Category Archives: reviews

A Patient Reacts to Medical Dramas.

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This is me, 2 months after aortic graft surgery with complications, in 2013.

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A patient in recovery on _House_.

There must be some kind of HIPAA for TV patients because after numerous search combinations I can’t find many pictures of TV patients in recovery from surgery, but we’ve all seen them: awake and talking hours after a complex surgery, with maybe a fake ID or a basic oxygen cannula or a bandage or two.  No blood or other fluids oozing all over the place.

I don’t watch a lot of medical shows.  I like House and I like The Good Doctor and a few others that are more dramas that happen to be about doctors than they are “medical shows.”  Usually, when surgery is depicted on TV, it’s either so graphic it causes me PTSD  or it’s so unrealistically “clean” it’s frustrating.
The season 2 premiere of The Good Doctor features a patient  who needs a “piggyback” heart transplant, a procedure that has been around since 2004.  The episode frustrated me so much I wanted to see if anyone wrote about it, and I discovered a couple YouTube shows where doctors review medical dramas or sitcoms.  Then I looked to see if there was an equivalent series for patients, and there is none. Since I can only speak above a whisper, and since I don’t know how to do all the fancy effects of a YouTube channel, I decided to do it as a blog post.

So, the Good Doctor episode: they’re getting ready for this surgery and discover a massive aortic aneurysm that they somehow never picked up on previous tests.  A dissection would be believable.  But an aneurysm?  Then they refer to a “teflon” graft–aortic grafts are made of Dacron, which contains teflon, but I have never heard a doctor say “teflon” graft.  Then they act like the aortic graft is what’s “risky,” and not this heart procedure.  I have had an aortic “teflon” graft that goes “all the way to my heart” for 22 years.  It’s nothing new.  Also, IRL if they discovered such a potential complication, they would do two separate procedures.  When I had the surgeries in the picture above, they first grafted from my left carotid to my left subclavian.  Then, a week later, they grafted my descending aorta.   Then I had some kind of surgery about once a week for a month and a half.  Were it a  TV show, it would be all done in less than a week, and I’d have left the hospital happy and smiling, instead of barely functional after 3 months.

To wit, medical dramas are their best when major characters are patients and their care is actually shown in a realistic timeline with realistic reactions and complications.

Non-medical shows are just as bad: character has some health crisis and it’s all resolved in an episode or two: no long term scars or broken bones that never quite heal right–unless the storyline is to account for an actor’s real life health issues.

Every time I look in the mirror I see the scars.  If I look at my hands closely enough I can see the scars from various long term IVs from hospitalizations.

You never see that on TV.

Then there was this week’s Good DoctorShaun tells his supervisor, Dr. Melendez, that he thinks the janitor has pancreatic cancer because of acid reflux, jaundice and some other symptom.  Melendez walks by the janitor and agrees.  They do a “full workup,” whatever that means.  In less than a day, they’ve given him all sorts of tests, “on the hospital’s dime,” and sure enough he has cancer, and they do a surgery, and well, in this case he dies but you know the drill.  Either the patient dies and there’s some kind of ethical debate or life lesson for the major characters, or else the patient lives and (see above).

Real life: doctor sees a lump on your foot.  Combined with other symptoms, he thinks it might be cancerous.  He’s pretty sure it’s just a bone spur but wants to be sure.  So he orders an X-Ray.  That doesn’t  settle it, so he orders an MRI.  This whole process takes nearly a month, not a few hours.  MRI thankfully confirms bone spur, but after a month of worry you now have to deal with the fact that your insurance company has denied the MRI.

Doctor show: patient goes to the ER with a cough.  “I think you might be having an [insert “zebra” diagnosis here] because you have all these other symptoms you didn’t mention.”

Real Life: patient goes to the ER with, say, Marfan syndrome, multiple grafts and an abdominal aneurysm, and sharp pain in chest and back. He tells them that it has to be really bad for him to show up at all, that he’s having this pain in spite of high doses of pain medication, anti-gas meds, antacids, etc., and that he just wants a CT and an echo to make sure everything’s functioning properly.  He even tries to hand them a signed ER plan which they hand back to him.

