Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"But I Play One On TV"

Camera One - Josh Joplin Group (mp3)

Bully - Sugarbomb (mp3)

When you were a kid, did you find yourself watching certain movies over and over because you identified so strongly with one of the characters? Writing a post that never made the light of day got me thinking about an indelible movie from my pre-teen years. It was right after we got HBO in '82 or '83, and I watched this movie several dozen times: "My Bodyguard."

Every time "My Bodyguard" came on, I found myself drawn into the TV, even though I never would have said it was particularly beloved. I suspect it's allure was because I identified, even at the ripe age of 11, with the main character. The actor, Chris Makepeace, was also the pathetic outcast Rudy in "Meatballs." I identified with him in that film as well.

When I realized how pathetic it was, that at some point in my past I identified with this goober, I started going through a list of all the teenage movie characters with whom I identified during my pre- and prime adolescent years. It wasn't pretty:
  • Chris Makepeace in "Meatballs" and "My Bodyguard"
  • Andrew McCarthy in "Heaven Help Us"
  • Ralph Macchio in "The Karate Kid"
  • Patrick Dempsey in "Can't Buy Me Love"
  • Ricky Schroeder in "Silver Spoons"
  • William Katt in "The Greatest American Hero"
  • Corey Haim in "Lucas"
  • Jason Bateman in "It's Your Move"
  • Anthony Michael Hall in "Sixteen Candles"
  • Anthony Michael Hall in "The Breakfast Club"
  • Anthony Michael Hall in... just about everything up to 1985.
It doesn't take Dr. Phil to look at this list and acknowledge I had a depressing and disturbing fascination with wimps, geeks and outcasts. Strangely, I never -- at least not before I watched that damn clip from "My Bodyguard" -- made the connection that I was so drawn to all these pathetic Loveable Losers. (OK OK, part of my obsession with "Silver Spoons" undoubtedly had to do with the fact that Erin Grey was one of the '80s hottest women.)

Although I absolutely adored Ferris Bueller, I never really identified with him. I simply held him in awe. Likewise with pretty much every role John Cusack played. He might have been an outcast, but it always felt like he had more coolness in his pinky toe than I could muster in my entire body. And I sure as hell never identified with anyone in "Dirty Dancing" or "Pretty in Pink."

And thus began a true Chicken vs. Egg debate: Do the characters with whom we identify shape who we become, or do we simply identify with whom are destined to be?

Did kids who grew up to be aggressive type-A jerks watch these same movies, but instead of identifying with the geeky protagonists, they secretly yearn to be Matt Dillon ("My Bodyguard") or Kevin Dillon ("Heaven Help Us") or William Zabka (Johnny from "Karate Kid")? Yes, the Dillons had the market on asshole bullies covered for several years.

Were there others out there who watched Alex P. Keaton and Gordon Gekko with this same glossy-eyed fascination? Did some girls feel their heart strings tug at Winona Ryder's Veronica while future witches found themselves drawn to Shannon Doherty's or Kim Walker's Heathers? Did most girls watch "The Breakfast Club" and find themselves inevitably identifying with either Molly Ringwald or Ally Sheedy, that movie's own version of the classic "Mary Ann v. Ginger" dichotomy?

Are there others who watch all movies and TV shows without making the slightest hint of a personalized connection to anyone?

There are only two encouraging silver linings to my obsessive cloud. First, lots of dudes in Hollywood clearly had these same hangups. So I'm not alone... but I'm not necessarily comforted by the company I'm keeping.

Second, these characters eventually stood up for themselves. They looked deep within themselves, found the strength beyond their doubts, and fought back against the bullies and the naysayers. But that hardly makes the obsession comforting. It's hard to find comfort in what breaks down to a Geek Fetish.

Yet something about these fanciful tales fed my soul. Awwww who am I kidding by using the past tense? These damn things still feed my soul. I still get misty everytime Elisabeth Shue rushes the mat to jump all over Daniel-San, too giddy to care about his wounded leg. I clinch my fist in glee everytime Anthony Michael Hall winds up locking lips with a girl five furlongs out of his league in "Sixteen Candles" or "Weird Science." Snot runs out my nose everytime the student body gives Lucas a standing ovation.

If you think I admit this with pride, you're very wrong. Acknowledging this is only slightly less painful than confessing my young devotion to Blair from "The Facts of Life." (While this isn't as embarrassing as if I'd been in love with Mrs. Edna. Or Nell Carter from "Gimme a Break!", it's nothing to go Tootie-ing my horn over.)

Perhaps our guilty pleasures, not our eyes, are the true windows to our soul.

(If you have any sympathy for my confession, please comment on your own guilty pop identifications to help me feel less... outcast.)

"Camera One" is off the Josh Joplin Group's debut big-label CD, Useful Music. "Bully" is off Sugarbomb's only album of the same name. Both are available on iTunes.


Bob said...

Student in my office thought the first song was R.E.M. I hear it, too.

Billy said...

Yeah, the dude even admits as much in a song off their second album, The Future That Was. In "Happy At Last," his opening line is, "I sound like Michael Stipe and I dream like Carl Jung."

Bob said...

Billy, I identified with manly Pete Coors strolling through the snow-laden forests of Colorado, extolling the virtues of his beer. Hope that helps.