The Breakfast Table

Cynical Rick

Dear Lucianne–

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the Clinton situation before we quit for good, but life is too short for me to feel obliged to respond to every salvo you let fly. Not being a zealot, I’m happy to sit back and watch some of your spitballs sail harmlessly by. Hell, they’re not aimed at me anyhow.

It was nice, though, after all this week’s spritzing, to be asked a simple question of fact. Especially one I can answer. The phrase “character arc,” which I started hearing at script pitch meetings four or five years ago–usually in connection with being turned down, needless to say–refers to the ways a character changes (usually for the better) as a result of the incidents in a film’s plot. Cynical Rick is trying to make a vaguely unsavory living running a bar in war-torn Casablanca. But by the end, although he’s lost the woman he loves, he’s rediscovered his mislaid idealism. He isn’t the person he was when the film began. That’s his arc.

I’d say it’s premature–not to mention presumptuous–to offer any observations about Monica Lewinsky’s arc, however. There’s still a whole lot of movie to go.

I’m always puzzled by disaster coverage, whether it’s floods or tornadoes or plane crashes or earthquakes. These things can be terrible human tragedies, of course, but I’m not quite sure why they constitute big front-page above-the-fold news. Other than acknowledging the event and mourning the victims, there’s nowhere to go with stories like that, nothing much to do with them beyond reflecting on the fragility of existence and finding out the phone number of the Red Cross in order to make a contribution.

Unlike, say, the Las Vegas rape/murder case, which raises real questions and has serious philosophical, legal, and moral ramifications. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Berkeley rally yesterday was well-attended and peaceful. There were no reports of vigilante action against the student, David Cash Jr. Nothing got resolved, of course, although the university offered one concession: Anyone who lives in Cash’s dorm and wishes to move will be permitted to do so. But I’m sure this story is far from over. And I can’t help wondering what arc David Cash’s life is going to end up describing.

Chemical assistance for athletes? You know, I honestly don’t have a clue what to feel about that, regardless of whether the drugs are little green pills from the health food store or anabolic steroids cooked up in a lab. Let me try this analogy on you, and you can tell me whether or not you think it’s totally off the wall: Suppose a medical researcher relies on amphetamines to heighten his concentration and sharpen his analytical skills, and then discovers a cure for cancer? Is his achievement negated by the presence of drugs in his system, or do they merely represent one tool among many for optimizing his performance? I’m not sure exactly where I come down on this one, but I find it hard to get too exercised about it.

A whole letter without politics! I regard that as progress.