Out of the mist of time and imagination have stepped great heroes, whose stories have graced the silver screen to become an integral part of our cultural consciousness: Moses, King Arthur, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Indiana Jones, Nelson Mandela, Rocky Balboa, Erin Brokovich, Batman, and Luke Skywalker, just to name a few.
The main function of heroes is to exemplify a society’s ideals, morals and values. Their virtues transcend time and place to become universal values worthy of emulation, such as, honor, duty, courage, loyalty, compassion, and self-sacrifice.
Throughout history, each generation has produced great heroes, who have left their mark on the world. One notable constant among these fictional or historic characters is that they were born out of conflict. By boldly rising to the challenges before them, they have taken their places among our constellation of heroes. It is why we are drawn to their stories. They represent the best of what it means to be human.
The 20th century has given birth to numerous American heroes, who have fought valiantly to make the United States first among nations. Not so long ago, America was a symbol of the Promised Land, where anyone could achieve his or her wildest dreams. Then something went terribly wrong… The nation became bankrupt – financially and morally. It was like a spell had been cast across the land. The old heroes no longer spoke to us and any new ones failed to make an appearance.
The 21st century is the time when our science fiction writers envisioned us living in a futuristic society. Instead, we are facing many complex challenges that threaten our well-being and progress: climate change, government surveillance, erosion of women’s and workers’ rights, terrorist attacks, cyber-warfare, GMOs in our food, rising student debt, a growing prison industrial complex, partisan gridlock in Congress, and the widening gap between rich and poor.
This begs the question: Who will be the new heroes of our Digital Age? Ironically, we have invented great heroes to fight our battles against the most evil villains, vampires, wizards and aliens, but for some odd reason we have fallen short when it comes to creating a modern day pantheon of new heroes to show us the way.
It’s no wonder that we are seeing a rise in the popularity of Superheroes. Will it take a Superman to solve our problems? The truth be told, these heroes are actually a projection of ourselves. We identify with them only to the extent that their stories reflect our struggles, fears and anxieties.
If we cannot create the perfect hero out of our collective unconscious to match these challenging times, then does the fault lie with us? Is that why we have grown cynical of our institutions and elected leaders? Do they truly represent who we have become as a people? Is that why celebrities have taken the place of our heroes and are viewed as the new role models? What happens when our storytelling becomes devoid of meaning and no longer serves its proper function?
These are some of the questions that have given rise to this documentary film project. It is why we are desperately seeking Hero X, a new Prometheus for this millennium. He or she will be the ultimate twenty-first century hero, a man or woman of steel and science, who can stop this runaway train before it derails.
He or she must embody the best qualities of a fierce warrior, great thinker, inspirational leader, and live by the highest ideals. In addition, he or she may exhibit otherworldly skills and prowess that will set him or her apart from mere mortals. He or she can be real or fictional, but must be able to capture the imagination and jolt us from our current dream state.
Science fiction is a genre of storytelling concerned with imagining alternate worlds and futures based on scientific principles, while predicting how our lives will be affected by these new realities. The genre provides a roadmap of the evolution of the imagination as we have moved from dwelling in caves to skyscrapers and, ultimately, space colonies.
Science fiction writers often use the genre to explore controversial issues confronting society and warn about the bleak future awaiting us, if we do not change our current behavior. If you have read my book, How to Create the Good Life from Reel Life, then you know that even when a utopian society is envisioned, where everyone is free from want, unhappiness, pain, and suffering, it winds up becoming dystopian in nature, which suggests there’s no escaping the darker side of human nature.
Today, we live in a world with many complex problems still needing to be solved. We are witnessing more natural disasters as a result of climate change, buildings collapsing with no means of rescuing the people buried beneath the rubble, people losing limbs in wars and terror attacks without the ability to regrow them, the rise of Social Darwinism with the death of the American Dream, pointless partisan gridlock in Congress that is hastening the country’s decline, and an escalation of cyberwarfare among nations, just to name a few.
If the future is now, then the following Sci-Fi movies seek to interrogate our current social and political systems, and the impact of technology and medical science on our morality, identity, and belief-system:
Prediction: The activities of citizens are monitored and controlled by a totalitarian government. Reality: Recent revelations about the U.S. surveillance programs indicate that Big Brother is watching us in the name of fighting terrorism. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans appear more reconciled to losing some rights to privacy and other civil liberties for greater security.
Prediction: Los Angeles becomes a dystopian society that is polluted, overcrowded and besieged by corporate advertising. Human clones or replicants that were created to work as laborers on an off-world colony have rebelled and are being hunted down by Blade Runners driving gravity-defying vehicles. Reality: The cloning of humans remains illegal, although animals have been successfully cloned. The infrastructure for gravity-defying automobiles is still not a reality, but the first driverless car has been built by Google. Even though we are bombarded by nonstop advertisement, it is what enables us to access free infotainment.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Prediction: Lifelike robots will take care of the basic needs of humans, and even fill the emotional void in their lives. Reality: Humans have become dependent on their smart phones and electronic devices, rather than on personal robots. Despite the many benefits of technology in the workplace, it is causing large-scale worker obsolescence.
Prediction: Law enforcement agencies will predict and stop crimes before they occur. Reality: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is engaged in an ongoing battle to anticipate and prevent acts of terror before they occur. It is not unusual for drone strikes to be ordered on suspected foreign terrorists.
