SouthLAnd.... Yep. It's Friday, so I'm in a party mood. Therefore, I will regale you with tales of SouthLAnd and the Wondrous Sammy Bryant.
Do you believe one can learn lessons from fiction? I do -- because fiction is often a reflection of people's actual experiences, thoughts, and emotions. And I have learned many lessons from SouthLAnd, its stories and characters, especially because the show is based on actual LAPD events. Did you know that the show is shot on location in a variety of areas in LA, even "problematic" areas; and that the actors have done many ride-alongs with the LAPD; and that the cops milling about in the scenes are real ones? Very cool.
So, as for the Wondrous Sammy Bryant. Sammy is played, most perfectly, by the epic Shawn Hatosy. He and his partner, Ben Sherman (played, most perfectly, by the epic Ben McKenzie), have shown me very clearly where I went awry in my public high school teaching career. Ben Sherman is who I was as a teacher; Sammy Bryant is who I should have been.
Ben is the younger member of this adorable cop duo. He was raised in a fairly affluent family, although a troubled one. He is bright and did well in school. He is college-educated and very idealistic. It is brought to our attention, early in the show, that he appreciated the black studies class he experienced as part of his higher education. And when asked why he became a cop, he replies, "Well, it was either that or Teach for America."
Sammy, on the other hand, is a bit older than Ben. When this man is asked why he became a cop, he replies, "I was stoned. I did it on a dare." And then he grins a great big grin. He has worked as a detective and has been through the grief of seeing his partner (who was also his dearest friend) murdered. This experience has led him to return to being a street cop, because he wants to help the younger officers learn to be smart and safe on the job. Thus, he is paired up with Ben, a P2 "pup", as Sammy calls him. And Sammy, though he has been through a lot, is able to put things in perspective and keeps a mirthful attitude about him, as you can see by the laugh lines around his eyes and the little smirk he usually wears.
Now, Sammy and Ben see a lot of what you would call "crap" on the job. Their territory is basically Gangland, USA, with all that entails. Drugs. Gang turf wars, with innocent people caught in the crossfire. Illegal weapons. Poverty. Illegitimate children. Baby mamas. Baby daddies. Prostitution. And very little, if any, appreciation on the part of the people they are trying to help.
Ben has a very tough time with all of this. He starts out really wanting to help these people, really caring about them. But, he is soon rather overwhelmed by all the "crap". He takes it a bit personally when the people he is trying to assist insult him and are uncooperative. He gets really angry about what he sees the pimps doing to the prostitutes, especially the very young ones. He gets so angry, in fact, that I hope his outfit for Season 5 is not an orange jumpsuit. We see him becoming more than a bit cynical. He seems caught up in a sort of metaphorical whirlpool of negative emotions because he can't do as a cop what he really thought he could do as a cop. He really can't change things for the better as he had envisioned himself doing.
Sammy, though, because of his experience and mirthful attitude, is able to keep a more balanced perspective on the whole thing. He treats all the people he serves as a cop with respect and a sense of humor, without judging their situations too harshly. I love the way he interacts with gang members and baby mamas and the little babies themselves -- casual, friendly, relaxed, with a smile on his face. He gains a certain amount of cooperation and respect from them because of his manner -- a very smart move on his part. But, he also says that his old partner, the one who was killed, taught him to view the people of Gangland, USA, as human beings, with lives and loved ones and hearts and souls. And he realizes that he can only do what he can do, and he is at peace about that. He is basically the embodiment of the serenity prayer. Thus, he retains his sanity and is able to "keep on keeping on". Now, Sammy tries to teach Ben how to have more of this kind of healthy attitude, but Ben is quite stubborn. We'll see how things play out in the coming season.
As I came to know the characters of Ben and Sammy, it caused me to reflect on my rather brief, 2-year stint teaching high school. The school at which I taught had many students who were bused in from rather problematic neighborhoods. The average reading level of these kids, as I recall, was 3rd grade -- yes, 3rd grade. Makes any type of high school curriculum pretty difficult. Combined with this lack of scholarly preparation, there were many social problems -- gang membership, drug dealing and using, teen sex and pregnancy, absent fathers, broken homes. Coming into this situation as a lily-white 23-year-old, I really wanted to help these kids. I really cared about them. But, I soon came to realize that most of them didn't actually want my help and they could be....well, pretty clear....in expressing this sentiment. I was soon caught up in a whirlpool of negative emotions, much like Ben's, and I didn't know how to get out of it. And, though I hate to admit it, I got pretty angry. Thankfully for me, and also for my students, I had my first baby and decided to be a stay-at-home mom. But, I have often fretted over the years about the job I did and how I could have actually done it well. And that's where Sammy teaches me a good lesson. If I had been more like him in my attitude toward and expectations of my more "challenging" students, things probably would have gone a lot better. I should have done what I could do, accepted peacefully what I couldn't change, and let a few laugh lines develop around my eyes.
Let's hope Ben learns some of these things from Sammy, too. Before he ends up in the orange jumpsuit.
We'll see what happens in 2013! ;-)