Thursday, September 22, 2005

“My Name is Earl” aired the other night. Don’t know if you watched it, but surely you’ve seen the ads all over the place featuring Jason Lee lookin’ like a loser. I hoped all the hype would help make sitcoms hip again, but who knows. The show was just okay… it’s about degenerate dirtbag Earl trying to improve his karma, a word he learned from -- of all people -- Carson Daly. I found it interesting that this premise seems to be NBC’s answer to reality TV.

Karma vs. reality.

I hear about karma all the time. I don’t think a day goes by without someone talking about being wronged by another, but “that’s okay, karma’s a bitch and is gonna take care of him / her / that asshole who cut me off / the assmunch who insulted me / the asshat in the White House.” It’s very satisfying when bad people get their just desserts. Or when the meek inherit the earth. Some authors made a fortune off of that concept. And why not? Karma makes for great stories.

Here’s one: I remember Darryl, the bully in my elementary school. Recess was the worst, ‘cause that’s when Darryl had free range to act like an asshat, –hole, and -munch. Our school had a large square blacktop outside, with tall metal posts on each corner, which made it the perfect kickball court, the poles acting as bases. Darryl always bossed everyone around, threatened kids and insisted on being the pitcher so he could get his hands on the ball and mow people down, whether they were baserunners or just someone who got in his field of vision. He was being such a pushy little prick, I said the hell with it and sat the game out.

Later, someone kicked an easy pop-up. Darryl started yelling, “I got it! I got it!” The ball was nowhere near his position, but he didn’t care. “Get outta the way! Move! Igotit!Igotit!” I was watching from the sidelines as Darryl ran, head up, shooing everyone out of his path… not seeing he was headed straight for the second-base pole…

You could hear the clannnnng! throughout the Tri-State area. Needless to say, Darryl lost the ball. And several front teeth. As he lay dazed on the blacktop, drops of red blood and broken pieces of enamel everywhere… I remember sensing some kind of spiritual force at work, but at the time I didn’t know the word: karma.

Still, all too often karma seems non-existent. For every despot in history who got overthrown in a revolution, there’s been an evil king who was born, lived and died with a silver spoon up his ass. Fuckers often get away with shit scott free. Not just in politics and business, not just criminals who never get caught… even in everyday life. We all have that someone in our world -- that insidious little bitch or condescending dick -- the loathsome person who seems to have everything going their way. Yeah, sure, maybe they’re struggling on the inside in ways we can’t tell -- we all are -- but their money and good looks and ritziness probably makes life a lot easier for 'em, no? You figure they made a deal with the Devil, and hey, at some point Beelzebub’s gonna yank ‘em outta their champagne-filled Humvee and take repossession of their soul, right?

In other words, you’re counting on karma. If not in this world, then in the next one. Yeah, well, maybe… I’ll get back to this.

What about when bad things happen to good people? Does karma explain why people in the Gulf Coast are getting double teamed by Katrina and Rita? What kind of karma-compelling crap did all those folks do? You reap what you sow -- the whirlwind and its evil sister? What comes around goes around… and around again?

Did those poor people on that Jet Blue plane that was supposed to crash yesterday deserve to suffer watching their own demise on the in-flight TVs? Talk about your life flashing before your eyes. And since the plane landed safely, was it because they all had good karma, or, like “My Name Is Earl”, they managed to improve it while circling LAX to burn off fuel?

I don’t think so.

You can’t explain good and bad fortune. There was a prayer I read at my father’s funeral and again when we did a memorial for my grandmother. Can’t remember exactly how it goes… Something about how it’s not our place to try to understand the triumphs of the wicked and the tribulations of the virtuous, just do the best we can with our time here… It’s frustrating, but I agree.

Recently I ran into an old work acquaintance. When we first started working together years ago at a major studio, his advice to me was: “Be nice to everyone here, from the executives and producers to the security guards and janitors. ‘Cause you never know.”

You never know who’s gonna be a bigshot in this town. Everyone’s got a script, a headshot and resume, and a lot of ambition. There’s a lot of mobility in Hollywood. You might befriend someone who gets some success and in turn, makes you a mogul too.

True, but I thought to myself: Shouldn’t you be nice to everyone, regardless? (Assuming they deserve it, of course -- respect’s a two-way street.) Be nice regardless of their present status… and regardless of their potential status…

This is what bugs me about the idea of karma, whether that means people get what they deserve on Earth, or in Heaven or Hell. The concept of cosmic justice seems to enforce good behavior by the promise of an eventual reward, or deter wrongdoings with the threat of punishment. Ooh, da Debbil gonna getcha!

Here’s Mike’s Morality:

You should do the right thing… because it’s the right thing to do. That’s it.

I’m not saying I’m not without my faults… I’m only human and have done some shameful shit in my time. But I try to learn and make improvements. Nothing super dramatic. Just in the everyday stuff I mentioned. Yesterday, in heavy traffic, while weaving through lanes, I bumped a woman’s car. I could’ve totally taken off and gotten away with it. But I pulled over, prepared to pay for any scratches or dings… (turned out there was no damage). If someone insults me, I try to let it go and not retaliate… only address it if necessary and do so respectfully. I feel like my sense of humor is a power I should use for good -- I’ll sling my slurs like Spiderman’s web to try to help, not hurt.

And I don’t do these things out of fear of reprisal. I wasn’t worried about getting in trouble with the cops or insurance companies with that woman’s car. I certainly wasn’t thinking about bad karma. Mostly I just thought how I would feel if I were in her place.

Yeah, I suppose there’s a whole buncha platitudes you could conclude from this: Do unto others as you would have blah blah blah… A good deed is its own yada-yada…

But I simply say: Don’t count on karma. Just do what’s right. Oh, and reality TV ain’t going away any time soon.


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