I have been watching Chris Lilley’s We Can Be Heroes: Finding The Australian Of The Year. In this series, Lilley takes the tradtional TV convention and upends it, looking at six characters whose stories are heroic on the surface, but underneath are just human, and mostly rather venal humans at that. The contrast between the TV producer hype and the smarmy reality is the basis of the humor of the piece, at least to me.
To me, one problem we have is that we tend to want to fall into that hype, to believe that if we can fit into some heroic archetype with some lesson for others, then we have value, but if we don’t fit a cookie cutter, we are less than good.
I know of people who reject this blog because I am too negative. They want the upbeat, positive and santized, the nice stuff from TV that they want to sell to those around them, looking happy as Ms. Rachelle set the deal.
I have been thinking about being scary. Robert Caro, in the third volume of his life of Lyndon Jonson, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson leads with a quote:
When you come into the presence of a leader of men, you know that you have come into the presence of fire – that it is best not uncautiously to touch that man – that there is something that makes it dangerous to cross him.
If you are a “too person,” you are a carrier of fire.
And if you carry the fire, you are both compelling and scary.
There seem to be only two ways to try to make people more comfortable around that fire.
You can be small, from simply being gracious to really trying to hide the fire.
Or you can be happy. Fire is scary, but fire that can be pleased, fire for joy, well, that is fire that serves for good.
Of course, the truth is you need both these techniques if you are fire, grace and peace.
How do we become a hero? Do we play the stereotype and make people feel uplifted in their own preconceptions? Johnny Carson noted that most people won’t pay much to be educated, but they will pay to be entertained, and if you can make them feel like they are being educated while just entertaining them — while just playing to their expectations and telling them a story that affirms what they already believe — then you can go very, very far.
But fire, well, fire burns dross, fire smelts metal, fire tempers character. Fire is strong.
Chris Lilley knows how TV wants its heroes, simple and simpleminded. He just wants to remind you that however simple the story seems, there are always humans involved in the process.
But when you carry fire, you have to find a way to make people feel safe in the presence of fire, fire that gives heat & light, fire that entertains, and fire they know can burn them and their preconceptions.
Small or Happy? Quenching the presence or dancing with it?
You know the answer.
Just don’t ask someone who still fears their own fire.
You know what they will tell you to do.