Prediction: Clones of human beings will be harvested for replaceable body parts. Reality: Advances in medicine are helping to extend the lifespan of humans, which means that the better we understand stem cells and DNA, the faster we will be able to cure life-threatening diseases, reverse aging and grow replaceable body parts.
Prediction: Criminals and other misfits are removed from society and cryogenically preserved. Reality: Even though cryogenics still remains in the realm of science fiction, some people have chosen to be cryogenically preserved after they die, with the hope that science will advance where they could be brought back to life. On the other hand, with the rise of the prison industrial complex, more citizens are being locked away and are serving longer sentences. Those prisoners who are buried alive for twenty-three hours and then resuscitated for one hour each day quietly go insane, which seems to suggest that cryogenically preserving prisoners may be a little more humane.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Prediction: Less privileged women are forced to become surrogate mothers for the elites in society. Reality: Surrogacy is voluntary in America and all parties are protected by a written contract. However, some couples from the West pay women in developing countries to become their surrogate mothers. Not to be outdone, lawmakers in America are trying to turn back the clock by enacting new laws to force women to bear children against their will, even in cases of rape and incest.
Prediction: Climate change will cause severe natural disasters. Reality: On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the East Coast and caused about $60 billion in damages, which proves how prescient this prediction was in its timing. More investment is needed to develop better advance warning systems and to build sturdier shelters.
Prediction: Society is divided based on the genetics of its citizens. Reality: As we become better at manipulating the DNA code, more parents may be tempted to decide the sex of their unborn children and the physical characteristics they wish them to have. Expectant parents are already being informed of potential birth defects and have the option of not carrying the babies to term.
Prediction: Climate change and overpopulation will cause severe food shortages. Reality: As more forests and farmlands are converted into cities, it is becoming increasingly hard to feed the world’s population. It is no wonder we are seeing the rise of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As a result, more people are opting to purchase organic foods as an alternative.
War of the Worlds
Prediction: An alien invasion from Mars forces nations to fight together for the very survival of earth. Reality: We are yet to be contacted by Martians or other aliens, although NASA recently sent a rover to Mars on an exploration mission. It will be interesting to see our response if Martians are encountered, since we already have a hard time getting along with each other from the same species.
I Am Legend
Prediction: A pandemic disease leaves a sole survivor, who must navigate his way amid an infected population. Reality: We are in a perpetual race to find a vaccine for one infectious disease after another. These superbugs are developing immunity to antibiotics and pose a serious health risk to the global community. The good news is that search engines like Google can help us identify infected areas as people search online for more information about the diseases.
Prediction: A father and son encounter lawless cannibalistic gangs as they travel across a post-apocalyptic America. Reality: We have witnessed a new form of cannibalism by corporate elites, who might as well have fed on their fellow citizens, after stripping the country of its manufacturing sector and turning many neighborhoods into ghost towns. With the collapse of the economy after the 2008 Great Recession, many Americans are finding themselves traveling a metaphorical post-apocalyptic road.
Prediction: People are willing pay to experience fake memories and alternate states of reality. Reality: The Internet has created myriad ways for us to be entertained twenty-hours a day, ranging from cable network programming, streaming movies, videogames, and social networking sites. If creativity depends on stilling the senses, then one is hard-pressed to imagine what kind of future will be invented.
Prediction: Firefighters are ordered to burn books as part of a government program to suppress free thought and individualism. Reality: Instead of a problem with censorship, we are experiencing quite the opposite with the overabundance of self-published works. The digital revolution has made it quite easy for indie authors to bypass the traditional gatekeepers of the publishing industry, who once guided the culture and acted as curators. It has disrupted the industry by driving down the cost of books and shrinking the profit margin of many companies.
“To be, or not to be” is the opening line of a soliloquy uttered by Hamlet, as he ponders the meaning of life and whether the price we pay is worth the suffering that we must endure to experience it. Hamlet is a gentle and introspective young man, who is not given to bold action. One day, his tranquil world is turned upside down, after the ghost of his recently deceased father visits him.
Hamlet’s father reveals that he was murdered by his brother, Claudius, who has been crowned king and is married to Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude. His father demands that Hamlet avenge his death. To do otherwise, would mean dishonoring his father’s memory and being branded a coward. This is the life script that Hamlet is handed to work out his destiny. It’s no wonder that Shakespeare writes in his play, As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
What does your life script look like? Even though we do not get to choose the type of script we receive in life, we can still decide how we play our roles by making the best possible choices that are available within our particular set of circumstances. To be sure, we are all born with a certain backstory, within a particular family, culture, historical context and socio-economic status that will shape our experiences, values and belief system. Thus, your particular background will inform your decisions and influence your actions. Even though we live in a society with a justice system that saves us from avenging the wrongful death of a loved one, the same code that guided Hamlet’s society, i.e., loyalty, honor, courage, are the same values that are admired today.
Ultimately, the essence of what we seek in life is happiness. Even though we pursue external objects and experiences as major goals in life, any happiness we derive arises from deep within ourselves. Happiness is a state of being. It is our essential nature. Just like reel life heroes, we may feel a certain lack in our lives, or possess a character flaw that keeps us from living the good life. It is this need for change and self-improvement that stirs the mind and embarks us on an incredible journey of self-discovery and self-fulfillment.
