Metta Spencer (www.metta-spencer.blogspot.com)
Interviewed by Nikita Fleischman
Before retiring from the University of Toronto, she coordinated a program in peace and conflict studies. Her introductory textbook, Foundations of Modern Sociology, was published in nine editions. Since her retirement in 1997 she continues as the editor of Peace Magazine.
Another book, Two Aspirins and a Comedy: How Television Can Enhance Health and Society, has been released in February 2006. It deals with the impact of entertainment in human affairs, ranging from our health (dramas stimulate emotions and emotions can make you sick or healthy), to our ethics (especially as we empathize with good or evil characters) to our social policies (as we learn -- correctly or incorrectly -- how to handle social problems). She hopes to stimulate awareness of the potential uses of entertainment to improve personal and societal well-being. Now she´s getting back to work on another unfinished book, Bears and Doves, which shows the impact of the international peace movement on Soviet military policies.
1. How and when did you discover Northern Exposure? Did someone recommend it to you or did you just turn on tv and find it on the waves?
I just happened upon it by chance. I don’t think I’d even heard of it before. But I had just retired and was experiencing quite a bit of pain from osteoarthritis, so I wasn’t working as hard as I had always done before. For the first time in my life I looked at a daytime television series. Northern Exposure was already showing twice a day in syndication, and usually I watched both of them. Somehow the writing absolutely captivated me from the moment I first saw it.
2. Which was your first impression on the show?
I loved it. Absolutely fell head-over-heels in love with the characters, the music, the writing, the little mining town, the mountainous environment, the moose – all of it. Especially Joel Fleischman. What an interesting, lovable character! I felt that he and I had remarkably similar traits of personality and mind. He was my surrogate, going into a setting that I’d never visit, and showing me what it would be like for someone with my own character traits.
3. Which was the thing/character that appealed you the most? Why?
Joel. I identified with him. I felt he was a perfect image of me, apart from having a different gender. My friends don’t see that at all, though. They say that I’m not grouchy, so they don’t understand why I love him as if he were my alter-ego.
4. You´ve already published a book called Two aspirins and a Comedy; How Television Can Enhance Health and Society (www.twoaspirinsandacomedy.com) in which you often quote Northern Exposure, as an example –in my opinion- of quality television and food for soul. When and why did you decide to write that book?
I had never become obsessed with a work of fiction to such a degree before, and it puzzled me. I wondered whether there was something going wrong with me until I found out that it happens to a lot of people, often with beneficial effects. In my own case, I had a happy but calm life without much strong emotion, but when I watched Northern Exposure, I would laugh, cry, leap to my feet clapping, get gooseflesh with ecstasy, and find myself cuddling a pillow with extraordinary tenderness. Then, despite the fact that I had quite a lot of pain, my discomfort would vanish for several hours at a time, especially if the episode had evoked any erotic feelings. This seemed to me to call for some research. When I looked into it I found that it was well known that such emotions actually have a strong analgesic effect: sometimes as strong as a dose of morphine would. And I decided that other people should know about this as a way of giving themselves the feelings that they needed physiologically. I found that it affects the immune system and the cardiovascular system – for good or ill. Stress is harmful, so initially I believed that one should not choose tragedies or cliff-hanger movies or horror shows, since all of those stimulate cortisol and damage one’s health. But later I decided that there are times when one can benefit from such stress in other ways enough to offset its harm to one’s health. I still think everyone should become more aware of the effects and choose films or television mindfully.
5. Would you say your book supports Leonard´s statement that movies are white human´s folklore?
Yes. He calls them “healing stories.” But of course not all movies have such healing effects. If you can tell great truths with drama, you can also tell great lies, ones that mislead people into making serious errors in their own lives.
6. Two aspirins and a Comedy... interesting title... If it were Two aspirins and the Comedy... which Comedy will it be?
People differ so much that it’s impossible to pick one “best” comedy – or best anything. There’s never going to be a time when we will all agree in our tastes. For one thing, we have different physiological needs. Some people need thrills, others find excitement unpleasant. Some people like slapstick; others want genuineness and depth of personality. I myself love stories about characters who are similar to myself, with all my flaws, but whom I can laugh at while empathizing easily. For example, ‘Thanksgiving’ was a wonderful episode. I don’t laugh at people for whom I have no empathy. It seems rude. But I could almost always empathize with Joel.
