What Would Elliot and Olivia Do?

My name is The Chair and I am a Law and Order addict.   And my particular drug of choice is Elliot and Olivia.

So clearly I was in heaven this week. 

Me all week

For two hours I got to see the reunion of two of my favorite TV characters, the above detectives played by Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay, on L and O: Special Victims Unit and on Meloni’s new series, L and O: Organized Crime.

Yes, all their mesmerizing, simmering chemistry is still present as is their dedication to the job.  Of course, the rules of their job have changed since we met them a full 22 years ago but so have they.  More importantly, so have we.

EL AND LIV 4EVER

Today’s laws for policing are different.  On second thought, maybe it’s more that the laws on the books are now finally beginning to be enforced.  Cops wear body cams, DNA evidence is irrefutable and every eyewitness has a device to back up what they claim was done.

Together Elliot and Olivia bent the rules to protect the victims and the innocents, or at the very least ensure them some sort of personal justice.  Forever partners in stopping the bad guys, they managed to do this by channeling their deeply complex feelings for each other into cracking an infinity of awful, sickening and truly unimaginable crimes.

… and looked this good doing it

The deal, and the lure of their imaginary relationship in their imaginary world, is they figure out a way to go there and score victories for humanity and we get to believe that at the end of the day good can and often will triumph over evil. 

More times than I’d like to admit, Olivia and Eliot made me believe I might likely be safe and that life was not so much perfect but hopeful.  I think I can even speak for many fans and say most especially they also make us feel that even the worst trauma is potentially survivable.

She even triumphed over this haircut, which is saying something

If their stories are truly ripped from the headlines why can’t the outcomes of each episode also be within the realm of possibility? Why not believe things might be some degree of okay? 

For years and years, because let’s face it, when is Law and Order: Special Victims Unit NOT being broadcast (Note: At this point it’s older than most of my college students) we’ve known in our hearts it doesn’t ALWAYS work out that way.

On the other hand, given the antics of Olivia and Elliot, it also could.

I can hear this pic

Certainly there are worse things than to be addicted to and to delight in than the righting of wrongs for the disenfranchised by those good people, nee cops, working within our very flawed, but yet still somehow functional system. 

Or, well, has this kind of mythmaking now finally come home to roost and become part of our collective problem?

I wish that I could definitively state that my obsession for Elliot and Olivia/Olivia and Elliot (Note: Which one is it?) existed in real life and in real time and it was justice for the victim, balanced with adherence to the law, that makes me crazy with delight.

Because sometimes I really do believe this is so.

As I watched the trial of Minneapolis’ ex-cop Derek Chauvin live on TV for the murder of George Floyd this week this indeed seemed to be the case.

Law and order?

Chauvin’s the white guy we’ve now watched more times than we can now count, via iPhone footage, extinguish the life of Mr. Floyd, a large Black man who was suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a supermarket, a bill the clerk is now saying Mr. Floyd likely didn’t even know was fake.

Nevertheless, Mr. Chauvin and his fellow officers wrestled their handcuffed suspect to the ground, where Mr. Chauvin placed the full weight of his knee and, it now seems, entire body on Mr. Floyd, who spent the majority of nine plus minutes pleading for his life, screaming I can’t breathe and eventually crying out for his mama as he died.

All this as Mr. Chauvin casually looked up at the sky and out to the city streets, perhaps even wondering what he would have for dinner that night.  (Note: Yes, it seemed THAT casual).

That this needs to even be said…

But what he never appeared to be considering at all were the shouts of the crowd of innocent bystanders gathering around him, demanding he stop the pressure, stop ignoring their pleas and generally stop his slow and deliberate choice to break the very laws he was hired to uphold in the name of enforcing them.

Watching the testimony of those random bystanders this week – a 9-year-old girl, an off-duty female firefighter/EMT, a middle-aged martial arts expert, and a sixty something Black man who just happened to be walking by – all break down on the stand as they re-experienced the guilt they felt at not doing more in the moment to prevent Mr. Chauvin’s debacle of justice as he ended Mr. Floyd’s life, was difficult.

In some ways, they were like a fine cast of supporting characters from one of the most harrowing of SVU episodes.  People who would clearly carry this trauma their entire lives but without the benefit of either Olivia or Elliot’s personal touch.  At the very least they wouldn’t have the business cards they offer with their direct lines and the assurance to call anytime they run into trouble in the future, or if they just want to talk. 

If only they were real life superheroes

As each angle of the Floyd/Chauvin tapes played, and with each recounting of events, one found oneself hoping for a different outcome for Mr. Floyd, his witnesses and even for Mr. Chauvin, all the while knowing this was impossible.  It was like the worst kind of rerun because you so wanted it to be series TV and not be real.

Still, every one came across as an imperfectly perfect dramatic TV moment, a hope vs. fear scenario told in real time. 

The latter is what I learned to do years ago as a young writer and a recurrent lesson I try to impart to my students.

The way the lesson goes is most stories are not so much mysteries but a suspense tug of war between what we WANT to happen and what FEAR will inevitably happen. 

It does get tricky

We KNOW the odds are stacked against justice prevailing but we HOPE justice will win the day.  We FEAR the chances our hero has to figure this all out in time to emerge victorious with a win are slim but we still KNOW, or at least, HOPE they have a shot.

It’s the writer’s job to believably represent that constant push and pull in the story by a masterful reveal of the facts and choosing how much and at what point to reveal them.  If done properly the audience will stay with us and fearfully hope for the outcome they (Note: And we, the writer) want because that outcome is only right and possible.

