When I was young, my dad introduced me and my siblings to the Herbie movies. Because we already named our vehicles and attributed feelings to many inanimate objects, it was fun to watch the little VW Beatle cruise around, win races, and have fun with his human friends and enemies. The movies were definitely silly, but they were fun. Yesterday I watched a remake with Lindsay Lohan, and it was predictably silly. There was something interesting about it, though.

I’m the sort of person who can’t always handle conflict, in person or on TV. I have to look away, get away, close my eyes and wait for it to be over. I don’t like slapstick humor, in general. Sometimes it just depends on the mood I’m in, but in general, I don’t like seeing people callously beat up on each other. It’s one thing if it’s a battle for good over evil, it’s entirely different to see someone hurt just for a joke.

Watching the Herbie movies, though, is different. Often, one of the participants in the slapstick hurtfulness is a car. A car who appears to have feelings, but a car all the same. It’s different to watch a car be beat up. I think this is why some kids go through a stage of not wanting to see real people on the TV; they want to distance themselves from the conflicts they see on screen. When the car is one of the parties in a fight, it takes some of the intensity out of the situation. It makes a difference if the scene is played for laughs or meant to be a tearjerker, of course, but it’s that distance that ultimately makes the movie enjoyable, a comedy and not a tragedy.

It’s a comedy when the car gets to beat up on someone, especially if he’s a bad guy. There’s nothing wrong in thinking it’s a tragedy when a person beats up on someone else, even if he’s a bad guy. Labeling people as bad guys and good guys also helps us cope with the conflict, with the violence, but it should make us pause whenever we see someone get beat up on screen. I’m thankful I can still see tragedy in people being cruel to each other, and yet I’m a little sorry I can’t see the humor in the TV scenes as others can. As a kid it made me feel weird to not like the kind of movies other people liked, and not to have seen the things others had. I wish I could tell my younger self that it is alright, and there’s no need to desensitize myself to tragedy. There is no reason on earth why I should be fine with people beating each other up on TV simply because it’s on TV.

Now, I like to watch The Waltons, and in different shows there are scenes that make me want to cringe inside, but it’s for the right reasons, because what is happening is a tragedy. The same goes for watching M*A*S*H*, which has a mixture of comedy and tragedy. These shows are about real people, and they do a good job of keeping the tragedy right in plain sight, as well as the comedy. I like watching the Herbie movies, because they are slapstick comedy without the tragedy of humans beating up on other humans, and because they remind me of good childhood memories. I watch a lot of things I would never have dreamed of sitting through as a kid, and yet I’m glad to get the reminder from a little VW Bug that sometimes it’s better not to watch the violence.


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