To Kill A Mockingbird

It has been said that everyone has a book inside them. I’m not sure who said it, and I don’t know if it is all that true, though I have always felt it to be so for me. Of course we live in a world now where lots of folks want to be famous, and even more want to be rich, and therefore they are always looking for ways to make that happen. I suppose writing a book is just as good of an option as any, and maybe even better than most (for example doing “reality TV” or making a sex tape). However, there are a couple of perils. First of all, our bookstores become polluted with crap that it is difficult to believe was ever published in the first place (much like the plethora of asinine television shows & movies that should have never been greenlighted). Secondly, authors who achieve success right out of the gate are encouraged to write more, oftentimes with specious results. Sometimes it really is better to quit while you are ahead.

 

In the annals of one hit wonders I think most folks would agree that author Harper Lee ranks right up there with Soft Cell, Mark Hamill, John Adams, and Dexys Midnight Runners. I am tempted to say that it is a shame that she only wrote one novel, but when that one novel is the Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill A Mockingbird then there is really nothing left to prove and nowhere to go but downhill.

 

Though they really aren’t all that similar it occurs to me that Mockingbird and the previous novel we examined…Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine…have a few things in common. They both take place in the same general era…Mockingbird in the mid-1930’s in the midst of The Great Depression, Dandelion Wine in 1928 just before the Depression. Both are set in a sleepy small town, the kind that we wax nostalgic about in 21st century America. And both have children as the main protagonists, allowing the story to be told thru the eyes of a child and therefore necessitating an accessible writing style without sacrificing literary elegance. But the comparisons end there.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird is an unflinching look at racism in the early 20th century, and though it is at times uncomfortable (especially when observed thru the politically correct prism that has almost become the standard in modern times) there is such an easygoing innocence from the point-of-view of the narrator that the rough edges seem much more palatable.

 

The story is about the Finch family in Maycomb, Alabama. There is the narrator…9 year old Jean Louise, nicknamed Scout…her older brother Jem…and their widowed father Atticus, a wise, even-tempered lawyer with a strong sense of morality. Scout & Jem spend their days in school and their evenings & summertime playing and hanging out with a neighbor boy named Dill. Scout, Jem, & Dill become obsessed with a reclusive neighbor named Boo Radley who for many years has been the subject of rumors painting him as some kind of freaky monster and hasn’t been seen by anyone since he was a teenager. Meanwhile, Atticus takes on the case of Tom Robinson, a poor black man accused of raping his white female neighbor Mayella Ewell. Robinson’s trial is a major event in Maycomb, and it exposes the children to the racist outlook of a town that they had heretofore only known to be filled with friendly neighbors & schoolmates. Eventually the two storylines intersect, although if you want to know how you’ll just have to read the book.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird is an important book. I wouldn’t hesitate to place it in the mix with The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the works of Shakespeare & Dickens, and The Holy Bible as one of the most significant things ever written. That will sound like hyperbole only to those who have not had the pleasure of reading it. It embodies a time, a place, and an attitude that we still haven’t completely laid to rest. Yes we have made remarkable strides, but we cannot truthfully say that racism no longer exists. They may be fewer in number, but there are still people with an “us and them” outlook. The difference between now & then is that we are fully aware that it is wrong. To a certain extent the racism in Mockingbird is portrayed in such a matter-of-fact way that we can conclude that many folks back then didn’t realize how wrong they were. It was the way it was. There was a hierarchy and everyone had their place and played their proper role in society. Even the ethical hero of the book Atticus Finch employs a black housekeeper, something that we see today as a racial stereotype. When reading a story like this we are forced to confront our own views and one wonders how various people have been impacted as society has evolved over the past few decades.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic 1962 film based on the book and starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Like most movies based on books there are some minor characters left out and substantial subplots that are shortchanged or eliminated, but overall it is a faithful adaptation and quality production.  As usual in these cases I strongly caution against skipping the book in favor of just watching the movie. The book is an almost breezy read, which is surprising given its gravitas. If you haven’t read it you really should. God knows it’s better than watching The Bachelor or anything starring a Kardashian.

