My top 5 favorite movies of all time form an eclectic list. In no particular order they are: Drop Dead Gorgeous, Clue, The Fifth Element, Big Trouble in Little China, and Star Wars. Each of those are very different in theme, style, setting, characters, mood, basically everything. What they have in common, and what I especially enjoy about them, is they are each very particularly of their era. They are all clear and saturated products of their time. And they are marvelous for it.
That list hasn't changed in a long time, until this week when I added a new all-time favorite. And the addition isn't even a movie. It's a TV show. But it belongs on my all-time favorites list because it too feels particular to this moment in time. Not because the story is unique, or because the special effects are innovative, but because the way it's told is distinctly avant-garde. The wealthy, privileged, heteronormative characters choose to move through the world in ways that are roundly anti-status-quo. It's what I hope will be the future of how media portrays humans relating to each other.
It's called "Ted Lasso" and it's about an American college football coach who gets hired to coach a Premier League football club in England, despite having never coached the sport and knowing very little about it. The club's new owner hires Coach Lasso because she wants him to fail, in the hope that he will bring the whole club crashing down with him. A salacious beginning to a show that is ultimately filled to the brim with emotional reckoning and growth.
What makes Coach Lasso so excellent is that he’s constantly working to inspire everyone around him to be a better version of themselves. In words and actions, he uplifts, nudges, and creates space for everyone to be fully themselves. Through his own example he demonstrates honesty and forthrightness. He acknowledges his mistakes (especially to the people directly affected) and is unabashedly accountable for his actions. Most importantly, he asks no less from everyone else.
Just as happens in the real world when somebody leads with that kind of example, the people around him follow suit. The show is chock-full of people owning their own shit and working to practice new patterns of thought and action that will more aptly serve the outcomes they desire. And it spreads out from there, like ripples in a pond. Person after person confronts their inner world and comes out stronger for the effort. And it works on almost everyone.
Coach Lasso makes end-roads with most folks because he meets them where they are and they are willing to look at themselves (eventually, if not immediately). Gradually, more and more people show up to more and more interactions with a fuller understanding of what they (emotionally) bring with them into an engagement. That propensity toward vulnerability allows for more genuine interactions, which deepens trust and leads to deeper and more fulfilling relationships.
The only guy who misses out is the one character who doesn't want to confront the root of their own insecurities. And that’s why Coach Lasso can't reach them. It was sad to watch an otherwise lovely and interesting person go from timid and creative to callous and calculating, letting their insecurities absorb them while they pushed everyone else away. Their struggle, too, is highly relatable. It's not easy to confront your own demons, even though it is definitely worth the effort. In the words of the delightful team psychologist, “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Maybe they'll come around in Season 3.
The fictitious Coach Lasso inspires everyone around him to embrace being in-process, to give themselves grace, and to keep on trying. He never gives up on himself and he never gives up on anyone else. I want to be like that. I want to be inspiring by the way I move through the world. I want to give everyone around me permission to do and be, and to do better and be better. Partly because it will feel good for me, and partly because we have to.
This world will not survive, and we will not survive what the world will become, if we don't figure out how to make some significant changes. And although it is necessary, it won't be possible if we all keep doing things the same way we have been doing them. If we keep relating to each other the same way we have been relating to each other. And we're not going to do anything differently if we keep practicing what we already know.
We need to branch out. And one of areas we can start with is our entertainment media. It's quite telling that many of the new movies and TV shows coming out lately are actually "re-boots" of things that already exist. Or needless sequels to stories that were concluded initially. I just learned there are 9 Fast and Furious movies, with a 10th due in 2023. I haven's seen most of them all, but I remember feeling perfectly adequate closure at the conclusion of the first one.
Not that re-watching old favorites is inherently bad. Given that the most recently released movie on my all-time favorites list came out in 1999, I clearly enjoy re-experiencing media that continues to bring me entertainment and satisfaction. There's a certain comfort in what is familiar. A small sense of safety and sureness in knowing what I'm about to experience, even if it's only for a couple of hours at a time.
Maybe one of the reasons we as consumers are collectively wallowing in the past is because the future is so uncertain. I can certainly relate to that. We've spent the last two years living through unprecedented event after unprecedented event after unprecedented event. I'm starting to think we have run out of precedent altogether. I don't even know if there will be a planet to retire on, so that makes it hard to motivate myself to invest my time in retirement planning. So sometimes I watch one of my favorite movies instead of updating my budget spreadsheet.
But I don't always want to retreat into the familiar. I want to spend just as much time (if not more) exploring new things and discovering new parts of myself. Ultimately, I want my past to be part of the me that's moving steadily toward my future. I want to take the lessons I learned and the fun I had and apply them to the life I live today. And I have to be the one to do that.
Among all the old favorites that surface again and again, there is one recurring theme I find especially noteworthy. The tale of an other-worldly, all-powerful entity that shows up, takes over, and wags its finger at humanity, telling us to get our shit together, or else. In the end, it's our humanity that convinces the interloping authority to give us another chance. Our humanness saves the day. This is exemplified in tons of films from the 1951 "Day the Earth Stood Still" to the much more recent "Superintelligence."
It's like we know the antidote to what ails us, but we refuse to accept it. Maybe one reason we keep repeating the same stories is we’re not listening to what we keep trying to tell ourselves. All the profound things I read and listen to and watch have been said by countless people over and over in each generation. I watched "Do The Right Thing" during the racial justice uprising in the wake of George Floyd's murder. 31 years after it's original release, it’s like it was talking about that very same week in 2020. It would still feel present and applicable if I watched again tomorrow, in 2022.
Doing the same thing again and again is perfectly fine if what we want is to continue to produce the results we already have. Unfortunately, we can't afford to do that for very much longer. We also can't wait for an all-powerful, off-world authority to arrive, or continue to hold out for a less effortful path to a better world. There's no way to skip out on doing the work. There's no shortcut to ourselves. Because in the end it will be our humanness that will save us. So let's tell the old stories, but let's tell them in a new way. Just like we live each new day in the same routine but with fresh perspective. If Ted Lasso can do it, so can you.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.