Because it was my love. She couldn’t decide that. It was my love.
That’s how I remember a key line from Adaptation, the movie by Charlie Kaufman. The movie’s second half is a point-by-point parody of a typical modern-day Hollywood popcorn film, with beats and pivots and so on. There’s the fake plot breakthru (the villainess says she’d like to have dinner with Jesus or John Lennon, so now the heroes know she’s a big liar and that she’s up to something), the race against time, the quiet heartfelt moment before the big action climax. During the quiet heartfelt moment, the dopey brother tells the smart brother (the arc is about two brothers who must be reconciled) that in high school, sure, he had a crush on that hot girl even though she made fun of him, that he kept loving her even after he caught her and her friends laughing about him and what an idiot he was. Why? And then the line given above, a really fine pastiche of a dopey Hollywood pseudo-profound gnomic utterance.
I would have thought that was a perfect example of bullshit, as the word is used in H. G. Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit.” I mean a supposed statement that actually says nothing. This kind of bullshit is to statement what a slug (by which I mean a round, blank disc, not a garden slug) is to a coin. The slug does nothing that a coin is supposed to do except feel like a coin. Someone who isn’t paying attention will put it in his pocket and believe he has a coin there. But it’s all a fraud. The same with a sentence of bullshit: You hear it, and it feels just like something has been said. A lie, on the other hand, does say something, but something untrue.
I’ve been looking for examples of bullshit, finding them, and then having them squirt away from me. When you go down a few layers, there’s always some specific lie hidden away. It’s just that the lies have to do with heady matters that don’t get looked at directly most of the time.
For example, “Because it was my love. She couldn’t decide that. It was my love.” Compare that with the following:
So, this momentary ego approval was not as great as the feeling of loving her! As long as I was loving her, I felt so happy. But when she loved me, there were only moments of happiness when she gave me approval. … Her loving me was a momentary pleasure that needed constant showing and proving on her part, while my loving her was a constant happiness, as long as I was loving her
I concluded that my happiness equated to my loving! If I could increase my loving, then I could increase my happiness! *
The speaker is a man discussing the great change in outlook he underwent during his 40s. I think a lot of people would agree with what he said. I haven’t read the book in question, just glanced at a couple of pages, but I gather that the speaker goes on to draw many sweeping, straight-line conclusions from this discovery. They may be right or wrong, I have no idea. But his starting point would strike many people as correct: not just that it’s better to love than to be loved, better as in morally desirable, but that you get more out of loving than being loved. There’s more return.
With that point established, the Charlie Kaufman line looks a bit different. All of a sudden I can see how it might actually mean something — something highly debatable, not to say false (that the benefits accrued from loving have nothing to do with the person being loved, with whether they return the love or treat you decently, and so on), but something that can be turned into a statement.
Thinking about it, there’s another heady claim that the line could be based on: the idea that everything about you is somehow your property and that the key thing is to make sure no one else ever has a say in its disposition. That sounds a bit Ayn Rand-ish, but Hollywood goes in for a debased form of self-actualization that could also give rise to a claim like that, at least if a screenwriter was desperate enough.
* From Happiness Is Free and It’s Easier than You Think by Hale Dwoskin and Lester Levenson. Achmed, a cafe rat I know, pressed the book on me, he said sheepishly.