During our recent vacation, we stayed in St. Pete Beach, a resort town on Florida’s gulf coast. In order to get anywhere, we had to drive through a number of towns. The one we passed through most was South Pasadena. Now, this name is evocative for me, as my grandparents attended a church in South Pasadena, California when I was growing up, and it was a special place, filled with great people. In my time there, I gained friendships that lasted for years, and a few that still stand today.
As we drove along, I noticed that most of the signs for streets, hospitals, schools, and businesses had Pasadena in the title, not South Pasadena. I found this even more evocative, as my grandparents lived in Pasadena while I was growing up, and I remember their house as a place of warmth, contentment, and love. Despite everything else that changed during my childhood, their home remained my special place, and spending time with my grandparents during the summer the best vacation I could imagine.
Suddenly, with so many signs proclaiming Pasadena, I thought, “I should take a few photographs to share with my mother.” Soon I was hunting down any example of Pasadena-this-or-that that didn’t flash past too quickly for my camera’s shutter. I was smiling as I hunted down any building or signage containing Pasadena. So what if most of the pictures didn’t turn out: I was having a blast! Later on, I realized that my mother probably had little interest in seeing these photographs: really, I had taken them for the pleasure of doing so. While it would be easy to dismiss my actions as temporary insanity (or an indication of a permanently unbalanced mind), I have to think that what really prompted my actions was the tremendous power of a familiar, beloved name.
Like Nicholas Meyer (in yesterday’s blog), I sometimes wonder why TV or movies portray a cherished fictional character in a particular manner. Occasionally, the portrayal veers so far from the original conception, or my favorite adaptation, that watching this new version makes me depressed or angry. In the instances that the latter incarnation proves popular, this makes me feel alone and unwanted. Yet, even if the character or story portrayal is the opposite of the way I believe it should be, I try to be tolerant of those adaptations. For one of the signs that a given character or story is important to humanity is its ability to survive so many reinterpretations, and emerge just as vibrant and popular as the original portrayal. To quote Zach Snyder, the director of this year’s upcoming movie “Man of Steel:” “Superman is still the greatest superhero, no doubt. Our job is to make him even greater by finding the version of him that we want and need now.” (Entertainment Weekly Issue #1242, January 18, 2013) Or, as Nicholas Meyer said in his article for the Los Angeles Review of Books, each portrayal of a fictional character “is informed by the form and pressure of the age in which he lives, what society values or condemns or overlooks.”
All of us are individuals, and our tastes will occasionally diverge from the norm. When it comes to a character or story we really care about it, it’s easy to cry, “Please, don’t change it. Keep adhere to the portrayal I like the best!” But forms and archetypes don’t exist solely to serve individuals. They serve societies as well. As painful as it may be, we sometimes need to step back, look around us, and say, “If that’s what others need to make it through the day, and to empower them to benefit their world, then fine. Best of luck to them.”
Otherwise, the relentless tide of life will roll over us, crushing and shattering us like statues made of glass.