Instead, I sat in the ER waiting room for 5 hours, surrounded by people coughing and hacking, later heard one of the people at the triage desk say, “We have to clear out all these Class C” people and looks up what that means, and found out it’s basically the ER term for hypochondriacs.  While I had been sitting there, they gave me an EKG and chest X-Ray, both of which I know are useless in showing whether anything is dissected or leaking, and both of which were “normal” when I had my actual aortic dissection.

Having arrived around 7 PM, I finally got into room, way in the back, at 11:45.  A nurse came in and I explained why I was there and handed her my sheet.  She looked at it, asked if she could keep it, and I said, “Yes, that’s why I brought multiple copies.”  She said she’d enter it into my chart (I had updated information from another hospital).  [A week later, when I went to see my regular doctor’s office at that hospital for a scheduled test, they did not have the updated information].
She ended her shift, and I went through the same routine with another nurse, and he was impressed I wrote the care plan myself.  The usual sequence of increasingly ranked doctors came in, and the highest ranked one actually seemed to be concerned that they’d made me wait this long. Then he finally ordered the CT which my wife had been assured over the phone around 9 PM that they had already ordered.
It was, of course, “stable,” though I know from experience that “ER stable” could mean a mm or more of growth in my aneurysm, which is the change my surgeon said would make it time for my next surgery.

TV Drama: Person has a dizzy spell.  Someone calls 911.  The hospital admits the patient till they know exactly what caused the dizzy spell.  Wants to know entire history.  House gets mad patient didn’t mention a dizzy spell in 1984, or sends his residents to break into the patient’s house to find information the patient might not have shared.

RL, Different Hospital: I lost my memory briefly.  I have a history of neurological complications of Marfan syndrome, including 2 or more venous ectasias (essentially brain aneurysms but supposedly they won’t burst), and potential dural ectasia and CSF problems but I can’t have the tests to formally diagnose them so when I have symptoms of a CSF leak I just confine myself to bed rest till I feel better.

My whole life I’ve had dizzy spells, loss of feeling in my legs, slurred speech, “migraines,” etc.  Some of that is explained by either or both of those conditions.  Usually, I’ve only gone to the ER when other people were concerned enough to insist on it, like when I’d nearly pass out in the hallway in high school.  I hate ERs because I know the’re pretty much useless.

For the past couple years, I’ve been getting migraines with audio aura, or something like waking dreams. It’s hard to explain, but I would feel woozy then get a sense of deja vu or nostalgia or whatever, feel like I was remembering something but not quite sure, and if I tried to focus on that, it would just get worse and worse, with this cacophony of noise in my head.  Usually, an aspirin or a nap would wipe it out.

In June, I started having such an experience and went back to my room.  My wife sent one of the kids back to check on me and I didn’t know who or where I was (from my perspective, I thought I’d slept for hours and just woken up).  They asked me all sorts of questions.  I  remember the experience but I remember “knowing” but being horribly confused and just unable to get the words to my mouth.

So they called 911.  I took the ambulance to the hospital, and felt better by the time I got there.  They did some meaningless tests, diagnosed me with “migraine,” and sent me home.

A month to the day later, it happened again, only this time I didn’t make it to the bed.  I feel and lost consciousness on the bedroom floor.  My wife had recently done an online CPR class and had the kids watch it with her.  Our 11 year old said, “Dad’s having a seizure!”

Called 911.  I woke up surrounded by EMTs.  They took me to the ER.  Yes, I was having a seizure, spent most of the night in the ER, but they didn’t admit me.  For once, I don’t remember a lot of details about what happened next, but I came home, and the next night my wife woke up to me seizing in my sleep.  She called again.  This time, she insisted they admit me.  The neurologist on duty was a cerebrovascular neurologist I’d seen before about my venous ectasias.  The first neurology resident was OK but the supervising resident insisted I was faking it or something and did some kind of physical assault to show that I wasn’t really having a seizure, ignoring my wife’s pleas for him to stop that he could kill me by the way he was applying pressure to my chest.

