Other People

The first time I saw Dumb and Dumber, in a cold theater during my senior year of high school (1994), I didn’t laugh once. In fact, I wanted to leave. I don’t know if it was the company I kept on that night, if I was feeling sorry for myself because the movie I wanted to see was playing next door, or if I thought I was above the raunchy, slapstick material, but neither Jim Carrey nor Jeff Daniels was getting a smirk from me. 

Because it was about me. 

But a funny (literally) thing happened a couple years later when I saw the film again. This time I wore out the pause button on my remote because I was laughing so hard that I had to stop to make sure I didn’t miss the next gag. From the one liners to the absurdity of the script, I was all in, like SeaBass and those boilermakers. 

And though many scenes stand out (this one made me cry, in fact), it’s an easily overlooked scene that serves as the impetus for this post. 

Because it’s about other people. 

Forget the almost anachronistic phone booth and focus on this hilarious interplay between these two characters. One guy is on the phone; another guy wants to use the phone. Simple enough. 

But the end of the scene reflects where we are in society right now. 

If you listen closely, you can hear all the empaths around the world screaming, “Told ya!” But, you know, really politely. 

COVID has forced us into one of two cocoons. The first is wound tightly by a spool of self-preservation and narcissism. After all, if no one else is going to grab another bottle of sanitizer, why shouldn’t I grab a tenth? 

The second is hyper focused, though still enshrouded in relative safety, on the concept of, wait for it…other people. Stuck in a paradoxical loop of I’m-okay-but-what-about-my-aging-parents-or-all-the-health-care-workers-and…you get the idea. 

Both are satirized in the Dumb and Dumber scene because even though the man outside the booth uses the concept of other people as a way into the phone booth he is still fueled by a self-serving motivation to get inside and make his call. The man on the inside is going to take his sweet old time because, hell, he was there first. 

That, my friends, is how we arrived at a Dumb and Dumber society. 

Still, as it so often does, it takes something horrific to make us realize we’re not in this alone. The world, in large part, has chosen to come together to celebrate other people rather than to ask “what about me?” School parades, nursing dance parties, global concerts, and, thanks to Jim Halpert, a weekly news segment focused on all that is good in the world have widened a once myopic camera angle. All we have to do is adjust how we look through it. 

When we do, man, there will be a lot of other people looking back. 

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