So, we got out of class 20 minutes early today, and even if I have the sword-of-Damocles of responsibility hanging over my head (damn writing portfolios), I wanted to write a blog. About what, you may ask? I’m not sure. But it usually comes. And if it doesn’t, I just give up and go home. Except I am home. Or am I? I’ve long been confused about this vague, dubiously meaningful concept of “home.” You know, “There’s no place like home.” Be it ever so humble. Humble abode. A house is not a home? Or, as we learned in my melodrama class, home is the “space of innocence” in which melodramas (like, archetypically, D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East) begin. I randomly just thought of Jules Dassin’s great film noir Thieves’ Highway, which begins with the hero (Richard Conte) coming back from WWII. He finally reenters his home, starts doling out gifts to his parents and girlfriend, when all of a sudden it’s revealed: his father has no legs. This leads back to an incident involving an unscrupulous fruit merchant, motivating the revenge that dominates the rest of the film. But the point is that he comes back home, attempting to “Return to Normalcy” as Warren G. Harding would’ve put it, and finds that something is very much rotten in the state of California.
This is a common plot device (which has its own trope, Doomed Hometown) that basically feeds on the desire for everything to be good, normal, and how it used to be. When the hero comes back from the war, he expects to find his family just as happy and his hometown just as idyllic as it was when he was little. We certainly get a strong dose of this in that quintessential melodrama Gone with the Wind: what example in American history is as obvious as the Atlantan aristocrats who endure the Civil War only to see their old, beloved plantation and way of life literally burned to the ground by Union soldiers, just as certainly as the stormtroopers burned Uncle Owen’s moisture plantation in Star Wars, or the image that inspired that, the burning of the family house by Indians at the beginning of The Searchers. In these latter two examples, the destruction of the home serves a dual purpose, in that it both motivates revenge (setting in motion the hero’s journey) and makes it so there’s nowhere for the hero to come back to anyway, so he has to seek out the wrongdoers and make them pay.
So, the home. It’s a strange idea. What is home? The place that little bastard E.T. phones? Where the heart is? What the fuck is “the heart,” anyway? Sometimes I just hate tedious little adages like that. “Home is where the heart is.” Well, thank you! That’s so specific and meaningful! It’s not just repeating an old grouping of words with about as much magic power and insight into the human condition as “abracadabra.” I hate it when people just spout bullshit because people have said it before them. I say this over and over again: I can think of few reasons to do something worse than “people have done it before”! You know, committing murder has a long tradition in the human race. Does that make it a real valid course of action? Racism was law in America for 400 years. Does that make it a great way to live your life? In the 16th century, the Catholic Church condemned a heliocentric view of the universe. Is it therefore inappropriate to teach in schools? My point is, tradition can have its good points, but tradition is never good just because it’s tradition.
Another example: Ashley recently told me how at a wedding she attended, they celebrated a tradition where apparently the bride and groom each cut off a piece of the wedding cake and smash it in each other’s faces. And I spent about the next five minutes shaking my head in disbelief, going, “What the fuck is that? Why? Why? Why would you ever consent to doing something that deeply stupid?” So from the sounds of it, there’s a lot of idiotic traditions revolving around marriage. You have to do this, you have to do that. Why? Because people have done it before! And OK, some traditions, if they’re remotely meaningful or cute or whatever, I can appreciate. Doing moronic bullshit just because you’re supposed to is something I despise. I mean, what’s going to happen if you don’t follow all the stupid traditions? Maybe someone will get all upset and confused and go, “No, you have to do the cake-smashing thing, because that’s how it’s always been done! Intelligence be damned!” Maybe they’ll protest along lines that are frighteningly similar to the reasoning used by the village elders in “The Lottery.” Maybe, little did we know, but those stupid traditions were in fact holding together the fabric of the universe, and since you failed to do them, the sky is going to come apart at the seams. But I think it’s worth the risk. Seriously, it’s like people let their ceremonies be guided by a kind of collective OCD.
I think this also connects back to a basic tension underlying a lot of human behavior, beliefs, and also fiction: old vs. new. And not just that; to elaborate, people like novelty. It makes little chemicals fire in the brain and they go, “Oooohhh…” But change is scary, and people also like it when things stay the same. So when you try to suggest something new or different, even if it’s useful and good, they’ll fight back with all they’ve got because it makes them uncomfortable. (After all, “there’s a storm gathering.”) So what do these two ideas mean together? That, I think, human beings are a bunch of fucked-up little monkeys with inherently dysfunctional brains. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. But I’m sleepy and have to leave for class in 10 minutes, so pardon me if I cut some corners.
Let’s see, any other thoughts been percolating up in this ol’ head of mine? Well, I did want to write something about Edith Massey, one of John Waters’ Dreamlanders, just because she’s so fucking awesome. I’ve been watching and rewatching a clip from Pink Flamingos for my final project in digital storytelling, and every single time I hear her say how she’s going to eat her eggie-weggies before she goes sleepy, I just crack up (pun apparently intended). Massey is really just one of a kind. Here’s a sample of her unique acting genius:
Apparently in Female Trouble, she dresses like a dominatrix. I’m not overstating it when I say I have to see that movie. Also, I have a copy of Massey singing “Big Girls Don’t Cry” with her novelty/punk band, Edie and the Eggs. Words escape me. The world clearly needs more actresses like Massey. (Incidentally, though she died 25 years ago, you can read about her and her band, and listen to her music, here.)
And now I’d best be off to class where we’ll discuss Kon Ichikawa’s The Makioka Sisters (1983). Enjoy your day.