After my wife’s pleas, they admitted me.   We told them all the history above, and they said, “Well, that’s probably unrelated.”
After a frustrating weekend, they sent me home.  We didn’t understand at the time why they refused to do an EEG while I was there, but now I understand: the way to diagnose epilepsy is to wait till the patient is *not* in an obvious seizure, and if there’s seizure activity, they know it’s epilepsy and not anything else.  So after a week, I got the EEG.  Another week later, they called and said to come in for the follow up ASAP.  Yes, I had epilepsy.  Yes, they admitted that those audio migraines, dizzy spells, etc., had probably all been partial seizures.

Medical Drama (Again): “Tell us every health problem you’ve ever had.”
RL (office visit): “Don’t tell me all that.  What is the most urgent issue you’re dealing with right now.”

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_The Last Jedi_: _Star Wars_ is finally honest

When I first introduced my kids to Star Wars, I followed up with an explanation of Dualism, Gnosticism, the “Ray of Truth” concept, and authentic versus dangerous forms of spirituality and spiritual gifts.

C. S. Lewis argues against Dualism that  we cannot define “Good” and “Evil” without an external standard to define them.  If “Good” and “Evil” were truly opposite “forces,” they would not balance; they would cancel each other out.  Even if there were two equally powerful “gods,” one good/one evil, to know which was which there would still have to be a “God” to tell us which was which (e.g., the JW idea that Jesus & Satan are brothers).

“Only Sith deal in absolutes,” Obi-Wan tells Anakin in Revenge of the Sith, and that is the fundamental paradox at work in a Dualistic narrative.  The interesting irony is that the more honest Star Wars is about its flawed philosophical underpinnings, the more the fans complain–first the prequels undermined the narrative that the Jedi and the Republic are “good,” a narrative already flawed from Obi-Wan’s lies to Luke.  I think they’re viscerally reacting against the implicit and now explicit rejection of objective standards.

“Good guys, bad guys: made up words.  It’s all a machine,” says “DJ,” the early Han Solo-esque hacker who takes his money and runs.

Dualists and moral relativists always want to have their proverbial cake and eat it, too.  They want “good” and “evil” to be relative terms when it suits them and then appeal to morality or to vague concepts like “hope” and “energy” and “good thoughts” when it’s convenient.

So we’re supposed to support the Jedi because they’re the “guardians of peace and order,” yet the Sith also insist they want peace and order.  From a Thomistic standpoint, and from what we see of the Republic in the films, the Sith make the stronger claim to promoting “peace and order.”  And the “good guys” seem to ambiguate between whether they want “peace and order” or “freedom,” since the two concepts cannot coexist.  Hobbes tells us what “freedom” means: the war of all against all for all.  It’s the “Outer Rim,” ruled by warring gangsters.  The only way anyone can functionally have absolute freedom is to enslave others to some extent.

In the Force religion, as in Modernism and all other permutations of Gnosticism, we hear about “Hope,” and “Freedom” and “Peace,” but we hear no explanation for what these words mean or imply or why they are good things.

We love Star Wars because it seems to be about “good” versus “evil.”  However, in The Last Jedi, we’re told to “let the past die,” to destroy all the books, to look within for wisdom.  This was really the most honest movie in the Star Wars franchise in terms of expressing what we’ve been hearing all along.

“Hey! I know her!”

The Aiken Community Playhouse Youth Wing is putting on Kate Hamill‘s award winning, 2016, off-Broadway adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and SensibilityFrom their website, the showings are:

February 16, 17, 23, 24 at 7:30 . February 18 at 3 pm
School show: Feb. 22 at 10 am. Interested schools should contact the Box Office at 803-648-1438

