Monday, September 25, 2006

Northern Exposure

Did you ever watch the American television series, Northern Exposure? I really wish it could get a rerun, particularly because I didn't see many of the later episodes and would like to. Some kind soul has published transcripts, and from them I've chosen the following gem about identity, truth, and other stuff.

To set the scene:

Alaska. Day. Chris is the local philosophising radio announcer. He had an eventful childhood crime-wise, and has just been arrested (years later) for violating parole conditions in West Virginia. He now has to appear at an extradition hearing, and if the judge can determine he is the person named in the warrant, he will be shipped off to gaol. His lawyer, Mike, decides to challenge the warrant on identity grounds: "[...] I hope to demonstrate, with the court's permission, that my client has undergone such a substantive change in the very nature of his character as to constitute a separate and unique identity from the individual named in the warrant. Simply stated, this man is not the same individual who skipped parole six years ago in West Virginia!"

Chris is called to the stand (such as it is... the court being held in the church).

BARBARA [Officer Semanski, acting as bailiff]: Raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

[Chris pauses (I'm guessing - I didn't see this episode).]

JUDGE: Mr. Stevens, is there a problem?

CHRIS: Well, Your Honor, I may have a conflict of interest here.

JUDGE: Would you care to elaborate?

CHRIS: I can't swear to tell the whole truth. I mean, when push comes to shove, I'd just as soon not go to jail, you know. I don't think I can keep that from influencing my testimony, if only at the subconscious level. You see, Mike and I, we've been over what I'm supposed to say and I got to tell you, it's pretty persuasive stuff. But is it the whole truth? It's a slice of truth, a morsel, a refraction. It's a piece of the pie, certainly not the whole enchilada, and now that I'm thinking about it, I don't think I could tell the whole truth about anything. That's a pretty heavy burden, because we all just see the world through this little, distorted piece of Coke bottle. Is there such a thing as objective truth? I wonder. Don't you?

JUDGE: It is a conundrum, Mr. Stevens, but it does not help us with the problem at hand.

CHRIS: Well, maybe I could just, you know, get up there and say the thing without the oath.

JUDGE: No, I'm afraid I can't do that.

CHRIS: Well, I guess I can't testify, then.

JUDGE: Mr. Stevens, in view of your extraordinary candor, I am going to break with tradition here and grant you the opportunity to make a brief statement in your own defense. It won't go on the official record, of course, but I think you've earned that much.

CHRIS: Well, I think Carl Jung put it best, Your Honor. We should not pretend to understand the world only by intellect. We apprehend it just as much by feeling. Therefore, the judgment of the intellect is at best only the half of truth and must, if it be honest, come to an understanding of its own inadequacy. Thank you.

JUDGE: Thank you, Mr. Stevens. The court will take a 20 minute recess to review the physical evidence.



The judge rules that Chris is the person named in the warrant, but orders him free on his own recognizance because his removal would place an undue burden upon the town.

Closing the episode, Chris is back on air.

CHRIS: Who is Chris Stevens? Who are any of us? Are we one person fixed at birth? Do we grow like a snowball coming down the mountainside of life, or can we change, shed our skin? The caterpillar becomes the butterfly, leaving the remains of his former self behind. I look at my yearbook photo, Wheeling Central Catholic High School, class of '81, and I wonder who that stranger is. Damned if I know. Maybe that's the point. Maybe we're not supposed to know. Maybe that's what this earthly joyride's all about. Like Robert Frost said: "We dance 'round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows."

From Crime and Punishment written by Jeff Melvoin; transcribed by Duvelle.