Although I value most of the media genres (types or “families”) that many people enjoy, such as comedy, drama, romance, adventure and documentary, there is one previously unnamed genre I truly love. I have dubbed this seldom heralded genre “the victory”.
There are three types of victories we frequently see in epic media stories. The first type features the “good guy(s)” defeating the “bad guy(s)” in some kind of competition, sports event, shoot-out, or war. Think Rocky, Star Wars, Mission: Impossible and so on. The second kind of victory offers us a protagonist (lead character) who has an inner emotional or spiritual victory of courage, commitment, or transformation in the face of challenging circumstances. Think Gandhi, The Choice, or Life is Beautiful.
The third type of victory strikes me as the most moving when it is successfully executed. Such a victory occurs when the outer victory (#1) and inner victory (#2) are combined to concurrently become one. An excellent example, Chariots of Fire, is about both English and Scottish racers who competed in the 1924 Olympics. They not only won major world races but also triumphed over inner struggles and symbolically “defeated” the forces of Anti-Semitism, atheism and discrimination. The victory was not just for or by individuals but also for humanity and I would say for the forces of Spirit.
While there are many recent films and television programs depicting physical and mental ‘victories’, I was most impressed by the two which were released almost concurrently this year called Race and Eddie the Eagle. Both clearly took the “third” approach I have mentioned in which the personal victories of the individuals also symbolize inspirational archetypes who “defeated” the forces of bullying and authoritarianism.
In unique ways both Race and Eddie the Eagle show athletes progressing toward unlocking their own primal spirituality. Indeed there are all but bizarre moments in both films that upon closer examination reveal the triumph of spirit in breaking through rigid human programming.
On the one hand Eddie soars like an eagle and then the crowds “soar” with him, as if to drop all trappings of programmed “culture” to fly. I won’t spoil it for you by explaining how that is done. On the other hand Jesse Owens so inspires his German rival in the 1936 Nazi-controlled Olympics that an Aryan hero and black “outcast” run arm and arm throughout a stadium of cheering racists. In both cases human programming melts and primal spirituality—who we truly are—breaks through.
To be sure these stories could be dismissed as “pure Hollywood.” After all, we recognize the plot dynamics, in which an athlete’s mother seems to be the only one who believes in him while his hardened father is a seasoned “realist.” And both face “has-been” coaches who were once amazing athletes who could have “had it all.” Now these coaches are losers whose only hope is “new blood”—someone who can redeem them as a mentor rather than as athlete.
Again and again we spot these tireless clichés of script-writing… except that they somehow ring true. Why? How? These are indeed true stories —the type from which the more imitative clichéd stories derive. But the stories also ring true for quite another reason. They seem to be our own aspirations confirmed on screen.
Who among us would not love to soar further and farther and higher above all challenges to realize our life’s dream, and to do so despite being an eccentric outcast or loner? Or who among us would not love to be the courageous champion who turned the tables on the world’s biggest bully (Hitler) on behalf of millions of people threatened by systematic genocide? So these are both world class heroes with whom most of us can identify. Indeed we do subconsciously identify such that we cry and cheer when they achieve “personal bests” that model a path to victory for us all.
Despite all these different levels of triumph—the athletic apex, the mental mastery, the emotional control, and the symbolic victory for humanity—there is a greater victory still, which I feel is the story’s vibrational center. At specific points in each film, the characters discover that they are not alone. They are one with their audience, with their coach, and with their potential and destiny. Their awareness of primal spirituality takes over and no human distraction can prevent their cosmic success.
Why does this matter? The typical human being feels defeated by adversity and alienation and turns back. But for Eddie and Jesse, adversity is their motivational teacher again and again. When in touch with spiritual identity, each knows there is a wind at one’s back and purpose pulling one forward. No matter what the odds and the opponents, there is the assurance that one can soar higher than ever before. With this awareness of higher identity, Jesse and Eddie bring out the best not only in themselves, but also within rivals, crowds of bigots, and movie audiences who long to soar like Jesse in the long jump and Eddie in “the 90.”
Were Jesse and Eddie flawed human beings? Of course. Both made mistakes and sometimes faced intense reactions from their coaches, family members and the press. Both almost quit during difficult seasons of self-doubt. And yet neither could sleep without victory. The inner triumphs led to outer victories which then led to jubilation for the throngs who watched them.
To the referees with their tape measures, it seemed that it was the length of their achievement which must be recorded while they were setting new national (Edmunds) or world (Owens) records. But I say for those who see with spiritual eyes it was the height of their jumps which most inspired. For while those watching just the surface of their jumps saw Eddie and Jesse come back to earth, those watching with spiritual eyes saw them soar…right through the veil.
DR. TOM COOPER is currently guest scholar at the East-West Center, University of Hawaii, Stanford and Berkeley and professor at Emerson College (Boston). Musician, black belt, and playwright, he has written eight books and two hundred published articles, been advisor to the Elders Project (with Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and others), co-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and is co-publisher of MEDIA ETHICS magazine.