But The Rain Still Came
In the end, every one of us will be tested. And every one of us will be found wanting.
So, inevitably I guess, Creighton is dead. From what I understand, and as others have noted, the character was loosely based in part on real-life New Orleans filmmaker Stevenson Palfi, who took his own life in December of 2005 after suffering a bout of depression following the flooding of his house in Mid-City and the loss of his film archives. I suppose we can also now argue that he was inspired by Edna Pontellier, the heroine of Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel The Awakening, who ended her life by drowning herself in the Gulf of Mexico.
We’ve talked a lot about Creighton’s personal failings. He was rude. Boorish. Hypocritical. He sometimes treated his loved ones badly. Some would say he squandered his own abilities, did not face up to his own responsibilities, while demanding perfect behavior from others. And he took what a few people will likely call the coward’s way out. The selfish solution. He took his toys and went home and left his family to clean up the mess and live with the aftermath.
We expect a lot out of our fellow human beings, and even more out of the characters we read about in novels or watch in films or on TV. We love our righteous heroes: Spartacus, James Bond, Atticus Finch. Strong, capable, forthright people with right on their side. We’re even bigger fans of our anti-heroes: Yossarian, Jimmy McNulty, Omar, Tony Soprano. Flawed selfish protagonists, or even murderers who live by a code, however self-serving, are admirable and charismatic to us.
We like righteous victims and noble sufferers: Anne Frank, Precious, Bubbles. Characters beset by rough circumstances or the evils of others, or plagued with a mortal weakness, who manage to hold their heads up high all the way to the end, finding eventual redemption or at least a virtuous death.
We even love villains: Richard III, Randall Flagg, Marlo Stanfield. Characters who are the purest of evil but are righteously, perfectly, wonderfully evil. And strong. We love that. Evil and strong.
The only kind of character that makes us cringe, that makes us recoil, that we hold in contempt, is the one who has human imperfections, debilitating weakness, and who caves in to that weakness and crumples. We hate weakness. It’s ugly. It’s disturbing. We want to grab a weak character and shake them, slap them. “Get up! Pull yourself together!” Don’t be weak in front of us. It’s too hard to watch. If you’re going to be a victim, please at least have the decency to grow up to be strong and noble, to persevere, like Precious. If instead you grow up to be a mentally-disturbed foul-tempered drunk, well, all we’re going to see is a foul-tempered drunk. Victim or not, you chose to to live your life a certain way, and so if we’re going to dole out sympathy and compassion, we’re going to give it to that girl down the street who is righteous and strong.
Antoine lost his house in the flood and you didn’t see him falling apart like Creighton. LaDonna lost her brother to a Kafka-esque nightmare and you didn’t see her yelling at her family like Creighton. Albert lost friends and may lose his entire way of life and you didn’t see him bowing down like Creighton.
Hurricane Rita hit Lake Charles and you didn’t see them looting and running away like in New Orleans. Grand Forks flooded in 1997 and you didn’t seem them looting or putting their hand out for Federal aid like New Orleans. New York was attacked by terrorists and you didn’t see them descend into lawlessness and years of political infighting trying to rebuild, like New Orleans. If New Orleans had spent more money on education and levees and less on booze and plastic beads, maybe they wouldn’t be in this mess. If New Orleans wasn’t so much more corrupt than the rest of the world then maybe it wouldn’t be such a waste to send them more money for rebuilding. If New Orleans is so great, why is it dangerous just to walk down the street in broad daylight? If New Orleanians are too stupid to build their homes above sea level, why do we have to bail them out?
Why does a fucked-up place like New Orleans deserve our sympathy? Why can’t New Orleans stand up and be strong, and righteous, and not always react with anger and self-pity every time another disaster lands on their shores? “Get up! Pull yourself together!”
It’s easier, really, to ration our sympathy. To withhold our compassion, and offer it only to those who are truly worthy. And those who have moral failings, debilitating weakness, personal corruption, or unrepentant character defects? It’s easier to judge, dismiss, and turn our backs. Whether they are imperfect humans like Creighton, or imperfect cities like New Orleans, the simplest path is to simply walk away in disgust.
But we do so at our own peril. Because we are all imperfect. We are all, in one way or another, weak.
Thanks to Linda Takamine for her valuable insights on this topic. Y’all can consider this the Sunday night open thread for this week.