Saw a comment today, someone saying that Black Panther was better than all the Star Wars movies combined. Let’s not dive into a discussion of trying to quantify subjective evaluations, shall we? Let’s just leave it that this person ENJOYED BP more than they enjoyed all the Star Wars movies combined, or at least so much that they were moved to say that.
What I thought would be more interesting is asking: what makes a movement? Because that’s what Star Wars was. It motivated people to camp out overnight, buy tickets months in advance, cosplay, generated endless merchandise, and united generations of geeks in a celebration of space fantasy.
Harry Potter triggered some similar reactions. As did Star Trek. I believe that movies like Gone With The Wind and Titanic seem to have hit the same buttons, and to a degree Avatar, and maybe even Enter The Dragon.
I remember having a meeting at my house when I lived over near LACC. Wish I could remember what the point of it was, but two ladies showed up who said they were from the “Vulcan Embassy.” Called themselves T’Plea and T’Qua. Vulcan ears, dress, everything. I was very weirded out, I can remember. And tried talking to them wanting to get some sense of what motivated them to behave this way, but didn’t get a clue.
What else does this kind of fandom remind me of? Religious movies, the kind where churches send busloads of worshippers to see some (usually) low-rent version of the Passion play, or the trials of the Israelites or something. There have been tons of them, and some were actually pretty good (I remember enjoying the heck out of a revival of 1949’s SAMSON AND DELILAH. Probably that jawbone fight. Bringing down the temple sort of rocked too. And of course all the thinly-veiled sexual tension twixt Victor Mature and Hedy Lemar. All that post-coital lounging…
What is it that creates that kind of connection?
When I was in my 30’s, I was looking for magic. Had a standing offer to the universe that I would go anywhere, at any time, at any cost, to see the equivalent of a cigarette ash burning backwards to make a Lucky Strike. Something that just couldn’t be explained with the laws of physics. It was amazing how weak the evidence for such thing was, while still managing to trigger human reactions of awe and suspension of logic. Cold spots in houses. déjà vu. Lucid dreaming. Slight-of-hand magic. Cold reading (“mediums” using psychological tricks to “read minds”). Cute martial arts tricks of alignment or tendon strength. And on and on.
I’ll say that eventually I experienced something that made me withdraw my little offer from the universe, but that’s another story. But what is pertinent is that my endless afternoons at the Bodhi Tree bookstore in West Hollywood led me to a man named Sri Chinmoy. Now…Chinmoy was fascinating. An Indian holy man who taught meditation and encouraged his followers to engage in ultra-marathons to raise their energy and purify their bodies, he wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of books, “played” dozens of instruments (except for some decent flute, I could never determine any actual skill in his piano playing…but I have to admit there was a strange power in his compositions), a million brushstroke paintings of birds, and more.
He had celebrity followers like Roberta Flack and Carlos Santana, and “meditation centers” in college campuses across the country, and the U.N. building. All of this was interesting, but the thing that really caught my eye was the fact that when he injured himself in the ultra-marathons he switched to weight lifting.
Using special rigs, he lifted other human beings with one arm, airplanes and cars, and weights totalling over seven thousand pounds. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at when he did this, but world-class bodybuilder Bill Pearl had a store in southern Oregon, and was one of Chinmoy’s friends. HE said that he had seen this little man perform feats of strength no one he knew of could match. Had he lifted 7,063 pounds? Really? Well…Pearl said that from where he was, the massive barbell, in an overhead sling, MIGHT have lifted an inch. But the only thing he could be sure of was that the bar, as thick as a man’s arm, had actually BENT with the force applied against it.
Ummm….apparent total control of flow state (all that art!), vast aerobic capacity? The comparative strength of an insect? That suggested someone who had serious ability to override the governors that inhibit human performance. A cigarette ash burning backwards? No. But the most impressive human performance I’d ever heard of.
There was more. At a private meeting of his students, I saw his aura. That was an entire story in itself. I didn’t know what to think about it at the time. Now, I believe is was a projection of my mind…but a very specific one, indicating some very specific things. Another time.
