This semester I read a great book, A Matrix of Meanings, that significantly altered the way I view pop culture. And today I had had the experience of watching a movie through the matrix of meanings the authors write about.
In celebration of finishing up my finals for the semester I spent the afternoon watching The Answer Man, a tale of a reclusive famous author who wrote a book 20 years ago that people still remember and adore. According to his literary agent, he owns 10% of the “God” market, all because he wrote about the questions he asked God, and answers he claimed God gave him. Jeff Bridges and Lauren Graham are adorable in their roles, and much a the script is predictable. But every once and awhile, a small gem would appear.
Bridges plays the author, Arlen Faber, who’s become a recluse in the 20 years since his success, hiding from the fact he made the whole bit about talking to God up. The character also lost his father to Alzheimer’s five years ago, and it’s obvious he shut down after this event in his life. He and Graham have a typical “meet cute” and on their first date, he show her a cabinet full of figurines – of monsters – he and his dad collected together. Graham urges him to take them out of the cabinet to enjoy them, and places one on his piano.
Later in the scene, she tries to kiss him. He jerks away, grabbing the monster figurine and tries to rush it back to the cabinet. He stops, “I’m blowing it again, aren’t I?” he asks.
“No. I love it when I’m about to kiss someone and they leave me to protect a plastic toy.” she replies.
“But I kiss so much better knowing they’re safe.”
Before I read A Matrix of Meanings, I think I would have seen this simply as a cute comeback to her witty remark. But as the book taught me, I looked closer. I saw a man who’s a mess, with his own private “monsters” chasing him. Those monsters keep him from really knowing anyone, and from anyone really knowing him. And it’s easy to keep them locked up, where no one can see them, least of all you.
Arlen was brave enough to show his monsters, and as we all have similar monsters plaguing us, we often feel safer when they are locked up, don’t we?
Pop culture is a reflection of our world, and inside each creation of music, art, movies, is an expression of something.
And that something is to be paid attention to.