Lessons From…HarmonTown (The Movie)

Ah back to standard blogging schedule (hope it stays on track this year *fingers crossed*) and themes/ideas for posts. To be perfectly honest, I enjoy the current schedule/type of posts, but I still might change them or add a random post here and there. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want! Oh, and before the post begins, a few recommendations for other interesting blogs of people, Bryan, Brandon, Daniel, who swear they will write more this year. Help keep them honest!

I have loved Dan Harmon since The Sarah Silverman Show which he was fired from and continued my faraway devotion all throughout his tenure, firing, and rehiring of Community. I am one of those individuals who consider him a genius and will probably watch anything that his name is associated with. I mean have you seen Rick and Morty! Admittedly, I have not listened to the podcast, but it is now on my list of shows to listen to for the new year.

This is pretty much the show. Watch it!

This is pretty much the show. Watch it!

So, when I saw that there was a documentary of Dan Harmon doing a traveling podcast/show, I, at first, cried a little because I was nowhere near a theater that would show it. Then, I was elated by its release on video on demand (VOD) services and knew I was going to watch it as soon as possible. As with most media I have been consuming, I thought that there were some interesting notes and ideas in the film that should be examined and discussed. Thus, I highly suggest you watch it and as always SPOILERS ahead.

I told you I would keep using it!

I told you I would keep using it!

One of the best parts of this movie/documentary to me is an interview that Dan Harmon did about it on a Nerdist podcast. Yeah at this point I am just showing my nerd all over this thing. (Look at it! Look at it!) I cannot recall whether it was the original Nerdist or the Writer’s Panel podcast, but it was definitely one of those two…probably. Anyways, Harmon was discussing how the director, and the documentary, was going to have some 3rd act problems because, as Harmon puts it, he did not grow or learn shit from the experience, so he makes a horrible “hero” for the film.

Wait, so a rich, drunk, white guy that most describe as a bit of an asshole does not make a good hero? Have to go rewrite a script...

Wait, so a rich, drunk, white guy that most describe as a bit of an asshole does not make a good hero? Have to go rewrite a script…

This part of the interview kind of blew me away for Harmon’s complete self-awareness and the movie kind of drives that point home. He had everything he has ever wanted. He created a beloved television show which he made a respectable amount of money, especially after syndication. He has a wonderful, supportive girlfriend (now wife) who puts up with his shit. He has a God-like status among a significant group of people. Furthermore, he continues to be able to create these odd pieces of media and narrative and get paid for it. Frankly, he is the end of a story; not the beginning.

And Harmon knows all this and yet does not seem to gleam any further enlightenment or lesson other than I have a pretty awesome life. This brings us to the first lesson: Sometimes there is no deeper lesson or meaning. I know it seems like I am shooting myself in the foot here, but just bear with me for one moment. We have been taught or trained to believe that we as individuals and as a group have some sort of purpose or reason for existing because of movies and songs and stories and all the times that adults fed us this bullshit as kids. The truth is that sometimes shit just happens and you just roll with it. That is actually most of life and you simply appreciate the good and get over the bad. A lot of times, like Harmon, you also consume copious amounts of alcohol to deal. Like a lot of alcohol.

Though how bad can life be if you are in between those two.

Though how bad can life be if you are in between those two.

If you have ever read or heard an interview involving Dan Harmon’s creative process, then you are probably familiar with his self destructive streak. This does not change for the documentary. Harmon constantly puts off writing two pilot scripts he has been paid for by major studios/companies (CBS and FOX). He manages to turn in one, though very late, and never gets around to turning in the other. We also hear the action behind the scenes of Harmon’s shows and how difficult, for lack of a better term, he can be when in charge.

It is almost a cliche of the creative process and art to mention the anxieties and problems of creative individuals, but there must be some truth to the generalization for it to be so prominent, no? Even if so, Harmon demonstrates that there are ways to incorporate these tendencies and actually use them to some benefit, either for yourself or others. So, next lesson: Self destruction does not have to be totally annihilating. Harmon has more than any single individual deserves and he knows it and still seemingly tries to fuck it up. Yet, he does not. He compartmentalizes aspects and manages to produce creative content and still have healthy personal relationships. He has no idea how, but he does. And if Harmon can pull it off, the rest of us should be okay.

Remember the whole “third act problems” mentioned earlier? Well, Harmon was not wrong. He really is/was a bad focus of the film because at the end of it he is technically better off, but through no action of his own and without any major realizations or epiphanies. This does not make for the most compelling or relate-able story which brings us to Spencer, the Dungeon Master of Harmontown and the eventual “hero” of the movie.

Also known as Annie's brother Anthony.

Also known as Annie’s brother Anthony.

Yup, this man ends up the major protagonist by the film’s end, and in some fashion the entire Harmontown fan base and community. These people are the misfits and outcasts who do not seem to quite fit in as much as they would like for a multitude of reasons and found some level of solace, community, and acceptance in Dan Harmon’s work. Harmon did not create something with this intention but he fully embraces this conclusion and it feeds back into his creative energy. Hell, every Harmontown is unique because of the crowd participation every episode.

Spencer went to a Harmontown with the singular intent of playing Dungeons & Dragons with Dan Harmon and he did by seemingly pure chance. Now, he works in the entertainment industry and is sort of a pseudo-internet celebrity himself. All this because he made a choice and followed through. Obviously, there were also elements of luck and chance for Spencer to be this fortunate but he still had to put in effort and time to be where he is at.

Which brings us to the last lesson: Nothing is preordained and the most we can do is be our best and try. The entire film expresses this notion through Spencer and the other fans, through Dan Harmon, and even through this weird tour/experiment he went on. No one had any idea what this would be or what was on the other side. Harmon just piled his friends into a bus and hit the road to do something in between jobs. What came out of it was the story of this film and a better notion of what Harmon created and what it means to people. Not what was expected, since there were no real expectations, but still very much appreciated by the person who heard them.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.

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