Given that tomorrow is Back to the Future Day, it was only natural to spend my evening rewatching the first movie in order to jump straight in to Part II tomorrow night. I’ve seen the trilogy about a billion times, of course, but any excuse is a good excuse.
It’s probably because I recently spent a weekend with 180 incredibly creative people, but this time, one of the smaller themes of the trilogy struck me. Namely, two of the arguably most important characters of the first movie are characterized by two specific traits: courage and creativity. Marty, of course, is marked by musical talent and a bravado that eventually mellows into the courage to ignore bullies. George is a writer who learns to stand up against them.
Mulling on it a bit more, there are two universal truths about creativity in the Back To The Future trilogy. In retrospect, they seem pretty obvious, but it’s easy to take them for granted.
1. It takes courage to be creative (and cowardice can ruin it).
This is probably one of the most obvious sub-themes of the trilogy. George allows himself to live in fear of Biff, and George gives up writing. George punches out Biff to save Lorraine, and George becomes an author. Even Marty hints at this trend: his band is rejected in tryouts, and he immediately thinks he should just give up. And in Parts II and III, when faced with physical threats from Flea (the race) and from Mad Dog Tannen (the shootout), Marty encounters futures where his false bravado almost ruins his creativity, physically, forever.
I can say from personal experience (most frequently in an academic setting) that it takes courage to try to do something creative. It’s scary and hard to produce something that goes against the grain or puts your heart on the line.
This is especially true given that it’s profitable to be formulaic. Take your average Hollywood blockbuster. Most of them are derivative works, or follow a strict formula (or both). Take country music: there was a great music video mashing up the top 10ish country songs, showing exactly how indistinguishable they were. Take nearly every viral headline ever: clickbait headlines work at baiting the click, of course, but in the end nearly every article is indistinguishable, and few or no people are actually the better for having read them. Or in my own work, the e-mails I write tend to follow a set pattern. Problem statement! Call to action! Why call to action is awesome! Repeat call to action! Does it work? Sure, it seems to. But what am I sacrificing in sticking to the formula? Where am I failing as a writer in not taking steps of courage to, you know, dare to write?
I have no answers, of course. Or rather, I may, but I’m too scared to admit to any of them. But:
When you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.
2. Your creativity—and courage—may inspire others.
This courage leads to the second theme from Back to the Future: that if you are brave and courageous, you’re planting seeds of courage and creativity in others. Marty shows this at least twice. The first time is when he breaks into George’s room to convince him to ask Lorraine under the dance. George doesn’t realize it, but it’s Marty on the cover of his eventual book. The second time is when Marty is on stage, playing Johnny B. Goode for the school. In the background, the lead musician puts his cousin Chuck Berry on the phone…thereby kind of making Marty the inventor of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
But there’s one other act of courage that’s required for this scene to take place: George has to take courage again to punch out the guy who stole Lorraine away from him and kiss her. Without that courage, Marty never exists.
I doubt there exists an artist who can’t list another artist as inspiration. The great ones transform that inspiration with their own measure of courage and creativity to create something new. But sometimes it’s not even the courage of creativity you need. Sometimes you just need to show up, to show an act of bravery or kindness to a watching world.
And that, of course, begs the follow-up question: who is missing out when your own voice is silent?
The only way to end this post is to list off some of the courageous, creative people I’ve met or am familiar with from the Rabbit Room community. Caveat: this is an intentionally very tiny sliver of a list. I’m also limiting it to people with fairly recent publications (within 2015 or so) whose stuff can be either purchased or kickstarted right now.
- Melanie Disa: Mercy Shore. (Technically it’s a duo, but Melanie’s the one I got to know.) Melanie is great and her music is lovely.
- Nick Flora: Futureboy. Yeah, he’s the one in whose music video I appeared for all of 5 seconds. It’s a great album and song.
- The Gray Havens: Unnamed EP. Seriously, go kickstart it. Then listen to Silver. Then raise your funding level because you have realized how awesome they are.
- Jen Rose Yokel: Ruins and Kingdoms. Jen is one of my oldest Internet friends, and she just released her first book of poetry. Go Jen!
- Helena Sorensen: The Shiloh Series. She just released her fantasy trilogy in print, and I can’t wait to read them. Also, she’s doing a giveaway that looks like it ends at 10 a.m., so enter ASAP for a chance to win.
- Jonny Jimison: Martin and Marco (technically vol. 1 of the Dragon Lord Saga). Epic fantasy meets pratfalls. Read it online, then buy it, then get ready to kickstart Volume 2 in a few months.