Monday, October 12, 2009

Lama Marut talks to Adventures in Compassion about "My Name is Earl," violence, compassion, and impermanence

The amazing and inspring Lama Marut very kindly did a video, expressly for Adventures in Compassion (in the Screen Trade), on a few topics that are near and dear to my heart. Lama Marut recently featured this blog in his newsletter, and it was really exciting for me to hear of his approval of this work, but this interview (with his associate Cindy Lee) is particularly thrilling and informative.

Here are a few highlights - though you should really watch the video to see him deliver his own responses in the way that only he can. So much of what he teaches here is about intention––what do we intend to communicate when we're creating a piece of entertainment?

Cindy asks him if he thinks entertainment can be "Right Livelihood."
"Of course it could. Totally dependent on the intention. What is the intention of the product? Is the product meant to edify or to titillate? Or to exploit?"

"Of course it's possible to use the media responsibly, and a way of helping people, as a way of teaching people compassion, teaching people how to live better lives... teaching people how to relate to others. The entertainment industry has a great possibility of being able to represent other people's lives... which could result in the viewers of those representations having more and more empathy for other people and their lives, getting themselves out of their own skin and feeling what it would be like to be another person."But he warns us of the danger of the portrayal of characters in movies as two-dimensional, like "action figures... with no real lives, no background, no feelings, no family... just stick figures. And then when their heads are blown off we don't feel anything about it because we don't understand that they're human beings."
"If it's just a fancy version of a cartoon there's no compassion, there's no possibility of compassion, no empathy. You have to have a representation of a real person with all the background that we all have as real people to have any empathy for a character."
Cindy goes on to ask him about impermanence, and if portrayal of impermanence in entertainment is useful.
"To represent change as a source of empathy or compassion, that's one thing. To represent change just as change, is no big deal. How else would there be a narrative? depends on what the purpose of the representation of change is.... what's the intention? What's the purpose of the media representation? Is the purpose to titillate, or is the purpose to bring some compassion to the viewer, to bring some sense that what they're watching is another human being just like them?"
So you might think that Marut's tastes tend toward the serious, the sorrowful, or the morose. Not so!
"We have to keep a sense of humor about things, a sense of lightness, otherwise it's just boring and dull and too serious, and that's not helpful.... it's possible to deliver a very very good message, a compassionate message, an empathetic message, in a package that's entertaining, that's interesting, that's funny..."
So what's your favorite show, Lama Marut?
"I like this television show, My Name is Earl, which all about this guy who's just trying to be a good person, he's trying to make amends for the wrongs that he's committed in his life, and it's very entertaining, it's very funny, it's very light, but every episode has a very very strong kind of moral to the story... very useful to be broadcasting a show like that which is teaching people responsibility... that their actions have consquences, that their actions effect other people... the virtue of forgiveness, the virtue of compassion, the virtue of gratitude. These virtues are all packaged up in a very very entertaining form. That's, I think a model."
Marut goes on to point out that we in entertainment have a tremendous responsibility, that the effects of our work go way beyond what we might imagine:
"The entertainment business is hugely influential and should be responsible... what Jon is suggesting, what he's encouraging people to think about is very very important. How can we entertain responsibly without exploiting, without being inured to the violence... the violence on television is awful. I suggest to the people who are watching this that we would not be able to tolerate six, seven, eight years of war, unbroken, had we not been inured to violence because of television. It's just another TV show for us. The Iraq war... the Afghanistan war.. these are just televison shows for us.... because we have been inured to violence, we have hardened our hearts about the suffering of other people who are on the other side of violence. When we're the subject of violence, then we understand it.... that it's not a pleasant thing, that it's an awful things. But when we're the perpetrator of it, or the viewer of it... we become just inured to it. We don't think about it. We don't think that there's another human being on the other side of our violent actions. So to bring some compassion and some intelligence into... the entertainment business, is very important.
Thank you so much Lama Marut, and thank you Cindy Lee! *

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