Monday, March 8, 2010


Last night I watched the movie "Surrogates". I don't mind telling you it was a bomb of the first water. It had all the hallmarks of the classic, sci-fi fiasco: an "idiot plot" (a term coined by Damon Knight to describe a plot which only progresses because all the characters act like idiots), a hopelessly incoherent sense of morality, and above all (for me at least), really cheesy special effects. On that last point, because I am such a sucker for CGI, I will happily pay to watch any film with good special effects. That should give you some idea of how worthless this movie was cinematicaly.

However there was one scene which, despite all the movie's ground breaking failures, elevated it to something worth watching.

The premise of the movie was that sometime in the near future, average people could buy and link to robotic "surrogates". I'm sure you and I both have seen variations of this plot device many times before. Naturally, the surrogate bodies everyone chose all looked like super models.

The one scene which really made me think was that where the character played by Bruce Willis was running down a crowded sidewalk, trying to get past all the surrogates. All the ladies looked absolutely beautiful, all the men were handsome. It was almost eerie. And it made me think.

What if we could all change our own bodies to reflect the physical image of who we think we are, as opposed to whatever God gave us? I'm sure a lot of us would say, no, we'll stick with the form God intended. ...which sounds noble indeed, and easy to say, considering that we don't actually have that choice. But let's face it - if given the choice, just about all of us would change ourselves to look like something right out of the pages of "Cosmo". Which brings me to why I am writing this post.

Maybe ten years ago I sold a car to a guy and his wife. She was young, he was old. She was thin, he was a little overweight. She was extremely attractive, he was, well, not very. I immediately assumed she had married this guy for his money. But when we sat down to do the loan application, it turned out she was in fact a medical professional who made substantially more than he did. Over the years I sold them several more cars and each time it became more and more apparent these two people deeply cared for each other. It turned out they had three great kids - all of whom any parent would be delighted to have. They all graduated from college - one of them served in the military - another has now entered the same field as her mom.

I think about that couple a lot, especially when I see young people in the process of choosing who they will spend their lives with. A friend of mine got divorced a couple of years ago and now spends a little time reviewing profiles of prospective dates on a couple of "matchmaker" sites. I think he wants to hook up with someone he can spend some quality time with. But inevitably, the girls he decides he likes are the most attractive ones.

Now I don't want to turn this into some kind of sermon. But it seems to me the ascendancy of form over substance - which has always been an elemental feature of human nature - has reached a new level in this modern society of ours. We haven't abolished poverty, but even the poorest among us are privileged to live like virtual royalty when compared to conditions most everywhere else around the globe.

We've gotten so far from the ordinary, day to day struggle to merely survive, that we have come to make choices based on a temporary fascination with appearances. We are beguiled by what pleases the eye - and must constantly re-learn the essential truth that what really endures and sustains is the nature of whatever lies below the surface. If this recession has taught me anything, it is that the days of artificial, purposeless standards are rapidly coming to a close. One way or another, most of us are going to have to learn how to make choices based on needs rather than wants.

Sure, it would be great if everyone looked beautiful, everyone had two cars, a nice home and steak on the table. And Steve, if you think about it, what we expect from politicians these days is that they tell us this is the way things will be if only we vote for them. But that isn't really how the world works, is it? I've said before and I'll say it again: show me the man with the courage to tell people the truth, and I'll show you a man you can't elect to dog catcher.

Several years ago I was in the middle of a personal financial crisis and found myself so depressed I often wondered how I would go on. On that occassion I remember my own son (of all people) telling me something which eventually pulled me through. We were sitting on the back porch of his crumby appartment and I happened to remark how nice a willow tree in the back yard looked. My son said: "Happiness is the ability to get pleasure from ordinary things.". It took a while for this to sink in, but once it did, I began to realize what was depressing me was the loss of things which really don't matter in the long run.

Sorry for the length of this post. Like most of the stuff we put up here, I probably enjoyed writing it far more than you will enjoy reading it...



1 comment:

  1. On the contrary, I liked it a lot. I've missed being able to nudge and poke you on the blog due to recent time constraints...

    As to your post, I heartily agree.

    It reminded me of some 'free advice' (and worth every penny) I gave to a cohort in my early years. He was looking for a prospective mate and I challenged his consideration of "only the pretty ones". I suggested he focus instead on the plain girls and look carefully at those presented as having a 'great personality'. We all knew that phrase was code for 'ugly as a stump'.

    I said he should find a tolerable, but less-than-perfect girl to woo. My reasoning to him was that a stunning knockout *knows* she is such and tends to be vain about HER appearance and the appearance of others - which will transfer to him. With that consideration, I said, a 'pretty' girl is more likely to drop you like a hot rock when a better-looking guy comes along. So, if you want a mate for life, find one that will be thrilled that you even considered her.

    I was half-joking at the time, but about her ended up marrying a plain-but-personable girl about a year later, and at last report, they had been married nearly 25 years and were still incredibly blissful with each other.

    Maybe I hit on something, or he was just incredible lucky (likely). One never knows.

    - Steve