Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Psychology of Whit Stillman

Today I read an article from a 1998 Psychology Today interview of filmmaker Whit Stillman.

Do you know his films? In short, he has preppy people as the characters in his films, those who are generally parodied in films like Caddyshack and so forth. The films contain great conversations and a witty look-in on a subculture. But the great insight is that these people are human beings and so subject to the fears and hopes of every other person.

This plays out for them through the problem of the American dream. By problem I mean this:
Those who start at the top have very little chance of moving up -- so in a way, to succeed is to simply maintain one's position (financially, in the social pecking order, whatever). It's more likely that preppy people (true preppies, I mean, whose families are in the social register and all that -- and I am not one) will go down -- that is, fail to meet the great deeds of their forebears.

The world has changed and it is too competitive for even the well connected to assume their position is secure -- there are no fewer easy ways into the best schools and so on. (Maybe another posting on how the standards of success have thus subtly shifted is in order, but not today). For now, you may want to read this interview and click on the title of this post to see the clip of the film. And here's one taste for you:


If you examine "fables" closely--Aesop, for instance--there's often something a little contrived about them, a little dishonest. Take "The Tortoise and the Hare." Okay, the tortoise won one race. But--do you think that hare is really going to lose any more races to turtles? Not on your life. By limiting the fable to an absurdly small frame--one race--a bogus lesson is learned--and then for centuries taught young people the world over.


I liked that tortoise...


So do I--"Virtue rewarded" and all that. But if you were a betting person, would you say that "turtle won against the hare--in future races, I'm backing him." No. It'd be absurd. That race was almost certainly a fluke. Afterwards, the tortoise is still a tortoise, the hare still...a hare.

(the interview: