Thursday, April 3, 2014

On How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother is one of the best of mediocre sitcoms.  It’s nowhere near the brilliance of Malcolm in the Middle, but is somewhere along the lines of Married With Children in being mostly marginal jokes (insults and smut in-terms of Married With Children, and puns and a few intelligent meta-jokes in-regards to HIMYM) and excellently portraying some element of human existence.  For MWC it was the (relatively) average dysfunction of the nuclear family, for HIMYM it’s the portrayal of contemporary life for Americans in their twenties and early thirties.  Friends growing older and growing distant though they attempt to remain close.  Spending free time in bars getting moderately drunk and going on sexual crusades or looking for love for the hopeless romantics.
Now before I get into this analysis, I should say that I haven’t seen every episode of the show.  I’ve seen episodes sporadically up to season nine which I saw in its entirety.  The ninth season began with fairly clever material but to me dipped significantly up until the last two episodes (or three if you consider the last episode two which I don’t) which had better jokes and actually significant events for the plot.  It is humorous that the show is called How I Met Your Mother but they only deal with how Ted met his wife in the last half of the last season.  Also that they spend the entire ninth season leading up to Barney’s and Robin’s wedding, only to have them be divorced the next episode.  Also to have the entire show be a lead up to Ted meeting (arguably) the love of his life, and episodes after she becomes part of the plot she dies and they spend perhaps one minute on it.  They treated the episode of Fresh Prince where Will gets his tonsils removed with more severity than this – the death of his loved one.
A major theme of the show seems to be the distinction between Ted and Barney as the show develops.  Barney represents the somewhat insecure playboy Hedonist who cares only about having sex and the revelry of completing “challenges” he creates, accepts and accomplishes for his own self-gratification both in-terms of pleasure and the sustainment of his ego.  Ted is a hopeless romantic who is overall selfless and believes that we live to love and be loved by others.  We see the dynamic being completely opposite to the other in two regards.  Both in that Barney’s dynamic involves him pleasuring himself through sex with a woman and her pleasuring herself through sex with him.  And in that Hedonistic sex is something done out of satisfying lust and creating pleasure, both things involving nothing but Hedonism.  Ted on the other hand represents loving someone for who they truly are rather than loving what they do for us.  For him love is more than pleasure, though it is one of the most pleasurable things in existence, his is a love that is a commitment and devotion to the other that has Utilitarianism as well as poetry in its make-up.  We see how these sentiments affect their psychology and character in their actions. 
Ted, while perhaps the most neurotic character in some ways is more stable than Barney in that he doesn’t feel the need to bang a woman whenever he can.  In the beginning of the show when he sees Robin he immediately becomes slightly obsessive of her but he develops a relationship with Robin that’s built on true love, that-is, understanding and appreciation for the person and who she is, while Barney and Robin’s “love” is based solely on a mixture of lust and other emotions, not true devotion to that person.  This highlights a distinction between emotional love and love based on subconscious understanding and persisting dedication even in the face of hardship.  Robin and Barney divorce when Robin needs to travel around the globe for her job and neither one of them are willing to make the necessary sacrifices for love.  Ted however doesn’t move to Chicago just on the chance that Tracy is the one for him and he sits by her bedside as she slowly dies of – insert whatever illness you like that is applicable to human females (something tells me she doesn’t have prostate cancer) here.  Ted also seems to be stronger in basic moral integrity than Barney.  This is seen in him finding Robin’s locket in an attempt to win her love but instead gives it to Barney to give to her.  Barney however doesn’t hesitate to do something that will benefit him based entirely on a lie.  Ted is always willing to put his interests aside for what he feels is best for Robin because he loves her.  This of course harkens to Aristotle’s quote of true love and friendship being when we feel dedicated to the person for who they are and wish to serve their interests, rather than what they can do to serve our own.  And though Barney knocks Ted essentially for believing in love, once his child is born he says that she is the love of his life and promises to give everything he has and everything of himself to her.  He sacrifices for his child though it clearly is largely a burden; but ultimately it gives his life a form and degree of richness that he would be almost completely ignorant of without the sweet burden of love.
The show clearly has a Humean notion of love and motivation.  This is made explicit in Ted’s speech of love being something we simply do even if it is erratic, seemingly senseless, at-times painful and something we would at-times need to sacrifice a great deal for to make work.  But our actions, our selves, are not governed by reason.  Our passions govern our judgment and we rationalize as we go along.  And “true” love is one of the greatest things in human existence because it allows our motivations to be truly attached to the well-beings of others, rather than to simply impress them or make them happy so they’ll be more amicable in your own selfish desires.  Though many attach themselves far too-much or assign far too-much of their self worth with this feeling of commitment and dedication (neurotic mothers are a key example of this) love still is one of the only things that has us act for the benefit of others while reason gives us the right course to save mankind but leaves most apathetic to act.  Reason is almost wholly impotent to persuade us to action while for many fickle feelings govern one’s heart and therefore one’s actions.  Only when we viscerally sense what reason may either encourage or dissuade us from will we embrace acts and a psychology that involves the proclamation of happiness in others for its own sake.
However having Barney and Robin divorce highlights a very mature element of love that Christian society cannot tolerate or comprehend.  And that is that love is not eternal or invincible.  The Bible preaches that love is kind, love is patient, love never fails – but none of these things are entirely true.  Love at-times can feel as if it is the greatest burden on this planet; and even when the person we love makes our dearest and closest dreams come true and for a short-while the embarrassingly sickingly sweet drink of unbridled affection is ours, we find that love fades.  And this isn’t necessarily a failure or corruption as Religion teaches.  It’s simply life.  Though Barney and Robin lacked the type of love Ted and Tracy have, that is not to say they never loved one another.  They simply valued other priorities over said love.  Barney returning to his old ways after their divorce may be an indication that he hasn’t changed at-all, but to me it’s clear that it’s instead because he is in silently miserable because he believed in love, and then when his marriage “failed” he believed love failed him – or perhaps he failed as a husband and person.  But then when his child is born he finds a love that he can nurture and devote all of his self to, rather than someone like Robin who was always moving from one city to another because of her work.  Love is a beautiful thing when it works, but nowhere in the prerequisites of love is it lasting forever or being exclusionary.  There is no representation of polyamory in the show; it’s either monogamy or mindless Hedonism, but I suppose loving more than one person and making it functional isn’t something to be portrayed in an American sitcom.  For a momentary representation of such I would recommend Her which I’ll hopefully be writing an essay on shortly.
Though I haven’t much to say on it, there seems to be a distinction also in the type of love Ted and Marshall have or experience.  Ted’s love seems far-more young, inexperienced and almost desperate or yearning in nature.  While Marshall and Lily share a love that’s aged and while it hasn’t decreased in overall strength, has decreased in its intensity.  That is, it’s a love that is still strong but not “strong-willed” or as brisk and full of obvious blithe and energy though the passion is still there; simply in an unseen form of energy.  Once again, this is not an indication that love has failed, though far more couples understand this point than the last two I made.  And though love very often naturally develops into a strain of the same organism that is less obvious to the naked eye, it is still natural and healthy to wish to occasionally express and experience older and more juvenile forms of love with letters of affection or kisses on the cheek or forehead.

