Last week, driving down hilly country roads, listening to the radio, I chanced upon an NPR interview with John Green, author of the wildly popular book — now a movie — The Fault in Our Stars. He said he spent years writing, alone in his basement, going, “Marco, Marco, Marco.” And then, finally, a response: “Polo!”
Green has reworked for Millennials the archetypal story of star-crossed lovers that has resonated with theater-goers ever since Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
It worked in 1970, when Love Story, another tear-jerking tragedy of youthful lovers separated by cancer, was a box office hit.
Again, in 1997, the same archetype catapulted the movie Titanic to world-wide success. Here, lovers rich and poor crossed boundary lines to connect, only to be separated by calamity and death.
Why is that archetype so powerful? Wherein lies its power to move us? What is the deeper prescient chord it strikes that is common to everyone, everywhere? Because there’s much more to the scenario than just young love and social differences.
It speaks to us at a deeper level. Especially in Titanic, we respond subliminally, not only with a painful awareness of our own mortality, but also an inner foreboding – foreknowledge, if you will — that even as we continue to heedlessly pursue our individual wants, the mother ship of planet Earth is speeding on a collision course towards disaster.
While each individual faces the certainty of physical death, far worse, we’re now faced with the possibility of collective extinction as well.
Importantly, however, Green’s title, The Fault in Our Stars, isn’t taken from Romeo and Juliet. The quote comes from a Shakespearean tragedy about political intrigue, betrayal and assassination: Julius Caesar. The scheming nobleman Cassius tells his co-conspirator: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
On the surface level, Hazel and Augustus, Green’s cancer-stricken protagonists, may regard their cancers as the separating enemy at fault. But just as there are many kinds of physical cancers, there are deeper ones to blame for the larger tragedies that threaten humanity on a planetary scale.
The same ego-driven madness expressed by Cassius drives leaders today too, escalating the advance of wordwide oppression.
According to The Positive Paradigm Handbook, the megalomaniac urges that motivate many politicians and corporate executives are like cancers:
Dysfunctional paradigms result in fragmented policies and unstable governments. . . This happens when toxic, pride-based competition enters into the mix of human relationships. The illusion that one person or group “needs” to seem bigger, better, stronger, smarter or more powerful than the others poisons the waters of life from which all drink.
This prideful attitude breeds insecurities, triggering an opposite and equal illusion of lack, as if the success of others constitutes an insult or threat that must be counter-attacked.
Like cancers which turn the cellular dynamics of the human body against itself, views that violate holistic wisdom turn the parts of the social organism against each other.
In other words, the underlying fault of the tragic story I’m writing about in my secluded author’s corner is another kind of self-destructive cancer. And though it would take a great deal of courage and considerable, ongoing effort, for some, it’s curable.
What is needed is a positive paradigm shift. In Einstein’s words, “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”
True, grieving over a sentimental boy-meets-girl story is less challenging than facing up to our deepest fears first hand. We are ready to weep for fictional characters when what we’re really crying about is our own inevitable demise. The problem with projection, however, is that shedding tears doesn’t change the facts.
It might well be that emotional romance stories are part of the diversionary media noise being generated to distract away from and cover up impending real life dangers. In the meantime, I am still writing away, like Green going “Marco, Marco, Marco.”