I just got home from your HitRecord event at Cornell University, and I wondered, why am I not out of my mind with joy? Why am I not as excited about having seen Joseph Gordon-Levitt than I was before about getting to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Have I lost my mind? Has coursework finally liquefied my brain to useless, emotionless mush? Why, oh why, am I not over-the-moon about having seen and heard the actor from my favorite movie(s) of all time?
I looked out the front passenger window of the car and saw scores of people grouped outside your tour bus. I thought, well, that’s pathetic, and then I stopped and caught myself. Reflected: wouldn’t I be doing the same thing, if I’d only thought of it first? Didn’t I go onstage to sing for the hopes of seeing your face up close (in a non-creepy, but still a bit creepy, way)? And what does this have to do at all with me not enjoying myself as I think I ought to?
One of my favorite moments of the show was when one of my friends and peers, a pre-med student named Crystal, was selected to go onstage to talk about the Occupy movement, and what it meant for her. She said, via twitter, that it would be better not to occupy Wall Street, but to occupy other people’s shoes (my paraphrasing, due to the fact that I regretfully, or maybe luckily, don’t have eidetic memory). She followed by talking about empathy being the most important element to understanding and caring about other people.
I think now, that perhaps I am lacking in empathy. I see you, Joe, as a great actor. That is not meant to be [just] a compliment – it’s a diagnosis of my own labeling of people. You are the guy who played John Blake, Arthur [insert last name here, oh-Christopher-Nolan-your-mind-is-great-in-mysterious-ways], Tom Hansen, and many more in the past and future. I’ve seen your GQ pictures, your HitRecord videos, your Red Carpet interviews. Is it any wonder that I can’t completely empathize? I have never had these experiences.
But I have never had to beg on the streets, and I have empathy for the homeless man in the subway station when my family visits New York City. I have never had a serious disease or ailment, and I have empathy for people suffering from cancer. Why is it easy to feel a sympathetic connection with these people, and maybe not you?
I think this is a problem about privilege, and the myth of meritocracy. (You see, I am a Cornell student. I have to use those big fancy terms somewhere, or my education is worthless. Apparently.) Somehow, people above us made it there on their own hard work and strength, be it mental or physical or emotional, et al. Maybe some people apply this idea, in reverse, to the homeless and the jobless and the penniless. But for some reason, it’s easier to look at the people below me on the social totem pole, and not laugh, not cry, but sympathize.
But I don’t have empathy for the people above, because I put them on a pedestal. These are the people we are told to be. America is where you make your dreams, pave your roads with gold, do and say whatever the fuck you want, man. If you’ve made it, you’ve made it. The chinks in the circuitry disappear. There is nowhere further they can go. I think, you’ve made it man. You can make short films and long films and small films, large films, you can do and say whatever the fuck you want, man.
That’s not a bad thing.
In fact, I respect it.
But maybe respect is what’s killing the joy for me. When I place you on that pedestal, even if you don’t want it, say to me, I’m just a guy: I no longer see you. And maybe this is why empathy isn’t working.
That 1% may have lied and cheated the whole way up the ladder, or maybe they put in countless hours of effort and ardor, but they’re up there, and so I put them up on a pedestal, whether I hate them, like them, don’t know who they are, don’t give a fuck about them. They’re there, I’m here. Done.
And so they aren’t on the same playing field. They’re not even on the same dimensional plane. So, they can do whatever they want. Do and say whatever the fuck they want. I might not agree, but there’s no way, legal or logistical, that I can stop them.
This is not just hopelessness. This is a loss of empathy. I forget that they too are humans. And so maybe they forget too.
I am not trying to compare you to a money-grubbing, corrupt, and corpulent CEO- okay, maybe I’m comparing you, but I’m not finding a lot of similarities, except for this: you are someone that, in my eyes, can do whatever you want. Maybe that’s not true. But the illusion hides the reality. And I cannot empathize.
I went home being jealous of the people whose hands you shook. The dancing panda that you got down and funky with. The people who sounded clever and changed your life, most probably. The girl who got on stage and stuttered and squeaked the instant 4 jocks she had never met before picked her up for your experimental short film snippet.
Really, these things all sound so silly… but of course they are. When you put someone on a pedestal, you change reality. You narrow it down to tiny, silly things. Or maybe small things put on their grandiose robes and flaunt around the room of your mind, laughing at you. Molehills and mountains. But most importantly, you change the people around you. There’s no way you can step into my shoes, or me into yours. We are cut off. And I find that sad.
That is why I came home dejected. I loved the event, felt happy about my friends who got to meet you, laughed at the crazy awesome dancers, also laughed at the not-so-crazy awesome ones, thought, that was a period of procrastination well-spent, but I was saddened by my own inability to connect.
That’s why I’m here now, why I made this new account and am now writing this on the HitRecord site. I'm putting myself out there, like it or not. It's now my time to do or say whatever the fuck I want. And maybe what I want is this: maybe I’m trying to reconnect, now that I’ve seen what I have severed. An imaginary break is both easy and difficult to fix. But the most important thing is to try. And I hope that if I see you again, I’ll be able to empathize.
Below the Pedestal, Looking Up