Friday, January 1, 2016

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Sh'mot 5776 - [SPOILER ALERT]

[SPOILER ALERT] Spoilers might not be such a bad thing.

I wasn’t on line that first night. I didn’t see the new Star Wars movie until a few days later. I did everything I could to avoid spoilers. People everywhere were making the same request. There were apps to prevent one from accidentally seeing spoiler information on line.

Do spoilers really spoil things? We are intelligent creatures. We know the many, many tropes used in our society. We can and often do speculate. Many of us take pride in having figured out a plot before the denouement. Entire TV series have been predicated on giving the viewer the high that comes from figuring out the plot before the reveal. At the same time, writers and directors seek ever more clever ways to lead us astray with unexpected plot twists. The best writers and directors have figured out the truth and it is a very Jewish one, requiring a balance of opposites. Both discovery and the unexpected can provide pleasure, an adrenaline or endorphin rush. Can’t make the plot too easy to figure out – can’t make it too hard, either. Give the audience the thrill of solving the puzzles along with the thrill of unexpected twists. This same technique can be applied in different formats and genres (we all know that feeling when we know the answer on Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune and the contestant doesn’t.)

At one point in my life, I was perplexed, even troubled by the many spoilers in the Torah. Parashat Sh’mot has one of the true classics of the type – G”d’s revelation to Moses of how things are going to play out in Egypt. You’re gonna ask, Pharaoh is gonna say no. I’m gonna  make life miserable for Egyptians, Oh, and by the way, I’m gonna harden Pharaoh’s heart.  In the end, I’m going to kill his first-born. They you will leave and the Egyptians will give you stuff on the way out.  Part of me is surprised that Moses didn’t respond somewhat like Job. Had I been writing this story, I might have Moses saying to G”d “Hey, since You already decided how this is going to end, can we just skip to the chase and get it over with?”

So what about all those books your read over and over, those movies you watch again and again? You know exactly what is going to happen, yet you still read and watch. Could it be that there’s more to it than just the thrill of discovery? Not to mention the fact that we re-read the entire Torah over and over each year. We all know what’s going to happen.

Ever watched a movie you love for the nth time, only to see something you never saw before, or have a new insight? That certainly happens to me with the Torah all the time (though the effect is likely enhanced by the fact that I am sometimes purposeful in seeking that. However, with the Torah, with movies, books, etc. I have also experienced new revelations when I wasn’t looking for them. There’s that Jewish balance again.

Balance isn’t always just between two sides, either. Sometimes there’s a third element. There’s the original new experience, there’s the repeat experience of the original, and there’s the cover song, the remake, etc. George Lucas can grouse all he wants, but I have to credit J.J. Abrams with finding a wonderful balance between all those elements.

Sometimes there are just two opposing concepts or values to balance, and sometimes there are many, many parts to balance. I wonder, sometimes, if all the inconsistencies and other problems we have with Torah and our other sacred texts aren’t the result of the attempt to balance so many different ideas, values, viewpoints, histories, etc. An argument could be made that this is a detriment as opposed to an enhancement – that the attempt to balance a few too many conflicting ideas resulted in a huge mess. There may be some truth to that. However, life is messy, so why shouldn’t our sacred texts be messy? (I could make a similar argument if I were reviewing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Disney, Abrams, and all involved had a lot of things to balance and juggle.)

What goes on inside our heads when we watch/read/encounter something new, watch/read/encounter something again, watch/read/encounter a remake (or listen to a cover?) It seems pretty obvious that something that was unexpected the first time will be somewhat less effective in future encounters. As obvious as that seems, I’m not entirely sure it’s true, and I’d love to see some of the brain research on that. There are some scenes that seem to still have the same level of effect on me. Perhaps the feelings of comfort and familiarity add their emotional impact and make up for any slightly lower intensity of reaction. I don’t know about you, but that dead body in the hole in “Jaws,” that alien bursting forth from John Hurt’s chest in “Alien” still make my heart leap. “Feed the Birds” still brings me to tears (sometimes, even just the mention of it will trigger me to tear up.) I still laugh at all the same places in films and TV shows.

[SPOILER ALERT] You know what, try as hard as I did to avoid spoilers, an obnoxious person insisted on telling me that Han dies. I can say, in all honesty, that I don’t think knowing that changed experiencing the moment one iota for me.

I think the reason I read primarily Science Fiction for leisure is a desire to try and find stories that both reinforce existing tropes, and also stories that create new ones. However, the Sci-Fi story that truly has new tropes (or no tropes) is exceedingly rare. There is a reason why, even today, stories use many of the same tropes we find in our sacred texts. Yes, things change over time. Some things remain essentially the same. In this parasha G”d says “I will be what I will be” or whatever ehyeh-asher-ehyeh means. (The thought popped into my head just now-could it mean “everything old is new again?”) Our universe is what it is, and our G”d is/will be whatever G”d will be/is. Once, in a very rare while, some of us can/will rise above the tropes that are our/define existence. For the most part, however, we human beings are what we are, and we’ll keep doing the same things, or new variations thereof. Some might look upon that thought negatively. I think of it as possibility and opportunity. So what if we know what’s coming? Every encounter, even with something we already know, is a new encounter

[SPOILER ALERT] Most of the time, there’s nothing to spoil. We already know.

Thousands of years later, we’re still reading this same story, with its spoilers and all. Perhaps the spoilers are there to teach us not to worry about them so much?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Secular Year,

©2016 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Sh'mot 5775 - Why Us (Redux 5765)
Sh'mot 5774 - Pas De Deux
Sh'mot 5773 - Wicked, Wonderful Moral Ambiguities
Sh'mot 5772 - Is Might Ever Right?
Sh'mot 5771 - Free Association IV
Sh'mot 5767-Logic & Metaphysics
Shemot 5766 - Free Association III
Shemot 5765-Why Us?
Shemot 5764-Uncomsumed-ness
Shemot 5763 - Free Association II
Shemot 5760-Tzaz Latzav, Tzav Latzav
Shemot 5761-The Spice of Life
Shemot 5762-Little Ol' Me?

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