Unforgettable

So A. LEE MARTINEZ APPRECIATION DAY!! is upon us once again, and I need to post something because I know all my loyal fans look forward to whatever wisdom I can impart on this very special day.

First, a political thing.  Sort of.  Not that you should come to me for political opinion, but hey, if you’re here, why not?  If you’re a diehard Sarah Palin fan, skip this.  It’s okay.  I don’t mind.  I’m not really going to criticize her politics, but I know that some things are hot buttons.  So no need to offend you.

SO JUST SKIP THIS AND GO TO THE NEXT BOLD LINE IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE BOTHERED BY ANY POSSIBLE IMPLICATION THAT SARAH PALIN IS NOT JESUS AND OPTIMUS PRIME COMBINED.

The thing that bugs me about Palin isn’t her politics.  Sure, I don’t agree with them, but I don’t agree with most politicians.  And disagreement isn’t a bad thing.  It means were talking about stuff, and I am all about talking about stuff.  The more discussion, the more shared ideas, the better off we are.  That’s my opinion, and maybe you disagree.  And that just makes me smile.

The thing that bugs me about Palin (and about people like her) is that they embody nothing less than the sin of hubris, of arrogance, of absolute certainty.  She lives in a world where she can do no wrong, even unintentionally.  She is master of fate, queen of circumstances, always right.  And if you disagree or criticize her than you are clearly an enemy and not worth listening to.

Seriously, Palin fans.  Has she ever admitted to making a mistake?  Has she ever admitted to a lapse in judgment?  Even the smallest moment of humanity where she screwed up or misspoke?  No, because she’s perfect.  Because nothing bad is ever her fault, but certainly everything good in her life is because of how awesome she is.  Heck, even when confronted with the very messy world and its unpredictability despite the best of our intentions (like a pregnant daughter while preaching the value of abstinence only education) she refuses to admit that sometimes, oftentimes, life is muddled and difficult and the answers aren’t always easy.  When confronted with such complex dilemmas, Sarah just smiles and winks and spouts some well-worn catch phrase.  Which is fine.  She’s a politician (sort of), and that’s partof her job.  But what’s annoying about Palin is that there’s no indication that she’s playing for the camera, acting certain while understanding the screwed up mess that is our world.  No Palin believes this, wholeheartedly.  She lives in a world of absolutes, and when you dare to suggest that there might be a shade of gray or two in this reality, she merely shakes her head, covers her ears, and wraps herself in a forcefield of smug idealism.

To be fair to Palin, this isn’t about her political affiliation.  There are those like her in all spectrums of society.  They’re the people who make life harder than it has to be because they’re smarter than you, because they blind certainty for confidence, and flat dismissal as debate.

I don’t blame Palin for the recent shooting.  That’d be silly.  Crazy people do crazy stuff, and we who are not crazy are usually obsessed with trying to understand it when it’s usually impossible to do so.  But I do dislike Palin for refusing to even consider that it didn’t help to put crosshairs on a map and that phrases like “Don’t retreat.  Reload” might have some accidental unpleasant implications behind them.  To blame Palin for the actions of a lunatic is ridiculous.  To expect her to use it, as so many of us have, to consider our actions and how they might effect the world, is not.

But that’s not Sarah.  She’s blameless.  She’s perfect.  And the sooner the rest of us figure that out, the happier she’ll be.

ENOUGH OF THAT.

The other thing that’s on my mind is pretty big too.  It’s the changing of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to make it more palatable for our time.

I’m just going to call bullshit on this.

I get where this desire comes from.  Let’s remove an unpleasant word because it is unpleasant, because it carries a terrible history that we would all rather forget.  But that’s exactly why it should stay there.  Because once you alter a piece of history, you destroy its relevance forever.

Let’s face it.  Humans have lousy memories.  It’s why politicians can say they don’t remember integration being hard, or why, after two months with a new piece of technology, we immediately start to complain about its limitations.  We forget.  Not because we want to forget, but because it’s so easy to do.  Our brains are not recording devices.  They are imagination devices, and that’s all our memories are.  Bits of imagination cobbled together from half-formed bits of the past.  That’s why you can convince someone they saw a Bugs Bunny costume at Disneyland.  All it takes is a doctored photo, a few people they trust reinforcing the idea, and they’ll remember.

This is why we have to write things down, preserve art, and carry the actual recollections of the past with us.  Because if we just trust we’ll remember, we’re sure to forget.

For Huckleberry Finn, inserting Slave might seem like a good idea.  But if you do it, then what happens in fifteen years when the word Slave might be deemed offensive?  Do you change that too?  Perhaps to Servant.  And, heck, while we’re at it, let’s take out any references to smoking.  Kids shouldn’t smoke.  And why have any reference to skin color at all?  Why not leave it undescribed so that everyone can enjoy Huck and Jim’s adventure without feeling left out? And does he have to run away?  Can’t Huck and Servant Jim just go and have a little adventure before returning home for dinner?

Ridiculous?  Maybe.  But why not?  Why not change everything, one step at a time?  If a book is only a thing meant to reflect our current attitudes and beliefs, then who really cares?  Let’s rewrite the whole damn thing and just ignore it.

