Only a Morphism

1 March 2001

I like dreamsicles. I don't intend to devote this entire entry to them, but they're just so good I had to mention it (I'm eating one). They're one of those "taste of childhood" things for me, which is odd, because we didn't have them that often when I was a kid. I think my mom did when she was a kid, though, which might explain it if she brought it up a lot. Yummy...and gone.

Some items like that are more abstract for me. I actually like to eat dreamsicles. Cheese-on-a-stick, on the other hand, is a homelike thing ("home" in the sense of Minnesota, in this case--Nebraskans would cringe or be baffled by cheese-on-a-stick, as I was when I moved up to Minnesota for college) that I want to have around only in the potential. Our nearby mall, in its on-a-stick place, offers cheese-on-a-stick. I don't need or even want to buy any. I just like it that I can.

Is it possible to digress when you haven't started to say anything at all related to what you were intending to talk about? I guess we'll find out.

In e-mail with Tim, one of my least favorite sentences got mentioned. (Thankfully, he was only quoting.) And that is: "It's only a movie." Could you hear me scream after that? Yeah, I thought you could. The only thing that makes it worse is substituting "book" or "story" in for "movie." Nobody ever says this to reassure some dim little kid who believes that fact and, indeed, Truth is unfolding before his eyes. ("You'll find out when you grow up that Big Bird isn't funny.....") Nope. It's in response to someone who is criticizing a work of fiction, whether in written or filmed media -- usually someone who is criticizing it in a particularly analytical way.

"It's only a movie." What, exactly, am I supposed to get from that reassurance? It's not "...not a documentary." These people know I know that. I think the proper completion is " don't take it seriously, because it's not that important."

Am I supposed to accept that? Does anybody really think that I will? Do they expect that I will have a flash of insight and say, "You're right, Bob! My line of work is worthless! Making things up for other people's appreciation really doesn't make a difference in the world! Thank you for pointing that out to me!"

Ah, you see, I am not supposed to "take it personally." But it is personal. And I think it ought to be personal to you, too.

If it's "just a movie," then we can settle for just anything. It doesn't have to make sense. It doesn't even have to be good at making nonsense. If it's "just a movie," then we're being unreasonable if we expect better. If it's "just a movie," then we are invited to believe that any messages therein will not -- in fact, cannot change how we think.

Isn't that just a little bit depressing to you? I mean, even if you're not a fiction writer, the idea that nothing you read or watched on the big or small screen could make an impact on your life ought to be something of a downer.

Also, incidentally, totally false. Mark's advisor often points out something that many of us don't think about in these terms: what you read, what you view, what you listen to, is physically changing your brain. Quite literally. New pathways are being formed even as you read this. We are constantly reprogrammed by our environment. Cool. Scary. Both.

But that is, in a sense, true of everything, of the ads you read as well as the poems. I think it goes deeper than that, though. Story is important. Stories are important. Two slightly different statements, both true. Story is how we figure out what the world is supposed to be like. It outlines our possibilities. We can also self-program, though; we can analyze and explicitly accept or reject what we're given. That's why the analysis is so important. That's why we can't let it be "only a movie," or "only a book."

I think it's the word "only" that rankles so much. The other use of it that really gets to me is, "Well, that's only my opinion." This odious little gem is used when the speaker doesn't have a defense for his/her opinion at all, but doesn't want to face that. And I always want to say, "Oh, thank God you told me that! For awhile you had me thinking it was word from on high, and that was kind of scary! Come to find out it's only your opinion. Whew." (Actually, sometimes I do say that. Sometimes people think tact is not my strong suit. It's not that. It's just not a suit that I like playing in.) And this is only my opinion (aghhhh), but I believe that if you're going to offer opinions on topics that are arguable (which is many of them, but not all), you need to have something to back it up besides "that's only my opinion." I already know that. Tell me something interesting.

No, really, go on ahead. Tell me something interesting. You know you want to. All your friends are doing it. You would if you really loved me....

Back to Morphism.

And the main page.

Or even send me email.