12 Angry Slopers

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There are rare occasions when I’m alone for a few days, and I normally make use of this surplus time by:

  1. Working on Slope even more than I normally do;
  2. Taking on some big house project and/or obsessively cleaning;
  3. Watching a classic movie I’ve never seen before.

Well, I’ve been doing all three of these things in the past few days, and the classic movie I just watched for the first time in my life was 12 Angry Men, which is about two-thirds of a century old. Each of the twelve actors who comprised the jury are dead now (with Jack Klugman, funny enough, being the longest to survive – – he died a decade ago on Christmas Eve) but the drama could absolutely be portrayed today with no change in content.

The story is extremely simple: the men (and for some reason, the jury is entirely men, as if this were portrayed in the 17th century) are the jury of a murder trial by an 18 year old Latino kid. When the jury convenes, 11 of them believe the kid is guilty and 1 of them – the man played by Henry Fonda – believes he is not guilty.

Virtually the entire film is a character study, as each juror, one by one, switches his vote to not guilty. The dialog with respect to the trial is quite repetitious (basically some version of, “I can’t believe you guys!“), but the backgrounds and character traits of each of the jurors is slowly revealed, and one gets a pretty decent grasp as to the nature of each person as the movie goes on. The last holdout, juror #3, is the angriest and the most stalwart of the “guilty” believers, and in the end, due to circumstances in his own personal life, he recognizes the error of his thinking and, weeping, switches his vote in order to create a unanimous Not Guilty verdict.

What I kept thinking of during the movie (Tim OCD fact: I never just watch a movie; I will busy myself with some useful but mindless activity, like sorting socks) is how much like Slope of Hope this fictional jury room was. Now, quite obviously, the people gathered here on Slope aren’t weighing a life-or-death decision or any kind, but there are many similarities in the dynamics.

What I’m referring to, off the top of my head………….

  • We are all strangers to one another;
  • We each have different backgrounds, different socioeconomic levels, and different political leanings;
  • By and large, we don’t really know what each other’s motivations, biases, and frailties are;
  • People can express themselves freely, and sometimes those expressions will have strong reactions from others that are here;
  • Over time, some people can actually sway others this way or that with respect to belief and opinions.

Of course, besides the fact that we’re not a jury, there are some important differences:

  • We can neither see nor hear each other (although I’m working on the “hear” part);
  • We can’t communicate with others, or interpret others, by means of facial expressions, tones, or body language;
  • With the notable exception of your long-suffering host, everyone here is pretty much anonymous to everyone else.

Watching the film actually made me more sensitive to the Slope experience. Different backgrounds. Different emotional scars. Unknown secrets and agendas. Sometimes it can feel like a real mess. But my basic belief in free expression maintains that, over time, everything works out for the collective best. (Brief experiments with any kind of censorship in the slightest form have absolutely blown up in our faces).

There’s no grand conclusion from any of this. I simply want to say that, just as 12 Angry Men is a microcosm of human nature in a group setting, so is the Slope of Hope. May we continue to treat each other with decency, and recognize the error of our ways when we fall short of the mark.