Like most people I know, I love to watch movies.
I also have many friends who, just like me, adore reading.
My subject matter interests are varied, to say the least. From raising goats in your backyard to black holes colliding to the birth of mixed martial arts, I rarely meet a topic I don’t want to learn more about.
But recently, I’ve begun to question whether these pursuits truly qualify as “entertainment.” What I mean by that: if you walked up to me and inquired about some of my favorite hobbies, I would probably respond with “watching movies” and “reading.”
Here, when I think about the word “hobbies,” what comes to mind is entertainment. Hobbies are those activities you do when you aren’t working. They are – ideally – supposed to be fun, stress-easing, restorative, self-esteem boosting, memory making.
But there is nothing fun or stress-easing about some of the topics I have been watching on television and reading about lately. For instance, there isn’t a shred of entertainment anywhere in sight when the film frame shifts and suddenly you are eyeball to eyeball with suffering, starving refugees or oily, doomed marine mammals.
I think this all hit home for me in a particularly “real” sort of way when my boyfriend and I recently watched a movie called “Sicario” (Spanish for “hitman”).
The movie is about the ongoing conflict between drug cartels and authorities on both sides of the Mexican-USA border. The conflict centers around the town of Juarez, Mexico, which apparently is the scariest town on the planet.
The main character is an FBI agent who really, really wants to bring the bad people to justice. She knows what they’ve done and she’s seen it with her own eyes and she believes there is a way to end the drug-related violence and suffering once and for all.
So she accepts an invitation to team up with the CIA to trace the drug cartel leadership all the way up the line and pull it out by its roots. She shows up on day one, raring to go and eager to learn, only to be met with stolid silence, stonewalling and, sometimes, storytelling where there should be facts.
The line just gets blurrier from there. You see her start to question who is “good” and who is “bad,” even on her own team. And even the victims, who clearly didn’t die peacefully in their sleep, have shady pasts. What did they do to end up that way? Are the people who killed them better, worse or the same? Are they all victims? All perpetrators? Could they be both?
There is this moment in the film when one of the CIA operatives busts her idealistic bubble wide open as he explains to her that the drug war will not cease until the 20 percent of the worldwide population that is addicted to drugs stops snorting, smoking, shooting up, and otherwise marinating their mortal selves in contraband. Period, the end.
It is one of those truth-telling incidents when you realize what a movie like “Sicario” is attempting to do. It is not out to entertain, but to educate. Its goal is simple: to reduce energy wasted on idealism, escapism, or fatalism and re-route that energy towards facilitating a workable compromise.
The workable compromise that Sicario suggests is simply this: annihilating drug trafficking is not presently a reasonable goal, at least so long as there is such strong market demand. What is a reasonable goal is to manage the drug trade in such a way that fewer people are harmed as supply continues to meet demand. Some people call this “choosing the lesser of two evils.” Others call it “making progress.”
I don’t know what to call it.
But what I do know is that, while I am sitting on my couch watching a movie about the drug trade in Juarez, Mexico, there are real people living in Juarez right now who are really experiencing these horrible, awful, unspeakable things.
All over the world, there are situations that mirror what is going on in Juarez, where ancient and entrenched cultural, religious, political, and other forces make it impractical, to say the least, to aim for the highest.
Management, compromise, progress, the lesser of two evils, “better” rather than “best” – these are perhaps realistic and even workable goals to ease, if not eliminate, some of the suffering.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever had an experience like mine with “Sicario,” where you start out thinking you are watching a movie for its entertainment value only to realize it doesn’t get any more real – and horrific – than what you are seeing on the screen? If yes, how did that affect you? Did you finish watching only to feel frustrated because now you are aware of a really BIG problem but you have no clue what – if anything – to do with that knowledge? Did you wish you had a take-back; that you could “unsee” what you had just seen?