I have been reading books about writing fiction lately. One of recommendation that struck me was that fiction should be hyper-real. No one wants to read about the events of daily life. I suppose that is why two attempts at ‘realistic’ teen drama in the 1990’s failed.
My So Called Life (MSCL) was a depiction of the High School experience those of us who were did not live in the 90210 zip code. It didn't really work and was canceled. The genre of the realistic teen drama didn't actually work until Apatow and his now famous crew gave us Freaks and Geeks (F&G) in ‘99. F&G was also canceled after a single season but Amanda and I resonated deeply with it. The latter show had some really weighty, interesting themes as the basic plot line was Lindsay’s moral and social search following her rejection of God.
F&G was, without question, the better show. But for all its resonance, there was nothing in its narrative structure that matched the uncanny familiarity of Angela’s monologues in MSCL. So much of high school was internalized; thought rather than articulated. And Angela wrestled with many of the same questions that plagued me during those volatile years, in a more mature way.
The whole thing reminded me of the line in Stranger than Fiction where Harold Crick describes the narration in his head, “It's a voice in my head…It's telling me what I've already done... accurately, and with a better vocabulary.” But I think the most redeeming aspect of MSCL was that themes of self discovery were sanely tempered by uncommonly thoughtful insights. Here is my favorite quote from the show:
“People say you should always be yourself, like yourself is something definite, like a toaster.”
The ubiquitous artistic polemic is that of self discovery. Film, music and print all heartily recommend that no matter what ‘they’ may throw at you, you must be yourself. Art can no longer call us to an objective standard of moral good or aesthetic beauty, so it simply offers a self referential cliché.
This has always confused me. There is a sense in which I resonate with the sentiment. I am a proto-typical X-er. I value sincerity, authenticity, and transparency over etiquette and propriety, and a great many other things. But this is rarely what is meant by ‘be yourself’ or ‘be true to yourself’. It suggests that there is a Platonic form of ‘me’ that must be discovered rather than forged. It’s fatalistic. And the primary navigational apparatus we are offered for this quest is to ‘follow our hearts,’ which nicely sets up my second favorite quote from MSCL:
"It’s such a lie that we should do what's in our hearts. If everyone did what was in their hearts the world would come to an end"
One of Christianity’s most helpful resources is the warning to view the 'self' with suspicion and the ‘heart’ as a deceitful guide. Of all the things I could be, who I fundamentally am is near the end of the list. I am petty, bitter, materialistic, bigoted, arrogant, selfish, apathetic, deceitful, lazy, self serving…all in all a real fist class a** h***. That is my template, and where my heart leads. It is about as close to a worst possible scenario as I can imagine. I want to be any one but that complete waste of humanity. Fortunately, who I am is who I become and I put my hope in grace and God’s self disclosure as reliable navigators. I just may escape ‘being myself’ yet.
 Incidentally, how much do I wish that Apatow et al was producing great art like F&G these days instead of drivel like Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin and Sarah Marshal etc…
 Amanda identified deeply with the 'good girl pushing social boundaries' protagonist, Lindsay. I completely identified with here dorky little brother, Sam (until Sam’s unrequited love was requited).
 Indisputably Will Ferrell’s Best work…and I am a Ferrell guy…maybe one of the most entertaining movies of the last 5 years.
 There are no less than 5 songs or albums named ‘Be Yourself’