 

 

 

50 Favorite TV Shows…..50-41

I ran some numbers on this list just for fun.

As far as network representation, NBC has 21 shows, ABC 11, CBS 9, The WB/CW, ESPN, and HBO have 2 each, USA & MTV each have 1, and there are 2 shows that are/were strictly first run syndicated. Curiously enough Fox has apparently never produced a show that frosted my cupcake all that much.

18 of my choices were mainly 80’s shows, 14 were 90’s shows, 4 came and went before I was even born (ahhh…the magic of reruns), and only 5 shows emanate from this century (2000 and beyond for those of you in Wyoming County, WV who might be having a friend from civilization trained in the literary arts reading this to you). Only 8 are still in production.

27 of my selections are comedies and 11 are dramas. A couple of shows are the difficult to pigeonhole hybrid dramedy, and then we have a game show, a couple of soap operas (thanks to my childhood babysitter), four late night comedy talk shows, two sports talk shows, and a few shows that simply cannot be categorized.

This information may not interest anyone but me, but I found it thought-provoking.

Now, onto the first ten selections!!

 

 

50     Dawson’s Creek

          WB 1998-2003

I always found the crew from Capeside, Mass. To be far more interesting than those other high schoolers on the left coast that resided in the 90210 zip code.


 

49     Sanford & Son                      

          NBC 1972-77    

My Dad and my Papaw Jim loved the adventures of junkyard magnate Fred Sanford and his son Lamont. I always got a kick out of the banter between Fred and his sister-in-law Aunt Esther. This show was cancelled when I was 5 years old, but reruns were so ubiquitous throughout the 80’s that it was never really off the air.

 

 

48     Three’s Company

          ABC 1977-84

As a red-blooded American pre-pubescent boy I had an appreciation for “jiggle TV”, a term which makes me laugh now. The explicit, craptastic vulgarity so pervasive on television today makes this show seem like religious programming in comparison. In an early season of the 90’s hit Friends the characters are watching an old rerun and someone sardonically says “Oh…I think this is the episode of Three’s Company where there’s some kind of misunderstanding.”, which pretty much encapsulates the show perfectly. It wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but I think maybe it flies under the radar when looking back at past great comedies.

 

 

47     The Waltons

          CBS 1972-81

The vast majority of this show’s original run came when I was too young to appreciate good quality television, but reruns were plentiful throughout the 80’s. One would not think a family drama about a large family’s triumphs & tragedies during The Great Depression would be all that entertaining, but I must say, television would be much better off if more family friendly, morally upright, well written shows like The Waltons were still around.

 

 

46     The Golden Girls

          NBC 1985-92

Here we have another premise that would seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom but proves that maybe all that mumbo jumbo about target demographics and appealing to a younger audience isn’t always accurate. Who would think that a teenage boy would enjoy a show about a group of female seasoned citizens relishing the autumn of their years with the vitality (and libido) of women half their age??

 

 

45     Batman                                  

          NBC 1966-68

Spiderman is okay. Superman is…well…super. But for my money the coolest superhero of all time is Batman. He’s not from another planet. He isn’t the result    of some lab mishap. He doesn’t have any super powers. He’s just an ordinary guy that happens to be filthy rich, psychologically damaged, and dresses in a cowl & cape to exact vigilante justice on bad guys. And while the big screen versions of the story (both the 90’s Tim Burton flicks and Christopher Nolan’s gloomy vision) are more in line with the gritty tone of the comic books, I really love the campy, kitschy cheesiness of the 60’s TV show starring Adam West & Burt Ward (with the well-known rogues gallery of villains played by folks like Burgess Meredith, Caesar Romero, Eartha Kitt, and Frank Gorshin). It was on before I was born of course, but when Burton revived interest in The Caped Crusader two decades ago old reruns started showing up on television and I was instantly hooked.

 

44     The Love Boat

          ABC 1977-86

I’ve not been on a cruise…yet. But when the time comes how cool would it be to find love with another passenger, have dinner at the Captain’s table, and get drinks from a bartender as cool as Isaac?? Love Boat served as a side job for many past-their-prime TV & movie stars, who played passengers. This concept kept the show fresh for a few years longer than it otherwise may have been since the main cast were actually just supporting players on a weekly basis. And let’s talk about the disco infused theme song!! I’ll admit publicly that I still…25+ years later…randomly belt it out (badly) on occasion.

