Friday, November 29, 2013

let's just do this

I interrupted the "impromptu" tradition--previously here, here and here (that last one spilled into a part two)--last week to answer the obvious question people ask me about this blog: why?

(To be fair, that's not usually the first question; the first question is something along the lines of "you're doing what?" with a sort of shocked, confused tone.)

Today, I will not be interrupting... I don't think. I will be attempting to once again link impromptu speaking prompts to Groundhog Day.

"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." - Bertrand Russell

I think it's necessary to broaden this one right off the bat to link it to Groundhog Day since, obviously, this film has next to nothing to do with patriotism. But, if we broaden this out to something bigger, it connects. See, I think this quotation is dealing not exclusively in "patriotism" but all -isms. When we subscribe to -isms, we set aside some of our own will, effectively, letting a belief system we didn't create (most of the time, anyway) dictate what we do and what we don't do. And, it obviously is not explicitly about killing or being killed either, but about living. When we subscribe to an -ism, that -ism (if we're doing it "right") guides our lives on at least some level.

But, what about Phil Connors? Rita rightly terms Phil egocentric, so we could say he subscribes pre-loop (and early within the loop) to egocentrism; what feels good for him is worth his energy and what others would put upon him is something to avoid or at least complain about. Phil doesn't want to go to Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day but he does it because it's his job. And, his job comes with certain perks--in Rubin's original script, for example, Rita says, "the entire secretary pool is a Phil Connors relief club"--and makes him relatively famous, so his ego gets fed. It's not enough of course, hence his bragging (or probably lying, at least in the film version) about a major network being interested in him. His egocentrism drives his every action, his every put down, his every complaint. He doesn't deliberately (per se) put himself before everyone else; at this point in his egocentric life, he's on autopilot and that selfish stuff just comes naturally.

"Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation; you do not find it among gross people." - Samuel Johnson

Given this quotation in an impromptu round, I would have to assume the modern use for "gross." With the benefit of the internet, I can see that gross doesn't necessarily mean dirty or unkempt or disgusting; it might have just meant "large" for Samuel Johnson, living a few hundred years ago. Still, the point is much the same to his quotation. In either case, gross people are thankless people, and presumably a little hedonistic. Much like the previous quotation, this takes me to pre-loop and early-loop Phil. He's thankful for nothing. For example, Day 4 (after his epiphany on the road with Gus and Ralph) he thanks Mrs. Lancaster for asking how he slept and tells her he's love some of her coffee. On Day 1, he just made a joke about sleeping alone and insulted her under his breath for not knowing a better quality of morning beverage, so to speak. But, the last day of the loop, Phil accepts gratitude from several people, and arguably his Chekhov report indicates a certain gratitude he has, as well, for the people of Punxsutawney. Phil's not the big gross guy, but I think he's definitely the kind of guy Johnson was referring to. And so, it's not until he is better cultivated that he is able to give and receive thanks.

"Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim." - Bertrand Russell (again)

This must obviously be taken as a metaphor, because life is certainly not about being a literal criminal. I would interpret this quotation to mean that in life we compete to be the guy on top rather than the guy on the bottom. Russell may be making a deliberate value judgment in suggesting the guy on top is a criminal, but figuratively, I don't think this quotation necessarily means we are all automatically bad people just for taking part in the competition of modern life. Phil Connors, though--pre-loop and early-loop Phil is not a good guy. He lies for sex (and this simplistic take on the Phil Connoring process is how I often described it when I would actually do impromptu speeches, by the way), he punches a guy just for talking to him three days in a row; Ned is annoying, to be sure, but if we went around punching everyone who annoyed us, the world would be full of a lot more bruised people. Phil's early loop experience is certainly fitting with Russell's notion of competition, and Phil is the criminal. And, really, thinking more on it, I think it is perhaps quite deliberate, Russell's use of "criminal" because competing constantly to be better off than everyone else is not something we should probably view as positive. Being the best we can be ourselves--that's a different matter entirely.

"Wealth and high position won in an immoral way are like floating clouds to me." - Confucius

On first read, I thought of clouds as nice, pretty things, which completely reverses the meaning of this quotation. Confucius is clearly using clouds to suggest ephemerality, transience. So, I would take this quotation and interpret it to mean that when we gain things through immoral methods, we cannot hang onto those things. On the one hand, I would like to agree with this quotation--remember agreeing or disagreeing with the quotation is a part of the impromptu structure--because I wish it were true. On the other hand, Confucius needs to hang out on Wall Street a little more... well, after he figures out how to get out of his grave, at least. I think I would have to disagree with this in terms of the transience interpretation, but then, I could simply interpret it differently to approach it another way. Clouds are things of no real substance, no real value. Phil Connors would certainly agree with Confucius on this one. All the things he did pre-loop and early-loop--those things were without real substance. He was selfish and hedonistic and ultimately, it was an empty existence that wasn't good enough, that didn't make him happy. But, the "wealth" and "high position" he wins on the last day of the loop is more substantial, more worth the effort. He doesn't even need Zacchaeus' thanks to keep saving him from breaking his leg falling from that tree.