7. In your book you reflect on the good and bad effects that fiction can have in people´s health. It seems that if you were a doctor and need to prescribe a fiction to cure a person, you´d recommend Northern Exposure. Is it right? Would NX be your first option?
Yes, but you can’t prescribe things that way. I showed the series once a week, two episodes per evening, to six of my dear friends, but they all hated it and made such nasty comments (especially about Joel) that I finally got angry and stopped showing the series. You can’t expect people to ever react the way you do. Some will, others won’t. The only answer to that is to watch different shows.
8. Why did you select Northern Exposure as an example of positive television entertainment?
Because it was intelligent, wise, and it showed genuine human issues almost as if it were a documentary. There was no canned laughter, no joke-machine humor. The characters talked the way real people do, in a natural, comfortable way. There was no violence, and each show had a message or two – but not one that hit you over the head. You’d have to pay close attention to the insights that it offered, and it was worth watching again and again. There are certain episodes that I’ve watched thirty times. There are a few that I’ve watched once and will never look at again because they were so unpleasant.
9. Did you have to re-watch the show for your book or did you already have it recorded? Or maybe did you remember it well enough?
I have kept watching it for my own pleasure over the years until recently. I suppose I haven’t seen an episode now for six months or more. I have almost memorized the lines – not on purpose but out of familiarity.
10. Which were your previous ideas (preconceptions) on the show? I mean before starting your research investigation for the book (speak with fans, read articles, interview people from the show, etc).
I don’t think I’ve changed my opinion of any episodes much as a result of talking with other viewers. Maybe I’m just stubborn and opinionated, but my emotional reactions to the show are decisive, and if I dislike the way some characters are behaving, I will have negative emotions and nothing can make me change those emotions or the opinions that I form on the basis of those emotions.
11. Did your previous ideas change during the process of researching? Did the fans or the people from the show whom you speak with make change your ideas? How? Can you tell me any example?
No. I certainly had deep conversations with people on the My-Cicely list and another list that I belonged to for a while. Some of the richest conversations of my life occurred on-line. It is astonishing to find that these “strangers” can become important in one’s own life. I think some of the best discussions occurred during the first three years – before you were participating in the My-Cicely group. You may be able to find some of those essays in the archive. I haven’t looked, but I think they are all kept someplace.
12. I met you through the online list called My Cicely. I found it when I was making the research project for my PhD on Northern Exposure. I decided to be a part of the list because I wanted to meet fans of the show, I was sure they´d help me to find interesting material on NX (essays, articles, books, etc). I must confess the reasons why I signed on the list were selfish but I finally became another mooser, those people from the list are great and I felt (and feel) at home, in Cicely, AK. When and why did you begin to be part of that cicelian community?
When I started watching the show, I didn’t even know for a long time the names of the actors. For example, I could see the name “Cynthia Geary” on the credits, but it didn’t say that she was playing Shelly. So I needed some basic information, and I probably searched the Internet for names of lists. Actually, I don’t remember how I found it, but I loved it and became good friends with some of the members. We would also fight passionately over various topics. It’s surprising that such relationships at a distance can become so meaningful.
13. Which are the most important things – in both senses, professional and personal- you have learned being a part of this virtual Cicely?
I’ve made friends. By now I don’t think of these relationships as resources for understanding the show or understanding entertainment in general. By now they are just friends of mine – good, permanent friends.
14. Did you like Joel or did you just love him?
Most people would have phrased the question the opposite way: Did I love Joel or just like him? But you’re right to put it the way you did. I think it was Marie who wrote on the My-Cicely list that she wept for hours when Joel left Cicely and again when he left the show. She said, “My husband said, ‘I didn’t think you even LIKED Joel.’ She replied ‘I didn’t like him. But I loved him.’”
Sílvia: Yes, I was quoting that fan´s story you explain in your book :-)
Metta: That was the way I felt. But of course I never DISliked him. He didn’t usually irritate me the way he annoyed many of my friends. I could smile at his limitations, for I have the same limitations myself.
