Thursday, September 20, 2007

Your Brother's a Wacko and Your Fiancé's Going to Die

When I was in ninth grade, I wrote a poem called "Obvious" that began:

Something has opened my eyes.
It must be
the muscles in my eyelids.

The rest of the poem, naturally, failed to live up to this auspicious beginning, but I remain pretty proud of it even lo these ten years later.

I think there's a lot to be said for the power of the obvious in context. Having watched Six Feet Under in my obsessive fashion (spoilers en route) drove this point home for me. It's such a subtle, complex show, so knowing about human changes and the process of human relationships, that when an element of it—one of its playful surreal choices, the wording of a character's expression of a particular emotion—is obvious, it's because it really fuckin' NEEDS to be obvious. The obvious is chosen for its truth, an acknowledgment of the obvious fact that sometimes life genuinely is obvious.

The title of this post stands, for me, as one of the strongest examples. Somewhere in the midst of Season Two, soon after Brenda's unstable brother has been released from a mental institution and Brenda has learned about the seizures that Nate, her affianced, has been having, caused by a high-risk brain condition, she's wandering the self-help section of a library. The camera focuses first on a couple of basic, silly self-help titles. As we cut rapidly from one book to another, the titles grow ever more silly and surreal, until Brenda's gaze alights on a book called Your Brother's a Wacko and Your Fiancé's Going to Die.

There is no better way to express that emotional moment. They could have tried to reveal it in any number of ostensibly subtle ways, but it's an obvious, obvious emotion, and that's the bottom line. Being obvious does not in any way make it untrue; in fact, there are few greater truths than the truth that, when you're honest with yourself, the truth is obvious.

Which isn't, of course, to say that it's easy to be honest with yourself. That's the advantage of art, and particularly of a show like Six Feet Under that's willing to be intensely surreal to give us a glimpse into the thoughts and emotions of its characters; we get to surpass all the bullshit that would keep us from simply voicing the fact that we're certain our brothers are wackos and our fiancés are going to die.

Not all art swings that, nor should all art. Nor is Six Feet Under limited to its use of the obvious, but the blatant elements—I mean, you can't get much more blatant than regular conversation with your dead father—make the connections that you (as an audience member) can't understand without work and devotion and consideration all the more transcendent. It is all the more moving that, however obvious our emotions are, the way they build upon each other can't be as obvious, because it requires looking at each of them and the points at which they blur and cannot be summarized in a crazy self-help title.

But how brilliant to admit that what can be can be. How desperately, I think, especially the artistic and thoughtful among us need to admit that sometimes it is the muscles in your eyelids. How incredible to admit that one's fear is not some Freudian wrinkle of one's forgotten past, but really that right now, one's brother is a wacko and one's fiancé is going to die.


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