 

43     Full House

          ABC 1987-95

Cute babies?? Check. A saccharine sweet TV Dad no real father could ever live up to?? Check. A lil beefcake for the ladies?? Check. Conflicts that were all easily solved and wrapped up with a very special life lesson in less than 30 minutes?? Check. This wasn’t anywhere near the cutting edge, but rather a show that knew exactly how to push all the right buttons and did so with reasonable success for nearly a decade. It’s what we all seemed to prefer back in the day.

 

42     Newhart                                 

          CBS 1982-90

Some from an older generation might prefer comedian Bob Newhart’s previous effort, the 1970’s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show, in which he played a Chicago shrink hilariously interacting with co-workers and patients. However, I lean toward Newhart’s second foray into TV in which he played a Vermont innkeeper & author hilariously interacting with employees and townsfolk. This show produced undoubtedly one of the greatest series finales in the history of television on May 21, 1990 (less than 2 weeks before my high school graduation).

 

41         Coach

          ABC 1989-97

In 1983 Craig T. Nelson played a hardnosed high school football coach in the film All the Right Moves, one of Tom Cruise’s early stops on the upward climb to superstardom. Six years later Nelson would again play a football coach, this time at a fictional Minnesota college in quite possibly one of the more underrated sitcoms of the 1990’s. Curmudgeonly Coach Fox’s interactions with his two blundering assistant coaches, Luther & Dauber, were the centerpiece of the amusement, as was the relationship with his classy, way out of his league girlfriend.

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..86-90

Staying power. It’s a key element in my definition of a favorite movie. It’s easy to sit down and watch a movie on TV or even head to the theater for a matinee and some popcorn (and chocolate covered peanuts) and be entertained for a couple hours. But will you watch the movie again in the future?? Ten years from now if the film you watched at the cineplex today is on television will you change the channel or not?? When you’re at the video store or shopping on Netflix do you stick to new releases or are there some special movies you rent over and over?? Today’s group has staying power. They range in durability from 14 to 26 to 70 years, with only one of the five being less than a decade old.  In contrast, how many movies have you seen in the past few years that you forgot about almost immediately upon leaving the theater or changing the channel??

 

 

 

90 The Birdcage

I’m a huge Robin Williams fan. Serious Robin Williams, funny Robin Williams…it’s all good. Robin Williams is what Jim Carrey wishes he could be. In this remake of a film version of the play La Cage aux Folles, Williams co-stars with Nathan Lane as a gay couple whose son falls in love with the daughter of a conservative Senator. The two families meet, with the son and his gay parents going to great lengths to cover up the true nature of their lifestyle. Hilarity ensues. Besides Williams and Lane the cast features the always compelling Gene Hackman, Dianne Weist, Christine Baranski,  and Calista Flockhart (Mrs. Harrison Ford). The underrated Hank Azaria (who voices many characters on The Simpsons) is amusing as Agador Spartacus, a flamingly flamboyant housekeeper. I’m not easily offended at all, but I am kind of surprised at this film’s success. Both conservatives and homosexuals are portrayed using the most extreme stereotypes. The gay characters embody all the typical gaudy clichés, and it is not so subtly inferred that the conservatives are anti-Semitic. However, despite the unfortunate caricatures it’s still a fun movie.

 

89 The Wizard of Oz

If there are more than a dozen people in America above the age of 30 who haven’t seen The Wizard of Oz multiple times I’ll eat a bug. It’s the very definition of a classic. Everyone knows the story…..young Dorothy (and her cute little puppy Toto) is transported in the midst of a tornado to the magical (and colorful) Land of Oz where she encounters several strange characters (The Tin Man, The Cowardly Lion, The Scarecrow,  a bunch of Munchkins, some flying monkeys, and a very nasty witch). Dorothy desperately wants to get back home to her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. That quest is the catalyst for the adventure. The film likely would have ranked much higher for me a couple decades ago when I was younger and it was an annual television event. I’ve never read the books on which the story is based, but maybe someday I will.

