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Bust Out

” ‘cause imitation’s boring . .” – Iggy Pop “Cry For Love”

There’s a scene in season two, episode ten of The Sopranos that seals it as the greatest TV show ever. Tony, facing the possibility of going away for a long, long time, sits in the dark of his kitchen with a bottle of booze. Among James Gandolfini’s many acting talents was his ability to portray being drunk accurately; always nuanced and never overplaying it. His daughter Meadow enters the kitchen for a glass of orange juice, unaware of her dad’s presence. She’s startled when he addresses her and turns on the light. He responds with hand blocking his eyes “no -turn it off” and she complies, realizing immediately that he’s inebriated. “Why are you sitting in the dark?” she asks, and he answers honestly “I don’t know .. (I) like the dark.” The next few minutes are brilliantly constructed. He tells her how much he loves her and wants to hear from her that she knows. But in doing so he includes “your mother doesn’t think I love you enough” — a blatant and manipulative lie designed to gain the favor he’s so desperately afraid of losing. It works and she responds “you listen to her?” David Chase, who created the show, once said it was fun to write because everybody was lying or saying the opposite of what they really meant. I think he sold his genius short; people lie in The Sopranos for a myriad of reasons, one being that it’s often the only means of getting to the truth. Tony continues – “I tell people you’re just like your mother, but you’re all me. Nothing gets by you.” Meadow tells him that he should go to bed but he says he’s going to finish his drink. She lets him off the hook in the most loving and bonding way. “Sometimes,” she says, “we’re all hypocrites.”

Being hypocritical is part and parcel of being human. (Just as using the phrase ‘part and parcel’ is part and parcel of being an asshole.) It’s a lesson slow to come to most of us. The important conversations that I regret least are those where I’ve made no great effort to defend myself. You can’t “try” to reach this state; it’s either there or it isn’t. The kind of love Tony seeks from Meadow is conveyed equally in silence. Declared love (in this very select case) conditionalizes; it lessens. When I’d tell my mother I loved her, she’d respond with a slight chuckle .. “I know that.” It’s a difficult standard in mortal relationships. Most of us go about seeking approval by explaining ourselves, by letting people know who we are and trying to pave over the rough bits. But once broken, this type of ‘unstated’ love can never be the same. Chasing it only emphasizes its absence. This isn’t an argument against saying “I love you,” but rather an example of when it can be redundant or even needy.

If hypocrisy is rampant even in the most personal relationships, it’s the bread and butter of governance. The word “politics” is synonymous with what we feign to find most objectionable: dishonesty, distrust, bullshit. So why, if we already know this, do we cling to our political identities so and go through this same practice of trying to define, conditionalize and explain? Not sure on that one, but it’s at the core of the ongoing meltdown. Most of us think we know what’s right and defend our stance almost as we would our family. But these positions are often as flawed as that degenerate uncle or fuck-up kid. And switching to the opposite position is of no help if we’re looking to break the hypocritical chain. So inherent is this political imperfection that it comes to embody our representatives. You can’t govern unless you’re elected and you can’t get elected if you’re completely sincere about what you believe. Your true positions always need nudging and tweaking and this becomes truer the farther up the chain you go. The more important the political position, the less honest one must be to achieve the votes. It’s almost as though the biggest asshole has the best chance of winning; either this or the person willing to push the bigger fairy tale.

So we settle for this imperfection and, in more select and patriotic moments, argue for our system being less imperfect than the other guy’s. It’s much like defending our families all the while knowing that ours has its flaws, too. When the chips are down some people will show up and others won’t and there is no impenetrable honor in the crest. Perhaps it’s best to turn the lights back off now and then, sit with our glass in the dark, and take comfort in our daughter’s true words.

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