Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"Wide-Eyed Enthusiasm and Joy"

Yeah, HIPPIES!!!!

I'm just a complete sucker for The Amazing Race. As much of my childhood and young adulthood was spent running through airports, racing for ships and trains and planes in little-known hemispheres, interacting with people whose language I had not a prayer of understanding, the appeal of the show to me is utterly visceral. I can't help but think I would kick ass at it. Its production values are impeccable (have you ever noticed a hint that each team is traveling with a camera crew?) and its human values, too, are admirable. At its core is respect for culture in all its manifestations: It's not at all a coincidence that the team that wins is always the team that is most able to adapt, through empathy and respect and openheartedness, to a huge variety of customs and folkways -- the team that is the most diametrically opposite, that is, to the stereotypical Ugly American.

BJ Averell and Tyler Macniven, the Hippies, who just now won this season's competition, won my heart early on with their openness, their enthusiasm and their humor. They clearly relished the multilayered joke, the put-on, of being characters in a "reality" TV show, of having to invent and project a persona to the camera while, as the saying goes, Keeping it Real.

I also can't help but think that the competition on The Amazing Race, unlike virtually any other reality show, is actually truly brutal. Time is necessarily telescoped over the season -- it's impossible to tell whether the whole race takes days, weeks or months -- and so I don't know how fresh the competitors are at the end of each "mandatory resting period." But having traveled fairly relentlessly in my salad days I do know that leaping off a plane from six time-zones away, catching a cab into the center of some capital you've never visited, and performing some treasure-hunt or physical feat or daredevil stunt is not easy on the body or mind. Imperfectly married couples bicker, close relatives come to detest each other, and airheads fall by the wayside.

That's why I loved the Hippies. They clearly love each other (in a totally non-gay way, of course) and enjoyed themselves despite adversity. Twice stranded in foreign cities with no money or possessions, they used their friendliness, their affection for humanity, to win sympathy from local people and struggle their way back into the race. They demonstrated at least a smattering of an impressive number of languages -- Tyler's fluent Japanese gave them an enormous advantage in the penultimate Tokyo leg of the race -- and showed a truly heartwarming respect and affinity for the ordinary working people (cabdrivers, hotel clerks, airline ticket sellers) they encountered during the race. And all this while clearly showing that they took absolutely nothing particularly seriously. My kinda people.

In a moment during the final episode, Tyler expressed his hope that he and his friend had competed in a spirit of "wide-eyed enthusiasm and joy." I can think of no better words to express how I hope I live my life.

Enjoy the million clams, guys. Hope to see lots more of you.


Matt said...

Such a great post, Neddie. You make my heart glad.

In a totally non-gay way, of course.

Eugene Wellborn said...

36 years ago I couldn't even spell hippies, and now I are one.

nash said...


"It's not at all a coincidence that the team that wins is always the team that is most able to adapt, through empathy and respect and openheartedness, to a huge variety of customs and folkways -- the team that is the most diametrically opposite, that is, to the stereotypical Ugly American."

I am reminded of a "game" sometimes used to provoke critical/creative thinking in a G&T program in which I've taught. Take the class and divide it into two groups. One group represents a "native culture." They are given a set of basic instructions: in their culture, for example, the women do the talking, and it is considered very rude for a man to speak without permission. Their culture is very nature-centered, so their language is replete with nature-drenched similes and metaphors. ("Your words are like spring leaves bursting forth in a mighty forest," that sort of thing. The kids typically have a ball coming up with these.) In their culture, it is considered very rude to look a stranger in the face. Finally -- did I forget to mention the magic healing word? -- their culture has a magic word that will heal all known ailments; however, this word is considered very sacred, and the culture will only divulge it to people who have shown the proper respect -- by imitating the natives' customs.

The other group of students, meanwhile, is told that they're a group of Western scientists working for a big pharmaceutical company. They know nothing about the native culture, other than that they are reputed to possess a revolutionary healing secret. Their job is to get that secret.

Setting this exercise up right is half the fun. If you have a lot of quiet girls in the class (not unusual, especially in the South), you can sometimes bring some of them out of their shells by putting them in the native group -- where they're expected to assume a position of dominance and leadership. You want to make sure, though, that you have some reasonably assertive young ladies in the scientist group -- because without females who will assume leadership positions, they're doomed (as explained below). If you have loud, obnoxious boys (also not unusual), you can either put them in the native group (so they have to keep their mouths shut and allow themselves to be pushed around by girls for a change) or put them in the scientist group (where they will often make a mess of things, as explained below).

The only way for the scientists to "win" this game -- to get the natives to reveal their healing secret -- is for them to realize that they have to show the proper respect for the natives by imitating them to some extent: the male scientists have to take a submissive role; the scientists have to season their language with naturey metaphors; they have to avoid looking the natives in the face; finally -- the hardest thing -- they have to avoid speaking directly of the magical healing word (which is often 'Bullwinkle', by the way). It's sacred, after all, and one does not babble mundanely about the sacred.

Usually the "scientists" manage to figure it out, but occasionally, there are enough "stereotypical Ugly Americans" among them to muck the whole thing up. I've had it happen that the self-approinted leader (usually male) of the scientist group winds up threatening the natives with invasion and/or nuclear immolation if they don't reveal the secret. As a teacher, you get to play God and offer gentle hints, but sometimes, the kids are so set on a certain way of thinking and acting that they can't see what they're doing wrong -- or, rather, they can't see what they're doing and thinking as wrong, even in that odd context, even for just a moment.

Anyway, it's a fun game that provokes reflection on very fundamental assumptions we make about "proper" thought and behavior -- and your post about The Amazing Race (which I confess I've never seen) reminded me of it, Neddie. Thanks for the memories.


Nancy said...

Yay! I missed the finale: Forgot about it completely, actually. I'm so glad the hippies won, and for precisely that reason; for the wide-eyed enthusiasm and joy with which they embraced every day of the race.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

I, also, have played a game that was a variant of Nash's but involved prizes of drinking and frotage.

While perhaps not as illuminating nor as educational it was the best way for a shy young fellow to engage in frotage.


Bobby Lightfoot said...

Only bad people behave compulsively

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Only bad people behave compulsively

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Only bad people behave compulsively