 

88 Seabiscuit

I’m a big fan of sports films. I’ve also begun to follow horse racing a bit the past several years. The book by Laura Hillenbrand is extremely good and I highly recommend it whether or not you’ve seen the film. The tale could be construed by some to be an animal version of Rocky, except for the fact that it’s a true story. The events depicted occurred during The Great Depression and to be honest I’d never heard about any of it until the book came out. What I find especially interesting is the inside look at the cutthroat, mercenary, brutal world of thoroughbred racing. The cast, headed by Spiderman Tobey Maguire, is just dandy.

 

87 The Big Chill

Take the TV show Friends, make the characters a skosh older, make the subject matter more solemn and thoughtful, add quite possibly one of the most memorable soundtracks in history, and boom…..you have The Big Chill. Made in 1983 in the midst of The Reagan Revolution, The Big Chill is the story of a group of college friends, 1960’s radical types, reuniting for the funeral of one of their own who has just committed suicide. Thankfully politics don’t play too big a part in the story. It’s more a tale of change and friendship, and how true friendship doesn’t change even when the people do. I am not sure why I have always felt a connection to this film…..after all I was just 11 years old when it was in theaters. However, now I am mere months away from attending a college reunion of my own and it makes total sense. Facebook, MySpace, cell phones, online chat, and other modern conveniences have made it much easier to reconnect and stay in touch with people, but there’s nothing like being face to face in the same room, being able to laugh, hug, and share a drink with individuals who had a hand in shaping who you are and influenced the path of life in some way. I am excited, and fortunately a funeral will not be the centerpiece of my reunion. On a basic level the movie explores former 60’s counterculture vs. the increasingly conservative Me Generation 80’s, but on a deeper level it is so much more. As a current 30-something I can now understand the restlessness, that feeling of growing stale, the inner turmoil of seeing the dreams of youth slowly dying, of looking back and wondering where all the time has gone and why life hasn’t turned out the way you’d planned. All this deep introspection is done with humor and through characters that are as real as any you’ll ever see on film. The Big Chill may be fading into the distance for many folks…..it is nearly 30 years old and features nary a car chase or explosion…..but it is so well written, the performances so good, and the subject matter so utterly timeless that it won’t soon fade for those of us who enjoy quality and don’t mind using our brain occasionally. And I mentioned the soundtrack…..wow. Most albums, especially soundtracks, will have 2 or 3 tremendous tunes. The Big Chill soundtrack is solid from top to bottom. Joy to the World…..I Heard It Through the Grapevine…..My Girl…..What’s Goin’ On…..it’s a cornucopia of musical goodness and is a huge part of the film’s success. Writer Lawrence Kasdan summed up the meaning of the title, and in a way the film, this way:  “The Big Chill deals with people who have discovered that not everything they wanted is possible, that not every ideal they believed in has stayed in the forefront of their intentions. The Big Chill is about a cooling process that takes place for every generation when they move from the outward-directed, more idealistic concerns of their youth to a kind of self-absorption, a self-interest which places their personal desires above those of the society or even an ideal.” The the juxtaposition of the order of things then versus now is fascinating. Kasdan seems to be saying that as young adults we are idealistic and concerned with the world at large and making it a better place, and as we get older we become more selfish and focused on our own needs and wants. But here in 2009 it seems that young people are the selfish ones and we tend to grasp the big picture better as we get older. That’s how I feel anyway.

 

86 Tin Cup

I like Kevin Costner…..in the right role. His comfort zone seems to be “laid back scalawag”, something he pulls off better than anyone (Vince Vaughn is good too, but not Costner good). If you liked Bull Durham (which you will eventually see I do very much) you’ll like Tin Cup…..and if you are a golf fan you will love Tin Cup. Ample support is provided by Rene Russo, Cheech Marin, and Don Johnson…..but it’s Costner that makes this movie work. The story involves a small time golfer who hopes to make it big by winning the U.S. Open. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, but there is a scene near the end that takes this film straight to the upper echelon of sports flicks. You’ll know it when you see it.