Upon hearing Friday morning’s news of the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado – news that arrived after a week of high tension in the online film community, when internet trolling exploded and several critics received death threats – I felt a great need to smother myself in optimism, a means to counteract great evil with great good. Those who know me know optimism is a difficult feat – I am by nature a pessimist, a “glass is half empty and probably filled with poison” kind of guy. Despite this, I do manage to hold onto a philosophy that says most people are more or less good. Some may be rude, others ignorant, others pompous, but at our core, despite our faults, there’s a goodness there.
And then, sometime over the weekend, this song started moving in my brain. Quietly at first, slowly getting louder, taking up more of my mental real estate, until it was all I could think about: Harry Belafonte’s “Turn the World Around.”
The tune originally appeared as the closing track on Belafonte’s 1977 album of the same name, but like you, it was its 1978 appearance on The Muppet Show that came to my mind. Belafonte’s performance, along with its introduction, is my absolute favorite six and a half minutes of television, a simple yet overwhelming piece of joy and hope and togetherness. He prefaces the song:
“The question is, do I know who you are? Do you know who I am? Do we care about each other? Because if we do, together we can turn the world around.”
Belafonte was speaking in terms of conquering racism and other prejudices, reminding us that the differences between us are so small as to not really matter. Celebrate our uniqueness, yes, but also celebrate our similarities. And if we can ever get to the point of “see we one another clearly,” we can stop putting up false barriers and work together for the common good.
What makes the song so uplifting is its complete lack of negativity. It makes no effort to condemn us or lecture us. It simply invites us to acknowledge the togetherness of the world. It asks us to reach out and know each other and lets us know how joyous such a thing can be. It’s a message that transcends the politics of race and national border and suggests, simply, how we can all be better people if we look for the good in each other.
What does any of this have to do with a crazy man on a shooting spree? Possibly nothing, other than a need to mentally and emotionally escape into something more soothing. But as the world attempts to comprehend what makes one madman tick, I think I’d rather spend my time getting to know the good inside everyone else. It might not turn the world around, but it wouldn’t hurt to give it a little push.
So is life.