Now, it should be noted in the interest of both journalistic ethics and apparently federal law, my daughter is in the play and I got to see the dress rehearsal for free because of that.
That said, I really did think it was fantastic, and I strongly recommend it.  I considered trying to do the whole “Snarly Judge who everyone loves to despise” thing, as Mr. Lunt puts it,  and try the whole reverse psychology thing, but I really did like it too much to say anything bad.
One of the marks of professionalism in a performance is the ability to go with the flow when things go wrong, and these kids did great.  I got so wrapped up in it I kept forgetting two things: a) that it was a dress rehearsal (in fact, we previously had free tickets to ACP’s adult dress rehearsal of Beauty and the Beast, and that was so good I forgot it was a dress rehearsal) and b) my daughter was in it.  I barely recognized her.
A basic rule of performance is the ability to go with the flow if something goes wrong.
I kept telling my daughter about William Shatner’s “big break” as Christopher Plummer’s understudy in a Toronto production of Henry V.  On the night when the critics wrote their reviews, Plummer was ill and Shatner took his place.  He kept forgetting his lines, but his pauses to remember them were so dramatically effective the critics loved him.
So these kids were consummate professionals: I noticed a couple times where one of them would stammer, and it fit so well with the story it was either really good acting because they stammered intentionally or really good acting because they actually stammered with good timing.
The only other mistake I noticed was a feedback problem near the ending, and it happened when a character was in angst, so again, it was impressive that the young actors just kept going with the scene.
There were some interesting choices for the incidental music, some of which was at times a bit too anachronistic, but it was emotionally effective nonetheless, and had me listening to the Piano Guyseponymous album on repeat for two hours after the show.
Between the superb acting, the effective dramatization of Austen’s classic, and the music, with the added impact of my daughter’s debut (almost 11 years to the day after her unofficial stage debut as a volunteer audience participant in a dinner theater), I spent the next hour after the show in pure Joy/Sennsucht.

The play was so good that I’d go back even if my daughter wasn’t in it.

As for my daughter, Alexandra Hathaway, in the role of Mrs. Dashwood, she has a tendency to be a bit too fast in her delivery, but in this case it was like the opposite of William Shatner’s King Henry.  They all had to speak quickly to deliver the extensive dialogue, and she came off very effectively as a frazzled and desperate widow.  Like Estelle Getty in Golden Girls, she was one of the younger members of the cast, but a little make-up added to her Marfanoid physique, and her eldest sibling “Little Mother”/babysitting skills made her extremely convincing as a 40 year old mother.

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Alexandra “Mrs. Dashwood,” standing (Photo Credit: Christina Cleveland, Aiken Standard)

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Photo Credit: Me.

10 years ago, she couldn’t see. Now, she has lens implants that give her vision like her mother’s. 10 years ago, her aorta “enlarged.” It stopped growing and even shrank a bit, such that her cardiologist calls her the “miracle girl.” She is in constant pain from ankles that sublux all the time, yet she’s enduring the pain to do this. Whether this is the first step in an illustrious career in theater or valuable experience that will help her in a future path, we are impressed at what she has accomplished, and she deserves accolades and lots of ticket sales, and Aiken Community Playhouse deserves a lot of ticket sales for giving her this well-earned opportunity.

THE WHISPERING ROOM Review

(My wife, Mary Hathaway, was given a free e advanced reader copy of THE WHISPERING ROOM, by Dean Koontz, but due to health and other issues, she could not finish the novel until now.  This is written from her point of view and shared on Amazon as well. The links go to Amazon, but we are NOT getting any money for it.  You can find the books elsewhere and even some are free for download.  They just enrich the meaning if you have read them.)

Many read Dean Koontz for his horror and suspense. I read him because he makes me laugh, brings me hope in our very fallen world, and his plot twists and character development serve as an amazing examination of conscience, one that usually leaves me squirming and landing on my knees in repentance. The higher, anagogical meaning is what I look for and am never disappointed.

In her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” found in the collection, Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor writes, “I think the way to read a book is always to see what happens, but in a good novel, more always happens than we are able to take in at once, more happens than meets the eye. The mind is led on by what it sees into the greater depths that the book’s symbols naturally suggest. This is what is meant when critics say that a novel operates on several levels. The truer the symbol, the deeper it leads you, the more meaning it opens up.”

O’Connor could have been predicting the work of one of her biggest fans, Dean Koontz, in this essay. He may be known as the “Master of Suspense,” and aptly so, but it’s his use of symbols and their anagogical meaning that has me pondering his works long after I finish them and brings me back to them again. The “suspense” of what happens after earthly life is what he wants his readers to consider and I do, with every novel of his I have read.