And of course, there’s the ending and its relation to the title of the show.  Though it may seem – and perhaps actually is – sloppy writing, having the show consist very-little of Ted Mosby actually falling in love with Tracy shows the episodic and forgettable nature of sitcoms; but occasionally ideas, sentiments and connections form in sitcoms that transcend past its forgettable twenty-one minute episode-to-episode existence.  Just as we live mundane day-to-day existences that blur and bleed together, until the rare day comes that has us lingering on it and is truly either a day worth remembering or one containing a transformative experience that hopefully has changed us for the better.  Of course usually life doesn’t operate this way.  Usually people change gradually to the extent they can and they don’t even know the change is taking place until it’s complete.  And we see this too in the development of characters throughout the show.  How I Met Your Mother is a show that is truly about the love affair of Ted and Robin, but Ted needed to learn to grow in emotional strength and quiet determination that in-part was established by the challenge of having Tracy fall in love with him.  The show is called How I Met Your Mother because it is all about, all leading up to, how Ted meets his children’s mother – through meeting Robin which he does in the first episode.  If he never dated Robin, became friends with Robin and attended Robin’s wedding, then he never would have met his mother.  But since the entire series is about how Ted is a hopeless romantic who thinks he knows who the love of his life is on a brief encounter, it ends with him, once again being concerned with others’ interests over his own, once again finding a “love of his life” through his children telling him he should go after her since they have a connection that’s obvious.  Here are two more aspects of love the show represents.  That we can have more than one “love of our life.”  And that love can die but come back at-a-moment’s-notice; it’s unpredictable, erratic, but if we hone it and act with patience and maturity, it can develop into something that will last us our lives though it has remained dormant for a decade.  That all things begin as fleeting and perhaps unstable and untrained passions or inclinations, whether its love or the instinct to read a book or try a new idea, but through determination, persistence, patience and a combination of cognitive and emotional intelligence spring-forth all the great wonders of human existence – material, psychological and intellectual.

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