It is just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who feels unloved and decides to run away from the home where she lives with her aunt and uncle. She is swept away by a tornado and winds up in the Land of Oz. As she follows the yellow brick road to find the Wizard of Oz, she meets Scarecrow who desires a brain, Tinman who seeks a heart and Cowardly Lion who wishes for more courage. By the time Dorothy reaches her destination, she discovers that happiness is a byproduct of helping others and that “there’s no place like home.” By venturing out into the unknown, she discovers what is truly valuable in life.
We all play a variety of roles throughout our lives, beginning with being members of a family unit and part of a larger community. If you are unlucky to be an orphan like Oliver Twist, then your life may turn out to be extremely difficult. It will require greater coping skills to navigate the world. If you have read my book, How to Create the Good Life from Reel Life, then you know that once you decide on a goal, you will find everyone else is either there to support, or oppose you in your quest. Similarly, depending on whether you wish to cooperate or compete with others, you will find yourself frequently changing masks and playing the role of a shapeshifter. Depending on the situation, you may change your personality to assume the role of a friend, confidante, mentor, gossip, flirt, snitch, pessimist, optimist, panderer, or aggressor, just to name a few.
In Oliver’s case, he finds himself with no good options. His mother dies in a workhouse while giving birth to him. By the time he is nine years old, he is sent to the main workhouse where he toils away, but receives barely any food in return. After running away to London, he is recruited as a member of a gang of pickpockets. Oliver is clueless that the gang is involved in criminal activity. He yearns to become part of a family and even though his situation is not ideal, he works hard to be accepted. It is not until he is arrested that his life changes serendipitously, and he discovers that he is not an orphan after all.
What the movie, Oliver Twist, reveals is that there are times when we need to surrender to certain situations that are beyond our control. Not surprisingly, they embark us on an inner journey that leaves us feeling lost, lonely and frightened. These hardships are there to test and instruct us, so we must persist through doubt and fear. Sometimes it may even seem like we are standing at the end of a long, dark tunnel with no way out. But, if we keep our focus on the essence of what we hope to achieve, it will act as a beacon of light guiding our destiny.
As human beings, we possess an uncanny ability to imagine the outcome of whatever we desire and simulate the emotions that we expect to experience as though they were real. It is what gives us the freedom to dream the impossible. It is what keeps us motivated whenever obstacles are confronted. By creating an image of what we desire in the mind, we become like an artist painting a picture on a canvas. Since thoughts become things, we attract the people and circumstances that can help to make them a reality.
In The Secret Garden, a young orphan, Mary Lennox, is sent from India to live with her uncle in a gloomy, old castle in England. Life for Mary becomes an adventure as she discovers a bedridden cousin, Colin, who is kept locked away in his room because of his disability, and a secret garden that has been locked up since her aunt passed away. Mary sets to work, tirelessly restoring the garden to its former glory and inspiring Colin to believe that he can walk again. In so doing, she restores life in the garden and love in the castle.
What Mary reminds us is that we all need a Secret Garden to escape and regenerate ourselves. It should be a place of beauty and serenity, where we can find solace and solitude. Such a sanctuary must be created deep within ourselves, where we can withdraw from the hustle and bustle of the world. It must be a place where past and future do not exist. What we did yesterday, or last year, is past and gone, except for the memories that still flicker in our minds. Tomorrow remains nothing more than a dream. All we have is this present moment, which is the seat of our power.
What if a Martian, calling himself Joules, shows up on your doorstep and tells you that he is on a special mission to learn more about Americans. Since we are currently exploring his planet, he has been sent here on earth to learn more about us.
Joules promises to grant you one wish in exchange for this information. Will you invite him into your home in the interest of interplanetary friendship? How will you describe the American character to him? What “top 10 movies” will you choose to demonstrate your point? The following is a partial list of movies from my book, How to Create the Good Life from Reel Life, that I believe provides a good snapshot of the American character:
The Patriot: Freedom from tyranny is a foundational feature of the American character. The rallying cry during the American Revolution was: “Give me liberty or give me death!” By standing up for their principles and beliefs, these revolutionaries helped to create the most powerful nation on earth.
Gone With The Wind: As the Old South with its peculiar way of life burns to the ground around her, the heroine fervently believes in her ability to reshape the world in her own image. She displays a high degree of optimism that tomorrow will be a better day. It also shows how Americans are willing to fight each other, even on a battlefield, for the preservation of their beliefs and values.
Citizen Kane: It is an era when an oligarchy of wealthy and powerful men ran the world. America provides the perfect stage for these larger than life personalities to live out their fantasies. It shows that despite all the money in the world, happiness can sometimes remain elusive.
There Will Be Blood: It depicts an American ethos of hard work and rugged individualism in a country that provides ample opportunity for anyone to pursue the American Dream. It also marks the beginning of America’s love affair with Big Oil and the energy industry.
The Grapes of Wrath: As families journey to California seeking a better life during the Great Depression, they find themselves being exploited as a cheap source of labor. The workers decide to fight back by forming a union and demanding higher wages. It is also an era when Americans were losing their homes due to foreclosure and had to find the will and wherewithal to start over.
