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Lions Roar : November 2018
I LOVE SHOWS ABOUT how terrible people are. Comedies, specifically. I’ve chosen to talk about Arrested Development, but I could as well have chosen another cringe-worthy favorite, such as Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Rick and Morty, or Ren & Stimpy. To qualify for this genre, pretty much every major character must be a terrible human being. Arrested Development is the story of the Bluth family, who own a real estate development company. All feature some com- bination of greed, venality, selfishness, lying, stupidity, lust, manipulation, superficiality, and self-deception. It’s the three poisons plus the seven deadly sins with the four horsemen of the apocalypse along for the ride. There’s a misconception that a “Buddhist show” must high- light the positive. That’s not true. Yes, it is dharmic to model positive, caring behavior and show the inherent goodness of human nature. But then there’s this little thing called “samsara.” In Buddhism, the bad news is as important as the good news, maybe more so. The good news, according to Mahayana Buddhism, is that our true nature is enlightened, the same as the Buddha’s. The bad news is that it’s been obscured by layers of bad shit for a long, long time. That’s called samsara, and the Buddhist path only begins when we start to understand how it works. Arrested Development is a portrait of ego, the false belief in a solid, independent self that drives samsara and its suffering. Yes, the show is funny and exaggerated, but maybe that’s the only way we can face the full truth of ego and the tools it uses to construct and maintain itself—greed, aggression, and indifference. Ego judges life by only one standard—what’s in it for me? That’s the story of the Bluths—and all of us to one degree or another. Even Michael’s apparent decency is one of ego’s ploys, because there’s a lot to be gained by appearing to be the nice guy. The other thing about samsara is that it doesn’t work very well. Even if we have good intentions, things are always going wrong. On the rare occasions when one of the characters in Arrested Development tries to do the right thing, they handle it so ineptly it’s a catastrophe. Some people say that the real wisdom of the buddhas is see- ing the true nature of samsara. As Dogen said, “Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas.” I think they’d enjoy Arrested Development. Because all you can do is laugh. And remember that there’s a little bit of Bluth in all of us. MELVIN MCLEOD is editor-in-chief of Lion’s Roar. Here and Now Compassion, reality, the cause of suffering—there’s lots to contemplate in Here and Now, says JESSICA PIMENTEL. ALTHOUGH ALAN BALL’S new series Here and Now is not being renewed for a second season, I found season one interesting from a Buddhist perspective. The show touches on almost every- thing that leads to suffering in modern American society. Alan Ball is famous for making shows with characters who have a blatant, “in your face” way of deal- ing with big personal, social, emotional, and mental problems. As a result, his shows are not for everyone. Here and Now tackles adultery, bigotry, coming-of-age and midlife crises, mental illness, morality, ethical behav- ior, LGBTQIA issues, religious discrimination, bullying, classism, racism, and the repercus- sions of abandonment and separating children from their mothers. As if all of these issues were not enough fodder for contemplation, there’s a slightly supernatural/supermundane element to the show. One of the characters, a brilliant artist, suffers from severe schizophrenic hallucina- tions. Rather than just a slight warping of reality, Arrested Development Our true nature is enlightened but it’s covered over by bad shit. MELVIN MCLEOD on the shitty—but funny—Bluth family.