Spoiler Alert: I will be talking about the outcome of Whiplash somewhere in this post. Where, I can't really say, but I'm sure it'll come up.
In the last two weeks, I've missed three days of work due to inclement weather. Namely ice storms, which is the Texas term for when the heavens open and dump tons of snow and sleet on the city, and then the temperature rattles down to way below freezing so that everything for miles around is evenly covered with a solid sheet of ice and it's basically impossible to leave your house without falling on the steps. Now, I spent a goodly chunk of my formative years in Salt Lake City, where the whole valley fills up with clouds around about November 1 and just pretty much stays solidly socked in until March. That's bad, too, but these Texas winters are just amazing. The whole thing may sound like not so much if you live in Buffalo, New York or North Dakota or something, when you get seven feet of snow every time the governor sneezes, but when an ice storm like this hits, everything just grinds to a halt. It has to. You literally can't leave your house.
Fortunately, the power has stayed on the whole time (knock on Formica) and I have software that will let me load into my work computer, so I can get a few things done while I'm sitting in my kitchen. Unfortunately, a lot of things I need to do my job are on my desk, or in the file room, or otherwise inaccessible. So I end up working on stuff I need to do, but have been trying to avoid, like populating this table in Excel that lists and catalogs about 30,000 pages worth of documents generated by a certain business. Or reading hundreds of pages of somebody's medical records and breaking them down into three talking points for a lawyer who's writing a complaint, Fun stuff like that. All good, all important, all gotta be done, but not really the sort of thing I feel most proud of when somebody asks me why I do what I do. Or whether or not a college degree really does any good in the long-term prospects for a job and a career.
Which brings us back to Whiplash (told you we'd get there), and the whole reason anybody goes to music school, vs. medical school or law school or guitar building school or any other old school, in the first place. (Like what I did there?) About 2/3 of the way through Whiplash, after he's been thrown out of music school and Fletcher, the instructor, has been fired by the same music school, our protagonist meets up with Fletcher once again at a little jazz club where Fletcher is playing the piano. Fletcher sees him, waves him over, buys him a drink, and there's some actual conversation, during which Fletcher explains himself, somewhat. And what he has to say is actually very interesting. He tells a few stories about legendary jazz artists and road blocks they hit along the way. About how they screwed something up, made mistakes, were otherwise not at their best at this thing they were best at. About how each one swore that whatever just happened would never happen again, and because of that, they became legendary jazz artists. Fletcher says something like, "Do you know how Miles Davis got to be Miles Davis? Because he never again let his horn be flat when he was playing with Dizzy Gillespie," or something like that (and yes, I know I just mixed up two eras, not to mention two instruments, but hey, jazz is not something I know a lot about, okay?) Fletcher saw his role as a music teacher to be the obstacle, the guy everybody's afraid of, the guy who yells at you when you screw up so that you solemnly swear to yourself that it will never, ever happen again (and thus, later on, you achieve greatness). He finishes his soliloquy by adding that the most ruinous words any music teacher ever speaks to a student are, "Good job."
And really, being on the receiving end of this speech, it sort of makes sense. Does his classroom behavior discourage students? Maybe, Fletcher says, "but Miles Davis wouldn't have been discouraged." Maybe not, but we can't all be Miles Davis. Still, as I mentioned in my last post on Whiplash, if you're not going to be Miles Davis, there's really no point in going to music school. It's the non-Miles Davises among us who get kicked out of music school for failing piano. Only the Miles Davises of the world are going to graduate, go into the performance world and get good jobs. The rest of us are going to become music teachers. Or lawyers or engineers or construction workers or whatever else pays the bills, and maybe play a little music on the side. Is that fair? No. But lots of things aren't fair, and music school is just the tip of the iceberg.
Of course, we hear this speech, and sort of come to understand Fletcher a little, before we find out he's completely sociopathic and probably a little bit crazy. The next thing we know, Fletcher's entered a major music contest with a new ensemble and then proceeds to throw the entire ensemble under the bus to get even with one guy. Let me explain to you how often that Just. Doesn't. Happen. Music teachers live and die by the results of these contests and what Fletcher does here is, well, just crazy. Yet the whole thing ends in a way nobody saw coming. Well, I didn't see it coming, anyway, and I quit reading murder mysteries quite a few years ago when I realized I usually knew murderer, motive and method before anyone had even died yet.
So we're left with this question: Is being an asshole ever justified? Buddhist-y speaking, the answer is no. Good behavior toward others is basically required as a condition of being human. But, if being an asshole is what's required to fix a given situation, or to save a few lives we do it, and then we tell everybody we're sorry after the fact. If, for example, the only way to get proper medical attention for your significant sweetie, after the pre-surgery unit has already screwed up three times and is about to do it for a fourth, is to raise your fist and yell about the standard of care and how they're not meeting it, then you do it. (Not that that's ever happened to me, or anything.) And you come back afterward with a box of chocolates for the staff and explain you were "under duress" at the time and you're really a nice person and they're all just fine, fine doctors and nurses who were evidently having a very bad day. And maybe they believe you. Or maybe they call security. Anyway, it's a good way to avoid eating a box of chocolates by yourself.
In any case, I think most of us are nice people and are trying to do the right thing most of the time, But then, some of us are Fletcher. Maybe the important thing is to be able to tell the Fletchers of the planet for what they are, and if we can't beat them, find a way around them. At least before you're part of the ensemble that gets thrown under the bus.
By the way, in case anybody missed my "adults only" post last week, here's a picture of a big, throbbing cock.