The problem is one of memory.  We need to remember our imperfections, our faults.  We need to remember that not so long ago, as civilizations measure things, black people were slaves, women couldn’t vote, and even if you were a white guy, life still wasn’t perfect.  It’s all too easy to pine for a glorious golden yesterday that never existed, which is why we occasionally need a hard slap in the face to remind us that it didn’t.

It’s watching A Day at the Races and seeing the Marx Brothers in blackface.  It’s unsettling, but it’s also necessary.  It’s reading the Constitution.  ALL of the Constitution.  Even the bad parts.  Especially the bad parts because the bad parts show us how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.  They remind us that even the most sacred document was created by flawed human beings who were just doing the best they could.  And perhaps it’s wrong to judge them for their failings, but to acknowledge those failings is a good thing.

The second reason I hate the idea of changing a classic novel (a book I haven’t even read by the way) is that it renders all art vulnerable, transitory, meaningless.  Once we decide to rewrite history itself, then we are guilty of denying the flaws in ourselves.  We become obsessed with covering them up and then, you might as well call it a day as a civlization.  Because it takes a lot of effort to continually rework the past into something you aren’t embarrassed by.

Take Star Wars.  I really don’t care if Lucas wants to play with his creation until the end of time.  Special Edition, Extended Edition, Edition with More Sound FX.  It’s his thing.  Let him do what he wants with it.  But that’s not enough for Lucas, who, if he had his way, would erase the originals from existence in favor of his new versions.  I’m not going to argue that the originals are better than the new versions (though, let’s be honest, they are), but I am going to argue that a cultural event such as the original Star Wars deserves to be preserved, warts and all.  Lucas isn’t just indulging in creative masturbation, but that he’s guilty of something much worse.  He’s destroying a sacred artifact, one re-release at a time.

And that’s why we can’t allow anyone, not even artists, to go back and change things in their work.  Once anyone starts down that road, once they start seeing history as optional, they will begin erasing it.  Because it’s not human nature to reconcile different versions of the same thing.  We like things neat and tidy.  We want one version of Star Wars, one version of Huck Finn.  And if you give many of us the option of taking the original or the new version that edits out unpleasantness or is just more readily available, we’ll go for it.  We’ll erase the past. 

And the ultimate irony is we won’t even remember doing it.

On that pleasant note, I bid you happy A. LEE MARTINEZ APPRECIATION DAY!!

I couldn’t do any of this without you, gang.  There’d be no A. Lee Martinez to appreciate without all your support.  And I think we can all agree that would be a terrible thing.  Thank The Mighty Robot King we don’t live in that universe.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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4 Comments

  1. Shadybiz
    Posted January 12, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Sarah Palin, what can you say, she is right and the world is wrong (Makes me glad that I live in Canada). The truth is that they are many like her in the world (maybe the majority) but that is why open dialog is so important or society would just blast itself out of existence. Moving on, your opinion about the Huck Finn alteration is spot on. I personalty hate that word that they want to remove however, it adds a significant weight to the story that would be lost if it were removed. It’s suppose to make you feel uncomfortable and sheds light on what was really happening back then and why things needed to be changed. Remember, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. On a lighter note, I love Star Wars but I’m on the fence on which was the better trilogy. Taken both as a whole, Star Wars is an epic story spanning 2 generations but if you break down each movie, all have there own glaring faults. I can see why Lucus wants to make changes (Tech wasn’t available at the time to show his true vision as an example) and I think you as a writer can sympathize (how many drafts do you go though and still want to make changes to the final product). The problem is that the more you revisit something the less appealing it becomes.

    • Sean
      Posted February 19, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

      “I can see why Lucus wants to make changes (Tech wasn’t available at the time to show his true vision as an example) and I think you as a writer can sympathize (how many drafts do you go though and still want to make changes to the final product). The problem is that the more you revisit something the less appealing it becomes.”

      There is also the argument that the limitations you face and how you deal with them are as much part of the art as your vision, if not more. Take Jaws for example, The mechanical shark they had was a pretty big limitation. It was unrealistic, unreliable and kinda dangerous and expensive. So what did they do? Avoid showing it. Make the movie about the danger you cannot see fully. Would you approve spielberg going back and recreating it with a cg shark that we get to see in lots pf underwater shots? I wouldnt, because it wouldnt be the same movie.

  2. Posted January 13, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Sara Palin strikes me as a bully. I think I would have given her a wide berth in high school. I’m a little in awe of her, though. It seems as if a series of flukes keeps pushing her up the political ladder. I’m both terrified and fascinated.

    You’re absolutely right with Huckleberry Finn. This Christmas, we watched Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astair. There’s a scene where everybody does a blackface number. I groaned and covered my face in embarrassment for a time when this was considered a perfectly normal form of entertainment. Do we start editing that stuff out of old movies next? Of course not. Comfy and oblivious on my couch, I was reminded that things weren’t always as they are today. We need these reminders so we can continue to move forward. Otherwise, we’ll accept things as they are now, because it’s how we think it’s always been.

    George can tweak it all he likes, but I was there when it first happened. I know Han shot first.

  3. Sean
    Posted February 19, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Also, Mr. Martinez, how have you NOT read Huck Finn? Going back to your dislike of sequels, this is one of the few really good ones.

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