Humanity.

This is, in my view, the single most powerful scene in television history. Everyone at some point in their life should put aside their prudishness and appreciate the masterpiece that is Deadwood.

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And Give Some Back

Self-defense: pass it on! A message from The Foundation For a Better Life.

So this bullying thing has really taken off in recent weeks, hasn’t it?

(If you don’t internet, here’s a link to the clip in reference.)

I saw that clip last week and heard about the victim-turned-aggressor’s ensuing suspension this past weekend.  And I couldn’t help but think OF COURSE because I’ve been there before, and school systems are absolutely incapable of handling any type of confrontation with rational decision-making.  Now it’s just been affirmed to me that this is true regardless of nation or culture.

Back in the day when the Pacers were still good and it was Pokemon Red and Blue, I was a fifth-grader at Sunnyside Elementary.  Due to constant re-districting and moving, I had a tendency to change schools a lot.  I was at a different school for fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grades.  And then ninth, but that was just the transition to high school.  The crowds really seemed to change in each school.  Fourth grade primarily featured upper middle class white kids, fifth was a racial mix definitely angled more toward the lower class, sixth was a weird division between rich and poor and all races and seventh introduced me to the sterilized, non-gentrified suburbs of Hamilton County.

So fifth, like I said, had a healthy amount of kids from poorer areas and rough homes, given the district it drew from.  Obviously, as I was re-districted seemingly every other year, I lived in a strange area: directly between the haves and have-nots, to simplify the description.  I liked Sunnyside though.  It sucked, at the time, leaving behind my fourth-grade friends, and yeah, I remember almost all of them because fourth grade stands out in my memory as one of those years I enjoyed more than most for whatever reason.  But Sunnyside was alright, I made some new friends there and all, I liked my class.  I still have…well, I’m actually going to take a break from stream-of-consciousness here and go search for it, so I can perhaps have a picture to show.

[Well, I went searching through my archives, which is essentially the two boxes my mom keeps in the loft closet of all my pictures and awards and stuff from elementary school.  I didn’t find what I was looking for — the letter sent home from my suspension I’ll tell you about — but I did find a class photo from that year which I will not share because it’s really creepy and has peoples’ names on it.  Also because, as in most school pictures and pictures in general, I look like a complete spazz.]

[I will instead post this (slightly) less spazz-y picture of me GETTING ATTACKED BY A SHARK:]

I still have that monkey, too.

How this relates to bullying, anyway, is that there was a bit of a rough crowd at this school, and one day, this kid named Tremaine decided to jump on my back at recess and try to shove me to the ground.  In that first half-second, my mind flashed back to the time I got my ass kicked as a first-grader on my first freaking day of my school at the bus stop.  Because I was a first-grader, and it turns out it’s easy for 10-year-olds to dish out black eyes to 7-year-olds who look at the sky too much.

My parents sat me down after I came home with a black eye that day and gave me the whole self-defense talk, about how I should never start a fight but always finish one.  The talk I think every dad should be required to have with his son.  They told me that if anyone ever started shit for me and there was no realistic way out of it, I had free reign to hit back even harder.  Carte blanche.  Go nuts.

That moment explodes in and out of my memory in a half-second and in the seconds following, I’m absolutely wailing on the kid.  The sight is completely atypical because I was one of those brown-nose kids who never got in trouble and aced every spelling test and made the teacher’s job easier.  But I mean, he jumped on my back.  He started shit.  I was finishing it, dammit!  This fight goes on for what I remember to be the entirety of recess, and of course not one adult notices despite three or four monitoring the playground.  It’s vicious, too.  Bodies are slammed into slides.  Heads are slammed into poles.  Shit is talked, and talked loudly.  This isn’t some elementary slapfest, this is a cage match.  No holds barred.

An hour into the afternoon’s class, I’m called to the assistant principal’s office with Tremaine, and we’re both told we’re being suspended out of school because some little snitch ratted on our fight.  In other words, no adults saw it happen.  Neither Tremaine nor I said anything about it.  But some wimpy kid went and told a teacher that we fought and this was somehow sent up the chain of command to the assistant principal in less than an hour’s time.

So, I mean, figure that I’d never so much as been told to stop doing something in class to that point, and now I’m being kicked out of school temporarily.  Something about a zero tolerance policy.  All I remember about the rest of that day was biting my lip so hard I drew blood in order to avoid crying because I was suspended!  The assistant principal called my dad at work!  It was serious business to a 10-year-old.

Turns out, though, my parents didn’t care at all.  They were proud of me for fighting back and asserting myself.  I thought they were going to kick my ass when I got home that day, but they weren’t mad at me, instead they were livid at the assistant principal and every adult too busy gossiping about all the kids they hated that missed the main event.

Point is, as it relates back to that story, kids need to stand up for themselves if they’re being bullied, and they need to be taught and encouraged to do so.  After my dad told me I could fight back, I never had an issue with bullying again.  I did get my head slammed into a brick wall by some psycho named Douglas for my insistence that the Animorphs weren’t, in fact, real, and was followed home by him from his bus stop (I lived one neighborhood over) until a neighbor’s mom intercepted him with a pocket knife…but that was just Douglas being Douglas.  Oh, Douglas.  The Animorphs aren’t real!

