January 10, 2020

Dear Drama Observers,

In composing this weekly email, I’ve discovered I’m not a speedy writer. I’ll write something down, look at it, change it, think about it, rearrange it, scrap it, start over, etc., etc. (I’m convinced that God created word processing just for people such as me.) After a laborious and time-consuming process, something finally emerges on the other end. I’ll then roll it up, stick it into the pneumatic tube, and poof, it arrives on your end ready to be unrolled and read.

And darn if I didn’t run out of time again this week which seems to have become a common occurrence of late. I was writing something about how Drama People have to be the good guys in the stories they tell which usually involves making the other characters into villains. I know of several situations right now where a good person is being slapped with a bad label by some Drama Person needing to be the hero in the story being told. I’ll send you the completed version next week.

But while we’re on that subject, I’m sending you something I wrote before with the same theme. Most of us are familiar with the Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra. There’s another Jimmy Stewart movie in which the lead character is accused of doing the very things his accuser was himself doing.

***

The 1939 movie was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It was directed by Frank Capra and starred a fresh-faced Jimmy Stewart who comprised the role of Jefferson Smith. A senator had died unexpectedly, and the state’s corrupt political boss pressured the governor into appointing a new senator who would dutifully play his designated role in the tribal drama. Acquiescence to the political boss was the only qualification required.

Of course, this would involve lying, cover-ups, and back-room deals—things the newly-appointed Senator Smith’s integrity would not allow. Jeff had naively assumed that the state’s senior senator, Joseph Harrison Paine, would likewise be constrained by his integrity from doing such things. It was a sad awakening for Jeff to discover that Senator Paine had indeed done such things–for years. He was entirely unnerved by the appalling discrepancy between the public Senator Paine, who was greatly revered, and the one behind the mask. Here’s how he explained it when Jeff got wind of the crooked scheme being cooked up by the political boss and Senator Paine.

Now listen Jeff, please, and try to understand. I know it’s tough to run head on into facts but as I said, this is a man’s world and you have to check your ideals outside the door like you do your rubbers.

Now, 30 years ago, I had your ideals. I was you. I had to make the same decision you were asked to make today. I made it. I compromised. Yes, so that all those years I could sit in that Senate and serve the people in a thousand honest ways. You’ve got to face facts, Jeff.  I’ve served our state well, haven’t I? We have the lowest unemployment and the highest federal grants. But, well, I’ve had to compromise. I’ve had to play ball. You can’t count on people voting. Half the time, they don’t vote anyway. That’s how states and empires have been built since time began. Don’t you understand?

Well, Jeff, you can take my word for it, that’s how things are. Now, I’ve told you all this because I’ve grown very fond of you.

I’d like to point out several glaring incongruences in Senator Paine’s despicable rationalization.

  • First, he was saying he had to lie in order to serve honestly. Honest service required dishonest methods.
  • Second, the higher good—assisting the people of his state—was served by low-life activities.
  • Third, appearances—Senator Paine was widely referred to in his state as The Silver Knight—were more important than reality.
  • Fourth, his repeated use of the word “facts.” The not-so-subtle subtext was, “My facts overwhelm your sentiments.” He had constructed a lie using nothing but the building ingredients of facts.
  • Fifth, his supposedly noble motivation of telling Jeff these things for his own good. Of course, Jeff’s subsequent refusal to acquiesce revealed Senator Paine’s true character—that of a vicious mortal enemy bent on Jeff’s complete and utter destruction.
  • And sixth, the elevation of power over truth. Lord Voldemort would’ve been proud.

As Jeff listened to this claptrap, he stood there dumbfounded, stumped for words. Because, in those situations, you’re never quite sure what to say. How do you discuss ideals with a man who justifies checking those ideals at the door? How do you talk principles when the person rationalizes the discarding of those principles to serve a supposed higher good? In actuality, the only “good” being served was the preserving of Senator Paine’s image and power. How do you reason with a man who’s renounced the use of reason? There just weren’t words.

***

Jeff refused to play along with the scheme. So, Senator Paine and his sleazy cohort fabricated a tale in which Jeff was the one who was guilty of corrupt dealings, not the senator. He was slapped with an undeserved label. And it almost worked.

More on this next week.

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