The Outstater: Hollywood Is Going to Be the End of Us

November 2, 2017

Some years ago a friend and his father watched as a woman blithely drove past them on a bare steel rim after blowing a tire. Moments before the sparks from the steel scraping cement exploded the gas in the tank, the father, a man known for a wry wit, had turned to the son to ask, “Don’t they teach physics anymore?”

I’ve found myself thinking about that this week. Physics involves absolutes, and that sets off multiple trigger warnings for this generation.

We have been raised on Hollywood realities. We don’t do absolutes. Everything will work out just fine, we think, or at least work out with an interesting, dramatic or even humorous twist. We are living on the set of “Everything Is Sunny in Philadelphia.”

So it is always a surprise when, to return to our word picture, the gas tank actually explodes.

In the Harvey Weinstein chronicle we have an example of what happens when beauty and innocence in search of stardom meets the ugly absolute of debauchery. What could go wrong? What must Doris Day think?

The denial of absolutes produces serious cognitive dissonance. For instance, Hollywood reality holds that all cultures are the same. They may have different values and customs, sure, but the end result is uniformly copacetic.

Nonetheless, New Yorkers this week were struggling to connect the dots leading from a crazed Uzbekistanian national driving over bicyclers on an idyllic Hudson River path to an immigration policy that chooses would-be citizens by lottery from strange corners of earth. That last sounds like a TV game show, not responsible government.

Nor did the fallacy alarm ring for our egalitarian friends when it was reported that bubonic plague was being spread in Madagascar by people digging up relatives and dancing with them as if in a “Walking Dead” outtake. It is part of a quaint ritual called Famadihana, you see, just another way of expressing one’s cosmic connection to this universe we all share.

That friend of the sparking-wheel episode has a favorite response to stories like these. He asks what movie you saw where that worked out okay. Most of us, sad to say, can think of one.

Finally, some astrobiologists tell us that space aliens could resemble . . . well, they could look like us. The logic behind that prediction leaps over a universe of assumptions to ultimately rest on Darwinian determinism (with adjustments for gravitational pull, caloric intake, atmosphere and the number of suns in the home planetary system). One scientist conceded, though, that “making predictions about aliens is hard.”

Are you beginning to understand the reason for the legalese in the recurrent disclaimer, “Don’t try this at home”? And by the way, do we have a Famadihanian immigration quota? Will aliens from space be allowed to smile on their drivers license photo? Did “La La Land” leave out the salacious details? Why are the new neighbors barbecuing your dog?

And, yes, do they teach physics anymore? Or anything else?

— Craig Ladwig


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