We shouldn’t be suspending or expelling kids who fight back and decide they’re not taking shit anymore, we should be high-fiving them.  What is wrong with us when we hold a victim on the same grounds of culpability as the attacker?  That’s crap.  That actually pisses me off.  It completely counters one of the most important lessons we can teach kids: be self-assertive.  Because what’s the alternative?  Curl up in a ball and take a beating?  Sink into your shell?  Always assume your lunch is going to be taken and there’s nothing you can do about it?  Learn, at a young age, to never question an injustice?  Never do anything about anything wrong in this world?  Schools would, of course, have you tell an adult, but I’m here to tell you firsthand: they’re too busy not giving a crap on the blacktop to notice.

I fought back.  I made my point.  I never got bullied again.  In fact, even Tremaine and I were cool after that.  We wrote a rap once for the paper we had to run in our class’s job simulation day at Exchange City (does that still exist?)  It was a banger.

Now, all that said, I’ll leave you with a Deadwood clip in response to the school’s completely ridiculous decision to suspend the kid defending himself, noting, of course, that as with any clip longer than two seconds from the HBO series, the language is NSFW.  Not even close.  But remember this, world, the next time someone tries to take your lunch money:

 

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts…

Thank you, Friday Night Lights.

The best series that no one ever saw just concluded in its fifth season, leaving me wondering just how in the hell it is that so few of my friends have ever seen an episode.  How the little-show-that-could continually fought cancellation only to be thrown a lifeline by DirecTV’s Channel 101 because NBC decided it would rather air such television classics during non-summer viewing seasons as I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! and Undercovers.

I’m admittedly a bit of a TV snob.  Yes, I judge you for watching terrible reality shows.  No, your DVR shouldn’t be overflowing with MTV programs.  And it’s true, Glee is just an Old Navy commercial with a larger budget and slightly more-intelligible script.  I’ve seen all the “great” series, all the universally-revered, best-of-the-decade programs.  But few, if any, maintained the same integrity and grace over their duration as Peter Berg’s based-on-Bissinger brainchild.

Of course, like any series, there were flaws.  The second season was largely forgettable, to the point where I told my parents to skip it entirely when they began watching the series.  Normally an entire terrible season would register as a series-killer, but as the writer’s strike completely screwed over the show and threatened future seasons, I really just write it off as an unfortunate block of dead-end stories that can be easily ignored by jumping to season three.  There were also unlikable characters at times, or at least unlikable in certain seasons.  I’m thinking of season four Becky in particular.

But it still strikes me how graceful this show was, how well it knew its characters.  So many series, even ones I like, are guilty of out-of-character moments.  Dexter is practically a 300-level course in these incidents.  But FNL was always true to its characters.  It knew them.  We knew them.  They stayed true to themselves and the series.  And there’s a certain grace in that, you know?  A certain respect for the audience and the story being told.  It was never, season two excluded, about cheap plot tricks or shortcuts in advancing the story, it was always driven by the characters through success and failure, through joy and pain, loss and gain and something else that rhymes here.

I had a rare feeling I’d only really remembered sensing previously with The Wire: wow, the writers actually respect me as a viewer and I respect their tireless dedication to their craft as a result.

FNL was never cheap and always did more with less, which might qualify as its most impressive feat.  It turned a bunch of no-name or fringe actors into rising stars.  It gave us five seasons of flawless performances from Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, both of whom should share an Emmy and/or Golden Globe on accomplishment alone, honestly (but after seeing a certain Baltimore bureaucratic system study strike out, don’t be surprised if it’s instead bested by a certain cardboard-cutout FOX musical scripted by the guy who managed to take Nip/Tuck from top 10 to butthole of television in less than two years.)

There was also always a certain dignity in FNL’s simplicity, its refusal (again, second season excluded) to stray from its picture of Dillon and bombard us with images irrelevant to the story being told.  There were no explosions and gunshots were minimal.  There were no car chases or cheap twists or throwaway kill-offs.  There was just Dillon, Texas forever.  For this reason, I would put FNL up with the previously-mentioned Wire and Deadwood as my top three favorite series of all-time (though Breaking Bad might have something to stay about that before all is said and done.)  What do all three of those shows have in common?  They’re about a wide cast of characters, all deep, all with unique personalities and struggles and goals within the context of their own world, in FNL’s case in the context of living in Dillon, and that’s it.  The story compliments the characters and the setting, it doesn’t exist for its own sake, for purposes of shocking or manipulating the audience.  The characters have depth.  The setting is tangible.  We know and love these characters and this place because, over time, we grow to appreciate those things.  We take that journey with them, and thus are introduced and invested within the story naturally, not artificially.

FNL was always an underdog.  The networks always said it couldn’t make it, that nobody would care about a high school football drama.  But as critics slowly discovered, it was so much more than that.  Football was just the catalyst, the common bond between characters that suited up and characters that could not plan their exit from Texas fast enough.  NBC always pushed it back, eventually agreeing to air it in the dreaded summer viewing season, and as a result, America largely forgot about the show after the first season.

That’s a damn shame.

What America missed, while it was so busy digesting retread reality shows and canned sitcoms, was one of the finest series in television history.  Now that it’s over, I fully appreciate just how good it was and comparably how bad most television is, which is why I mostly only watch live sports on TV…there are only a handful of truly worthwhile series on right now.  It’s too bad that America mostly missed out on one of the most quintessentially-American shows to have ever been aired, a case study of an average American town and the complications of the average people living within.

FNL’s mantra was always clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.  And now it all makes sense.  That formula birthed a series that had too much integrity and heart to ever lose, no matter what the networks said.

So thank you, FNL.  I can only hope your courage and ability to stay true to yourself inspires some other underdog out there to ignore the networks and strive for something even half as great.