THE WHISPERING ROOM, the second novel in what is promised to be a 7-book series features the intrepid and determined Jane Hawk, a rogue FBI agent on the run, investigating a series of deaths while attempting to guard herself and those she loves against the unseen enemies. Having been startled, enthralled and moved to tears by the end of THE SILENT CORNER, the first book in the series, I was anxious to see where Mrs. Hawk would land next in her quest to bring justice for her husband and safety for her son and others imperiled by “them.”

While THE SILENT CORNER is meticulously crafted to introduce the Jane Hawk universe, THE WHISPERING ROOM immediately draws the reader into an intimate scene of the slowly unveiling iniquitous underground. The pace is fast and the mood sinister. Jane’s quest for justice introduces her to some of the most foul and disgusting people one can imagine, as well as some of the bravest and kind. One’s conscience is pricked and left mourning for evil and its web in which we are all entangled. Its end left me puzzling and wondering where Jane was headed next in the quest for justice, an answer that is coming in May 2018, in THE CROOKED STAIRCASE. If you have not read The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense yet, I strongly recommend reading it first and then reading the sequel, THE WHISPERING ROOM.

I also suggest reading T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems, 1909-1962 or read this excellent analysis of “The Hollow Men,”  as well as reading Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories (FSG Classics). A look at CS Lewis and his book The Four Loves will also provide more insight into the deeper meaning of the fantastic Jane Hawk series and the other works of Dean Koontz.

In closing, I would strongly recommend reading a novel by his apprentice of sorts, Frank RedmanELIJAH: A Suspense Novel and reading Redman’s publisher web site for his Koontz story.   Redman’s influence on Koontz’s writing and his life cannot be exaggerated, as once again, Redman’s integrity, bravery, faith, and health battle are featured in the Jane Hawk series, hidden in the characters’ names, words and actions, just as he served as the inspiration for ASHLEY BELL.

Like most adults, my spare time is limited, so I can cover all my reading needs in one of Koontz’s amazing novels– a spiritual work, a fantastic suspense, a deep romance, a political critique, a futuristic sci-fi thriller, and an examination of conscience, all in one incredible work of art.

quote from THE FOUR LOVES

“Pro-life, homeschooling committed Christians who abstain till marriage then stay married to the same person are freaks”

I tolerate a lot, maybe too much, when it comes to TV and movies, but I appreciate seeing the consequences of actions, even if the writers depict those consequences unwittingly.

20 years or so ago, when Ellen Degeneres and her eponymous sitcom came out of the proverbial closet, ABC said that LGBT were about 10% of the population and deserved to be represented on TV.  Now, most studies have said that even if those who have “experimented” to some degree or other are included, LGBT are at most 6% of the population, and really more like 3%.  Interestingly with all the propaganda in recent years, that number has risen a whole half a percent!  Amazing how the number of people who are “born” a certain way increases.

But, fine, 4%.  Yes, there are people who identify that way and yes they should be depicted *honestly*.

But a year or two after the Ellen controversy, when the Catholic League lead a coalition of pro-life, pro-family, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations protesting Nothing Sacred, ABC said, “We can’t have what amounts to 10% of the population dictating to us.”  Yet *that* coalition represented the views of 50% of the population.

Close to 70% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal under at least some circumstances, yet to most TV shows, pro-lifers are a minority and freaks.

I read an article once about the unrealistic depiction of sexual relationships on TV that pointed out for example how many characters known on TV shows as “losers” who can’t find a girlfriend actually have more sexual relationships, particularly in a short time, than even relatively promiscuous people in real life.

How often, outside of sitcoms and a couple reality shows that may be exceptions that prove the rule, do you see couples who are happily married and stay married?

How often do you see people on any fictional TV show who are committed Christians and serious about their faith and love their faith?  Even The Middle and recently cancelled Last Man Standing depict religion as something important but still a kind of chore or ideology (though Mike’s monologues on Last Man Standing sometimes make up for it quoting the Bible and even the saints).  Characters who are in any way serious about religion are, again, freaks and weirdos (which, yes, many people who are serious about religion in real life are also, and should be, but not the way we’re depicted).

