Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Big Chilling

A few nights ago, I watched the movie, The Big Chill for the first time in quite a while. (As a side note, I believe this was the 2nd movie my wife and I saw when we first started dating, the first being Star Wars, Revenge of the Jedi).

For those who have never seen The Big Chill, or don't remember the premise, in a nutshell, it details the forced reunion of a group of college friends after one of their group commits suicide. The music, of course, is dated if you are younger than 45, classic if of a more mature age. There are a number of interesting topics touched on by the friends as they grapple with their friend's death, their (mostly) disconnected lives since then, their current situations and the effect of their "histories" on their memories and the meaning of those times.

Although I am a college graduate, my Big Chill group includes friends I spent time with in the early to mid 80's. While a few did attend college, the core group only visited those attending higher education and only as an extension of our primary activities; rock concerts, parties, jobs for money, parties. To this day, I think of those friends, stay in touch with a few on an irregular basis and, occasionally, live in the past of my Big Chill group.

But I digress.

The reason for this post was to discuss the scene in the movie when the group reviews their hopes and dreams of those college days and how their current life choices reflect on those idealistic times.

Quick side bar here. Was this movie based on a book? If so, I would love to know if someone has read it as i would imagine the idealism that they only allude to in the movie is fleshed out more considerably in the book.

Anyway, it is idealism that is the point of this blog. In the movie, it is clear that the lawyer and the writer admittedly compromised their ideals for material comforts. The Kevin Kline character is unabashedly rich but I don't sense he was necessarily as idealistic as the other members of the group. The "druggie" seems to have maintained some idealism but uses the excuse of a narcissistic world to justify his continued use of drugs. Finally, the friend who has killed himself is portrayed as the most idealistic (and smartest) of the bunch; there is a scene, I think at the funeral where someone says he was too good for this world. And we know what happened to him.

In retrospect, perhaps I should be insulted by the portrayal of idealism in this movie. Although, as I look around at America today in light of the extreme greed, both individual and corporate that seems to rule the day, perhaps this portrayal is accurate. What happened to the challenge posed by our first "young" president who asked us to think about the country first and ourselves second. While so many took up his challenge and became teachers and social service providers, it is also this generation that has promulgated the obsession for "wealth" that led to our buying things on credit that we couldn't afford and creating financial instruments that were built on debt.

Some see a similar seed in President Obama's vision, but the ground upon which his words are spread seems less fertile. What is good for business, is good for America seems to be the rallying cry even as the gusher in the gulf continues to spew thousands of gallons of oil into our environment.

So, is idealism dead like the character in the movie? If not, what signs point to its existence? Solar panels on your roof or a hybrid car in the driveway? Familiarity and patronage at your local businesses, even if they are a bit more costly than the Wal-Mart SuperCenter? A portfolio that purposely posits social causes and green technology over profit? A job that provides spiritual compensation as well (or instead of) material rewards? Priorities that put the reduction of human suffering over the accumulation of natural resources, or land, or influence?

Perhaps the start is to at least acknowledge that we would like to return to the idealistic roots of our youth. If not, then let's hope that idealism does not go the way of the dead friend in the movie.

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