Mississippi Burning: When three civil rights workers are murdered during the Civil Rights Movement, the norm was for the local authorities in the South to look the other way. It highlights a time when the nation was coming to grips with the specter of racial injustice and taking a hard line against discrimination.
The Godfather: America has a long history of battling corruption and organized crime. It reveals how certain members of society will always try to circumvent the system to get rich quick. It shines a spotlight on the inequitable distribution of wealth in society that may lead some people to consider criminal activity as an option.
Any Given Sunday: Watching sports is America’s favorite pastime and represent the competitive spirit of Americans. Football is a sport that pits the best athletes against each other, just like the gladiators of yore.
Wall Street: It is a coming of age film about a young man trying to find his moral compass in the face of great temptation. Wall Street is the domain of risk-takers, who believe that “greed is good.” It is a place of leveraged buyouts and hostile takeovers. It is a place where easy money is made without producing a tangible product that provides a real benefit to society at large.
Erin Brokovich: A single mother helps a small town bring down a power company for polluting its water supply. It demonstrates how Americans like to root for the underdog and act courageously in the face of injustice. It also displays one of America’s greatest strengths – its spirit of volunteerism.
My Dearest Son:
Like a bright evening star, you burst upon the earth so full of light, hope and promise. Was life reaching through space and time to arrive at you, or was it you reaching through space and time to experience life? No matter the reason, here you are already weaving the delicate threads of your life into the fabric of our story.
There are no words to express the awe, love and joy that I feel for participating in the mystery of your birth. My only regret is that I cannot provide you with a guidebook to help you negotiate and navigate your way through life. Being a young black male in this society, there is a definite need for it. Hopefully, this letter will suffice, until such a time that one is written.
As you gaze upon this blighted landscape, you may well wonder what is this fate that has befallen you. Before you turn away in revulsion, or become transfixed by the horror of it all, know that you look upon a wounded people, who are badly in need of a champion. Should you pick up the gauntlet, be prepared for the most challenging and exhilarating ride of your life.
The narrative of the sojourn of your ancestors in the New World is still unfolding. It is the story of a people who were abandoned by their gods, betrayed by their brothers, enslaved by strangers and exiled in a foreign land. Yet, it remains a glorious epic of the creation of a new race of people, of which you are destined to be a part.
This is the legacy you have inherited and will be the framework upon which you are expected to find meaning and build your life. It is not the kind of inheritance that can be measured in silver or gold, for in simplest terms, you are heir to an “experience” dating back to a time when your ancestors were enslaved and denied the rights to their own name, family, land, labor and heritage. To discover your true identity, you will need to excavate beneath the rubble of this history to find the nuggets hidden there.
The first thing you will notice is that much of life appears pretty much preordained. After all, you are descended from a riven people, who once walked the Way of the Slave. Because the term “blackness” has been imbued with such a negative connotation, it may create a rift in your soul and cause you to forget your reason for being. Herein lies the paradox. Even though the concept of blackness is socially constructed, and therefore, not real, it is the lens through which you will view the world and the world will view you in return. Therein lies your dilemma or deliverance, depending on your viewpoint.
Sadly, the terrain you must travel was once mired in misery, shame, and bloodshed. Yet, if you study the trail a little closer, you will discover the footprints left behind by a people of true grit and grace, who bravely withstood the worst evils ever conceived by man, in order to create a space for you. Without their stoicism and sacrifice, the New World as we know it, never would have existed.
It is this unique history and experience that will set you apart and cause you to perceive the world in new and unpredictable ways. Thus, the “gift” or “offering” that you bring to the world will be entirely new to nature. But, without your voluntary and fearless participation in the eternal drama of life, this potentiality of infinite nature will remain unrevealed and unfulfilled. How will this story end, you ask? Only time will tell whether you will come to view it as a burden or blessing, tragedy or triumph, monstrosity or miracle.
Shakespeare once wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Even though he was a brilliant and talented playwright, Shakespeare could not have conceived of a bleaker setting or more tragic storyline for his cast of characters than the script written for African Americans. Just look around and you will witness a nightmare scenario: dysfunctional families, failing schools, unsafe neighborhoods, high unemployment, mass incarceration, shortened life expectancy, racial profiling, violent confrontations with law enforcement, disenfranchisement, and isolation from mainstream society. By being constrained within this type of environment, the outcome is more or less guaranteed.
Ironically, this same marginalized group, whose ancestors were severely punished for learning to read and whose families were routinely torn apart at the whim of their masters, and who were subject to Jim Crow laws after Emancipation, are expected to miraculously perform at the same level of the most privileged in society, without enjoying the same advantages. When one considers that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted less than fifty years ago, it speaks volumes about the indomitable human spirit that African Americans were able to leapfrog over every insurmountable barrier placed in their path to rise to positions of great power and influence in society, including President of the United States.
Of course, this only tells half of the story as many young black males are increasingly becoming ensnared within the criminal justice system. If runaway slaves lived in fear of being captured and returned to their former plantations, young black males have more to fear with the rise of the prison industrial complex and “stop and frisk” laws. It makes one wonder how far into the bowels of hell did the architects of this system have to descend to inflict such suffering on their fellow man?
