Life lessons come in the most unexpected places, during the most unexpected of times. Likewise, they come to everybody. After all, knowing about the philosophies of day-to-day existence doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of old men, toiling in their studies and writing treatise after treatise. It’s hard to come up with a list of the top ten philosophers, as there have been many, each having his or her own significant contribution to the body of human thought. Lists that include Foucault, Kierkegaard, Marx, Plato and Aristotle have been drawn up, anyway. Yet, since solid philosophy can come from the most unanticipated of sources, there might be some sense in looking into today’s pop culture and far-reaching insight can be found in cartoons, TV shows, and movies…
10. Lester Bangs
Directed by audiophile Cameron Crowe, “Almost Famous” (2001) is about a music stalwart teenager’s experience when he’s suddenly given the assignment to write for “Rolling Stone” magazine. Patrick Fugit takes on the role of William Miller, the boy lucky enough to receive the chance to go on tour with his favourite rock band.
At first, William revels in the joys of rock star living but later feels its weighted consequences. Through those hard times, he found solace in conversations with his mentor-of-sorts, Lester Bangs, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The philosophy of Lester Bangs is best summed up in his line, “The only currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone when you’re uncool.” Life has its ups and downs, and the only joy that people get from living is found in moments of intimacy and connection.
9. The Hulk
Most of the best philosophies were written in long, drawn-out treatises. Often, people have to concentrate hard to be able to read through them, let alone understand them.
Some of life’s philosophies, however, are best understood when explained in the most extravagant of ways, and there’s nothing more in-your-face than the persona of the Incredible Hulk.
A mainstay character in the Marvel Comics universe, the Hulk is a representation of how anger shouldn’t be kept in. If left to percolate inside, anger can be released in the most uncontrollable of ways – say, in a green monster gone berserk.
8. Uncle Ben
Spider-man took the comic book world by storm because he was probably the first superhero shown to deal with the everyday problems of individuals not gifted with extraordinary powers. Yet, the Spider-man series came with what is probably the most quoted line in the comic book universe, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
When Spider-man first became a superhero, he was still figuring out what to do with all his newfound powers. Not knowing that his nephew suddenly had arachnid capabilities, Uncle Ben offered some advice about being a man and holding responsibility. Spiderman always brought Uncle Ben’s advice whenever he faced the evilest comic book villains.
Endowments of power will always come with consequences, the philosophy of Uncle Ben seems to point out. In a sense, this also shows how everything will always come at a price.
7. Mr Miyagi
The 80s wouldn’t be the same if Ralph Macchio did not play Daniel Larusso and Pat Morita did not take on the role of Mr. Miyagi. The “Karate Kid” series not only got many Americans hooked on martial arts, but it also brought some elements of eastern philosophy into the mix.
As the martial arts instructor to Daniel-san, Mr Miyagi also became a surrogate father, littering instructions with deep words of wisdom. Though his most quoted line is “Wax on, Wax off,” Mr Miyagi is also known for telling his student, “First learn stand…then learn fly…nature’s rule, Daniel-san, not mine.”
Mr Miyagi’s philosophy brings focus to the importance of taking things at their natural pace. Though people are endowed with the ability to choose how they want to live their lives, there are certain things that can be achieved only with time and perseverance. Baby steps are important, his philosophy seems to say.
6. Forrest Gump
Anyone who hasn’t heard Tom Hanks, in playing Forrest Gump, says “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get” is either too young to have seen the movie or currently encased in a cryogenic capsule.
When the Robert Zemeckis film was released in 1994, audiences across the world loved “Forrest Gump.” Though a simpleton at best, Forrest’s outlook took his life through many experiences, filled with ups and downs. Although he went through a lot, Forrest remained stalwart to his beliefs. Just take a look at how devoted he was to Jenny, his first and only love.
As captain of the hovercraft, Nebuchadnezzar, Morpheus became the spiritual leader to Neo in the “Matrix” trilogy. Played by Laurence Fishburne, Morpheus reeled Neo and audiences into the “real” world, where the Earth was taken over by machines endowed with artificial intelligence.
If anything, Morpheus stood for how important it is to keep on questioning things. Whatever it was that seemed permanent can actually prove to be fleeting, later on. As he convinced Neo (Keanu Reeves), of the fake “reality,” Morpheus effectively asked audiences to be critical of their current status in life.
4. Angus MacGyver
You know that something has reached a certain level of cultural notoriety when a verb is widely used to denote it. With the rise of Google as an effective search engine, people started saying, “Why don’t you just Google it?” or “Have you Googled it already?”
The same is particularly true with the TV show “MacGyver.” Played by Richard Dean Anderson, MacGyver was known as an extremely resourceful secret agent. Once caught in a bind, his grasp of a wide array of knowledge always helped out. Thanks to the popularity of the show, people started to say things like “I MacGyvered my way out.”
MacGyver represented how there will always be a solution to problems. His mindset was always anchored on taking the time to analyze the situation, hark back to prior experiences and be creative when out to execute a plan. MacGyver’s character spoke of how it’s good to both rely on lessons from the past and disregard them.
3. Eric Cartman
Although toting sadism that borders on the pathological, Eric Cartman, one of the nine-year-olds in the TV show South Park, can be a bit of a philosopher on certain occasions. People associate dozens of sayings to him, but probably the most salient would be “Screw you guys, I’m going home!”
On the surface, this line only points out some exasperation with the present company. Yet, looking at it on a deeper level, this Cartman edict speaks loads and loads about the importance of self-awareness. How can anybody get pissed off with the present company when they don’t have any notion of which company makes them happy? Likewise, how can anybody go “home” when there’s no notion of what “home” is?
Yoda, speaking in anastrophe, gave many “Star Wars” fans some insight into the intricacies of the force. His philosophy of Yoda draws much from Zen Buddhism and Taoism. As master to the young Luke Skywalker, Yoda always emphasized the importance of letting go.
Trying too much to exert control over the ravages of time, he seems to say, is an exercise in futility. A person only does good when he or she can take the cue from the larger things in life. Incidentally, it is only when a person accepts that there are larger forces at play in the universe that a person can ever begin to control his or her life.
Wise, that Yoda is!
1. Homer Simpson
The “Sunday Times” deemed Homer Simpson the greatest comedic creation in modern times. After all, who doesn’t associate the exclamation “D’Oh!” with him? However, the popularity of this blue-collared nuclear plant technician from Springfield is also due to his unique outlook on life. To many, Homer’s personality is an archetype of the lazy, overweight, prejudiced and seemingly hopeless working class in North America. Yet, people still find something endearing about his stomach-centred ways.
Despite his diminished intellectual capacity, Homer remains incessantly happy. The smallest things get him extremely giddy, as if to show to the rest of the world how happiness doesn’t have to be rooted in very lofty things. Homer’s unique brand of philosophy will always make The Simpsons one of the most popular TV Families of all time.
Life Lessons All-Around
Often, life’s lessons don’t come easily, but when they do, they could help people live more meaningful lives. These lessons can come from anywhere. Learning about the philosophies of life is really just a matter of keeping your heart and your mind open.