15. You describe Joel as the antihero... What about Vladimir Propp´s concept of the hero-victim?
That wasn’t a type that I had in mind when thinking of Joel, though I see how you could make that connection. As Propp describes him, a hero may not be a particularly good person, but may suffer (e.g. be a ‘hero-victim’) or even be predominantly evil (the ‘hero-villain’). It is true that Joel suffers, but I think this does not qualify him to be a hero-victim because he is the author of his own suffering. He could be having a wonderful time. So I call him an “anti-hero,” which is not the same as victim or villain, but is simply a person who does not qualify to be a hero. Joel was never heroic until the very end, and I didn’t much care for that transformation. I liked him better as a grouchy young man living on the earthly plane, dealing with such everyday problems as his patients’ dishpan hands and constipation. When he became spiritually advanced and gave up complaining, I felt that I no longer could see myself in him, and so he was not doing my spiritual homework for me anymore. I was disappointed. Probably I wouldn’t have been disappointed if he had become a successful, mature physician who could carry on a successful love relationship with Maggie. But he abandoned his patients and became some kind of spiritual adept, though he couldn’t combine that status with the everyday mastery of living skilfully in this society.
16. In your book you also often refer to Street Time, like the other face of the same coin... NX´s opposite. You compare both series. Do you think these tv series are opposite? Maybe comedy versus drama?
I’m not sure I’d call Northern Exposure a comedy. It had warm elements of comedy but it was also deep. People revealed their inner struggles and predicaments. The contrast with Street Time refers to the thrills that a crime show stimulates. Northern Exposure never gave me a moment’s adrenaline. That’s what Street Time tried to do all the time. I didn’t much like that aspect of it, though some of my friends preferred it. In any case, they are absolutely different kinds of shows.
17. Why did you decide to compare NX to Street Time and not to other series like The Soprano?
I don’t think I could have tolerated the emotions that The Sopranos evoke, whereas I could stand to watch Street Time fairly comfortably, except for one scene that has a torture and murder. After watching one season of The Sopranos, I decided that I didn’t ever want to see another episode. It made me feel sick and guilty for a day or two after watching each episode. Nobody should have to go through that.
18. Do you believe in the thrill gene?
Sure. I don’t think there’s any scientist who has studied it who discounts it. It’s the dopamine receptor number D4. It’s all established empirically. The only thing is, I’ll bet there are several other genes that affect us in comparable ways. They are only beginning to identify these genes.
19. You write Peace Magazine, so you prefer people throwing tomatoes instead of shooting. I think everybody prefers it in real life, but also in fiction? Could you never justify violence on modern fairy tales or myths?
Oh, it’s not entirely a moral issue. At least, one cannot be categorical about wanting no violence whatever. The point is, there are lots of factors that influence the meaning that an act of violence will convey. For example, my favorite movie of all time was Gandhi, which had several scenes of violence. But one saw them while empathizing with Gandhi or his followers, to whom violence was appalling. If, on the other hand, you see the violence through the eyes of the person carrying it out, you may identify with that character and want to emulate him.
There are also other ways in which the meaning of an act will be changed by the context of the plot.
And there are times when I go to watch a violent show that depicts something horrible because I think it’s important to understand what that is like. Schindler’s List is an example. I went to see that and I was obviously opposed to the Nazis who perpetrated the violence. Still, I think that most violent films don’t teach us anything valuable enough to be worth the unpleasant experience of watching them.
Sílvia: Have you ever watch 24? In the last episode I watched the organisation of the government where Kiefer Sutherland´s character, Jack Bauer, works for, captures a man that has important information to find the bomb a terrorist group has taken, after destroying the Air Force One and probably killing the President of the U.S. They really need to be able to interrogate that man. They´re in a hurry. But the new president is so weak and don´t let them to use violence, he needs to think more about it, but they don´t have time... Moreover that man has a lawyer from Anmistia to protect him. So Jack decides to leave the organization –not really, he simulates it to avoid problems to the organization-, the organization lets the man outside where Jack captures him, tortures him and obtains the information they REALLY needed to find the terrorist group. The watcher, me at least, feels identified with Jack and accepts him to use violence!!! It´s an extraordinary situation and the character that has an inapropiatte behaviour is the new President who, as soon as he knows what Jack did, decides to capture him. I accept the President must show Jack he´s the boss but he makes the F.B.I to capture Jack in the middle of an important mision and the terrorist group escapes. Finally the new President realices he´s not ready to guide the nation and askes for someone to do such thing. What do you think about fiction situations like this I´ve just described that showes the violence through the eyes of the person carrying it out? Do you think this violence is justified because Jack workes for the government and he´s not the terrorist?
