Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Documentaries

We recently decided to try out Netflix. I'm not entirely sure why- it just seemed more convenient than going to the video store, and a (much) better value than either the video store or On-Demand cable movies. Along with the DVD rental service they are known for, Netflix has recently started streaming movies online free for members. The catalog of those movies isn't all that big yet, but there are a lot of documentaries. I really enjoy documentaries, but I generally don't choose to rent them. But, watching one for free on my computer while I also do some work at night? That, I am willing to do.

So, in the last couple of weeks, I have caught The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters, Helvetica, Confessions of a Superhero, Word Wars, and The Future We Will Create. All of these movies interested me to differing degrees and in different ways, but they all had one thing in common: People who are obsessed, absolutely single-minded obsessed to an unhealthy degree, with one thing. These people sacrifice their jobs, their families, their lifestyles, and their physical & emotional health to pursue their obsessions, obsession which often have little to no reward. For example, "Word Wars" is about several of the world's top Scrabble players. Yes, there is a thing as competitive tournament Scrabble, and it pays money. Many of these players consider themselves "professional" Scrabble players, inasmuch as they have no other profession, in order to devote all of their time to Scrabble. To be sure, these players are exceptionally good. At one point, one of the players we are following wins a significant tournament. His cash reward? $875.

How does someone become so single-mindedly obsessed with something like Scrabble? Or Donkey Kong? Or a font? Or Superman? Or anything? I think the answer is that our culture says that in order to be successful, you have to sacrifice everything for that one purpose. In practice, if enough people do that, it becomes true. In general, people who outwork others are going to outperform them. I am a reasonably good Scrabble player, but I could not beat someone with no job who spends 6 hours a day doing anagrams and memorizing word lists. I'm a reasonably good businessman, but it's hard to compete with someone who works 18 hour days and ignores their family (or doesn't have one).

So, am I willing to do what it takes to be successful? Honestly, I don't know that I am. Or maybe I just have a different definition of "success." Is success limited to becoming the best at something? To making tons of money? Or can success be much more modest? Can success be found in moderation? Can a guy with a job he enjoys, a family he loves, meaningful friendships and a supportive church be considered successful? Obviously, the answer to me is "yes." But what about spiritually? Are we not called to live sacrificial lives? To lay down our families, give away our money, pick up our cross and follow him? Does this sound like something that can be done moderately or does it sound like something that requires a single-minded obsession? As Kierkegaard says, "Purity of heart is to will one thing." Not, "Purity of heart is to live a balanced life."

Do I need to stop watching documentaries about really strange people?

6 comments:

Aaron Helman said...

You should, um, research Felix Pie's injury.

Dan & Nancy Erickson said...

Well, that's disturbing. I'm glad I'm not Felix Pie. Very, very glad.

Connie said...

Yes, you need to stop watching these things - it makes you think too much. Yes, you are a "reasonably good Scrabble player" To whom do you attribute this skill? and finally yes- I think you are extremely successful by anyone's standards.

Dan & Nancy Erickson said...

Is there such a thing as thinking too much? Is asking that question thinking too much? In terms of Scrabble, there used to be a lady who could beat me, but I haven't seen her in YEARS...

Connie said...

Those sound like fighting words to me. It's on mister

Charlie said...

Hey there,
I am the Producer and DP of Confessions of a Superhero. I'm glad that my film inspired so much thought. That is something that Matt Ogens (Director/Producer) and I always intended to accomplish and hope for.

Keep watching Documentaries....
Charlie Gruet