This Is Your Life?

Above image: A screenshot of the opening credits for television show “This Is Your Life”.

I found this old Livejournal entry of mine the other day and I felt compelled to share it once again.

“Thursday, March 10th, 2011 @ 12:19 PM:

I’ve been obsessed with this TV show from the 1950s called This Is Your Life, after hearing about it on This American Life. In this TV show, the show host surprises a guest (who most of the time has no idea why they are there or that they are even a guest of the show) by taking them through ‘the story’ of their life in front of a studio audience and the American public watching from home. Can you imagine someone ‘putting together’ their idea of ‘the story of your life’, narrating this story, inviting your friends and family to join in and do voiceovers, and then playing this story for millions of people? And when it’s all over, they hand you a 16mm film reel of the show and 16mm film projector for you to take home as a token of your own life. How surreal. This show has my head spinning in so many directions. Part of me wants to throw my hands up, part of me wants to weep, and part of me is in awe of the entire spectacle. What an amazing display of your life turned fiction.”

In the original Livejournal entry I linked to a YouTube video for one of their episodes. It was entitled, “This Is Your Life: Holocaust Survivor Hanna Bloch Kohner Interview (1953)”. Yes, I know. The video of that episode is no longer available on YouTube for copyright reasons, but you can see another episode the show did on comedian Lou Costello below.

This is Your Life: Lou Costello (1956)

I love (because it is so outrageous) and hate (because this was really real) how nervous and hesitant he looks throughout the span of the show. He only shows brief moments of gaiety before resuming a blank face that masks whatever feelings he must be having in real-time. (This is an assumption, but I really don’t think that Lou Costello enjoys [publicly] reminiscing about his past, and is probably a man who spends more time living in the now). The whole orchestration has me wanting to look away or walk slowly out of the room, as if I just stumbled upon a private conversation two people are having about someone else. I realize that this show is meant to be a celebration of life, that with 1950s-good-intentions they are trying to tell an uplifting tale of perseverance, but I can’t get over the superficiality and awkwardness of the whole scene. The show is like bumping into a man on the street who has empty eyes and a large toothy grin stretched across his face: creepy, unpredictable, and not to be trusted. I am for the most part a private person and I rarely appreciate someone over-simplifying a person’s life decisions or personal struggles for the sake of “the story”. People’s lives are so much more multifaceted, their emotions and motives so much more layered, that stopping and accepting a story at face value is simply not responsible. Perhaps I am bothered by the notion of being pinned down by words, defined and possibly trivialized by a string of anecdotes. It’s as if the minute things are committed to word, it is out in the universe and is a step closer to being interpreted as some kind of truth. When you’re dealing with a person’s ever evolving life path and personal sense of self, who are you to decide what is true?

On that note, I will leave you with one last YouTube video.

The Animals, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”

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