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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back when I dreamed

I just got on Hulu and added every episode of a very old TV show called "Lou Grant."  It was a spinoff from the Mary Tyler Moore show, the main character played by Edward Asner, her former boss at the TV station in Minneapolis who ends up being City editor for the fictional LA Tribune.

One thing I note about the show, that used to be true about a lot of the shows from my era, including a number I watched earlier on Hulu, like "Adam 12," "Dragnet" and "Emergency," all Jack Webb shows.  The folks on Adam 12 and Dragnet were cops, and on Emergency were firefighters.  On Lou Grant they're reporters, and Lou's the City Editor as I said.  And they have their quirks and foibles, their enthusiasms and dislikes.  But bottom line, they're real people, really rather ordinary, like most of us.  They're people who have jobs, and they care deeply about doing their jobs well.  They have the usual personal concerns, food shelter health and family in whatever order, and the job is intended to provide those things.  But when they're on the job, they're on the job, and when you're on the job, you do it right, because that's what you do.

Might be a bit about The Greatest Generation (as they call my folks' generation these days). Maybe.  Think about it, a whole country of people leading their ordinary lives, doing their ordinary jobs.  And they certainly had their wild moments and got up to mischief now and again.  But when it came right down to it, when it was really important stuff -- maybe when it was For the War -- they just didn't screw around.  Young guys like my dad, in their twenties, sowed their wild oats, drank and smoked and got up to all kinds of trouble.  And then they went off and saved the world, and did it right, because that's what you do when your job is to save the world.  And then you come home, and all you've got is that regular-guy sort of job.  And you still do it right, because that's what you do when it's your job.  Even if you're not saving the world.

I've also seen plenty of TV from just after that era.  And from my memory, TV went through a phase where all the characters were over the top.  Certainly seems to be the case these days, too.  The message seems to be (and seems to have been for the last few decades) that people will do the right thing.  But they'll do whatever the most extreme version of The Right Thing will be.  The bad guys will do the wrong thing, but they'll only do the most extreme version of The Wrong Thing.  And in their lives outside of doing the right/wrong thing, they'll lead their ordinary lives in the most extreme fashion.  and I think that's the wrong message.

Bottom line, we still need to be that way about work.  We're all just regular people, except maybe Tom Cruise and John Travolta.  Whether or not you have what you think is an important job, you do it right, because it's your job, and that's what you do.  It isn't about whether your job all by itself is important.  It isn't at all about what other people think about you.  Another example from TV, Hulu again, watching "House."  Wilson has a situation where a guy who's life he'd saved earlier needs a kidney or something.  House gets on Wilson for agreeing to donate one.  Why do you want to give this guy a kidney, save his life, he's a jerk!

But it wasn't about what House thought about the guy, or even what Wilson thought about the guy.  It was about how Wilson saw himself.  He saw himself as a guy who saves people's lives, even asshole's lives.  He did it because that's what he does, that's who he is.

So, back at Lou Grant.  Seeing the very first episode of the show reminded me of being back in High School, working  on the school paper -- and frankly kinda sucking at it.  But I still miss those days when I dreamed of being a reporter, and doing it right, and doing it well.  Cause that's what you do.

Thoughts?