Metta: I have not seen that show at all and I wouldn’t want to publish a critique of anything that I hadn’t watched. However, I cannot justify the use of torture under any circumstances. I do believe that society needs law enforcement officers, but they must be honorable individuals who are trying to protect us. Whenever possible, their means should be non-violent. As a message to society, we need stories that show us how to solve problems rather than answering violence with violence. If you’ve seen Munich you’ll recognize the conclusion: that violence just leads to retaliatory violence rather than solving anything. “Restorative justice” is the approach that I advocate in the book. It can be just as exciting as shows about crime and punishment.
20. Do you believe tv series like C.S.I., La Femme Nikita, Alias, Law&Order, The Closer, etc create or promote violent attitudes in their watchers?
I don’t watch such shows much so I can’t give a fair answer. I did watch Law and Order for a while, years ago. It was interesting, and it addressed some theoretical legal problem that kept me engaged intellectually. But the characters were shallow and we never saw much about their inner struggles or personal growth. I don’t think one could learn anything valuable as a human being from such stories. The richest forms of literature explore characters, not action plots. At least that’s my opinion. But some people with thrill genes want excitement and I cannot tell them that it is wrong to watch that kind of thing. I do believe, however, that it’s possible to create action films in which the protagonists are not trying to find some bad guy to blame but rather trying to prevent harm (as peacekeepers, say, instead of fighting soldiers) and trying to find solutions to problems. The search for solutions can give a viewer plenty of adrenaline if the writers do a good job. And in that way, they can offer good examples for viewers who also have to solve similar problems.
21. In NX as well as in Street Time, Rob Morrow played the main role. Did you like Kevin Hunter?
During the first season I did, though he was going downhill morally there too. He was at least expressive and loving. In the second season he came across as quite a hard character.
22. I read the interesting interview you made to Rob Morrow. You asked him about Kevin Hunter and asked him to imagine the storyline of the series throughout the seasons. Morrow explained he wants to be liked and the way he acted to make Hunter more human, he put the example when his brother shows him his brother-in-law´s dead body in the car. Do you think Hunter was better in the screen than in the script thanks to Morrow´s work as an actor? Any example?
Yes, you just pointed to one example – though he actually didn’t get to play it the way he wanted to. Or rather he did play it that way but they edited out everything that made him appear human. The six friends who watched the show in my living room all turned against him eventually. But it wasn’t Rob’s fault. He wanted to show feelings but Richard Stratton would not allow him to do so.
23. Sometimes (almost always) Joel Fleischman feels like a prisoner who´s suffering a sentence in Cicely, Alaska. Kevin Hunter was a real prisoner who´s out of jail now that tries to live his life but life seems to have another plans for him. Somehow both are men in extraordinary circunstances they can´t control. Joel needs to change but doesn´t want. Kevin wants to change but maybe he can´t. How would you define these two men in sociological terms?
I’m not sure Kevin really does want to change. At one level he may, but he has that thrill-seeking gene and it runs his life. He and his wife never have a discussion about how to take up a career other than dope-smuggling. Surely if he had been serious about changing, they would have shown it in their conversations.
Sociologists who specialize in deviant behavior have, at least in previous generations, been preoccupied with questions about how much life is determined by circumstance as opposed to character traits. One could pose that question here. Joel’s misery in Cicely was created by his own limited imagination, so one has to smile at him with a little pity. At first the viewer pities Kevin Hunter too because circumstances seem to reduce his options so sharply. I think gradually, though, we all have to say that he could change if he really wanted to. He just loves the “rush” of smuggling dope. He’s completely different from Joel, who never likes thrills. Every dog in Cicely can scare Joel just by running up to lick his hand!
24. In Justice in a Nonjudgmental Society you describe Crime and Punishment episode very well and observe that a conclusion like that wouldn´t happen in real life... Would you accept Mike´s defense and the final episode´s conclusion if Chris was a killer?
Maybe. If a person really is transformed, then he’s gone past the kind of behavior that he previously followed. For example, I know of a true story about a murderer in South Africa during the apartheid period who was put into prison when the regime changed. He asked to speak to the wife and daughter of his victim. They came to see him and realized how sorry he was, so they forgave him and hugged him. Such things happen. I wouldn’t say, of course, that every criminal who claims to have changed is telling the truth.
Sílvia: So, I guess you´re against the Death Penalty, right?
