Monday, October 14, 2013

nothing to be too scared about

I must do this quickly. Not just because it is late at night and I have a deadline, but because to do it thoroughly and properly would just take too long and probably get far too boring.

What am I going to be doing, you might ask.

Well, I've mentioned that when I was competing in speech and debate I used Groundhog Day as an example in all but one of my impromptu rounds. Well, today was my first tournament as an official coach and one of the rounds I judged was impromptu, so I've got a nice sheet of quotations just itching to be linked to Groundhog Day.

First, a brief explanation, in case you don't know how the event works: each speaker is given a bit of paper with three quotations on it. You pick one and take about 2 minutes to prepare a 5 minute speech built around the quotation. You have some attention getter, then you share the quotation you've picked, explain what you interpret it to mean, agree or disagree with it, and then you're off. The usual methods for the body of the speech after the intro are two: a) provide three examples (preferably from different types of areas (e.g. literature, pop culture, and history) that support your agreement or disagreement with the quotation or b) provide to theoretical lenses of analysis and at least one example demonstrating each to explore the meaning of the quotation in more depth. Then, you recap and conclude. Pretty basic.

So, I've got a sheet of 21 quotations, sets of 3 for up to 7 speakers in the final round of impromptu today... well, yesterday by the calendar. But, The Groundhog Day Project exists from 6am to 6am, so it's still the same day for me. Anyway, I will try to be brief and simplistic so, as I said, this doesn't get too boring.

First quotation: "Action is only coarsened thought--thought becomes concrete, obscure, and unconscious." - Henri Fredric Amiel.

A fairly easy one. I'd interpret this to mean something about how we don't act without thinking first, at least not meaningful action. I'd apply this to Phil in the third act, becoming thoughtful about his actions. While his concrete actions are the good deeds of his latter days in the time loop, his obscure and unconscious actions could be his connecting to the "Other" and becoming a part of the community. It is because this larger action is unconscious that Phil earns Rita's love, so to speak.

Second quotation: "New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common." - John Locke.

The meaning is obvious, I think, and I might apply this not to Phil--though his usual sarcasm in response to just about anyone might fit the bill of being suspect--but to Rita on "god" day. Empirical evidence and life experience tells her not to believe Phil when he tells her what's going on. He may be used to the time loop at this point, but for her, the experience is not "common" so she needs proof.

Third quotation: "Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health." - Carl Gustav Jung.

Oh man, such a generic quotation and so easy to use. It's pretty close to my first round of impromptu ever... which I think I described in this blog before (but I can't recall what day specifically to provide a link). Life requires the bad and the good. And, growth only comes from dealing with adversity. This is Phil's journey in a nutshell; he must undergo the deconstruction of his self to come out better on the other side.

Fourth quotation: "I prefer the company of peasants because they have not be educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly." - Michel de Montaigne.

Trickier, but not too bad. The idea here is that only he with an education can truly "reason incorrectly." An uneducated man might act badly, but because he doesn't know any better, not because he's taken the time to convince himself that the wrong action is right. Phil Connors exemplifies this at the beginning of Groundhog Day. He is an educated man, so entrenched in his modern urban life that he doesn't even see how empty his life is; in fact, he seems to think it's going pretty well. He has reasoned incorrectly that seeking after personal pleasure is the way to go, when there is really so much more to it than that.

Fifth quotation: "Success is dependent on effort." - Sophocles.

Another easy one: it takes work to get things done, nothing is free, life is hard. Phil doesn't get magically turned into a better person overnight. That wouldn't be fair. He has to earn goodness. He has to work for it. He has to suffer for it.

Sixth quotation: "Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness." - George Sand.

This might as well be a fortune cookie message if there were a Chinese restaurant in Punxsutawney and Phil was eating there. If Phil at the end of the time loop could give himself advice, it would probably sound a bit like this quotation. And, the things in this line are just the kind of stuff Phil learns in the time loop.

Seventh quotation: "Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think." - Niels Henrik.

I'm not entirely sure how specifically I would interpret this one, but it makes me think of Phil in a specific scene for sure. He's just asked Mrs. Lancaster if there's any chance of getting an espresso or a cappuccino and she's flustered like the sweet hick lady she is. "I don't know," she says, and Phil insults her by finishing for her, "how to spell espresso or cappuccino." This, to me, is Phil expressing himself a little too clearly, without thinking. He's quick on the trigger to sarcasm and insults, and it reveals a lot of the flaws of his character.

Eighth quotation: "Many a doctrine is like a window pane. We see truth through it but it divides us from truth." - Kahlil Gibran.

You could take this in a few directions, but mostly it seems to be saying that "doctrine"--i.e. formal stuff we choose to believe in--blinds us a bit to the truth we think it's revealing. I'd apply this to pre-time loop Phil like the de Montaigne quotation above; Phil's "doctrine" is his entrenchment in modern urban life, and he sees this as a good way to live because he hasn't been dragged kicking and screaming out from under the doctrine to see better options.

Ninth quotation: "My mother loved children--she would have given anything if I had been one." - Groucho Marx.

I think Groucho is suggesting that he was too sophisticated as a child, perhaps already much of the comedian he would grow up to be. But, this quotation also says something to me about how it's important that we take the time to be children. We don't need to grow up all at once. And, our mothers should understand this because they've been there before us. And, this can be applied to Phil Connors in a pretty generic way. His "adolescent" phase is a necessary piece of his growth within the time loop. He has to push the limits of his baser urges until he hits bottom and figures out he can do better. He has to be a child to realize he can grow up and be an adult.

Tenth quotation: "You shall judge a man by his foes as well as by his friends." - Joseph Conrad.

Like the good and bad thing above, this quotation implies that the measure of a man is not just his great qualities, or specifically those he calls his friends, but every quality he has, including who he calls his enemies. We can only measure Phil Connors if we include all the warts, his disdain for the hicks in Punxsutawney before he's forced to live among them, his hitting of Ned Ryerson--this particular one works quite well in Rubin's original, since we are specifically given a bad act by Phil (hitting Ned) to judge him by--his friendly but adversarial interactions with Larry, and even better, his struggle with himself. Phil is not just the good deeds he ends up doing. He is also all of the bad things he did to get to that point.

Eleventh quotation: "When I was a kid, I said to my father one afternoon, 'Daddy, will you take me to the zoo?' He answered, 'If the zoo wants you, let them come and get you.' - Jerry Lewis.

To understand how I might use this one, imagine the zoo taking the place of Punxsutawney, and it announces it's coming for Phil every morning by claiming, "I got you, Babe." Whether the zoo is something fun or something crazy, we can't just be taken to it. But, really, neither can it just come for us. There is a process to this sort of thing. While it might have once been de rigueur to run away with the circus, now one must train for that sort of thing.

Twelfth quotation: "A true friend is the greatest of all blessings, and the one which we take the least thought to acquire." - La Rochefoucauld.

I would have to disagree with this one, not because we consciously seek out our true friends, but because this quotation implies that true friends don't take any effort to find. Like Phil earning Rita, finding a "true friend" takes a hell of a lot of effort. And, keeping that friend takes even more.

Thirteenth quotation: "The humble suffer when the mighty disagree." - Phaedrus.

Taken on a shallow level, this just means that pushy bastards like Phil can manipulate innocent dress shop workers like Nancy Taylor and she won't even realize it's happening. Phil in his manipulative moments is mighty, powerful. He is a god before he realizes it. And, he takes advantage of the humble folk of Punxsutawney just because he can.

Fourteenth quotation: "You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well." - Carrie Fisher.

For this one to work, "Hollywood" must include all showbiz, even local news. Picture Phil's banter with Nan, AKA "Hairdo" and you'll understand the fake closeness. Picture his exchanges with Larry and see more of the same. Though Phil still has humor at the end of the time loop, it is no longer as biting. He has learned to experience true closeness.

Fifteenth quotation: "My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging." - Hank Aaron.

A lesson Phil learns all too well when even suicide does not free him from what he probably figures is hell itself. But, he keeps swinging, and finds life is still possible even in the time loop.

Sixteenth quotation: "Whatever you fear most has no power--it is your fear that has the power." - Oprah Winfrey.

Simple interpretation: we are our own worst enemies. Phil's character flaws all lead to self sabotage, a downward spiral into his ego. It isn't real connection that has power over him but his fear of it.

Seventeenth quotation: "Cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity." - Joseph Addison.

If that quotation doesn't describe Phil on his last day in the time loop, I don't know what does.

Eighteenth quotation: "Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it." - P J O'Rourke.

I think Phil would disagree with this one, as would I. While this sounds nice, this is about shallow appearances, and Phil doesn't read all those library books late in the time loop because it might look good but because he is trying to better himself. I think it would be wrong to present one's self one way just because it looks good. Being honest is better.

Nineteenth quotation: "Don't hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting but never hit soft." - Theodore Roosevelt.

The first part of this one, I take to mean that violence should never be the first option. Film Phil does talk to Ned a couple times before he first pushes him away and second, hits him. The second part of this one, though, seems to be expandable into an entirely different topic, i.e. never do anything half-assed, even if it is last resort violence. I think Phil's last day in the time loop demonstrates his all-in attitude. While he has no reason to believe that saving/helping all those people will mean anything--after all, the day could reset again and none of the saving/helping would have happened--but he does it anyway, taking up his entire day to make Punxsutawney better.

Twentieth quotation: "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened." - Unknown.

I like that one. And, I think Phil is feeling just what this quotation is saying when he wakes up after "god" day. He has had a good day, an honest bit of time with Rita, and he would be justified being depressed all over again, but he isn't. Instead, he has a new lease on his repetitive life.

Twenty-First quotation: "Evil to him who evil thinks." - King Edward the Third.

What goes around comes around. Phil gets slapped nine days in a row because he's trying to manipulate something he should be pursuing honestly. Call it karma, call it comeuppance, it's Phil's Phil Connoring coming back to bite him in the ass.

Now imagine each one of those taking up about a minute of a five minute speech, and then there are maybe a couple other points, maybe something from literature or history or science or philosophy to match the interpretation, and a killer conclusion and that's a serviceable impromptu.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to perfect something better than a serviceable impromptu... seriously, as a novice, I did pretty well in impromptu but when I advanced to open, I didn't do so well.

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