Anyway, I became his student, and studied with other students learning meditation techniques and spiritual perspectives I use to this day. Nice people. A little strange and…bland. That’s not a bad term for it. A little “flat” tonally. More on this in a little bit. The guys had no sharp edges. The women weren’t particularly warm and cuddly. Some “polarity” missing.
I should have known what was coming.
Some years later, I found myself up in Vancouver Washington, my marriage in tatters and needing to find my spiritual center. Realizing that I had stopped meditating, I decided to re-connect with Chinmoy’s people, and located a meditation center in Seattle, calling them and getting permission to join them for a Sunday afternoon. They owned a restaurant up there, and after a fun day of meditating, playing vollyball and working in the restaurant we had a lovely vegetarian dinner. I was stoked. I felt so at home.
Except for that odd “flatness” I’d sensed. But what the heck, right. Anyway, we were all talking, and I mentioned at one point that on my way home to Vancouver, I was going to stop off at a ladyfriend’s house for…well, I think “a little late night all-right” about covers it.
And…the room went quiet. They looked at me rather oddly, and then slowly began to speak again. But it felt like they’d edged away from me a little. I was confused. What had I done?
About fifteen minutes later one of the guys came up to me and asked me if I’d step outside for a moment. I did. He fum-fuh’d, toe’d the ground and then blurted out: “Didn’t you know that Guru wants us to be celebate?”
WTF? I’d read dozens of his books, and maybe a hundred articles on him, been involved in their community for about five years, and NO ONE had said this. EVERYONE seemed to think that someone else had laid that out for me. I was shocked, and appalled, and remembered driving home down the I-5 kinda shattered. It all made sense. That explained the kinda “flat” energy I’d felt from them: neither the men or women were “displaying” for each other. They were edging toward asexuality, or “neuterism” or whatever you’d call it.
And I knew that if Chinmoy was the best chance I’d ever encountered to enter a different realm of existence, his path was also not for me. I mean, if God wants me to stop having sex, there’s a pretty simple change he could make in me, and let’s just say he ain’t never made it.
Sigh. To be honest, that was my last try, the last time I attempted to find a spiritual community. I realized that my path was within me, that all the teachers in my life had pointed where I needed to go, and I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know. Not taking responsibility for my own growth was being a spiritual child. I didn’t need that. But…it still hurt.
We all seek something. Some sense of connection to love, the divine, the mysterious. Something bigger than us. And some of us find it in religious activities, others in relationships, or politics, or cheering sports teams…or enjoying movies.
The entertainments that trigger that response seem to speak of another world, something lost and far away…or off in the future, of in a galaxy far, far away. They appeal to our hearts, our sense of our own potential, that perhaps we are actually part of a powerful dynasty with Force powers. Or we are on a mission to explore the galaxy in a time when humans have grown past our divisions. Or we are celebrating a lost, noble civilizations of ladies and cavaliers, masters and slaves, a gracious time now gone with the wind.
How about a time when love was more important than life (“Titanic”)? Or a totally alien world in which we can transform into something beyond our human limitations (“Avatar”).
Take us somewhere we’ve never been. Give us a missing piece of our soul. Show us a cigarette ash burning backwards to make a Lucky Strike. In real life? You get there and find out it was an illusion, that you always had what you needed anyway, you just didn’t trust yourself.
But those who have found it, if they are wise, don’t mock those still searching. And even if you have it, there is nothing wrong with enjoying entertainments that take us out of ourselves, remind us of our dreams and hopes. We need them.
I needed to believe in something more than myself. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have found the truth behind the magical metaphors in every sacred tradition. I am happy for the stories, but the truth is even better.
But still, I was miserable on that drive home. It can be hard to realize no one, and nothing, is coming to rescue us. Hard to be an adult some times. It is fun to be a kid again, to connect with a simpler time, simpler emotions, simpler realities. And sometimes we need to take a break from the endless struggle life can be, and simply sit in a darkened movie theater, and remember what it was to believe our potential was without limit.
And those who have had endless such images…if they don’t realize the bounty they were given, and mock those who are starving…I feel sorry for them. They don’t realize that in that sense they were born into Fort Knox and think all they have is the gold in their teeth.