How does fundamental change happen? I almost didn't bother to write this one, as you've heard my answer several times since its last mutation ("behaviorally, at gunpoint; internally, rarely if at all" ). I got to thinking about it again Wednesday night, after our dinner (which was great, by the way), while sitting desk ("den"?) at Schaaf and watching the last half of "The Bad News Bears Break Training." I'd kinda forgotten about that old team--the rebel Kelly, with his leather, cigarettes, and 13-year-old attitude; and Tanner, the 3' blond punk who narrated the film in a series of postcards to his laid-up friend Lupas. At the end, when the team finally made it to their 4-inning charity game in the Houston Astrodome, they were down 5-0 in the bottom of the 2nd, when **POW**, the game was called for lack of time--a bureau-cratic phuckup. Everyone was really disappointed, of course, but they filed off the field like they were told and figured that you just can't butt against the System.
Little Tanner, though, wouldn't budge. In the middle of the arena, laughed at by thousands of amused adults, the little kid kept screaming up "No! The game isn't over! What about Lupas? The game isn't over!" A couple of Off[ic]als came out to gather him up, but they couldn't catch him--not little Tanner! He dodged one way, then the next, spraying them with trackdust and catching one in the groin with 2nd base. The audience, naturally, ate it up--but in that particularly condescending way in which growed-ups regard the antics of children who try to resist the inevitable. His teammates, however, saw it differently. They saw Tanner doing what none of them had dared--stand up for themselves, for what they knew was right, and bloody well MAKE things come out right. First Kelly, then the rest of the team poured out of the dugout and raised up a rallying cry, "Let them play! Let them play! Let them play!"
The audience, in typical sportsgazer fashion, responded to the twin opportunities to scream their lungs out without budging from their seat, and to follow the bandwagon which was sweeping through the stands like a fire blown before a slightly inebriated if enthusiastic wind. The rest, of course, followed through with predictable Hollywood tradition--the Bad News good guys won, Kelly was reunited with his father, and every dog had his day.
I kept thinking about Tanner, though.
*Did* anything change? Not really. The stands were still full of Texan swine ready to root for whomever filled their trough, the bureaucrats still ran the show, and no-one would really give a rat's ass who won the game in a week or so. Kelly would still end up a high-school junkie, Ahmad never would get that social justice he was always clamoring about, and Tanner... well, who knew what it would take to break his fiery spirit in the end? But break it probably would. Most do, you know. So a historical shift didn't seem to take place, at least none that would take hold.
But *something* happened there on that field, or people like Jay and Ron wouldn't still remember the movie and its characters so well when other '70's phenomena have gone the way of Wolfman Jack and Democratic presidents. What happened, and this is an ephemeral spotlight if there ever was one, was...hope. Not a promise of victory, not even a guarantee that any victory would last or matter. But at least a call to get your asses off the bench and say, "Hey! This is BULLSHIT!"
Recognition is what Tanner brought to those dispirited ballplayers, and if you watch the film you can see it in Kelly's eyes. A startled look flashed 'cross his face, as he looked out from beneath his moody locks: "Hey, everybody, look! Tanner's still out there!" Out there? The statement made no sense. How could anyone still be out there, when the orders clearly came that they were to exit the field? Why, here were the Astros filing in, ready to take their place! But that oddness, that disjuncted sense of something not-quite-fitting which so pissed off the two officials still scrambling to corner their quarry, had lodged in Kelly's mind and he was damned if he was going to let it get away.
What Tanner represented was *possibility*, if nothing else a *chance* of things being otherwise. Even as the crowd roared their appreciation of Tanner's determination, Kelly felt a deeper appreciation of what the punky shortstop was showing. WE DO NOT HAVE TO SUBMIT! Things may be shit, we may be dealt a losing hand and be stuck with some pretty biased rules, but that does NOT determine the way we have to respond to life. We may go down: in a ballgame, in school, in a Nazi cattle car rattling its way home to roost; but we do not have to bow to cruelty, ill-fortune, or simple incompetence. We have the freedom always to resist, and change if not the world then ourselves.