Monday, January 14, 2013

Cautionary Tales

In the first week of the new year, I happened to watch two films that make oddly appropriate companion pieces - Private Benjamin (1980) and The Queen of Versailles (2012). The former stars Goldie Hawn as a newlywed then newly widowed rich girl who enlists in the army under the misapprehension that it will be a fun, luxurious, jet-setting spree. The latter is a documentary about billionaire timeshare resort king David Siegel and his young wife Jackie, who began construction on the biggest house in the USA shortly before the 2008 recession. The filmmaker follows the Siegels through their financial downturn as they adjust to living with a much smaller fortune, but it's mainly Jackie's story.

By analyzing these two films a certain way, it's possible to Jackie's experience as the mirror reverse of Judy Benjamin's journey. I don't want to delve too deeply into that analysis, if only to spare the reader any spoilers. Both movies are quite good and I recommend watching them. Rather, I just want to touch on the single greatest lesson I learned from both stories, which is this - ladies, if you have a sharp mind, DO NOT become a princess. I get the temptation, the allure of having all the stuff and things you could ever want for the mere price of looking pretty. But if doing that, spending money and throwing parties are all you contribute to anything, your brain will atrophy, people will treat you like a dummy and you will inevitably act the part. Extricating oneself from that role is enormously difficult. Granted, this is not a new lesson. I've been hip to it since the first time I watched "A Doll's House" on Masterpiece Theater. But these more recently conceived narratives - particularly the true story from last year - demonstrate that the moral is as relevant now as it ever was. Don't be a princess. Oh, and don't get your pride caught up in posessions, because then it's too easy to lose.

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