Four hundred years ago, Africans were the freest people on earth, with vast rolling savannahs to roam around as they please. Today, their descendants languish behind bars, with barely enough room to move a few feet. If one were to look at the history of African Americans through the lens of storytelling, the dominant theme has been the struggle for freedom. Is it any wonder that so many seek to escape and windup making poor choices? Would those sitting in judgment fare any better under similar circumstances? Without the right tools and support system to navigate the way, one can easily slip through the cracks.
Of course, I say all this not to discourage, but to embolden you. If you can understand that the reality you confront is socially constructed, then your first task will be to construct a new reality. In order to do so, you will need to look to storytelling for guidance. First, a story consists of a conflict and a hero to resolve it. Thus, inherent in every problem is the solution. The story is an outgrowth of the hero, and vice versa. One cannot exist without the other. Each defines the other. Depending on how well the hero plays his role, he usually triumphs in the end.
In my book, How to Create the Good Life from Reel Life, we learn that a hero is the one who dares to participate in the eternal drama of life. He is the one who ventures out alone and willingly sacrifices his life for others. He is the one who can be counted on to act nobly and courageously in the face of danger. He is the one who affirms life by willingly facing it. He is the one who leads the way for others to follow. He is the one who sheds light on the darkness and makes the world less terrifying.
As you embark upon your mythic adventure, know that the real contest is not against the world, but within yourself. Your first task will be to slay the three-headed monster of despair, rage, and fear. If you can understand that your mind shapes your reality, then your greatest battle will be standing vigil over the kind of thoughts that invade your mind. This is not for the faint of heart. You have to be ruthless with yourself and allow only those thoughts to linger in your mind that will construct the reality you wish to experience. Master your thoughts and you master your world.
Life is a journey of self-discovery and the farther you travel in the outer world, the deeper you will travel in the inner world. It is how we participate in the magic and mystery of life. Unfortunately, your road will feel a little rocky at times because there are many hidden dangers awaiting you. Do not be disheartened. Like all mythic heroes, you will need to adopt a code of ethics to keep yourself grounded. Spend time in solitude. Learn to control your breathing and thoughts. It is a good way to don the mantle of a warrior before facing the world.
Like the hero in any good story, you will confront many obstacles that will prevent you from achieving your goal. There will be threshold guardians blocking your way. Trickster figures will deceive you. Shadow characters will seek to destroy you. There will be times when you feel like all is lost. But, if you remain fearless and unwavering in your resolve, you will discover that things are not always what they seem. In fact, your enemy may turn out to be your teacher, and a disappointment may actually be a blessing in disguise. This seems to be life’s way of testing your commitment to a goal. It is also how your true character is revealed.
As you ponder the direction of your life, know that the only time that exists is the present moment. The past is gone and the future is yet to come. Ground yourself within your being. Your mind is like a fertile garden, so plant only those seeds that you wish to bear fruit. Think the right thoughts that will lead to right actions This is how you will encounter other aspects of your being. It is how you will discover the essence of your humanity and divinity.
Remember, there is a reason why you have been attracted to this instant like a moth to a flame. However, the path you tread requires the bravest of heroes. To slay the dragon, you have to conquer your fears and remain steadfast in the face of adversity. Life responds to how you picture yourself. Be the hero in your own story. It is how you will transcend suffering. It is how you will evolve and grow. By doing so, you will discover your true identity and become master of your destiny.
Is the American Dream dead or alive? It’s a question that Americans never expected to be wrestling with in the twenty-first century. After all, this was supposed to be the century when our dreams of living in a futuristic society would become a reality. As the tide slowly turned, we entered the Age of Vampires, causing the light to go out in the Shining City on the Hill.
When our science fiction writers imagined us living in a dystopian world, they expected the collapse of society would result from some type of natural disaster, pandemic disease, advanced robots supplanting humans, an alien invasion, overpopulation, food shortages, or repression by a totalitarian government. Never in their wildest imaginings did they foresee it would be a financial disaster brought about by the “selling out” of America that would cripple the nation, leaving it bankrupt and unable to fulfill the promise of the 21st century.
Throughout history, stories abound about vampires feeding on the lifeblood of humans as depicted in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. They often seek out faithful retainers, who will protect them and do their bidding. In literature, these vampires have become symbolic of the aristocrats and oligarchs living off the labor of their tenant farmers and laborers. It is how they sustain themselves. They continually drain the life out of the people, until they rise up in protest and drive them out of town. Oftentimes, it takes a great hero to lead the way and drive a stake right into the heart of these parasites. Because these vampires are immortal, they disappear and reappear at different periods of time.
From time to time, these vampires have been known to dwell among us. Revolutions have been fought and laws instituted to protect citizens from their predatory nature, but to no avail. As explained in my book, How to Create the Good Life from Reel Life, one reason why these vampires are able to thrive is because they seek out retainers who hold positions of authority. Oftentimes, these retainers place the interest of the vampires above their constituents that elected them to office. This usually results in the citizenry losing control of their government.
In Interview with the Vampire, Louis is a young plantation owner in the South, who is bitten by the vampire, Lestat. They become immortal companions. Lestat feeds off the plantation slaves belonging to Louis, until they rise up and drive the two monsters out of town. At first, Louis still retains a sense of morality and chooses to feed on animals, rather than on humans. However, Lestat convinces him that he is going against his vampire nature, which forces Louis to come to terms with his true being.