After all, we can look back on our own lives and count at least a few times where things fell into place and we got lucky with a confluence of events and our actions.  Why couldn’t that happen for the hero we are rooting for here?  Why can’t the type of people unlucky enough to witness the death of a man like George Floyd, as he’s being physically restrained by a cop like Derek Chauvin, emerge with some sense of triumph after their harrowing day on the witness stand recounting what is likely the most harrowing day of their life?

If it happens all the time on Law and Order, might it happen just this once on this day? 

I know Liv… I know

It’s unfortunate the witnesses on that Minneapolis street on May 25, 2020 don’t have the caliber of writers Elliot and Olivia had, and have, executing their outcomes.   

For that they will have to depend on us, or at least our surrogates – the jury.

Twelve people and two alternates, eight of who are white and six of whom identify as people of color, including four who are black.

Let’s hope they are all as committed to justice as we Law and Order junkies presume to be.  And let’s pray they are not just there to hold up the status quo rules of some rarefied and benevolent system that we fans have talked ourselves into believing exists just because it makes us feel better.

Law and Order Theme

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Choose Life

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the death of a former student this week.  She was 28 years-old, super creative, smart and hard working.  More importantly she was one of those people who was just a bright light in rooms where too often we’re surrounded by dim bulbs.

This is not to exalt my student into a deity.  It was just that her essence seemed to radiate outwards and make people feel good.  This was confirmed to me in the last few weeks where dozens and dozens of people posted similar testimonies online.

Some people really do seem this big and full of life… she was one of them

My student was not ill nor was she the victim of a crime.  Her death was apparently an accident, and, as a young white woman, it was unsurprisingly not at the hands of law enforcement.

This observation is not meant to be snide or timely. It’s more to put it into a 2020 shorthand that can be most easily understood given the reality of what we’re all living through right now.

Loss is loss but death is death and life, such as it is, is life.

Yes, you may write that down.

Roger that, Chairy

Loss hurts, loss makes you angry, loss can overtake your every waking hour and loss can take a lifetime to heal, if it ever fully does.  Of course, the truth is it never quite does, nor do you really want it to.  The loss, whether you like it or not, becomes a permanent part of the ever-evolving imprint of you.

What you choose to do with the loss is your own business and your own decision.  But if it’s true loss there will be a scar, visible to others or not.  To expect this not to be is to pretend your face in middle age and old age will look exactly the same as it did when you were 28 years old.

That statement alone brings up all kinds of images to me of my lovely former student whose face will now never change.  But it is also a reminder of the luxury of aging and the opportunities it can afford if you make it past 28 years old.  Most of us spend so much time wishing or trying to believably look frozen in our late twenties as time rolls on that we forget the true cost of what it is to actually do so.

This brings us to life and death.

It might not sound cheery but, trust me, it is.

Coexisting

Anyone who has managed to navigate deep loss and come out the other side, no easy feat, can tell you that there is no real choice in the matter despite how he/she might have been leaning in any given moment.

However crappy life and the current events that accompany it may seem, it still beats the alternative of trading places with that person whose time was cut so drastically short and for whom a tiny part of you will always mourn.

Watching tens of thousands of people line up in the streets of most American cities and towns demanding racial justice and shouting that Black Lives Matter these past two weeks is both powerful and enraging.  But the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans (Note:  Now about 67% of us) say they support both the cause and the demonstrators is encouraging.

Powerful art right in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater

Still, even more discouraging is the irrefutable truth that an endless daisy chain of non-white families will continue to sacrifice a loved one to systemic racism and law enforcement right before our eyes, live on our screens, unless we get over ourselves and what passes for our lives at this particular touch point in time.

Despite two weeks of nationwide demonstrations the latest public sacrifice happened Saturday morning in Atlanta to 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks, an African American male, father, sibling and child.

Yet again

Mr. Brooks was asleep in his car at a Wendy’s parking lot when police approached, woke him up and spoke to him for a while before putting him under immediate arrest for no pressing crime.

A scuffle ensued and they pulled out their taser gun to shoot but Mr. Brooks grabbed the taser away, turned and ran in the opposite direction on foot, only to be shot dead in the back at point blank range.

They never got to the almost nine-minute knee on the neck public police execution of George Floyd in Minneapolis several weeks ago that ignited the current ongoing national uproar. Instead Mr. Brooks’ very public death mirrors the more commonplace executions of youngish people of color by law enforcement that the American people have been out in the streets demonstrating against in the name of George Floyd to begin with.

How many more faces will we need to add to this? (New Yorker cover by Kadir Nelson)

This latest iteration of “disruptors” standing directly on the Atlanta interstate blockading traffic as buildings crumble in fiery protest across the city are what pass for the principal signs of life in that area.

Meanwhile, the rest of the city and country reels in a sea of loss, none more so than the family, friends and children this latest “incident” leaves behind.

In this current scenario, of course Mr. Brooks is cast against his will as death, his being the latest in a very specific epidemic that merely serves to remind us of all the many iterations that came before it.  Not to mention the many other memories of loss and death that surface for those of us living through this modern day dystopia unrelated to him or his family.

A sign for our time

One could argue, of course, that to choose this kind of life on the streets of America is to not choose life at all but rather one long infinity of prolonged pain leading into our masse eventual death.

Yet as the body counts rise and the mourning pain deepens it might help to remember that the one cool constant thing about life is you can still change your mind.  Meaning that you always have the choice to do it a different way until death comes knocking, or rather, barreling through your door.

Unlike Mr. Floyd, Mr. Brooks and the many other ageless faces of those who’ve touched our lives whose choices were taken away long before their time.

George Harrison – “What is Life”