How often do you see families on TV with more than 3 kids that aren’t “blended”? (and yes, child labor laws come into play).

I could go on with examples, but if it’s a question of “equal representation,” all the demographics I listed are a higher percentage of the population than LGBT yet they hardly ever show up and are treated as weirdos and bigots when they do.

Meanwhile, in the inverted Natural Law, where Neuhaus’s Law is in full effect, sex is meaningless recreation.  People on TV don’t even wait for a commitment, much less marriage, sex is a “test”–and saying “I love you” is a big “event” that comes after a couple have already engaged in sex not as an act of consummation of love but as a fulfillment of desire.  And, yes it has been this way on television for decades, and in “real life” without the Biblical moral framework, but what strikes me is how, in recent years it hasn’t even been a semblance of concern for decency or depicting any kind of negative view of sexual promiscuity, but an overt sense of saying, “This is perfectly normal, and it’s Judeo-Christian morality that’s aberrant and bizarre.”gs5x4j0

When Cross Promotional Deal Mechanics Misfire

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Jen Fitz was recently shocked to see a Stranger Things branded Ouija Board at Target and asked if there was anything about the show that promoted occultism or Ouija.

  1. Jen’s post, linked above, focuses more on the dangers of Ouija boards, so I’ll refer you there.  I’ll say that one of the holiest priests I know is also an experienced exorcist, and is of the mindset that paranoia is just as bad as involvement with the occult.  He’s not against Harry Potter or fantasy fiction or trick or treating, but told us a very powerful story of one of his most dramatic “cases,” and it was a home infestation caused by involvement with Ouija and seances.  Ouija is not just a board game.
  2. In the evil realm that is capitalism, “branded” board games have been around now for quite a while, and they come in part from a Wal-Mart policy that products must change or lower prices.
  3. I don’t recall a Ouija board being used on Stranger Things, but if it was, I wonder if the FCC would require that the product placement be disclosed.  Does Netflix fall under the separate rules for television or streaming?
  4. The “connection,” as depicted on the box, is where “Joyce” (Winona Ryder) paints a giant alphabet and “Yes” and “No” on her wall, to communicate with her son, “Will,” who is not dead but is trapped in a parallel universe and able to communicate through electrical surges.  It would be really no different than someone who’s “locked in” blinking “yes” or “no” for each letter or someone who’s mute pointing to a letter board (been there; done that).
  5. On Twin Peaks and Supernatural, “aliens” are ghosts/demons.  On The X-Files and Doctor Who, “ghosts” are aliens.  Stranger Things, so far, follows the latter formula. So if there’s a spiritual danger in the show, it’s more the “Devil tricking us into believing he doesn’t exist” than it is occultism.  But it is a really good show, whose artistic merits have been widely discussed.  The most improper content on the show is a lot of filthy language which at least is realistic and sometimes has the Flannery O’Connor “showing how people talk to show why it’s bad to talk that way” function, as well as the “Are they technically blaspheming or praying in this case” function.  There is also some teen sex which still depicts some of the psychological and spiritual consequences of fornication.  Indeed, a prominent storyline spins out of an act of fornication, and the guilt of that and attempt to atone for it carries through some of the stories of season 2.  This is a stark contrast to many other shows, as I also plan to discuss in a post.
  6. One of the things that attracted me to the show was the viral story about the “cool” C&D letter Netflix sent to an unauthorized Stranger Things themed bar. The letter professes concern about “art” and “loving their fans” and having “a say in how our fans encounter the worlds we build.”  Apparently, bars are bad, but occultism is good.
  7. Ergo, if you have a relative who’s trapped in a parallel universe, and you have some way of communicating with them, maybe a Stranger Things branded Ouija board would make sense, but really paint or paint brushes would make more sense.

 

“Is it the End or the Beginning?” David Lynch and George Lucas, Pt 3 (of 3?)

