Thursday, March 22, 2007

Who am I?
(Or, "Jukeboxes never made mistakes")

I love to ponder things such as Los Angeles, celebrity, and the so-called shallowness found in the glorious locale that is SoCal. This may be part of why I connected strongly to certain parts of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (which I loved, have I mentioned that?) I find it annoying when people, especially people on the East Coast, talk about Los Angeles with a dismissive wave of their hands of judgment. They accuse people there of being shallow, of driving everywhere even if it's only three blocks away, of being obsessed with celebrity culture, and just generally doing things that everyone else in the nation/most of world also does. I have long since determined that most of the scathing indictments of L.A. that you hear are born of ignorance, jealousy, or both.

I love it there. I miss it, even though I had to move on. I feel conflicted about it in many ways. I was miserable there for a short time, and I was deliriously happy with life there. I would say that it was in fact life in Los Angeles that taught me how to live.

On the other hand, I can totally be self-deprecating and also I can laugh at quirky things, and L.A. is nothing if not quirky. So, for example, I rather appreciate lines from Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said such as this:

"'I hate L.A.'...
'So do I,' the pol said...'But we must learn to live with it: it's there.'"
-p. 122

Yet I also appreciate the much bigger and broader statement that this book makes about celebrity, identity, and self. The whole plot of the book, of course, questions whether without your identity you would really exist. Think about that for a second. The answer probably goes the other way, really, in that once you exist you begin to construct your identity. So, Philip K. Dick probes this and takes it to another level. If you were Jason Taverner, a celebrity performer whose television show is seen every week by 30 million viewers and one day you woke up and suddenly, inexplicably, no one knew who you were, even the woman(en) you'd been sleeping with, and there was no record of your birth, your fame, your place in the world, what would that mean for you?

In the imagined dystopic police state Dick has created in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (which, by the way, have you noticed I'm not abbreviating that title? I really like the title) it would mean for starters that you need to get your hands on some identity cards, and quick, lest you be shipped off to a forced labor camp or taken out by a pol or a nat. And that is what our hero sets out to do, setting the weird book's plot in motion. But later when his identity is regained (and didn't we know it would be, really?) you're forced to think about what it would mean to lose yourself like that.

Like, if a celebrity fell in the forest and there were no paparazzi there to snap pictures, would it really matter? That sort of thing. But what if YOU fell in the forest? Don't we all just want people to care about us? I used to think about this all the time. Especially when I lived in L.A. and I started knowing more and more people who were related to/dating/working with famous people, ever reducing the degrees of separation. Or who had some notoriety and/or became famous themselves. It never really bothered me that people are interested in someone who knows someone famous. I think it's a lot like high school. I mean, how do there get to be popular people? Sure, some people are friendly and outgoing and involved, and exponentially their "fame" grows, but that doesn't explain it all. At some point popularity feeds upon itself; that's why by senior year you can often predict the same four people who will get nominated for homecoming queen etc. It's the same as someone like Paris Hilton, who becomes ever more famous just for being famous.

Jason is so happy when he gets his identity back, and the reader is SO happy for him. With him. It's quite the exciting moment, there in the coffee shop, when Ms. Pottery Thang innocently strolls back from the jukebox and is like, OK, I'm playing your song. Suddenly, Jason (not to mention me along with him) is in a daze, What?! It's there?! And he continues to marvel, through many playings of the song, at his very existence. Which has been reinstated.

"'Again I'm real,' he said. 'But if it could happen once, for two days--' To come and go like this, to fade in and out--
'Maybe we should leave,' Mary Anne said apprehensively.
That cleared his mind. 'Sorry,' he said, wanting to reassure her.
'I just mean that people are listening.'
'It won't hurt them,' he said. 'Let them listen; let them see how you carry your worries and troubles with you even when you're a world-famous star.'"
- p. 180

We have this great thing here at law school called anonymous grading. On our exams, and on this most recent (huge, dastardly) assignment in our appellate advocacy class, we put our given final exam number instead of our names, and only after the thing has been graded is the product linked to our identity. I see why it happens. It amuses me none the less. Also they are five digit numbers and mine begins with two, so I kept writing 2-X-X-X-X, and in my head then I would start singing from Les Miserables, "Who am I?! Who am I?! Two!-four!-six!-oh!-one!!!!!!!" What a dramatic moment it is when Jean Valjean reveals himself, he who has gone into hiding and come out of hiding, always protecting people he loves and striving for the greater good. Well, I mean, Valjean has a lot of dramatic moments of course. Anyway, I was also thinking during one of my exams last semester as well as during this appellate brief we just wrote that my professors who KNEW me would know it was my exam whether my name was on it or not. I've long been told my "voice" (the figurative one) comes through in my writing, and I can see it happening, usually.

Well...look at me. More information, but still a lot of rambling. I must say, though, that I LOVED this book. When I read the ending, on the subway last night, the last words made my heart skip a beat, made my spirit swell. And I'm totally going to say more about that. Tomorrow.

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