Posted by: Ha_Qohelet | December 20, 2007

Snowglobe, or Popular Cultural Utopian Discourse

 We watched a movie called Snowglobe the other night on ABC Family.  Z. Santa snowglobeliked it, I think.  It had most of the flaws and limitations of a made-for-tv-movie, although surprisingly not the one of entirely obscuring race. 

It is about utopia, actually, which is what leads me to mention it here.  It has one of the most interesting anti-Platonic utopian lines in it – said in the context of tasting “Christmas” in a bar, first over eggnog & cinnamon schnaps, and then over cherry brandy – namely:  “Perfection comes in lots of flavors.”

There is even a nod in the script towards the alternative view:  “If it’s perfect, how can you vary it?” 

Because, as we would know if we were an ancient Greek philosopher, there can’t be any change in perfection, since once something is perfect, any change in it would involve a diminution in perfection, since if it would involve an increase in perfection, whatever changed wouldn’t have been perfect before it changed.  That view at least implicitly denies the possibility of changes that neither increase nor diminish perfection.  The idea that “perfection comes in lots of flavors” involves a different philosophy of change, or of difference, or both.  We have to imagine a reality in which changes or differences, rather than diminishing perfection, can change some feature or taste of the thing without diminishing its precision, delight, adequacy, or whatever it is we are noting when we speak of its perfection.  Or, perhaps, change along with other changes to maintain an equilibrium of perfection.  So, if we’re a contemporary architect-bartender, or screenwriter, or celebrator of diversity, we can think that there are some contexts in which there are endless, potentially infinite, versions of perfection.  In these contexts, the definition of perfection can’t include any one entity’s or even situation’s being all-sufficient. 

This line is a direct commentary on the utopian content of the movie, which hinges on the different perfections of a fantasy world of smiling, harmonious but distinctly innocent and simple characters of “the village” inside a Christmas snowglobe, who live a magical life without change, without conflict, without scarcity, without animosity, and almost entirely without interest, and those of the more real-life characters of “Brooklyn” who have jobs, babies on the way, dysfunctional families without boundaries, insecurities and uncertainties, histories and resentments and things like that, but who are also potentially lead rounder, more satisfying lives. 

One of the key differences, clearly, is that the real-life characters (in this fantastic melodrama) have histories, pasts and futures, while the snowglobe characters live in a kind of eternal present.  [The Ghost of Christmas-Being-and-Time?]  What initially looks like culture, then, is less genuinely cultural and more strictly environmental – people wear the clothes they wear, do the jobs they do, celebrate Christmas in the way they do, just because, not because there is any meaning or history or relationship to some prior problem or decision embodied in it.  Although the snowglobe people don’t quite strike us as animals, they do strike us as less than fully or satisfactorily human – something like pets or dolls or cartoons, certainly not quite capable of navigating the adult world, the human world, the real world, without supervision and assistance.

So there are different [allegedly] perfect worlds, in this movie, and the trade off between perfections is presented as the trade off between static pleasantness devoid of genuine meaning, and dynamic reality replete with dissatisfaction, against which marvelous or wonderful moments stand out all the more vividly and delightfully.  In this latter world, where there is challenge and endeavor, there can also be real and enduring happiness; misery is not the only alternative.  So while the real world [of the movie] is not utopia, it’s real; reality, in the discourse of the film, is itself a desirable quality. 

[I suppose I could point out that, in the end, neither of the two “perfect” worlds proves itself to be perfect as much as “preferable”.  Both are limited in some way, and the characters are required to choose between them on the basis of a calculus that recognizes more preferable and lesser evil features of these finally all-or-nothing worlds.]


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