Something Real. Anything Real.
Like so many people over this past Christmas break, I spent 468 minutes (nearly eight hours) watching Peter Jackson’s “remix” of the video footage taken in January 1969 as the Beatles created the music that ultimately became their Let it Be album in 1970. I will admit that I found the first episode a little bit of a downer. The sessions have long been considered one of the darkest periods in Beatles history and the original Let it Be documentary that resulted from the footage in 1970 is likewise considered to present an unhappy band on the verge of dissolving. At perhaps the lowest point, George Harrison leaves the band and needs to be convinced to return.
After George comes back and there is a change in venue for the sessions, however, the mood starts to lighten considerably. We are then treated to a rare and precious look into the creative process the Beatles used to create their music. And, that process appears to basically amount to chaos as much as anything else. There is a ton of just screwing around and tons of banter, some reflecting friction, but ultimately most of it demonstrating just how tight their relationships with each other really were. By the time the series ends, we are treated to the four Beatles and their friend, Billy Preston, playing a live show whose extraordinarily tight performance belied the absolute chaos of the environment in which the songs were created.
From having a down feeling at the end of Episode One, by the time their concert concluded the series in Episode Three, I was exhilarated and left with a warm feeling of having experienced something truly special. I know others had a similar emotional response to Jackson’s “remix” and I am certain that far more than nostalgia was at play in eliciting those shared feelings.
We are living in what I have described as the worst times of my life. My parents, who were born just as World War II was getting going, view our current period of history similarly.
We could certainly spend all day unpacking what has gone wrong and why we collectively feel so badly about ourselves these days. That said, I think a huge part of the problem we face today has been created by our living in a world that has become less and less “real.” These days, it seems, we cannot even agree on the facts. And, that is an extremely worrying sign.
At some point in the 1960s, the Beatles success bought them something relatively few of us get to experience. That is, they got to be themselves as they wanted to be without much thought for traditional “boundaries.” And, that is a gift of profound value, albeit one that has its dangers, too, though they handled the gift reasonably well for the most part.
It has been observed that kids entering school are excited and eager to learn when they start school, but tend to be disinterested and cynical when they graduate in their late teens. I’ve heard this within the context of being a failure of the education system, but I am not convinced this is the fault of our approach to schooling.
There is similarly a school of thought that says we are emotionally sound when we are born, but then as life challenges us we move further and further away from ourselves, which leads to discouragement and unhappiness. There may be something to this.
Of course, life is difficult and we’re complex creatures and it would be simply impossible to come to any type of closure on these theories in a short essay. I would, however, argue that there is something there. There seems to be an epidemic of unhappiness about us, both individually and collectively. I think it has a lot to do our failing to live as ourselves and enjoy what we really are. There is too much “fake” in today’s world. We appear to be engulfed in it because we are often uncomfortable with who we really are. So, we instead become what we think we should be. Bad move!
I’ve written recently about Russian President Putin’s detachment from reality. The Ukrainians clearly do not see his army as liberators, his military isn’t performing anywhere close to what he anticipated, and there’s remarkably a lot of resolve left in the Western Alliance. If his delusions were merely his own, that’d be one thing, but he’s selling them to the Russian people along with other untruths and his audience is buying them, even when relatives in Ukraine try and inform them about what is really going on.
Social media is probably the greatest repository of untruths the world has ever seen. Big lies, little lies, insignificant lies, and lies of great consequence are created every second of every day and immediately transmitted to a global audience that apparently has not the capacity to separate out truths from untruths even when the latter are outrageous and completely absurd.
The advertising industry is set up to convince you that you need products that come with the promise of fulfilling your wishes and desires, yet all the stuff they’re pitching and we’re buying doesn’t seem to make us any happier. Our entertainment shows us a steady stream of people and situations that often look and seem real to us and, far too often, we mistake fiction for reality and then go into the real world with opinions formed from stories designed to entertain us that were never meant to be informative.
I’ve made the following argument numerous times before on these pages, but the more I ponder the issues and challenges that confront us today, the more I become convinced that my argument is fundamentally correct. That is, we are spending far too much time on our screens and leading digital lives that are far too disconnected from reality. Media can easily become manipulative. The craziest of ideas can be wrapped up into a format that make them look compelling and full of truth and great meaning. But, at its core, a crazy idea beautifully packaged and presented is still a crazy idea.
We need to become more discerning about the ideas and messages to which we are exposed. We need to demand evidence. The more outrageous the message, the better the evidence needs to be. Trust is okay, but also be sure to verify.
We need to be amongst each other in forums and settings that allow us to see that others can have ideas that differ from our own but still be fundamentally good people. Good and bad people are found in virtually every group regardless of the primary threads that connect the group. When we spend quality time with each other, we learn how better to separate the good from the bad.
And, we need to be more self-critical as well. It’s easy to accept and internalize a message that resonates with us or is affirming in our world view or, perhaps, just makes things “easy.” But easy can be dangerous if it is based on falsehoods. The danger extends without question to not only our freedom but also to the future of our planet.
For me, what was so refreshing about Get Back was that it was a real look at real people doing real and meaningful work, albeit it with an unusual approach. But, look at the results! Maybe we should consider, at least occasionally, the unusual approach. Not one of the four Beatles was a perfect or complete person just on their own. And, in this film, they pretty much let us see them as they were, the good and the bad laid out unapologetically for the viewer.
Yet, at the end of their labors, when they set aside their differences and worked together towards a common end, the result was amazing. The rooftop performance was musically incredible, but just as incredible was how people who were clearly growing apart could still come together and get themselves on the same wavelength to give all of us a gift of lasting joy.
We are way better when we are working together and using our differences to learn to become better versions of ourselves. We are social beings. We need each other and when we allow ourselves to be open to others and to different ideas and/or perspectives, we will more often than not find that it benefits us individually. And, I think we’ll also find that our true differences are generally pretty minor in the broad scheme of things.