I have had more thoughts about the mystery of Twin Peaks the show itself, but I wanted to explore another thought I’ve been having all season, regarding the nature of “art” versus “entertainment,” and the tension of the “artist”/”entertainer.”

david-lynchSteve Granitzf

It is one thing to consider oneself an “artist” and produce work to express oneself and whatnot, without concern for profit.  Even so, if you’re going to “express yourself,” you still need to use symbols that people understand.   On the other end of the scale is the “entertainer,” who uses talent strictly to amuse audiences and make money.  There is little reason to look on each other with mutual disdain.  But most creative types, whether artists, writers, musicians, or filmmakers, operate somewhere in between, and when one operates in a mass market context, there is a certain contract at work between creator and audience.  A few weeks ago, I found a blog that a younger viewer wrote several years ago, discussing how Lynch was known for completely rejecting the principle that he owed anything to audiences, and while some say that makes him a “great” director, this lady argued (and I’d agree) that that ultimately makes him a bad director.

In the 1980s, give or take, there were four great young cartoonists who often get compared to one another in terms of their impact and the extent to which they followed Charles Schulz as role models: Jim Davis, Berkeley Breathed, Gary Larson and Bill Watterson.  Davis is often used by critics, fans and other cartoonists alike as the embodiment of a “sell-out”: he embraced commercialism and licensing early on.  While Charles Schulz took years before he began licensing Peanuts and allowing the animated spin-offs, which he carefully supervised, Davis recognized Garfield as a cash cow (cash cat) and cashed in, maintaining a similar legal control to that which Schulz enjoyed but generally allowing a great deal of flexibility..  On the other extreme was Watterson: who introduced the world to Calvin and Hobbes in 1985, consistently refused merchandising or animation, and suddenly retired after 10 years, saying he’d said all he needed to say and becoming something of a reputed recluse (though those who know him say he just kept such anonymity in his career that no one knows who he is when he’s out and about), occasionally popping up for guest stints at other comics or writing a public message here and there.

 

Somewhere in between is Breathed, who has “retired” several times–Bloom County became Outland originally so he could do Sunday’s only and supposedly have more creativity; Outland became Opus as he reverted back to form but still wanted to keep an episodic format.  And a few years ago, he made another comeback, reviving Bloom County as a webcomic posted at his leisure, sometimes in color, sometimes B&W, sometimes a mix, and exploring whatever topics he wants unencumbered by the constraints of syndicates and newspapers.  Breathed, like Davis, embraced, and continues to embrace, merchandising but kept more creative control and, other than one or two outings, has never embraced animation.  He’s also explored screenwriting and children’s literature.

I see a certain parallel at work in the directorial careers of George Lucas and David Lynch.  Both are known as young directors who showed promise straight out of film school in the 70s.  Both are known for exploring New Age/Neo-Gnostic/Pseudo-Eastern mysticism/philosophy in their works.  Indeed, David Lynch was almost the director of Return of the Jedi.  However, many critics and fans might balk at the comparison, since Lucas is to Lynch as Davis is to Watterson.  My own critique of my own analogy would be that Watterson at least made a creation that people could understand beyond a select subgroup of a subgroup that probably all share the same MBTI type.

Lucas made his name, and his fortune, very early on as a master of licensing.  In  his initial agreement with 20th Century Fox, in fact, he got himself licensing rights that the studio didn’t think were worth anything–few movies before Star Wars were adapted into toys, or had hit soundtracks or had spin-off novels and comic books.  Much like the older office product and computer companies that passed on Apple and Microsoft, Fox passed on the merchandizing rights to one of the first true blockbusters, making Lucas a billionaire.

However, the success of Star Wars came from collaboration: Gary Kurtz, Lawrence Kasdan, and studio executives took Lucas’s initial ideas and shaped them into the franchise as we know it.  A few years back, the earliest known script was adapted into a comic book series called The Star Wars, and showed Lucas’s original treatment to be far closer to a blend of the original trilogy and what became The Phantom Menace.

Many years ago, I read an observation somewhere online that “Ewoks were the first sign of genius turned to insanity.”  Except maybe Lucas always was insane–it was the collaboration and “studio interference” that made him look like a genius.  The more power he achieved, the more autonomy he achieved as a producer and director, and the more audiences rejected his “vision.”

