As I have mentioned before, I really enjoy watching "The O.C." Yes, I am behind the times a bit. And, yes, this show has many dramatic soap-opera elements about it. But, it has many other elements, as well. The one I will be discussing today is how, to me, this "sexy, teenage soap" espouses the best of liberal thought -- at least, the best of liberal thought as I have experienced it in my life.
I am a pretty conservative person -- religiously, politically, in my life as a wife and mom. I did earn my college degree at San Francisco State University, though. And most of my teachers at that storied institution, and many of my friends, were pretty (extremely ?) liberal. In watching "The O.C." I have been reminded of my experience in college and the things I learned to appreciate there from those who embraced the more "progressive" view of things.
One of the main characters in "The O.C." is a man named Sandy Cohen. He is a Jewish, Berkeley-educated public defender married to a beautiful, kind, very wealthy Protestant woman. These two have a 16-year-old son, Seth, who is rather socially awkward, but has great potential for a certain romantic coolness. The premise of the show is that, in the course of doing his job, Sandy comes across an enigmatic, soulful young man (Ryan Atwood) who has run afoul of the law (albeit, rather unintentionally). Seeing the goodness in this young man, Sandy doesn't want to leave him to the whims and vagaries of "the system," so he brings the teenager home to live with his family in a monied area of Orange County.
Throughout the four seasons of "The O.C.", Sandy faces many situations -- with Ryan and Seth, with his wife, in his work and community -- which challenge him and necessitate a response. He is not a perfect man and doesn't always make perfect decisions, but the humanity with which this character responds to both people and situations reflect what I consider to be the true beauty of liberal values.
First of all, in bringing Ryan home, Sandy personifies the liberal value of reaching out to the less fortunate. Of seeing the true potential in someone who has been treated rather harshly by life -- unstable family situation, low socioeconomic status, sub-par schools. He is willing to give that person a chance to see what he can really do with his life. And Sandy doesn't give up on Ryan when he makes poor decisions at times. He encourages Ryan to reflect on and rectify situations in which he hasn't handled himself properly. Sandy trusts Ryan, when all is said and done, to do what is right. He trusts in that people are, generally speaking, created to be good.
Which leads me to the next "liberal value" I see Sandy Cohen putting into action. And that is the value of withholding judgment when someone (especially a young someone) screws up -- allowing that person to learn from his mistakes without humiliation. Having hope that the person will, in fact, go on to be better for the experiences he has had. Throughout my education, the liberals in my life gave me confidence, because they gave me the freedom to try things out -- both actions and ideas -- in order that I could learn and figure things out for myself. I tried to make good decisions; but, of course, I wasn't always successful in that effort. And when I made mistakes, I didn't feel condemnation from these progressives. Instead, I felt compassion and understanding. This compassion and understanding gave me the strength I needed to pick myself up and move on. The sense of freedom and trust these individuals gave me also allowed me to express myself with sincerity, instead of making me feel I had to conform to a certain way of thinking out of fear that I would be rejected. And in being able to express what I truly felt, I was able to "shake out" my ideas -- test them among different people and in various situations, to see if they would truly hold up. And this is what I see in the interaction of the Sandy and Ryan (and Sandy and Seth) characters.
Sandy Cohen also embraces the best of liberal thought in his religious outlook and community life. One of my favorite episodes centers around the Jewish celebration of Passover in the Cohen household. At the Sedar meal, Sandy leads the prayer. As part of the prayer, he calls to mind an individual's and family's obligation to society -- both in the smaller community and larger world. And this character does put that idea into practice throughout all the seasons of the show. He struggles against the temptations of selfish individualism and material greed, always attempting to do what is truly the right thing for people and society. Even if it costs him personally.
Of course, Sandy Cohen -- progressive maverick -- at times does things much differently as a parent than I would. I would never be making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my 18-year-old son so that he could go off to Vegas for New Year's Eve to have sex with his 18-year-old girlfriend. (Knowing Sandy as I do, I must say that he probably sneaked some condoms into that cooler, along with the sandwiches). I also would never give my handsome, charming stepson his own pool house, equipped with a king-sized bed made up with satin sheets and fluffy pillows. And one of my favorite scenes -- I love it especially because it is something I would NEVER do -- is when Ryan is going off on one of his missions of vengeance. In the COHENS' RANGE ROVER, of all things. And Sandy is standing calmly by the open driver's side window, trying to calmly talk Ryan out of his insane plan. And Ryan drives away. And Sandy calmly lets him. I WOULD BE FREAKING DIVING INTO THAT WINDOW AND REMOVING THE KEYS FROM THE IGNITION AND DRAGGING RYAN BY HIS EAR BACK HOME AND LOCKING HIM (BY HIMSELF, WITH NO GIRLS) IN THE POOL HOUSE UNTIL HE CALMED THE HELL DOWN. But -- hey -- that's just conservative old me. ;)