Monday, January 3, 2011


There have been three excellent coming of age TV series that were cancelled after one season: My So Called Life, Freaks & Geeks, and My Life As Liz. No--wait! Liz has been renewed for a second season. Now we will be able to find out what come after, like reading Remarque's The Road Back (or Marchwitza's Storm over the Ruhr) after All Quiet on the Western Front. But not like that show Jen Love Hewett was in after Party of Five.

In Freaks & Geeks, Lindsay Weir comes of age. The process begins when illusions are shattered, and ends with the quintessential Baby Boomer choice: establishment and conformity or fringe and freedom. This is displayed in our national discourse with great drama in the presidential election process. But let's not go there. Lindsay's version of the choice is between going to college to be a part of the top 1% or heading off in a van to follow the Grateful Dead tour. We all want to get in the van, but somehow conformity envelopes us.

Jia Baoyu, in the Hongloumeng, manages to choose both. He fulfils his obligation to his family by fathering a son and by passing the national examinations in such a way they he gains the attention of the Son of Heaven himself. But right after that, he vanishes in the 18th century Chinese equivalent of following the Grateful Dead: by becoming a wandering monk.

Can we choose both? Perhaps to do this is to fall between two stools, and we end up with neither. Or there other choices that we cannot see? Other mental and cultural spaces to be discovered and explored? As we get more and more wrap'd up in our electronic hibernaculum, will it even be possible to reach the fringe and find freedom?

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