"The beauty of the second amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it." - Thomas Jefferson

This quotation is far too specific to be an impromptu prompt, I think. I would have been surprised if speaker two had picked this one over the previous one or the next one (he picked the Confucius quotation). I want to turn this thing into a metaphor, something along the lines of, we don't know what we're capable of until we are tested... actually, I kinda like that. Like the second amendment, it's the test that matters, not the amendment itself, or metaphorically, not whatever trait we have. Phil Connor's has a very positive trait pre-loop; he is attentive. He recognizes the DJ banter on Day 2 right away, even says along with them, "their chapped lips." He pays attention to what people say, even if he does use it against them, as he does with Rita in the van on the way to Punxsutawney. But, being attentive is a quality that survives the entire time loop. And, it survives because it is a useful, and positive, trait. Phil misuses it, just as men might misuse the second amendment; he tricks Nancy and tries to do the same to Rita. But, ultimately, his test comes in using his attention to detail for good. He knows when Zacchaeus falls from the tree and catches him, he knows when the old ladies get their flat tire and waits with jack and tire. He knows when Buster chokes and is there to save him, and so on.

"The closest to perfection a person ever comes is when he fills out a job application." - Stanley J. Randall

This is Phil Connors's goal, of course, on date night. He's not aiming for real perfection, though, but Rita's purported ideal. And, his filling out of the application, metaphorically, is all the Phil Connoring, figure out her favorite drink and order it before she does, learn what she used to study and then study it, learn her favorite ice cream and have it waiting for her. The key to this quotation, though, and to Phil's situation on date night is in what comes after. Once the application is in, once you've got the job--once Phil is there in that bedroom with Rita--you still have to be able to actually do the job. Phil has to be able to be Rita's ideal, not just seem like it. She's not as easy as Nancy on that score; the job of Rita is a harder one to keep once Phil's got it. But, along the way, he was oh so perfect in her eyes, wasn't he? That's why, when the facade is broken, Rita lashes out and Phil gets slapped. He lied on his application and he got caught.

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." - Anaïs Nin

Phil actually exemplifies this one quite well. Pre-loop and early-loop Phil is both ego-centric and self-hating. He doesn't think much of himself (even though he tries), so he also doesn't think much of anyone else. Ned's a "giant leach," the people of Punxsutawney are "hicks." But, even before he probably believes it, he upgrades that last one to "real" and "down-to-earth." By the end of the loop, he even believes it. And that is, I would argue especially in context of this quotation, because Phil has come to think better of himself as well. It's all about projection (and I should have dealt with the interpretation before getting into detail, but we can't all be perfect. Don't judge me or I might think you've got something wrong with you. That is to say, I think what Nin is saying here, in the oft-used phrasing of an old teammate of mine, "profoundly true."

"Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children." - George Bernard Shaw

Gotta start this one with some idea of what "youth" means. We all know what this quotation means, I think, but that doesn't mean, in an impromptu speech, I could just skip past the interpretation bit. "Youth" here clearly isn't age, or the juxtaposition with "children" wouldn't make any sense. Then again, that is exactly the point of this quotation. "Youth" is energy, "youth" is opportunity, "youth" is the willingness to try new things, "youth" is the freedom to do stupid things and laugh about it after. "Youth" is what Phil exhibits throughout the film. Early-loop, he's like the petulant, spoiled child, wanting what he wants and wanting it now. Late-loop, he exhibits the more positive side, trying new things (piano and ice sculpting in particular). I think the snowball fight scene is a great example to use here because a) there are real children involved and b) Phil tries a bit too deliberately to "enjoy" the snowball fight the second time... the spontaneity of youth is gone.

"The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should. I've got Greenspan's book." - John McCain

Another one of those too-specific quotations. I don't like it. Also, out of context, I wonder if this quotation only exists as an isolated thing because someone wanted to make McCain sound stupid; he doesn't know economics but, hey, he's got a book. It's simplistic. I can still interpret it into something useful, though, I think. I mean, what does this quotation tell us about, say, knowledge? We can certainly learn things from books. But, I read this quotation and I don't get the impression that McCain is reading or has read that book, just that he's got it. An old girlfriend of mine told me once her favorite book was Bag of Bones by Stephen King. I thought that was awesome because while that wasn't one of my favorite books, it was one of my favorite books by King--I was a lot more well read than she was. Thing is, I learned later she has never even finished reading the book, and it was one of only a handful of books she even owned. That's the sort of impression I get (or I think someone wanted me to get) from this quotation. Still, I can take that impression and apply it to Phil Connors. Specifically, I would apply it to his ability as a musician. We see him in one scene reading at the counter of the Tip Top. We don't know what book he's reading but one book he's got on the counter is Johann Strauss - Father and Son - A Century of Light Music. But, that's just information, which is why he looks up when he hears piano music coming from the radio. Then, he sets out to learn piano directly. I'm not suggesting book-learning isn't useful. Theory is wonderful stuff. But, it takes more than just a book to know a subject. It takes more than just one reading of a text to know it well. And it takes moving beyond that text to know it even better...

I should know. I've watched this movie so many times, it's become something else entirely than it was before. But, even more than just watching it over and over, I have explored outward from it, brought outside things into it, and sometimes just brushed over its surface to explore things that probably didn't even feel connected at all. But, that's the point.

Anyway, I've only gotten through 9 of 21 quotations. I've been more wordy than before, I think. And, the film is winding down. Phil is carving Rita's face in ice as I finish this sentence. I'll get to the rest of the quotations tomorrow. Despite being tired earlier, I am awake enough to keep going, but I'd rather not spend so much time on this tonight because I have a paper to write tomorrow, one that doesn't involve Groundhog Day, oddly enough. It might involve a mention of Herman's Head, though, one of the stars of which is Ken Hudson Campbell, who plays "Chubby Man" or "Man in Hallway" in Groundhog Day. It will also involve tarot cards, which I've discussed here and here in regards to Groundhog Day. Everything connects.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to be the criminal, I suppose, and to enjoy my "youth."

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