Sunday, November 29, 2009

Answering the Call

I watched most of WWII In HD on the History Channel, and generally enjoyed it, which wasn't a big surprise, as I usually like WWII programs, especially with new material. This one did seem a bit disjointed, as though they either couldn't decide what narrative theme to use or they didn't have enough for just one, so they tried to integrate different themes that had been produced separately. I also noticed that the closed captioning frequently differed from what was said in ways that indicated last-minute editing, which hints at a bit of chaos in the production process, another possible explanation for the slapdash feel. I would like to see a program with that material where they just gave the context of a piece of footage and showed it.

One consistent theme in the program, as with most shows like this, was the ability of people, either individually or as a group, to step up and do things they may have never previously considered. These things may have been extremely unpleasant (the man who found himself almost spontaneously having to kill a German soldier by slitting his throat, and immediately afterward went to a ditch and threw up), or more positive (the reporter who first expressed doubts about the collective fortitude of Americans to handle the rigors of war, then admitted to being wrong), but the overall notion of successfully performing beyond expectations, especially one's own, is usually uplifting; indeed, it's the basis for heroism.

I still recall an example of this that I witnessed which, while not nearly in the same league as combat, is much more typical. I was the student manager for my high school's football team. During a game one of the linemen went down. Happily he just had the wind knocked out of him, but he had to come out. My school was small, but at the time we had the luxury of being able to rotate linemen, so we had a couple of experienced seniors available to fill in. As we were helping the player off the field, I asked the coach who he wanted as a replacement (and I mean The coach, as in the only one, and I was asking him about such things because we were the staff) and he said, "Have Todd get in there." I can't say definitely, but I'm sure my eyebrows went up; Todd was a sophomore who had never been in a game. I ran to the sideline and yelled for Todd, and saw for the first time a graphic demonstration of the phrase "eyes as big as saucers"; I thought he might need a bag in which to breathe. But he collected himself, filled in ably for a few plays, and then came back out when the other lineman had recovered.

I'd like to say that Todd went on to become a star football player, like the man in the recent movie The Blind Side, but it wouldn't be true. On the other hand, he didn't become Al Bundy either. He did eventually become a good high school football player, then - like most of the soldiers in that program did after the war - moved on with life. Todd's experience, however, is the kind most of us are much more likely to face; a sudden, singular, usually momentary development to which we have to react instantly, as opposed to the sweeping change of war. It's the kind of thing we all hope we're up to handling when it comes, as we all know it will. It's the Character Builder, and like many things, a few are good, but we'd prefer not to overindulge.