Similarly, we have witnessed the rise of a new breed of vampires, who have colluded with our elected officials to flatten the world to the point where Americans have to compete for jobs with the other 99% of the world. In this way, corporations no longer have to pay a living wage to their workers. They consider them as expendable in their frenzied rush to accumulate more and more. This imbalance forces the U.S. government to step in and supplement benefits to prevent these workers from slipping below the poverty line.
By outsourcing jobs and moving their companies offshore, these corporate elites no longer feel an obligation to pay their fair share of taxes. They pursue their own self-interest to the detriment of the nation, while still enjoying the privileges and protections offered by the U.S. government abroad. They operate without allegiance to any one nation, while using America as a platform from which to exert their power and influence around the world.
In Wall Street, Bud Fox is a young, ambitious Wall Street stockbroker, who is taken under the wings of his hero, the powerful and ruthless stock speculator, Gordon Gekko, who lives by the motto “greed is good.” One day, Bud shares some insider information about his father’s company that favors Gekko in a buyout deal. When he learns that Gekko plans to raid the employees’ retirement fund and liquidate the company, Bud feels betrayed and turns him over to the authorities. Bud returns to the values he learned from his working class family, even though it means a prison sentence for himself.
Ironically, it was the idealistic young people of America, who were the first to recognize and denounce these shapeshifters. They organized the Occupy Wall Street movement to raise awareness about the growing inequality, shrinking opportunity, and rising Social Darwinism in American society. They could foresee the imminent threat to the nation, with so much wealth being concentrated in just a few hands. As a matter of fact, one need only check the Forbes list of the richest people in the world to realize that it is filled with the names of multibillionaires, with no room left anymore for the multimillionaires.
The tragedy of our times is that America thrives on dreams, but once people feel hopeless and stop dreaming, or only the privileged can afford to turn their dreams into reality, then this does not bode well for the future. In fact, we have already gotten a glimpse of the dystopian world these elites have in store for us. While they enjoy record profits, workers’ wages have stagnated. While they pay less in taxes, the middle class pays more. While they harvest the assets of companies for profit, workers end up losing their livelihood. While five billion cell phones are in use around the world, not a single one is made in America.
In the end, we have to decide what will be the new normal in society. If the nation’s creed is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then why are so few people experiencing it? We cannot move forward as a nation, until balance is returned to the system. By restoring the American Dream, we will be returning light to the Shining City on the Hill. By rising up in unison to defeat the vampires, we will be acting as real life heroes.
The twenty-first century seems to be the magical point in time chosen by our creative thinkers, dreamers and visionaries when our dreams of a futuristic world will become a reality. If the future is now, then what kind of life do we have to look forward to? How will we cope with living in an alternate reality? What new meanings will we attach to our new existence?
In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain to find a trade route to Asia, little knowing that he would discover a New World. Five hundred years later, we have evolved from believing the world is flat to sending astronauts to the moon. By daring to embark on a journey into the unknown, Columbus revealed a boundless universe that has changed the trajectory of the world.
The Age of Discovery opened a whole new world of exploration and conquest. Even though it unlocked the floodgates to unimaginable wealth and power for some nations, it was responsible for heaping untold pain and suffering upon many more. On the other hand, it expanded our world of storytelling by offering new experiences that helped us to explore and better understand what it means to be human.
If you have read my book, How to Create the Good Life from Reel Life, then you know that when the hero embarks on an outer journey, it necessarily entails his traveling on an inner journey. The farther the hero travels outward, the deeper he travels inward. Life requires that we participate in the eternal drama. This is how we evolve and grow.
Throughout the ages, myths, fairytales and folklore were our attempts to explain life’s mysteries and ground us in the reality of our world. How else could we cope with the cycles of birth and death – the seeming temporality of life? These stories helped to insert meaning into our mundane lives. The more we better understood ourselves, the greater control we gained over our environment.
Today, we continue to wrestle with the same existential questions as our ancestors: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? It is through our storytelling that we hope to explore the many truths about ourselves. In the movie, Inception, the hero’s task is to manipulate the mind of a sleeping subject and implant an idea into his mind that will be acted upon in the real world when he awakens. This story raises some interesting questions about how ideas are conceived in the mind, while exploring the power of suggestion and the realm of the unconscious, which remains largely untapped.
When Columbus set sail on August 3, 1492, land was not sighted for another two months. Today, we have developed air travel that easily bridges time and space, so that a similar trip would take only a few hours. We have invented technologies that allow us to communicate instantly with anyone around the globe. The creation of the Internet has allowed us to enter the Digital Age. Just like Columbus before us, we are heading into uncharted territory and only time will reveal what new adventures and stories await us in Cyberspace.
For starters, Social Media is redefining how we form “community” and interact with each other. It used to be built on nationality, ethnicity, culture, religion, class, and race, but the Internet is erasing these artificial barriers. We are forming communities based on common interests. In the movie, The Social Network, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is depicted as a friendless young man, who is willing to risk everything in his single-minded pursuit to create a virtual platform that will support a global community. His sacrifice seems to have paid off, since Facebook reportedly has surpassed a billion users from around the world.
