#MyKindOfBenedy: How can something as silly as a movie make your life ever-better over time?

I am replacing the terms tragedy and comedy – with words that mean something.

Photo by: Tim Green

Jan Schlösser, bless his bits, asks this about last week’s video:

Greg, would you mind giving some examples of narrative art that you would consider prime examples of benedy (apart from your own works)?

Glad to. Truly delighted. Let’s take up cinema, since it’s more likely to be universally-accessible.

What we’re talking about is benedy, which is a word I made up to distinguish types of stories. In a benedy, the story arc will move from worse to better: The main character(s) and the overall situation will be better at the end.

This is contrasted with maledy, also a word I made up, in which the action moves from better to worse.

I make this distinction because the word comedy gets conflated with both farce (which is often maledy) and satire (which is always maledy), while tragedy is equated with the generic word drama – which will very often have a benedic story arc.

The terms benedy and maledy are simply ways of understanding the arc of a story. The motivation in a benedy is always the protagonist’s free will, where in a maledy the driving force is typically anything other than that free will. In a benedy, the protagonist wins. In a maledy, he loses. In a benedy, the protagonist triumphs by deploying his mind against malign fates. In a maledy, malign fates overwhelm the protagonist. In a benedy, the hero eats the bear. In a maledy, the bear eats the hero.

As further disambiguation, digest this updated chart:

Benedy Maledy
Action moves from worse to better better to worse
Action is driven by protagonist other forces
Action is caused by protagonist’s choices villain/chance/fates/gods
Outcome is determined by protagonist’s actions other forces
Philosophical message is libertarian, individualist, egoistic authoritarian, collectivist, anegoistic
Ending is happy sad
Audience leaves feeling inspired, uplifted depresssed, down-trodden

Note that a story is not a benedy simply because you have someone to root for. War movies are maledies, overall, as are super-hero movies. In crime and action dramas, the antagonistic forces, whatever they are, are generally well-treated and the classical liberal institutions conservatives and libertarians typically support are often bested by vengeance and retribution, which those classical liberal institutions exist to eliminate.

What’s the point of making this distinction? Benedies make people better, over time, by showing them people like them making themselves better over time. Maledies make people worse. Dwell on that as you take in the establishing shots from High Fidelity, which we’ll get to shortly:

With all that as introductory blather, here are some movies I think well of:

  • I’ve mentioned the movie Chef, and I love it for the redemption of the whole family.
     
  • The Fabulous Baker Boys is raw redemption for all three major characters. No secrets/lies/cheesy plot games, either.
     
  • Music and Lyrics is a goofy rom-com, but it’s about winning the game of romance by working – hard and with integrity.
     
  • The Pursuit of Happyness is excellent. Striving movies are generally good, but I like fathers who make their wives and kids better, too.
     
  • I’m a huge fan of Pleasantville, the realization that adulthood means embracing self-responsibility and appropriate authority.
     
  • High Fidelity is everything Mister Maybe is getting wrong and how to fix it.
     
  • Almost Famous is a great coming of age story, and I love transition stories generally.
     
  • Ten Things I Hate About You does many of the same jobs, with a killer soundtrack – plus it wins Shakespeare points.
     
  • The Wedding Singer is a resounding endorsement of marriage, and the farce holds up.
     
  • Dodgeball is great farce, even though the ending is so deus ex machina that the treasure chest is literally inscribed “Deus Ex Machina.” Even so, sports movies almost always follow the benedic story arc.
     
  • For Independence Day: Moscow on the Hudson. Rom-coms often work well, but the secrets and lies (Lucy Plots) run riot.
     
  • I love Grand Canyon, particularly in the very complex ways that everyone is better at the end.
     
  • My favorite film ever is The Fisher King – brutal redemption.

There are others, but not a lot. I’m not current on contemporary cinema, since it’s mostly targeted at teenage boys. The telenovela style of story, as seen in high-brow dramas like Mad Men, is almost always maledy – though it need not be.

As an example of the John Wayne/John Galt/John McClane plot I bitch about, consider Gran Torino. It is literally the self-sacrifice of the Nazarene, and, while the kid’s life seems better at the end, in fact he is left at risk of the next bad guys, still unable to defend his own interests. That’s maledy – the palliation but not the elimination of the crisis-maker – and it is very common in seemingly-happy endings.

Take a sad song and make it better? Instead of bearding the bad guys by himself, High Noon-style, the old solider teaches his neighbors the modern expressions of the Hoplite phalanx. Even if he dies in combat – cue the soaring music – the men fighting beside him live to soldier on. That’s a story about real people, not yet another myth about miracles.

Alas, the kind of family programming I would love to see on television does not exist at all right now. Sit-coms are always built on Lucy Plots – secrets, lies, gossip, betrayal. Dramas are overwhelmingly maledic, and reality shows are typically expositions of the worst in human character. Programming aimed directly at children is Marxist indoctrination peppered with a lot of smurfing swearing.

The good news? There is nowhere to go from here but up!

May all the blessings of every imaginable heaven rain down upon Jan for asking. I almost never get questions, but I always learn from them – and that’s a benedy!

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