On the other side is Lynch, who was never that commercially successful but directed a few slightly more mainstream pictures like Dune and The Elephant Man (if one can call either of those mainstream), while producing “arthouse” films (few of which I’ve seen or been able to make it all the way through without significant muting and FFing).

Lucas used his financial empire to free himself from “studio interference.”  Lynch used his “artistic reputation” and “devoted fanbase” to somehow con studio after studio into funding his projects until a series of commercial failures made him more or less go into retirement, and when CBS/Showtime came knocking about reviving Twin Peaks after fans demanded a follow up to “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” he notoriously fought for more money and more time to “tell his story,” then didn’t tell much story at all.

So “Lynchians” tell us that Twin Peaks would have been a much better show if the network hadn’t interfered with “Lynch’s vision.”  Supposedly, Lynch and Frost never intended for Laura Palmer’s killer to be revealed, though they always intended for it to be her father, though it’s also unclear if they ever had any intention or understanding of how long the show would last.  Many people blame the sharp ratings decline in the latter part of Season 2 on the fact that Lynch had little to do with it, but some of the writers and directors involved with the show at that point say they were still following his orders on a lot of things.  However, as some have pointed out, the show’s creators made a huge error in not building enough interest in the ensemble. Laura Palmer was supposed to be a MacGuffin, but she ended up being the only character most people cared about.  If they had to use the “unsolved murder” conceit to keep people tuning in, they weren’t doing a very good job.

Ironically, though it was months from our perspective, on the show’s timeline, with every episode corresponding to approximately a day, the murder of Laura Palmer was solved in little lesson than a month.  Given how long murders and disappearances often go unsolved in real life, particularly headline grabbing cases like JonBenet Ramsey, a month was relatively fast, and the notion of the unsolved crime–which other shows handled with slightly more success later–was an interesting spin.

Merely doing something “different” does not make something “art.” Indeed, T. S. Eliot, to whom I just yesterday compared Lynch and have done in the past, argues that art requires doing something different in the bounds of what’s come before.  A lot of what seems “weird” or “different” in Eliot is that he’s writing of modern urban life the way the Romantics wrote of country life or of the past.  He twists traditional metaphors and uses fragments of literary quotations and allusions he expects his readers to be familiar with.  To the extent that he works, Lynch does some of that, but more often than not he seems to turn conventional techniques so far upside down as to be unrecognizable.

But as I’ve argued many times, much of what makes Twin Peaks is hyper-realism.  The oft-maligned storyline of Ben Horne thinking he’s a Confederate general is a slightly exaggerated depiction of what happens in real life: when white American men feel defeated by society, they relive the Civil War.

Nevertheless, the other part of it is that Lynch creates a world that operates according to the principles of his belief system, and that’s where people say “It’s weird.”  David Bowie’s Philip Jeffries getting reincarnated as a coffee percolator seems strange, but is that any stranger than a dead person getting reincarnated as a carpenter ant, or as the fish that Pete Martell found in his teapot? Is Philip Jeffries the fish in the teapot?  Shirley Maclaine got criticized by people who speak fondly of their jumbled pop understanding of Hinduism and Buddhism for saying that Holocaust victims were being punished for sins they committed in past lives, but that’s what karma is, according to Hinduism.  Similarly, Lynch is drawing from a lot of disparate non-Western ideas that are collectively Gnosticism, and when viewers balk, I think they’re balking at the inherent flaws of the Gnostic world view when presented without the usual corporate filters.

What most people find appealing in Star Wars and Twin Peaks is the extent to which, by authentically expressing the Gnostic worldview, they express the rays of Truth in Gnostic/New Age/Neo-Platonic/Buddhist thinking.  Where they start to get uncomfortable is precisely where those worldviews diverge from Christianity.

This is another parallel of art and liturgy.  It’s said that traditional liturgies can be reverent when said by sinners because they were written by Saints, but the Ordinary Form is only referent when offered by Saints because it was written by committee.  In the arts, committees can take bad ideas and make them into better art, or they can take good ideas and make them into bad art.  Artistic freedom only creates true success if the artist is, if not necessarily a Saint or even a Christian, he or she at leawst tries to operate with Truth.

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