Not surprisingly, the Internet is changing how we communicate, work, play, learn, shop, dine, travel, date, seek jobs, find information, read books, consume news, use money, entertain ourselves, practice medicine, fight wars, commit and solve crimes. It is affecting the way companies market and sell their products and services. The Internet has become a veritable wellspring of free advice from anonymous strangers, which is proving quite valuable when a second opinion is needed. We have developed a sudden yen for sharing and staying connected. It’s no wonder we are witnessing the rise of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding online.
In the dystopian tale, Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, human reproduction is obsolete and children are born and raised in Hatcheries and Conditioning Centers. The society is divided into five castes, the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. The Alphas and Betas are bred to be the natural thinkers and leaders in society. They are expected to make decisions and dictate policy. The lower castes are physically and intellectually inferior. The drug soma is dispensed to keep the population docile and happy. This helps to create a peaceful and stable society, where everyone accepts their place within the hierarchy. The trouble begins when a citizen defies the system and is confronted by the absolute power of the state.
While the Internet holds great promise, at the same time it conceals a dark side that threatens to turn our society into a Brave New World. It has disrupted how we do business, which has led to millions of people being displaced from the workforce. While it has made many areas of our lives easier, we have not yet figured out how to deal with its negative effects. One can only wonder about the long-term impact on society with millions of people unemployed or underemployed, with no relief in sight. What happens when the state is unwilling or unable to lend a helping hand? On the other hand, if technology is here to stay, then it behooves us to figure out how to make it serve our needs.
Notwithstanding, the Internet has led to the loss of our privacy and control over many areas of our lives. We can be tracked and followed, whether we wish it, or not. This makes it much easier for Big Brother to watch us. Neither can we escape the marketers and advertisers, who make their living from selling to us. Our digital identities offer little protection. It’s just a matter of time before we are treated as mere ciphers in a computer database that can be manipulated, regulated, and controlled by those in authority. On the other hand, it will be interesting to discover what other aspects of our nature will be activated, once these unknown forces of the Digital Age are unleashed.
As we turn the chapter on 2012, the name Sandy will forever live in infamy. Sadly, 2012, was not just the name of a science fiction movie, but the year when America came to know Sandy, intimately. Our introduction to Sandy was brief, but deadly. If you have read my book, How to Create the Good Life from Reel Life, then you know that science fiction writers use the genre to gaze into the future and sound the alarm when they see society being placed in danger. It’s no wonder that the movie, 2012, proved eerily prescient, with its prediction of a natural disaster resulting from global warming.
On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy made landfall and swept across the East Coast, leaving behind a path of death and destruction. Not to be outdone, a homicidal maniac targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, several weeks later. By the time the winds calmed and the waters receded, Sandy left behind an estimated $62 billion in damages and a death toll of at least 125 people. After the gunsmoke cleared at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 27 people were shot dead, including 20 schoolchildren. Thus, a lone gunman with three weapons, wreaked more havoc in a few minutes, what it took Superstorm Sandy days to accomplish.
How does one recover from such unthinkable loss and devastation? Memories and possessions washed away at sea. Young lives snuffed out like candles in the wind. The tragedy of the situation is that we expect home and school to be a sanctuary. This way we can lock out the monsters. Anytime we feel like a good scare, we watch horror movies from the safety of a movie theater. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee of that privilege, anymore. While we love being frightened out of our wits by the supernatural world, as depicted in the film, The Woman in Black, we discover that the real danger lies in the natural world.
When a storm penetrates and invades the walls of a home, it is like a monster being on the loose. Just as a monster targets and preys upon the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of its victims, Superstorm Sandy was no less discriminating. Neither was the gunman, who entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and committed the most monstrous act on that fateful day. Those sweet, innocent babies were forced to stare into the eyes of this crazed monster, just before they closed their own.
How could they have known that their society fights vociferously to protect the lives of the unborn and a killer’s right to possess his weapons than it does to shield them from such deadly menace? How could they have known that the gun industry would receive a surge in sales even before they were laid to rest? How could the Founding Fathers have known that their simple flintlock muskets and gunpowder would morph into today’s sophisticated killing machines, with exotic names like, Sig Sauer, Glock, and Bushmaster?
From the beginning of time, our storytelling has depicted drowning as being one of our greatest fears. In the Christian tradition, the symbolic act of drowning is performed during baptism to signify rebirth and renewal. In movies, a storm may portend impending disaster, which usually reveals the true character of those affected by it. When a storm turns out to be a destructive force, it is seen as offering the opportunity for a fresh beginning. Thus, the rain can also be viewed as a cleansing and restorative agent.
In Ordinary People, the Jarrett family is torn apart after the accidental drowning of the favorite older son and attempted suicide by the younger son. The mother withdraws emotionally from the world, as a way to cope with her grief. The younger son is left bereft, suffering from survivor’s guilt. His father watches helplessly as the family disintegrates around him. As the family members drown in their own sorrow, one is hard-pressed to decide whether they will survive their ordeal.
In the Rabbit Hole, Becca Corbett is coping with the loss of her four-year old son, after he is struck and killed by a passing car in front of the home. She finds no solace for her grief, even after she joins a self-help group. She rejects a member’s blind faith in an omniscient God, who has shown no mercy. She rages at the absurdity and injustice of it all. Against her will, Becca is being forced to confront the nature of suffering and what it means to be human. Being alive requires that we participate in the eternal drama. For Becca, her way to healing is through the path of forgiveness.
