Celestial Contemplations

If you're looking for any really deep thoughts, then you've come to the wrong place. However, if you're looking for simple opinions on ordinary, mundane things, then you've come to the right place.

Teary Eyes and Choked-Up Throats

How many times have you found your eyes watering and your throat contracting as you watched a tragically touching scene in the movie theater? How often do you find yourself reaching for tissue as you watch especially emotional episodes of television dramas and even sitcoms? When was the last time you sat through a particularly poignant passage in a book?

In answering these questions, chances are--and I'm refering to stereotypes here--if you're a male you'll say never, that you never find yourself close to tears while watching television, a movie, or reading a book. Chances are if you're a female, you'll say once in a while, sometimes, often, all the time, or some other degree that I haven't thought of. And again, I'm stereotyping. You'll probably never hear a man say "I always cry at weddings" or a woman say "What are you crying for, you siss?" Of course, these things don't exactly come up in everyday conversation, but you get the picture...I hope. Well, if not, maybe this will help.

I have no trouble admitting that I occasionally find my eyes watering when I watch television dramas, some sitcoms, and many movies. I have to wipe away moisture so I can finish reading certain books. And I find my vision blurring when I watch certain cartoons and anime. Yeah, you heard me right. Cartoons and anime.

And why not? Probably the number one criteria for anyone reading a book, seeing a movie, or watching television is whether or not it interests me. Whether it draws me in and makes me a part of it. Whether I want to continue reading to the end, regardless of what I fear will happen in the plot. Basically, the number one criteria is whether or not there is good storytelling going on. Nobody wants to watch a television with no plot, no story. Nobody wants to see a movie where the actors don't believe in their roles and that apathy reveals itself. Nobody wants to read a book where they cannot understand what's going on. The root of this is storytelling, and the determining factor of its success or failure is the quality of that storytelling.

Storytelling. That's what television and movies and books are doing for us: they're telling us stories. Take ER for example. The story the producers are attempting to convey involves the lives and experiences of an Emergency Room staff both at and away from work. Look at The Thing. The story here is about a relative handful of humans struggling to survive against an alien plant-creature. Look at Emerald House Rising. The story being revealed to readers is that of a young woman struggling to make her own place in the world, both with regards to her magic and to her work. The quality of the storytelling has garnered ER notable awards, The Thing an anchorage in its genre (enough to encourage a remake of it), and Emerald House Rising a place on the shelves. Good storytelling.

What does this have to do with my crying while watching cartoons and anime? Think about it. Good storytelling, to me, does not mean deliberately manipulating the emotions of the reader/viewer. That usually comes across as blatant and contrived and, in my case, often turns me off to the book/movie/program I'm reading or watching. Good storytelling involves drawing me into the story so that I come to know the characters intimately and feel happy when they do, sad when they do, angry when they do. I feel their joy and share their grief. I become like Bastian in The Never-Ending Story, sharing the experiences, good and bad, with the characters I'm reading about.

I should point out, however, that except in the case of movies, I usually need a while to get to know the characters. So while I didn't cry at C'gan's death in Dragonflight, I did feel my eyes watering when Masterharper Robinton died. This is because I only "knew" C'gan for a few chapters, whereas I had a chance to meet the Masterharper over the course of several novels. Or in other words, I didn't grieve for a character who'd been in one episode of a sitcom or drama, but I did for one who'd started out the series from the beginning.

With regards to movies, the storytelling has to be exceptional to move me to tears. For example--and maybe this dates me--but in Ghost I felt my eyes watering repeatedly near the end, first during Molly and Sam's (or Oda Mae's) dance, and later when Sam received his second chance to go into the light. Of more recent movies, I felt my throat choke up during the president's speech in Independence Day because of its emotional impact on me. I'm not a fanatically patriotic American, but this speech affected me because I'd invested myself in the story and felt the desperation and suffering of the characters. There's a scene in The Muppet Christmas Carol which always brings tears to my eyes...perhaps you can guess which one? Yes, the one where the Cratchits are sitting down a Christmas dinner without Tiny Tim among them.

Okay...that takes care of books and movies, where you'd expect good storytelling. But what about things like cartoons and anime? To my mind the quality of cartoons has declined, so that many of the new programs coming out on Saturday mornings and on the Cartoon Network seem lame and inane...or maybe that's just my age speaking. But I know I cried during Transformers: The Movie when Optimus Prime died and when Rodimus Prime was born. I felt my throat clench during the episode of Air Razor's "birth" in Beast Wars. And there were similar times during episodes of James Bond, Jr., The Smurfs, Snorks, and a number of other cartoons. That some of them lasted so long is a testament to the quality of the storytelling imbued within each episode.

As for anime, I'll just say this. On the whole, I'd say that the Japanese are better storytellers than Americans when it comes to non-mundane stories. That is, in such areas as science fiction and fantasy, the Japanese easily have Americans beat while Americans do a better job dealing with more realistic things like "real world" dramas. Of course, it might just be that I haven't been exposed too often to Japanese dramas, except historic samurai series. But I'm wandering.

I admit to crying every time I see two particular episodes of Pokemon. The first is Bye, Bye, Butterfree, when Ash lets Butterfree go so that it can mate somewhere across the sea. Part of it is because I followed Ash's experiences raising Butterfree from a Caterpie and understood how hard it was to let one of his friends go free. So can you imagine how much more my eyes watered during the episode when Ash tried to set Pikachu free? After all the episodes that preceded it, I could see that Ash cared very, very much for Pikachu. That is good storytelling. I also cry every time I watch Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture because of the scene at the end. True, I don't have as long an opportunity to "meet" Terry Bogard as I did Ash Ketchum, but it was long enough to let me sympathize and empathize with the character completely.

So if I had to answer the questions I posed at the beginning, well...let's just say I couldn't say never to any of them. Because I am affected by what I read and watch. And what I read and watch almost always involves good storytelling. Now, guys, I challenge you to tell the truth about whether you cry or not--at least feel your eyes water a bit--when you read something sad or see a tragic scene in a movie or television show. Because let me tell you something...if you can't cry at something like that scene in The Muppet Christmas Carol, well, you are definitely heartless!

I guess that's enough soul-baring for now. Take issue with me if you want--I'd welcome so feedback--but at least consider carefully whether such things as I've mentioned above can affect you or not. I guarantee it: it's a valuable trait to have!

I don't know if this has prompted any deep or interesting thoughts in you, but if you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to send me an e-mail. I'm generally up for any debate and maybe--just maybe--we can start some sort of regular exchange of thoughts.

Comments? Suggestions? E-mail me with your words of wisdom. I'm up for a hearty e-mail debate if you are!

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