Sunday, November 14, 2010

Coming Down in the World...

... is the theme of two narratives I've read/seen in the last few days. One is the best-selling memoir by Michael Gates Gill, son of famed NEW YORKER writer Brendan Gill, HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE. The other is the new movie MORNING GLORY.

There is a new happy-talk paradigm in this country that losing all your money and/or job and/or social position is supposed to bring home to you the importance of what really matters: love, family, the dignity of simple work. That's the theme of Gill's book. A former creative director at advertising giant J. Walter Thompson, Gill grew up affluent and continued that life with a huge house, wife, four kids. He was laid off at 53, then had an affair that, along with spectacular financial mismanagement, lost him everything. For ten years he tried to start a consulting business, failed, and at 63 went to work at the 96th Street Starbucks in NYC. He did everything from cleaning toilets to serving coffee, both of which "made me happier than I'd ever been before."

I'm not doubting Gill's word (how can I know what makes the man happy?) However, the reasons for that happiness do not come through in the book because Gill is such a bad writer: bland, un-nuanced, given to either abstracts or else rhapsodies over cleaning products. The book has been picked up for a feel-good movie with Tom Hanks, which probably says something or other.

The other coming-down-in-the-world saga, MORNING GLORY, is much different. For one thing, it's actually entertaining. Harrison Ford is a world-class newsman forced by his contract onto a morning show like TODAY, but perennially in fourth place in the TV ratings. Rachel McAdams is the peppy new executive director hired to raise those ratings. Her clashes with Ford, his grim refusal to do fluff pieces, and the idiocies of morning TV are all fun to watch. The ending is too feel-good, maybe, but at least Ford's fall from the pinnacle of his profession is not made to look like a gain. Much.

This recession/depression/whatever-you-want-to-call-it has hit all kinds of people in all kinds of ways. Somewhere between Michael Gill and Michael Moore is a real narrative, with both the real negatives and real gains of coming down in the world, waiting to be made. Maybe someone will.

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