Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Fonz

Some of you won’t remember, but there was a very popular television program in the 1970’s that was about the 1950’s. The show was loosely based on the movie “American Graffiti”. It was my first experience with nostalgia, so I don’t know if people in the 1930’s ever got nostalgic for the 1910’s or not. I have notice that only rather odd people get nostalgic for the 1970’s.

The stars of the show were the teenagers. They hung around at the malt shop and had problems with their boyfriends and girlfriends or their cars or whatever. They were generally clean cut kids with names like Richie and Potsie. One character that had a bit of mystery about him was the Fonz. You never saw his family, he didn’t go to school, he wore a leather jacket, he could tap the juke box on the side to make it play and he could undo a bra clasp with one hand.

He was also the guy you wanted on your side in a fight. Whenever some kids from another town were giving Richie and Potsie trouble, they called upon the Fonz to help them out. This was not “West Side Story”. There was never any fighting on the show. Someone would do something clever or say something that needed to be said, and the fight would not happen. The conflict would not always be resolved, but at least avoided.

Over the course of seasons of the show, more about the Fonz was slowly revealed. One Thanksgiving he was seen eating a can of beans alone, and you found out there were some unresolved family issues and a lot of sadness around his lone wolf exterior. During one episode where a fight seemed to be inevitable, Richie and Potsie asked for specific help on how to engage someone in hand to hand combat. The Fonz asked the boys if they had ever actually seen him hit anybody.

They thought for a second and realized they had not. The Fonz was always cool. His tag line is always a very deep and mellow, “Haaaaay”. His hair was always perfect. Somewhere, back in some mythic past, he developed a reputation that he was capable of taking on anyone, that he could do major damage without breaking a sweat. If it was true that he had ever actually done that, it didn’t matter, it was no longer necessary to demonstrate it. Simply knowing that the Fonz was coming to the fight was enough to bring the opposition to the negotiation table.

This is similar to the tradition of many of the martial arts that borrow their philosophies from Buddhism or Taoism, Shaolin Kung Fu, Aikido, Tai Chi Chuan. The masters don’t need to use their sting. If they were to use it, it would diminish their ability to use their power of language and presence. That power does more to maintain the stability of their culture than any slap across the face to someone who deserved it would.

This can be seen in the writings of spiritual leaders also, such as the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hahn. These men could lash out and attack a great power like China or the United States with scathing commentary on their inability to lead, their poor example to the world, or their dumping of garbage into the air or water. But like a bee that can only sting once, then dies, if they did that, their ability to do it a second time would be severely diminished.

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