The Pleasantville Problem


1375 Relax and Succeed - It is not possible

When it comes to storytelling, there are only so many ways in which characters and plot directions can mix. This means we often see the same essential story types in many unique and different forms.

Despite the existence of those forms, every now and again someone creates something classic. Something with themes so universal that the art can travel smoothly and easily through time. In this case I’m referring to a film that quite literally travels smoothly through time.

Pleasantville was made in pre-9/11 1998. Back then it was a more innocent story about women and their roles in society, the acceptance of people of colour, and it cast a bad light on oppression of all forms. It is an anti-conformity, pro-novelty and independence story.

Today everyone would think the story was about immigration or trans-gendered issues or race relations, which demonstrates how a Classic works in action. Even though it’s external context has changed, it remains just as relevant as when it was discussing the different issues that were being analyzed when the film was released. That ability to stay relevant by focusing on universal principles is what will allow this film to move through time as a Classic.

Even from just the film trailer, it’s easy to comprehend the fundamental plot about a brother and sister who end up trapped in a 1950’s TV show. Within that reality, no one knows any thought or feeling that doesn’t already exist within the scripts that they live out as literal and figurative black and white truths.

When the brother and sister introduce novelty and choice –and especially the variation in feelings those things cause– it’s shocking to everyone. But as other characters also engage in novelty –and the variable feelings that go with it– people begin to feel increasingly more alive. On screen, colour starts seeping into their previous black and white lives.

That premise is a great metaphor for how we will live out our identities. Most of us go to jobs we dislike, dress or behave in ways we don’t like, to please people we don’t like. We play a role in our families, and with our friends, and for our jobs. When things get difficult the range or motion for our identity can slowly be narrowed to the point of feeling more like a psychological straight-jacket.

This turns us into ego-based robots within our own lives, where we do everything unconsciously and we live by rote. We don’t want to function like slot cars or train sets. We are not fixed on some track, where we must only enact the same choices and over, all while we have internalized thought-wars in our heads about how we want change.

Like the people of Pleasantville, we must shake ourselves awake and recognize our flexibility. In watching the film again I felt like Toby Maguire. My course and this blog is nothing more than me shaking people awake. It is us that strangles the colour out of our lives. We are the ones that choose to repeat the same tones until our mind takes their existence for granted.

(Don’t watch this if you want to watch the movie, it contains a fairly small spoiler.)

For anyone who has never done it before, it is worth it to make efforts to break free of our habits –to make decisions that reflect our essence. Rather than cling to the security of what we know, we are better to leave our wombs of consistency.

We are better to escape by using our presence. Our resulting awareness will expose to us that it has always been us that was building our repetitive realities. We do that by continuing to think of the world and ourselves in the same consistent ways. But with that very same power, we can become conscious and choose instead to build ourselves entirely new realities.

Whether it is someone suddenly realizing they need to leave their job, or that they can live without someone and are getting divorced, or that they can move past their grief, or overcome a negative self-image –when we change our thoughts about who we are and what can happen, the world around us changes.

Consistency has a kind of inertia that compels us not to disrupt its predictability. But without free will, there is no actual life being lived. Yes, living in the moment without knowing what is next is a larger and more mysterious feeling than the narrow path of predictability can incite within us. But that is the point.

Yes, a more colourful life also means we experience greater intensities of fear and sadness and anger. But it also means we feel more awe, more joy and more love. This is why I most often hear from people, when they are literally so sick of their patterns that they will even consider novelty as a way out.

As scary as some new and larger reality may seem, I have yet to have anyone ask to go back to a life with less freedom or colour. That’s worth thinking about the next time any of us feels compelled to hide from life.

peace. s

Your Purple Path

111 Relax and Succeed - Isn't it funnyYou want change and you want it now. Personally, socially, politically. You’ve made up your mind. Now it’s time for the world to fall into line. Ha!

Sorry. It can happen that way but it rarely does. Usually if things change they do so very gradually. That’s why I find the AA system of breaking habits to often be so tense and difficult for people to achieve. Every time they have a drink or do their drug they have failed. That seems so big and final. It presents so many opportunities for failure. Sure: quitting suddenly and cold turkey is one legitimate way to quit. But so is slowly quitting something. Even if that something isn’t a drug or a drink—even if that something’s a someone.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Yes you have to walk uphill for a while as you acquire new habits. But don’t berate yourself while you climb. It only makes the hill steeper. You’re not supposed to go from blue to red. If you’re blue, then go trade some blue for some red and turn yourself aubergine. Then keep doing that. Because with that simple action you will move from blue to aubergine to purple to mauve to rose and only then will you get to red. That is more often how change happens, so do not be critical of yourself for being purple when you simply have to pass through purple to get to red.

111 Relax and Succeed - The secret of changeYou don’t stop drinking. You don’t stop taking drugs. You don’t stop an unhealthy behaviour or relationship. You replace them. You don’t need to throw your old life out, you need to start building your new one. Because dot by dot, molecule by molecule, experience by experience you will ultimately change your world by changing yourself.

The way to change is not through making a proclamation or an announcement—it’s not by pinning some date on a calendar, having a ceremony, or through some grandiose gesture. The way to change is to simply decide what colour you want to be and then grab some of that colour whenever it’s available.

To make room for the new colour you’ll have to leave behind some of the old. Before you know it, you’ll look back and realize that you’ve become someone new. And you will realize that you did it one step at a time. And you will also realize that not every single step was forward. And that’s entirely okay. Do not define yourself. Simply movie in a direction. You will be fine.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.