Metta: Yes. In almost all Western societies it has been abolished. I wish it were in the United States too.
25. Brand created NX thinking about the fish out of water. In your book, according to Freud, you say Joel has the two things a human being must have; work and love. In your opinion which is the main issue in Joel, his relationship with Cicely as a community (work) or his relationship with Maggie as a mate (love)?
One can only answer that in hindsight, I suppose. I think the viewers assumed that his developmental task was to learn how to belong to that community through his work. However, in the end he leaves town without even saying goodbye to anyone, so obviously he never took that challenge seriously. He did take seriously the love relationship with Maggie, though he never made a success of that either. I think he never really understood what she wanted from him.
26. Many people speak and believe in “telebasura” (I don´t know the english word. Can it be bad, junk tv?) but I do believe we can also speak about quality and author television. In page 208 you mention in NX everything started changing because Chase appeared on stage. Do you think it was the beginning of the end? Brand era vs Chase´s one?
Yes. But it didn’t show up for a while. Season five wasn’t bad. It was not as good as earlier ones, but mostly it was good. Season six was terrible. That was Chase’s fault. He never cared for the show – said it was too “precious.” At least, that’s what I heard confidentially. But the other producers started slacking off too.
27. Brand told you he never read Campbell but his play is often quoted in the series, before Brand left it, and Brand studied literature... What do you think?
I can only guess, and I don’t have any basis for guessing. But I will anyhow. I feel confident that he told me the truth. My guess is that he read Jung, not Campbell, and he must have heard through the grapevine about such notions as the hero’s journey. You don’t really need to read Campbell to pick that idea up. It’s floating around in the culture.
28. I agree with you when you say that Chase meant a difference... a bad one. Our dear cicelians didn´t care to him. They became the landscape for new and unappealing characters. The third emotional motif you mention is the screwball comedy represented by Fleischman and O´Connell´s couple. In the middle it often appeared someone... Did you like Mike Monroe?
Nobody, absolutely nobody, liked Mike Monroe. Pity. The actor was talented but the character was too weak to be likeable. Besides, he was stealing Maggie from Joel, and everybody loved Joel. Well, most of us did anyway.
Sílvia: In that point I have to disagree. I loved Mike!!! And Anthony Edwards did an excellent work!!! I didn´t care Maggie was with Mike because I didn´t like her a lot and I knew it wouldn´t work, Mike would leave. As you well know I adore Joel, is my fave one, and if he´s happy with Maggie I can accept it. I know many people didn´t like Mike because they didn´t want Joel to suffer, but I didn´t see him suffering a lot, and in any case, as I said before, I knew Maggie in the end loved Joel, not Mike. Althought she can be so nasty saying things like she can accept Joel´s death but not Mike´s one... come on! I try to justify Maggie and her horrible words thinking that she´s too rational with Mike, but with Joel she can´t, it´s passion, and she can´t control having sex with him.
I think Mike wasn´t stealing her from Joel. Joel and Mike respect themselves. The problem is Maggie herself, even if it wasn´t Mike in the middle, Joel and Maggie can´t be together at all just because of Maggie, she analizes everything!!! You said before that Joel never understood what did she want, I think neither did I. Joel is easier than Maggie. Everything Joel says about women in general, or even about life, Maggie thinks is about her and her person and takes every Joel´s action or word as a personal attack!!!
I´ve seen many tv series and I know how they work and I knew Mike was only a temporary
character despite they maybe created him to replace Joel. As time showed, he wasn´t replaceble.
Metta: As I said above, it’s impossible to answer such disputes objectively. We all have our own reactions and we’re entitled to them. However, you’re the first person I’ve met who liked Mike. I talked to producres who told me that introducing Mike was the biggest mistake that Josh Brand made. No wonder he didn’t last long.
29. In the final episodes the writers decided to join Maggie and Chris. What do you think about this relationship? As you well know, in the list people has often discussed about where Maggie went in the last episode. Who was she looking for... What´s your theory?
I think the explanation was given in the script but edited out. Janine Turner was recovering from a gallbladder operation so she wasn’t well enough to perform a major part of that episode. But in the story, she was supposed to have been flying to see Mike Monroe, but she changed her mind and came back to Chris.
Sílvia: To see Mike? Really?
Metta: That’s what I understand. I don’t think I bought that particular script personally (I bought about half of them) but someone else reported that it was there.
30. You keep that the relationship between Joel and Cicely´s quirky community makes Joel and us, the watchers, learn a lot... What about religion and tolerance lessons?
Tolerance, sure. Religion – not in the usual sense of the word. It’s not really about ritual or liturgy or the community that comes from belonging to a particular religious group. Instead, I’d say that Northern Exposure explores certain very high-level philosophical issues that all religions address to some extent: freedom of the will versus determinism, for example. Whether the world is a random place or whether there is a plan behind the events that are unfolding. Whether to be attached to others and fully engaged with this social, material world or instead to try to transcend it and cultivate spirituality. Things of that sort. No TV show that I ever saw before would try to deal with such questions. I adored it for that reason, even when I disagreed with the message it offered.
31. What do you think about episodes like Kaddish for Uncle Manny for example? Did you accept and understand Joel decides to celebrate the Kaddish with his cicelian friends instead of with other jewish people?
Of course I accept it, but I never understood why it was formulated in an either/or way. Why did Joel have to send away the Jews when he decided that Cicely was his community? He could have invited everyone.
Sílvia: I spoke with Melvoin about this episode and this Joel´s decission. He told me it was Brand´s idea. Melvoin is jewish and he wasn´t sure it was the right decission, he was afraid people, above all jewish people, feel offended but finally he liked the episode, he understood it went to a higher level thanks to Brand. Also he felt better when he saw the watchers –even jewish ones- loved the end and wrote letters expressing that feeling.
You can find the entire interview at http://www.cicelyonline.com/nttf/art_melvoin2.htm
Metta: Yes, I talked with Melvoin about that episode too. That’s how I remember he explained it to me.
32 Jeff Melvoin wrote the great part of episodes that speak on Joel´s religion. Did you speak with Melvoin about this? What did he tell you?
I wasn’t aware that he wrote most of those episodes. But he did tell me about his misgivings regarding the Kaddish for Uncle Manny episode. I think he still wasn’t sure in his own mind whether that was the answer he’d take as a Jew himself.
33. Which is your fave NX´s episode? Why?
Maybe First Snow. The conclusion gives me joy like nothing else I can recall. And that was written, I think, after Brand left the show.
34. I think one of the episodes you liked the least was Northern Lights... Why didn´t you like the way our dear cicelians act, what Shelly describes as showing team spirit? I´ve read your reflection on that episode. I agree the conclusion wasn´t well written. I liked Joel´s moral but the episode wasn´t well written enough to get it. But what cicelians did first was trying to convince Joel and offered him a kind of deal (food, etc). So, yes they finally acted in a nasty way but they also offered a solution and Joel didn´t accept it.
Sorry, but I was so horrified by the cruelty of the Cicelians that I was emotionally devastated. Suppose you found out that all your dearest friends and relatives were sadistic torturers. How would that make you feel? That’s how I felt. What they did was a crime against humanity.
35. Reading “The trouble with trascendence” (chapter 9. pages 231-232) you say that “The Quest”, the episode where Joel leaves Cicely and the series, imparted a wrong lesson because it seemed it was too easy for him to leave Alaska and come back to New York. Why do you think it seemed too easy? I think it didn´t seem easy but somehow it showed Joel was in peace, he got the Nirvana...
That’s what was wrong with the message: It told the viewers to give up their commitment to this world and become ethereal and spiritual, but that means we couldn’t be effective in working on solving the world’s problems. I thought that was a poor lesson to give to the world. It is completely contrary to the decision that I made in my own life as early as when I was seven. I decided I would refuse to go to heaven because I wanted lots of problems. This world needs me, and it needed Joel, but he abandoned it. That was a religious mistake.
Sílvia: I see the opposite way. I mean, I think another reading is that Cicely is the dream. Joel in Cicely and, above all, in Manonash, is somehow an ethereal and spiritual existence. He has finally found himself and he´s ready to face reality, to solve world´s problems coming back to NY. The key isn´t Joel disappearing behind the mist in an spiritual way where NY seems a myth, the City of Emeralds, but in the Ferry coming back to real NY.
Metta: But he abandoned his patients and any sense of community. He left without even saying goodbye to the people he should have loved. That kind of detachment from the intensity of human relationships is not my notion of religious attainment. It broke my heart to see him fail so tragically.
36. Imagine you find a place like Cicely, Alaska... Would you leave it or would you like to stay there for the rest of your life? Why?
