Friday, January 7, 2011

Rule #1

I took the opportunity of a 10-day stint in San Francisco to go to the movies! Twice!
Interestingly, what I saw reminded me why Rule #1 in Rules of Thumb--"when the going gets tough, the tough relax", a rule about dealing with fear--was the right place to start.
Both "The Fighter" and "The King's Speech," it turns out, are about fear.
And both revolve around the fear of speaking up, of being heard, of having your own voice.
In the ring Micky Ward is a tough fighter. He can take punch after punch and never go down.
Outside the ring Micky is a pansy. His coke-head older brother and self-absorbed mother run his boxing career with a single-minded focus--what's good for them. His harpy sisters operate like a Greek chorus, making sure nobody strays too far from the family fold. Everybody may be miserable, but at least their all together.
Enter Charlene, Micky's new girl friend.
At a family meeting (called by Charlene), Micky can't find the voice to tell his family that he's ready to break with them and do what's best for his own boxing career. Charlene has no problem speaking up, calling a spade a spade. Or in this case, calling a harpy a harpy.
It turns out that the fear that paralyzes Micky and keeps him from finding his way to the top isn't the fear of getting hit; it's the fear of breaking with his own family, the fear of losing their support or, perhaps, the fear of being judged disloyal for doing what's best for him, if it leaves the others behind.
"The King's Speech" has exactly the same theme, but here the platform isn't the squared circle, it's the throne of England.
We meet "Bertie"--the Prince of York, en route to becoming King George VI--as he bounces from speech therapist to speech therapist, vainly attempting to overcome a debilitating stammer that makes him feel ashamed and incompetent.
He finally finds Lionel Logue (think of him as a male Charlene), an unconventional Aussie who unlocks the source of Bertie's problem: since childhood he's been denied his "voice," made to feel "less than" and even punished for his left-handedness. Bertie has redeeming qualities, much like Micky. He's tough, determined, resilient. At the same time, what paralyzes him with fear is dealing with his family and the issues he's inherited.
Fear, it turns out, is what takes away people's voices, prevents them from saying and doing what they know they can do, know they should do.
Not fear of getting hit in the ring, or even the fear of being the king.
Fear of what others will think of you.
It is the most paralyzing force of all.
It's why Rule #1 still is Rule #1: when the going gets tough, the tough relax.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb