Monthly Archives: May 2012

Community’s final lesson: Changing the whole game with just one move

Underneath all the geeky references, the twisted meta-storylines, the high-concept homage episodes, the weird characters, the gut-busting one-liners, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Easter eggs, the Doctor Who/Inspector Spacetime fanlove, the paintball wars, the zany Dean outfits, the disturbing Changness of Chang, the Troy-and-Abed credit scenes, and all the rest of the craziness that makes this show so special and so beloved — underneath all of that, Community has really been about a very simple thing: how to be a better human being by discovering the nature of friendship. At the heart of nearly every episode, gift-wrapped in delicious layers of pop-culture sophistication, is an uncomplicated, childlike lesson: about trust, kindness, compassion, and the bonds that connect us to each other and free us from our loneliness. It’s about stepping out of ourselves — out of our own problems and obsessions and self-pity and cynicism — and learning how to be, as the show’s title says, a community. Even Pierce learns this in the end.

And perhaps no other Jeff Winger soapbox speech delivers this message as directly and as profoundly as the one that wraps up Season Three:

Guys like me will tell you there’s no right or wrong. There’s no real truths. And as long as we all believe that, guys like me can never lose.

Because the truth is, I’m lying when I say there is no truth. The truth is — the pathetically, stupidly, inconveniently obvious truth is — helping only ourselves is bad and helping each other is good. […]

It’s that easy. You just stop thinking about what’s good for you and start thinking about what’s good for someone else. And you can change the whole game with one move.

That’s it, really. So simple and idealistic and utterly true that it hurts. And yet it’s such a hard lesson to learn, both in the show and in the real world, where corporate greed and the cynicism of politics and the polarization of rigid beliefs and the general breakdown of trust have made us all hungry for reminders that we can come together to solve our problems — that it’s the coming together that solves our problems. But “coming together” doesn’t mean asking other people to understand you and do something for you — or at least it doesn’t mean just that. It means being willing to understand and do something for them. It requires generosity, empathy, kindness, other-centeredness.

When we forget this — whether we’re religious or secular or conservative or liberal — we fall apart. When we remember this, when we learn how to devote our energy to helping others instead of ourselves, we rise above ourselves. We collectively become something greater.

And we change the whole game with just one move.

Community will return for a fourth season. But without showrunner Dan Harmon — who was unceremoniously fired by studio execs who clearly haven’t learned the show’s lessons — it won’t be the same Community, and it won’t be MY Community. As far as I’m concerned, the Season Three finale was also the series finale, and Jeff’s speech was Harmon’s final word on the subject of how human beings need to treat each other. He couldn’t have gone out on a better note.

Coolcoolcool.

(Photo via the AV Club)

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“We are a thinking species”: Carl Sagan on creationism, skepticism, and why science is the birthright of everyone

In 1981, Carl Sagan — astronomer and science educator par excellence — was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association, and delivered his acceptance speech at the association’s annual conference in San Diego. The AHA has now made the audio of the entire speech available online, and if you have 45 minutes, it’s absolutely worth your time. (If not, I’ve transcribed some excerpts below.)

The speech is wonderful for the same reasons that Sagan’s remarks and writings are always wonderful: his gift for eloquent, inspiring — and often humorous — prose; his powerful argument for the fundamental importance of science in our lives; his ability to communicate a clear-eyed and rational view of the cosmos that is yet open to poetry, astonishment, and wonder. But this particular speech is also notable for a couple of specific things. First, Sagan refers early and often to the accomplishments of the woman who introduced him to the audience: the astrophysicist Margaret Burbidge, who, like many female scientists, deserves much more public recognition for her scientific contributions. And second, Sagan takes particular aim at the threat of creationism — 1981 being the year of McLean v. Arkansas and the movement to have “creation science” taught in American public schools, a movement that sadly still has traction today.

I find it fascinating that Sagan’s decades-old speech still feels fresh and relevant today: not just his argument against the creationists, but also his stirringly democratic notion of science as every person’s birthright, and his description of “cosmic evolution” and the deeply intimate connection between humans and the universe — concepts that Neil deGrasse Tyson, considered by many to be Sagan’s heir, has been communicating to great effect.

Some lengthy excerpts below.

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Why stereotypes need to die, cont’d: The hipster is the most authentic of all

Sophy Bot, author of The Hipster Effect, has kindly sent me the video of her TED talk on busting the “hipster” stereotype:

On her website she further writes about the way that the dismissive “hipster” image actually obscures a fascinating reality — the fact that being a so-called hipster is actually an indication that people are taking charge of their identities, and choosing how to define and express themselves, beyond the shackles of cultural expectations:

Whereas previously prevalent subcultures focused on group differentiation, hipsters focus on the individual. The hipster isn’t necessarily about finding other likeminded souls out there. It’s more about expressing yourself and doing your own thing, no matter how wild that may appear to others. As more and more modes of self-expression have made their way into popular culture, fueled largely by the wide-open nature of the internet and the vast amounts of content we now consume on a daily basis, we’ve come to adopt more and more iterations of style at a breakneck pace. And because we’re adopting so many different styles so rapidly, we don’t have time to create a shared set of meanings about trends. Instead, what’s going on now is that we’re creating our own meanings for each particular style or object. Classical meanings have been lost somewhere along the way; though half of the people in a room may be wearing thick-rimmed glasses, odds are good that each of them has a different reason for doing so. We, as a society, assume this to mean lack of authenticity, but in many ways it is at the very heart of authenticity — it is choosing for yourself exactly how you want to outwardly express yourself, imbuing each object with your own personally created meaning rather than using off-the-shelf cultural symbols.

The rest is here, and worth reading. I’d never considered the “hipster” phenomenon in that way before, but I think Bot absolutely makes sense. Who better than the much-derided hipster to serve as an example of humanist self-creation — of the idea that we create our own meanings, that we are who we choose to be?

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The wild rumpus never ends

In memory of Maurice Sendak.

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The West Wing cast (who else?) says walking is good for you!

Who better than the reunited cast of The West Wing — television’s walk-and-talk champions — to promote the health benefits of walking? Click here for the hilarious Funny or Die video — I can’t seem to embed it, but if you’re a fan of the show it’s worth watching.

Priceless:

Charlie: “Sir, we need your help. We need to convince the American people to do do something that’s good for them.”

Bartlet: “That’s impossible.”

Hopefully not.

For more, visit Every Body Walk.

(Photo by Gerber Rigler, via The Washington Post)

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