Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fat Dreams

Dear Fat,

It's going to take a little while before this entry becomes relevant, so please bear with me.

I just finished watching Hoop Dreams, which reminded me a lot of my favorite documentaries, the Up series.  To save you from the three hours that it would take you to watch Hoop Dreams, I will provide a brief synopsis:

Two eighth-grade boys from the inner city are picked out by a talent scout to play basketball for a private Catholic school in the suburbs, and both are offered half-scholarships.  One of the boys, William, starts out very promisingly, and the school manages to find a patroness to pay for the rest of his education.  When Arthur's family can't make the payments anymore, he's forced to drop out and enroll in a public school.  William does well but perhaps not as well as he was meant to (due to injuries and whatever), and he gets a full scholarship to Marquette.  Arthur leads his public school team to place 3rd in the state championships, but because of poor grades, he has to start at a community college before transferring to a school in Arkansas.  Neither one ends up playing for the NBA.

Hoop Dreams was originally intended to be a half-hour special on how private schools sought talent from inner-city playgrounds.  It evolved into a project that spanned these boys' entire high school career.  Similarly, Seven Up! was meant to be a one-time deal where they picked out these dozen or so 7-year-olds from varying socioeconomic backgrounds and just implied that these kids' personalities and destinies are set by the age of 7.  Instead, they have followed up with these individuals every 7 years, and they'll be making 56 Up by next year or so.

Of course, as with anything that is filmed, the perspective is skewed.  In fact, the director of the Up series once stated that he was convinced that one of the subjects, Tony, was going to turn into a criminal, so in earlier installments of the series, he would film Tony in shadier areas to foreshadow his destiny.  But the problem is you can't script real life that way.  This was back when reality television actually had to be based on reality.

What happened instead?  Well, Tony made his way up into a comfortable middle-class life with a few properties to his name.  The vehemently anti-marriage 21-year-old girl was happily married by 28 Up and still has a pleasant family life.  The most cheerful little 7-year-old boy ended up severely depressed and homeless by his 20s with some degree of mental illness but then found his way back and is now active in local politics.  The passionate socialist went from working with disadvantaged students to teaching math at a private Catholic school.  Many of them have also commented on how this series has influenced their lives . . . knowing that they would have to be re-evaluated every seven years made them stop and think about how they were leading their lives.

In Hoop Dreams, there was a bit of irony in the success of each boy's high school basketball career, and although neither achieved their original goal of reaching the NBA, being a part of this project has since provided them with more money and better opportunities.

I love movies, and I love scripted works.  But the appeal in documentaries like these two is that they offer you an opportunity to really feel the toll that life takes on a person.  After William leaves to play for Marquette University, you see his mother leaning her head against the screen door telling us that all she wants is for him to make it through all four years, whether he played good basketball or not, if he could just make it through all four years, that would be enough for her.  That one moment tells you all of the struggles she's overcome in her life to make a better one for her son.  You could try to write that into a movie, but what would it mean?  It's not meant to be art; here, it goes much deeper.

To be honest, I wasn't quite sure how I was going to relate this back to either Fat or Fit-ion when I first started writing, but I think I've figured out why I wanted to write about these works here.  It's this idea of wanting a destiny that may not be there and of leading an examined life.  When I set these goals and make these plans for myself, I sometimes find myself dragging my feet along and just expecting that I'll be able to reach my destination while exerting only minimal effort.  Of course, this doesn't work.  If I had the opportunity to watch myself living my life, I doubt that I would enjoy what I saw.  I would ask why I didn't do such and such thing sooner, why I avoided this opportunity, why I lost motivation so quickly.  I am young, capable, and advantaged (what's the opposite of disadvantaged?) enough, so why do I keep holding myself just a little bit back?



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