I have had a lot of time to think lately, and over the weekend a question struck me – would I rather be Balki or Larry? No matter how much I tried to dismiss it, I couldn’t shake the question – would I rather be a Balki or a Larry.
You see, I don’t think that’s a small question, a small issue. I don’t think it is something that is just about some silly sitcom that aired on ABC. I think that it’s a much larger issue.
Check that, I don’t think it is a much larger issue, it is a much larger issue. It should be much larger thing worse than that, it’s a much larger thing that can’t fully be answered in this brief post.
The way I view it, it isn’t just a question about one’s personal mindset. It is also a question about the way we interact with television and the world.
“Would I rather be a Balki or a Larry” presupposes that I can instantly identify those individuals, know that they’re from a television show, know which show, and know who the characters are.
In this case, it is a question about two sitcom characters from “Perfect Strangers.” Larry (Mark Linn-Baker) is a high-strung pessimist. Balki (Bronson Pinchot) is a more relaxed optimist but is regularly sucked into Larry’s paranoid view of the world. Balki is naïve. Larry isn’t worldly (or necessarily right), but he isn’t naïve in the same way as Balki.
I absolutely love the idea of the question. I quote movies and television shows on a regular basis and because I do what I do and interact with the people I interact with, the quotes are regularly understood as such. There is a shared base of knowledge and that utterly fascinates me.
That right there is a much larger issue. I firmly believe that so many of the problems in this world, both large and small, are caused by misunderstandings, by people not having the same background knowledge, understanding, and point of view and then an utterly inability to accept the point of view of someone else.
If North Korea truly hacked Sony in an attempt to make sure “The Interview” would never get released, that comes from a ridiculous misunderstanding of our society. Such a tactic could never work. I don’t know if there was a better way to approach it (and there is certainly the possibility that North Korea actually has some ulterior motive, not stopping the movie), but the selected approach was never going to be successful.
Okay, quite the tangent there, but as only you and I are reading this, I’m okay with that.
So, back to where I began and the smallest of the questions at hand – would I rather be a Balki or a Larry?
At one point I thought that the answer to that was Balki. Maybe at one point that was the answer; I wanted to be the happy-go-lucky guy. I don’t want that anymore. I don’t want to be the sort of sad sack that Larry is, but I don’t admire Balki’s naiveté, and that’s really what stops me from wanting to be him. The world is a blank for Balki, an empty book waiting to be filled in. Larry has those pages filled in, but will still—with some cajoling—cross out what he had written incorrectly and toss in the correct information.
The goal is, as an adult, not to be a blank slate but rather someone who has formed a more definite view of the world, and then still be willing to alter that view when new information comes.
Additionally, and this one I think is utterly crucial – Larry regularly recognizes his failings and strives to be better. At the end of so many episodes, Larry looks at everyone, apologizes for mistakes, and says that he’ll do better in the future. He strives for improvement and that may, in the end, why I think he wins.
But then you might tell me that Balki isn’t a blank slate, that Balki offers up Myposin wisdom on a regular basis. That is true, but it doesn’t diminish the naiveté regularly offered up by the character. He, too, strives for betterment, but he only rarely doesn’t go to Larry for that betterment. He gets sucked in all too regularly.
Okay, fine, the truth is that the ideal is to be somewhere in the middle, but that isn’t playing by the rules. The rules state you have to choose (I know because I made them), and if I had to choose, I’d choose Larry.
Not that I don’t understand Balki’s point of view, and that I’m not willing to hear his opinion.
photo credit: Warner Bros. Television