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On our podcast, Tito and I discuss art and entertainment as a way to find greater meaning in the everyday “escapes.” Movies and television captivate so much of our time and imagination that it only seems fitting that it be consumed with purpose.

But there is another, and arguably more influential, form of entertainment that we have yet to discuss: sports. The original entertainment of our world, sports and athletic competitions speak to a primal desire to compete and work as a team. Even more than an ongoing television show with captivating characters, sports touch us on an emotional level and seemingly turn us into different people. Given the amount of time (and money) people invest in particular sports or teams, Br. Tito and I felt it best to make it the topic of show this week.

Why do sports matter so much to people, and what can we learn from them?

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I have a friend that only reads non-fiction. He likes biographies, news articles, and reports published in academic journals. Why waste time, he wonders, with things that are not real, with stories that are made up? For him, one should just stick to the facts.

Naturally, I don’t agree with him. Quite obviously, given our previous episodes of this podcast, I find that fiction can actually capture truth in ways that non-fiction cannot, helping us to enter into a reality far from our own to learn something new about ourselves and others. But I think it’s more than that. Not only can fiction capture the truth, but there is a misconception about non-fiction that just because it is “factual” that it is without bias or subjectivity. This is patently false.

Unfortunately, many viewers/readers of non-fiction tend to approach these works of art without a critical eye; they tend to accept what is shown as the truth without reflection because, well, it’s “non-fiction.” In documentaries, for example, one is able to see with their own eyes the primary sources. They can watch the actual events, hear the actual historical figure speak. It must be true, we tell ourselves.

The fact of the matter is that works of non-fiction and fiction—while using opposite approaches—essentially seek to do the same thing: they tell stories to transmit truth. They choose what to be included and what to leave out. They build story arcs, build drama, make arguments, and seek to evoke a response from the viewer/reader. Works of non-fiction may use nothing but factual pieces of information, but in choosing what to present, and more importantly, what to leave out, they inevitably share a truth that is incomplete. No one is able to share everything about every situation that influenced the topic at hand.

That’s where things get interesting, and what Br. Tito and I discussed in this week’s podcast. How do documentaries reveal much-needed truth, but how do they also leave us with more questions than answers?

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In many stories, a villain serves as a foil to the protagonist, challenging his/her values and driving the plot forward. The protagonist is often the hero precisely because of how they interact with the villain.

But what happens when the villain is the main character? What happens when the perspective of the story is of someone that we cannot identify with, cannot root for, and cannot emulate? This is the case of the anti-hero.

Although sparse in movies and television, the anti-hero presents an interesting opportunity for the audience. Just as the inspiring figure in aspirational works challenges the audience to seek more by filling them with hope, the anti-hero does so by showing them what will happen if we don’t shape up. Often beginning as relatable and identifiable, the anti-hero progresses throughout a story in the direction they shouldn’t, giving in to their desires and building upon their flaws until they are nothing but a villain, a character that we want nothing to do with.

This week, Br. Tito and I discuss some of cinema’s most iconic anti-heroes and share what we think we can learn from them.

 

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My favorite show of all time is The West Wing. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this multiple times before. Between the amazing writing, dynamic acting, high drama, and subtle humor, I can’t think of a show I’d rather watch 1000 times than this. Because it’s more than just entertainment, more than just something to fill the time. When I watch that show, I am challenged to new ways of thinking, inspired and filled with hope, and find myself wondering what could be.

Of course, there has been one criticism of the show that I have accepted over the years: it is a bit unrealistic in its optimism. Painting a world in which Republicans and Democrats occasionally work together (while still hating each other, of course), politicians admit their faults and change their minds, and idealistic people with big ideas and open hearts are running the government (and do a decent job of it!), the viewer can’t help but sit back and say, “Wait, that’s not how the government works.”

It’s true. In its own time (1999-2006) and again today, many have offered the idea that it serves primarily as an escape from the reality of our politics, an opportunity for people to hide from the present situation in live in a fantasy world we wish were real. I’ll admit that I fall into this category at times.

But I think there’s something more to it than that. The West Wing may paint the world a bit too optimistically, but I find it to be less of a work of escapism and more of a work of aspirationThe West Wing presents the world, not as it is, but as it could be. Nothing in the show is so otherworldly that it is completely unbelievable. There is no magic, no superpowers. The characters live and work in the real world and have proper human emotions and capabilities. Everything about them is believable and possible. The world that it presents does not exist, sure, but it is one that is just beyond our grasp. When we watch the characters struggle with the events before them and show enormous character in doing the right thing, we get an opportunity to see what would be possible if we all made a change.

This, to me, is a genius work of fiction, and the jumping off point for me and Br. Tito this week. How can art challenge us to be better by presenting stories that are admittedly unrealistic and overly optimistic?

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I love a good comedy. Especially after a long day dealing with stressful and burdensome situations, there’s no better way to unwind than to have a good laugh. Often exaggerating life situations, failing to accept consequences for actions, and presenting us a world far from our own, comedies offer enough reality that we don’t need to think too hard, but not enough that we have to invest a lot of emotional energy. What can you do but relax and enjoy the ride? In many cases, a good comedy serves as an escape from what’s going on around us.

And yet, comedy can actually serve quite the opposite purpose, if done well. As Br. Tito and I discuss in this week’s podcast, using humor in art can be an extremely effective way to teach, engage people on difficult topics, and breakdown barriers that separate us. With our defenses down and our spirits up, we sometimes find ourselves unwittingly dealing with topics that we would otherwise avoid… and even enjoying the process.

More than a farce, more than an escape, effective comedy can actually be quite impactful on our world.