I could go either way. I am sure I could find ways of making a contribution to Cicely and I’d find pleasure in doing so. But if I decided to leave, I think I’d try to do so in a way that kept my human relationships there rich and rewarding.
37. Imagine you can spend an entire day in Cicely, Alaska. What would you do?
I’d spend some time at the Brick, and if I could visit Joel and watch him at work, I’d love to do that too.
38. You had the chance to meet Rob Morrow and interview him. Did he tell you something about the way he thought Joel´s character was that surprised you?
Yes, he was very pleased about the way Joel developed at the end of the show. I hated that.
39. Speaking about Fleischman Morrow told you that “he comes back to New York with something to offer.” What do you think Fleischman finds in Cicely that he can offer in NY?
Beats me. He stops whining. I suppose that’s an advance. He can tolerate more challenges and hardship. But that’s not enough to make up for his lack of passion.
40. In your interview you mention Only Love and Matthew Hiller and you say he´s the perfect fulfillment for Joel. In which sense? I don´t know this movie.
Spoiler warning: Matthew Hiller also was a doctor. He was uncertain whether to become a doctor of a concert pianist, but finally he chose medicine. He went to Africa with Doctors Without Borders and fell in love with a young Italian woman doctor there. He is shot by rebel troops and almost dies. To save his life, she promises not to marry him. He is distraught about that and can never play the piano again, nor can he get on with his life for many years. However, he becomes a VERY successful doctor and discovers a cure for some kinds of cancer. He eventually marries a wonderful cellist who had been his dear friend when they were in college. Then the Italian woman doctor reappears, needing his treatment for her own cancer. She dies and he can now let go of his unresolved love for her. He goes home to his wife and resumes playing the piano with her. The fulfilment that I saw in Hiller was that he became a success professionally and emotionally mature. He was capable of love relationships and made a successful marriage. He accomplished things in this world, not by leaving it and attaining enlightenment. I admire that. Joel was a failure professionally (he abandoned his patients) and a failure in his relationship with both Elaine and Maggie. In the end he departs, looking more like a wisp of smoke than a man of flesh and blood. I preferred Hiller.
41. We spoke about Chase´s era and the beginning of the end. Here it´s the typical and the eternal question... Did you suffer the SSB (Sitxh Season Blues) of NX that was mentioned by Walt Hammontree for the first time?
Oh yes. I sobbed when Joel left and I felt disheartened by the moral and psychological deterioration of the Cicelians.
42. This is your opportunity to solve Joel´s future... If you had the chance to write the last episode, which would be for you the perfect ending for the series including all the characters? (You can rewrite the show from The Quest or from Tranquility Base or any other episode...)
Oh, thanks a million! Okay, here’s what I’d do. I’d have Joel and Maggie reach a full-fledged marriage without ambivalence. I’d have the travelling optometrist come back and pair up with Chris. I’d have Dr. Ginsburg come to town and make a deal with Joel and Maurice, who would build a fine pulmonary hospital in Cicely. Six months of every year, Ginsburg would run it, while Joel took over his practice in New York. Maggie would fly back and forth to New York, bringing patients to the hospital and living with Joel in Manhattan when he was there. They would have a couple of kids and live happily ever after. Would that suit you too?
Sílvia: LOL. You really love happy endings!!! I don´t know... I know it can sound strange but I have never thought about it at all!!! I´m afraid there´s any perfect ending for that series. I mean I feel lucky it´s not up to me to rewrite the show because I´m sure that, whatever I´d write, there´ll be someone disappointed!!! :-) But I´d erase the episodes after The Quest, that´s for sure (the only moment I like is the Iris Dement moment, but so hard to watch!!!)
I like your vision but, althought I love happy endings, I love –I accept at least- the way Joel ended in the show. I love the City of Emeralds myth and I understood his final decission of leaving... It was perfect for my Thesis!!! LOL.
As a fan, I´d not end Joel with Maggie... I´d make her to join Greenpeace with lovely Bubble Man. I´d create a spanish doctor (medicine doctor or not, whatever), called Sílvia :-) to be the perfect partner for Joel. Can I?
I also like Brigadoon´s idea that one of the persons you interviewed (can´t remember who, Joe Lazarov?) told you.
Metta: I don’t have to give you permission since it’s all hypothetical. But I believe that the story was a message about working through relationships, and it showed that Maggie and Joel failed. That’s sad.
