Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Emotional Depravation Tank

"Remember fellas, its all just a movie," Harry O would remind us. Harry O was a middle-aged swimming coach who spent his summers down in Stone Harbor as a Luetenent on the beach patrol. He was overweight, wore a Marlboro-man stache, donned the classic RayBan aviator glasses, and walked with his feet pitted in a 90 degree angle from each other, always slowly. The 'O had an intimidating voice and manner. Harry O wasn't his real name, of course, and there seemed to be no connection between the nickname and real name, but in the way that nicknames often do, Harry O fit better than Mike Orstein. The origins of the nickname were a mystery, but if he took his motto of life as a movie seriously, he may very well have given himself the name.

As a saying to get yourself through the day, trying to tell yourself life is just a movie is not a recipe for good things, as Harry O's own life bore out. Movies are never about the everyday life of normal people, because the everyday life of normal people is deathly boring. Movies are about criminals and drug abusers and powerful politicians, and even when it is about interesting people, it is a snapshot that leaves out 99 percent of the scenes that are utterly mundane - you don't see people shopping for food, or separating their whites from the colors.

So while you are shopping for food, or separating your laundry, and you are trying to tell yourself life is just a movie, you come to the inevitable conclusion - that your movie sucks. And so you have an affair with a co-ed, and ruin your marriage and damage your relationship with your kids, or at least that was what Harry O did. He was right, of course - domesticated family guy didn't comport well with the character Harry O, and so his movie lacked interested viewers; nothing a rewrite couldn't change, and most certainly did. Now you have some drama - if that is what you are looking for in your movie, you generally find it in the worst way.

There is an old episode of Hawaii Five-O (I guess they are all old by now) where McGarrett is captured by some criminals, and they put him in a sensory depravation tank. A sensory depravation tank removes all external stimuli from your brain - you can't see, hear, smell, or touch anything. The problem is that the brain requires such input to function properly, and after some time without any stimuli, it starts to create its own, and the subject begins to hallucinate and create his own wholly imaginery stimuli. (Of course McGarrett took an unusually long time to break - and utlimately got to say in reference to his captors - "Book 'em, Danno.")

My theory is that some people, particular actors, don't find enough emotional stimuli from everyday life. It is as if the day to day routine has placed them in an emotional depravation tank; they want to feel grief, anger, joy, guilt - the whole gamut of emotions experienced over a lifetime in a compressed period of time. In some cases, this leads them to actions that create the context for their emotions. Actors are particularly prone to this for the obvious reason that they compare their own life constantly to the characters they portray, who - if not naturally more interesting than the actor herself - at least have interesting things happen to them.

I recall that when Joe DiMaggio died, and the family wanted to have a very private funeral, they had to rebuff Kevin Costner and Jack Nicholson's requests to attend. One can imagine each of the two practicing his funeral face in front of the mirror, trying to strike the right pose for mimicing grief. Or the two actors imagining the funeral as a first scene in a Field of Dreams like movie, where DiMaggio is a proxy for them reliving the grief of the earlier death of their father, a grief that was stunted due to a strained relationship that Costner is just now coming to terms with through a plotline that somehow must involve an attractive actress - otherwise we won't pay to see it.

My proposed solution to the emotional depravation tank we call everyday life is to overreact to everything, but never to force your events. (Harry O forced his events. Actors, whose personal lives are often in shambles, force their events.) Alas, the chances are not good that someone from a rival karate academy will kill someone in your family, but the chances are real good that someone will cut you off today on the road. Method act the scene - when you are cut off, imagine that you've just been cutoff by the rival sensei, and react with the amount of road rage commensurate with him having slain your ailing mother. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when your kids happily greet you in the evening as you return from work, imagine that they have just overcome some horrible disease due to your unrelenting efforts to find a cure that the medical establishment was uninterested in finding. Oh, the joy you'll feel, reader - knowing what you've gone through to save your kids, how could you possibly choose the character trajectory of Harry O?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is some merit in what Harry O said. It just depends on your choice of movie/show. If you want your life to view like an episode of "Leave it to Beaver", so be it. If you choose it to be episode 7 of "Back Door Bonanza", so be it. If you choose it to be "All the Right Stuff", so be it.

Why be complacent or mediocre in a country like America? It doesn't have to be that way. The founding father's story of rebellion certainly reads like an excellent flick. On that note, I'm off to go hear Libertarian candidate Badnarik speak.

P.S. If you think mainstream media is biased against Bush you should hear the horror stories associated with the Libertarians. There has been a concientious black-out making everyone think this is only a choice between two pinheaded freaks. The back story has been the groundswell to vote for anyone but Kerry or Bush.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you want to be in love like the movies
Well in the movies, they're not in love at all
With a twinkle in their eyes, they're just sayin' their lines
So we can't be in love like the movies

Now in the movies they make it look so perfect
And in the background they're always playin' the right song
And in the ending there's always a resolution
But real life is more than just two hours long

-Avett Brothers

6:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After slogging through the blogs these past weeks, I now feel that it has all been worth it. Steve McGarrett was subjected to sensory deprivation??? Does anyone have it videotaped?

7:31 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

Sure, you can get it on videotape - here is the link:

It is actually from the pilto episode.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

I never really watched Hawaii 5-0, although people have told me it was a good show. But why did the villians try to deprive McGarrett of his senses?? Wouldn't that take a while? I mean, to paraphrase Scott Evil in the Austin Powers movies, couldn't they just shoot him while he's on the toilet or something?

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harry's life was equal parts fantasy and cheesesteaks. He either had to have an affair or die of gout.

1:28 PM  

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