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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Good Living Through Pop Culture

I saw Invictus on Saturday night (at the Bow Tie Cinemas Palace, Hartford CT., auditorium # 14). I liked it quite a bit. After being a bit disappointed a year ago with Clint Eastwood's last directorial effort Gran Turino, I was quite quite pleased with this. It's a sports movie and historical biopic all in one, set in the first half of the 1990s. Nelson Mandela is released from prison, takes the reins of government in South Africa, and in an effort to build unity in the country throws his full support behind the Afrikaans rugby team the Springboeks that to blacks has become a symbol of oppresive white rule. The captain of the team is played by Matt Damon, who's fine in a character role that's much less showy than the Bourne movies or The Informant. Mandela is played brilliantly by Morgan Freeman. The movie is occasionally a bit too obvious, but generally in small quick ways as opposed. Maybe Mandela explains why he's doing a bit more often than we need, enough so that it's surprising there isn't a quick rules lesson about rugby. But the big Power Scenes aren't as gushingly maudlin as is often standard for movies of this sort and instead have a bit of powerful not-quite-understatement that's moving without seeming manipulative. There's a quick glimpse of some security forces prepping for the big game where one of the persons we cut too is shorn of context just enough for the segment to be jarring, as if these scenes should have been left on the cutting room floor or some other scene with the character not left there. But generally you can count on a Clint Eastwood movie to be a well-made affair, and this doesn't disappoint.

The life lesson: Mandela makes a point of adding hold-over security from the white regime to his trusted security lieutenants, which is the source of some tension. When Matt Damon's rugby captain is invited to tea by Mandela, one of the white bodyguards is escorting him in, and Damon asks what he thinks of Mandela. The guard's response is along the lines of "with DeKlerk, I was invisible. With Mandela, he learned that I like toffee, and when he went to England he came back with a box of english toffe for me."

This line resonated with me. I try to be the person who would remember to bring back the box of toffee. I won't claim to do it perfectly, I can't claim to keep track of the lives of people like my mother, who manages to send more greeting cards to more people for more occasions than anyone else I know, but I try. And I think it's a trait worth having. Be a little curious about the people you work with, try and find out who likes the toffee. It's a social grace that I don't find near as much as I should.

On Sunday night it was time for the finale of Survivor: Samoa, the 19th edition of the pioneering reality show.

I had been a Survivor snob for its first three or four years, proud of ignoring it. And then one year I watched an episode on Thanksgiving night (sadly in recent years this episode has more often been an enh-y clip show than an actual newbie) with my younger brother and his family and found myself hooked. And have watched pretty regularly for the past six years or so. There've been good seasons and bad seasons and some boring episodes along the way, but overall it gives me pleasure.

This was a really good season, which helped to revise the show's gentle ratings decline. Sunday's finale was seen by a few more people than last December's, and even a bigger improvement over Season 18 in May.

And the finale was one of the more interesting, because I, at least, found it hard to root for the best man to win. An oil company executive named Russell clearly played the best game this season, perhaps one of the best in any season. He had a plan from the beginning, he executed it impeccably, he held to a core alliance, formed shorter alliances to be sure he could always vote out the people he wanted to vote out, when he wanted to do it.

And he lost the vote to become sole survivor and winner of the million dollar prize. Not even close. 7-2 in favor of another player who advanced that far prettty much entirely by hanging to Russell's coattails.


Well, Russell never stopped playing the game.

After the votes, the show has a few seconds where the departing player talks on his elimination. The next-to-last player to be voted off said in his remarks "the least I deserved was to be told that I was going home." And this departing player was right. There are times in the game when it's too dangerous to stop playing the game. Often not at the beginning, when there are too many votes to sway when nobody knows anyone else yet. Certainly not at the end, when alliances are so well cemented that there aren't votes to sway. So there's no harm in telling someone "sorry, but tonight's your night."

Boy, did that never happen in Survivor: Samoa. Week after week, the person being voted off was blindsided with no idea what was coming. Russell never told anyone tonight was their night. He was always telling person B that person C was being voted that night, person C that it was person B.

Life lesson: there's some truth to the adage about being nice to the people you meet on the way up because you might cross their paths on the way down. You can't always be playing the game.

I don't know how close that scene in Invictus is to anything that happened in real life. Survivor isn't real life. But nonetheless I think both of these things are teachable moments.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I am still a 'Survivor snob' having watched only one full season in the program's entire run. However, my teenage son (who had never heard of the show) was enthralled. I caught enough of each episode from the kitchen while doing dishes to know I disliked Russell. I've seen too many Russell's in my working life to ever cheer for one.

I found the conclusion to be thoroughly satisfying, because the 'villain' didn't win, no matter how well he played the game. Call me simple, but too many times in real life, the villain wins. It's nice once in a while to have a happy ending (for me, if not for Russell).