43. NX follows the MTM model and has rich intertextuality. Iain Crawford observed four major groups; literature, music, film and television. Which of these groups do you think it´s better used in NX? It´s the key?
Sorry, I don’t know Crawford’s categories so I won’t try to answer this one.
Sílvia: I´ll send you Crawford´s article if you want but, in any case, I´ll re-formulate the question. Crawford just establishes these groups observing characters references to them. Chris in the K-BHR mentions books and music, Ed quotes movies and Shelly and Joel –even Maurice- mention series and television. Maurice mentions he loved Bonanza and Joel mentions Love boat when he´s playing golf, for example. So, which references (to literature, music, etc) are better used in the series, are the key, in your opinion?
Metta: Sorry, it’s still not a question that I can answer.
44. The group of literature is clearly represented by Chris... It seems the word & language is very important in NX but also silence... Which moral do you get on NX´s dichotomy between Marilyn (silence) versus Joel-Chris (word)?
I guess I can’t answer this one either. I am a verbal personality, so I certainly would rather spend time with Joel or Chris than with Marilyn, though I like her well enough. I’m not one of those people who see her as particularly wise. Not at all.
Sílvia: So, when Joel goes Up River and learns to keep silent until Marilyn arrives... Did you undertand or like it? Do you understand why Joel wants to learn to stop speaking all the time?
Metta: No, I thought he was fine the way he was. I thought Marilyn was not very bright. Likeable, yes, but not intelligent. And I was offended by her dismissive attitude toward Joel, as if he were a mental basket case while she was a paragon of wisdom.
45. I think NX is a metaphor. The journey to Cicely, Alaska is a journey to the self, to the inner landscape. A friend of mine thinks that Joel never left NY at all. If you observe, Alaska, the last frontier, becomes the center of the world. There you can meet russian, german, south american people or you can even meet the evil or learn italian. Cicely is as cosmopolitan as NY. So Joel travels to the self, to his mandala. Would you agree with this symbolic reading of the show?
I guess so. Certainly something special was going on there or it would not have gripped my own soul so deeply. I would say that watching that show and loving those characters was one of the most profound experiences of my life. But I’ll never be able to explain it, even to myself, and your metaphor doesn’t take me very far toward an explanation either. But it does allow one to talk about it as a profound emotional trip, which it certainly was.
46. What do you think about the myth of the garden in NX and the East (Joel) versus the West (Alaska)?
I’m not very oriented toward myth and metaphor, to be honest. I have tried practically every type of psychotherapy in the distant past, but not Jung.
47. Which of these words, utopia or eutopia, better defines Cicely?
I don’t know. I’ve never heard of “eutopia” and it’s not in my dictionary.
Sílvia: Eutopia comes from the greek eu-topos (ευ-τοπος) “good-place”. Utopia would define Cicely as the perfect place, too much perfect to be true. But eutopia would define Cicely just as a good place, beneficial one. Which one would you select?
Metta: If it were perfect it wouldn’t be interesting.
48. You describe NX as a Healing Myth. If you had to select an episode who represents NX´s essence –the entire series- as a Healing Myth, which one would you select? (I think two good options should be Cicely or Lost & Found because both of them show the fish out of water hearing a myth (tale?) that heals him and helps him to realize which is his situation and he decides to open his heart and eyes to his new community).
Maybe that’s a better reason to explain why I loved First Snow so much. Joel really grew. Ruth-Anne teaches him to accept death by saying, “Do you reproach yourself when the leaves fall from the trees?” Beautiful. And Maggie and he express their tenderness. People can gain a lot for themselves through vicarious tenderness, as from empathizing when Maggie touches his cheek and says, “Bon Hiver, Fleischman.”
49. In Emotionally Appropriate Friendship you defend NX showed that lying isn´t always a good choice, not even friendship seems to justify it. Do you think friendship or love never justify a lie?
I don’t think I’ve ever taken a position on that question. I know this much: If you always tell the truth, there will be more “aliveness” in your life. It won’t necessarily be all fun, though. Telling the truth will bring up matters that you’d rather avoid. I tell a lie every now and then. It’s usually cowardice rather than concern for a loved one that prompts me to do so. Cowardice in the sense of avoiding the bad opinion of others. I don’t necessarily feel proud of doing it, but it’s probably not my worst character flaw.