one motivation and with the ability to rise above baser instincts. You sometimes find that flawed heroes are even more admirable than the superheroes on the screen.

Most of the people we get to know in our lives might as well be characters in a movie, because we'll never know them as well as we would if we were reading their story in a book. In this world of online journaling, we get a little closer to some people than we might have thought possible. Even if what we get is a highly filtered, incomplete picture, it's still more than we know about a lot of people we spend time in the same room with.

31 May 03

Branches of the pussywillow creep through the fence by the garage.

My current read is Scarlet Feather, by Maeve Binchy. I love her books because of the complexities of the characters and the intricate ways they relate to each other and affect each other's lives. Nothing in anything I do passively, such as watching movies and television shows, can come close to the feeling I get from reading a novel like this. I don't know how much I know about life, but a lot of it was learned from fictional characters who became real to me.

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This does not mean that I intend to stop watching television. Sure, I'm a TV-watcher, always mighty proud to say it. Why, I consider that the hours I spend with a remote in my hand are golden. Help you cultivate horse sense, and a cool head and a keen eye.

Recent recommendations can always be found on the links page.

One year ago: Real People
"The only people who are at all interesting are the ones who have a range of complexities battling within themselves. You know, like the real human beings you deal with every day in your life."

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