What does losing a loved one feel like? It is a pain beyond reason. It feels like you’re plunging deep beneath the ocean into your own watery grave. Even though you wish for sweet oblivion, your senses are heightened and you become a fish able to survive underwater. Separation and loss are part of being human. It is the price we must pay for experiencing life, which seeks full expression of its own nature. So, it waits with bated breath for you to emerge from the abyss. You have been called to bear witness. You are the sacrificial lamb. What secret part of its nature will you behold? What meaning will you assign to the experience? Meanwhile, Father Time waits patiently in the wings to sweep you into his arms and heal your wounds, while he dims your memories.
When tragedy strikes, we tend to draw together and encircle those in need of our love and support. It helps to quiet the mind and soothe the soul of those afflicted. What Sandy has taught us is that the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. So, we’re all in this together. Are we going to stand by impotently, while our towns become like Baghdad, with its random acts of violence? Even though we could not protect our young from a deranged killer, surely we can implement sensible measures to prevent it from happening, again. Our main concern should be the protection of innocent citizens, not lining the pockets of the merchants of death.
Our storytelling abounds with tales of human beings having to cope with death and disaster. Like us, they struggled to make sense of their pain and suffering. That is why they created rites and rituals, throughout the ages. In the movie 300, the Spartans find meaning in their warrior code of honor, duty, glory. They see life as a contest of wills. This allows them to live fearlessly. Surrender and retreat are not part of their vocabulary. They draw a line in the sand and stand their ground. Can we do any less?
The Spartans have come and gone, but, here you are for one brief glimmering moment in time and space. Who dare fathom your travails? Who shall grant you rest? The agony in your heart builds to a mighty roar, until it reverberates across the heavens. Your soul fragments. Yet, you remain like an immovable rock, as the waters rush over you. Any sign of weakness and the tide sweeps you out to sea. Time stands still. You have an encounter with the Self. You pierce the veil, catching a glimpse of your secret nature. There’s no turning back. You are drawn into the the infinite I AM mystery. Your life will never be the same.
What constitutes the good life? It’s one of the questions that I wrestled with as I wrote my book, How to Create the Good Life from Reel Life. When I first ventured into the field of screenwriting, I had this grandiose notion of impacting the world, and fame and fortune were sure to follow. Several screenplays later, I learned that it’s the journey, not the destination that counts. Life is a journey of self-discovery. By participating in the creative process as a writer, I was able to develop a philosophy of life that has proven to be more precious than silver or gold.
The Bucket List
In TheBucket List, Carter Chambers is a working-class African-American mechanic, who shares a hospital room with billionaire businessman, Edward Cole, after they are both diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It’s unlikely these two men’s paths ever would have crossed, except for their illness. As their friendship gradually develops, Edward learns that Carter has written a “bucket list” consisting of things he would like to do before he dies. It’s his vision of the good life. After learning he has less than a year to live, Carter tosses the list away.
Edward becomes intrigued by the concept and retrieves the discarded list. He adds his own wishes to the bucket list and offers to finance the venture, if Carter agrees to join him. As they travel around the world, the bond of friendship deepens between them. They soon realize that their differences are mainly skin-deep. Carter reveals that his love for his wife has diminished over the years, while Edward shares the pain of his estrangement from his daughter. As they begin to realize what is most important in life, they find the love and happiness they are seeking.
The Bucket List reveals that it is never too late to chart a new course for our lives. A “bucket list” consists of the goals, dreams and desires that we wish to achieve, fulfill, or experience before we die. By creating a list, it gives our lives more clarity of purpose so that we can maximize each moment. A bucket list helps us to gauge how far that we have come and how much farther we still have to go. It adds new meaning to our lives. If you don’t have a bucket list, this may be a good time to start one.
A Little Princess
Once again, the reel world turns out to be no less predictable than the real world, since characters never know whether Fortune will smile or frown on them. In the film, A Little Princess, Sara Crewe’s father is a wealthy businessman, so she is accustomed to living the good life. Before departing on an extended trip to India, he enrolls Sara in an expensive boarding school, where she is treated like little a princess. When the headmistress, Miss Minchin, learns that Sara’s father has died and left her penniless, she confiscates her possessions and forces her to work as a maid.
Sara suffers numerous indignities as a result of her change in status. She has to live in a dank and dark attic, while having to cleanup after her former classmates. Despite suffering daily abuses, Sara chooses not to become embittered by her experience. Instead, she cheerfully adapts to her changed circumstances and continues to extend kindness to those less fortunate than herself. Sara’s true character is revealed during her adversity and that is why we root for her to succeed in her quest.
What our movies reveal is that reel life heroes bravely rise to the challenges set before them. Many of these characters are ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances. It’s no wonder we easily identify with them. They are telling our stories. It’s the reason why we feel emotionally connected to them. When they love, we love. When they win, we win. When they hurt, we hurt. That’s the magic of movies!
Similarly, our success in the real world is determined by how well we respond to the obstacles placed in our path. By remaining steadfast in the face of adversity, we discover different aspects of ourselves. It’s how we develop and grow. By following our evolutionary impulse that drives us to pursue our goals, we discover that the good life is not just a way of being, but a state of mind.
How do you define the good life? Do you have a bucket list? What are some items on your bucket list?