God Bless America at the Dryden

Curiosity got the best of me, I guess, and I headed to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see God Bless America. It's billed as a black comedy "revenge fantasy" although I think the philosophy runs deeper than that. Yes, it's a story that threads the needle of disbelief so we can have a "hero" who takes it upon himself to successfully go on a killing spree of people who, well, annoy him — "revenge fantasy".

Early on, Frank meets up with Roxy — a disaffected teen who hungrily insists on joining him. The mechanics of the plot force the revenge killings to continue unabated, but there's bound to be at least one that's just a little too close to the viewer's own behavior. That, and as Frank and Roxy discuss their guidelines of who to kill, it's clear that it's all way too subjective: each individual has jeir own set of behaviors that jee deems wholly intolerable.

But there is one common thread in it all — one thing that I think everyone can agree on: those people are most responsible for irresponsible and immoral behavior today. You know who they are.

See, the thing we all have in common is the "problem" is with "others", not ourselves. And if we identify some behavior that is part of the problem, we are certainly not the worst offender: we have a plausible justification for our behavior.

So that leads me to three questions: how can I tell if it's me?, are you sure things are bad?, and why am I even thinking about this?

One thought experiment is to ask, "if everyone in the whole world behaved as I do, would that be okay?"

  • If everyone in the whole world used 4,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year, would that be okay? Hrmm … probably not.
  • If everyone in the world didn't own a car, would that be okay? That would probably improve things a bit.

Another experiment is to think of how complicated an explanation is necessary to defend your argument. I mean, I don't even see a need to justify holding the door for someone behind me. Or how about, "the other day this guy just walked out into the crosswalk and he almost got himself killed — I mean, what was he thinking? Didn't he know to look both ways before crossing the street? It's not like I could have stopped to wait for him because I was in a hurry because my presence is critical at my destination." And don't you think it's more consistent and straightforward to think that greed is more to blame for the problems in the world than some convoluted logic that somehow leads to homosexuality?

But a lot of times we should step back and think, "are things that bad?" I remember going on the highway with my parents in the 1970's. When traffic was moderately heavy, the whole highway stunk of gasoline, oil, and smoke. I mean stunk — like if you spilled some gas in your garage, only it was hot in the summer and the vapor just lingered there making everyone just a little queasy. But you can barely smell them now (except on a steep race track like the steep grades on I-70 west of Denver) even though there are literally twice as many cars now as in 1972.

And finally, what's the deal with finding someone to blame anyway? Why is our culture so hell-bent on doing that? It seems entirely counterproductive: it's so bad to be "ruining the world" that we are compelled to create convoluted explanations for our own behavior rather than just going, "yeah, that thing I'm doing is doing more harm than good so I'm going to change it."

See, the only way God Bless America makes any sense is if we are fully committed to shame so we feel absolutely justified in targeting someone else to blame.

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