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An American "Ground Hog Day"

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People are surprised when I tell them that "Ground Hog Day" is my favorite film. I think it's a masterpiece, practically perfect, and very profound. A lot of other folks think its a no-big-deal comedy. Just a vehicle for Bill Murray to do his shtick. But then I'm not altogether alone here. In a recent issue of THE WEEK, there was this little item:
Every February, the Philadelphia Meditation Center hosts a screening of the 1993 Bill Murray comedy Goundhog Day. To Buddhists, Murray's portrayal of a jaded weatherman stuck in an endlessly repeating day illustrates the concept of samsara, the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth. "It's a very Buddhist movie," says Ken Klein of the Tiebetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia.
I've used this film with students-- twice with groups of bright high school seniors about to graduate, and once with an adult class of about ten mature and intelligent people-- because I think its teaching is very deep and profound. And to me the teaching is a Christian one. Well, if it resonates deeply with both Buddhist and Christian perspectives, there must be something important going on here, no? In Ground Hog Day, for those who don't know, this TV-weatherman, who is unpleasant and arrogant (but also extremely witty, in a cutting kind of way), is forced to live the same day over and over again --waking up every morning with memory of all the previous ways he's lived it, and how they failed to bring him and fulfillment-- until he gets it right. Which is a very long time because his whole way of looking at the world, of conceiving his place in the world, of treating the world, is so screwed up. He's got tons to unlearn and tons more to learn. And it doesn't come easy. This man persists in his spiritually benighted and losing ways until he goes through the deepest, suicidal despair. But then he finally hits that place --of despair but also of surrender-- where Christian miracles happen, and where he does change. Through the process of error and failure, he eventually grows into a different kind of person, into something much more useful to the world, and much more beautiful for the world to behold. And a part of that beauty is that the arrogance has become humility, and the selfishness has become a life of service. A story of redemption and transformation, brilliantly and hillariously told. Like I said, my favorite movie. And lately, I've been having this fantasy about America going through its own kind of Ground Hog Day experience, of Americans being compelled to keep going back over the past six years. I'd like to see America keep redoing it all until we as a nation learn where we went wrong, and until we learn a new way of being from which we get it right. Reliving to relearn. As in the Bill Murray flick, the only way to get out of the nightmare of the continual disappointment of one's hopes would be to have a complete change of heart. The only way to get what you want is to be spiritually transformed into someone who isn't just about getting what he wants. I'd like to see it. But I can't figure out just how such an American Ground Hog Day would go, scriptwise, just how the film would unfold. Maybe the movie would follow a handful of representative characters --the way INDEPENDENCE DAY did-- to illustrate the different odysseys by which transformation and enlightenment is gained by different groups of American with important lessons to learn. I would love to see such a voyage traversed by one of those good Christians who care deeply about what's right but bought the image of false righteousness by which the evil Bushites conned them. Maybe some Americans would re-rexperience and reinterpret scenes like the dishonorable and hypocritical Republican assault on the Clinton presidency, with the new interpretation leading to different political consequences. Maybe some would pick up on some of the clues about the spirit that animates the Bushites, for example in the way Bush mocked Karla Faye Tucker, a woman he'd put death --mocked her for her begging for mercy, and with the issue being whether she had been reborn as Bush himself claims to be. And the new insight could lead to a choice of a different political path. Maybe some would take another look at how the media treated Bush and how they treated Gore --Gore's awkwardnesses being given more attention and treated more seriously than Bush's patent dishonesty and incompetence-- and right then they'd figure out that they could not depend on this corporate media to give them the truth. Maybe Americans would look at that whole march toward war in Iraq, and see the ugly power-lust behind the lies. Maybe they'd even look into that part of themselves that chose to believe the lies, and that embraced the hypocrisy of doing ugly things in the name of grand principles. So many possible scenes to relive, until the eyes are open, and the heart is changed. Maybe the cosmos would force Americans to relive this dark period until they'd confronted what within their own minds and spirits had gone awry to allow them to make the wrong choices they did, to lead then into helping evil come into power. Maybe, in other words, this American Groundhog Day would show our country achieve the kind of self-knowledge that is the first step toward redemption. So many things the American people ought to relive and relearn so that this nation --which has become a very unpleasant and arrogant player in the world system-- can traverse the opening years of the new millennium the right way, having come to a place of humility and devotion. And, in this American Groundhog Day, that nation that made itself ugly --strutting around, waving its flag as if it were God Himself-- would emerge at last transformed intosomething truly worth celebrating. By the end of the film, the spirit of something holy would shine through a nation reborn, a nation whose soul has been cleansed of the sin that these past six years have so disturbingly displayed. I'd really like to see it.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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