Thursday, June 07, 2007

You Aint Nobody

"You are what you are in this world

That’s either one of two things

Either you’re somebody

Or you ain’t nobody"

Those words come from the movie American Gangster. They are more powerful if you hear them spoken by Denzel Washington the prime actor of the movie. You can do that here.

I got hung up on those lines midway through the trailer. The words spit in the face of gentler philosophies such as Taoism or Christianity. A gentler way says we are all important, one of us is just as important as the other.

What do you think?

It’s possible to embrace both sides of the discussion. I think we can make a solid case for the power of the individual that controls his or her environment. I think this is especially true if this mastering of our circumstance is accomplished in a benevolent manner. The great inventors, philosophers and scientists fit Washington’s professed ideology. That is to say they are ‘somebody’ on the world stage. The man or woman that buses the tables at the local restaurant, diligently wiping off table tops, is obviously less known to the world on an individual basis. Is the bus boy a nobody? Is he less important than Monty Jones?

I am reminded of the line from Jack Nicholson in The Departed where he declares he ‘does not want to be a product of his environment, but rather prefers that the environment become a product of him.’ (paraphrased)

I think the truth of our existence occupies a precarious place of balance among such rash statements. These are statements that can land us in large trouble, and ironically it is also the attitude that might deliver us to greatness as a society and as individuals.

What do you believe?


Enemy of the Republic said...

What defines a person's essence is the same that defines his/her presence. I don't believe there is such a thing as a "nobody."

patti_cake said...

I don't believe there is a "nobody" either. What you do and who you are make you somebody. Hopefully you try to do good, positive things and make a positive impact. Unfortunately somebody, somewhere has to do the negative to balance things out.

Lynilu said...

I read/hear Washington’s remark more as the belief of a man who has achieved power but lost perspective. There are a lot of levels of achievement between those two; how one interprets “nobody” is perhaps more an issue. Everyone is somebody in my interpretation. Perhaps if one is all-powerful, everyone else seems unimportant. I wonder what it feels like so be so powerful that you can see a human being as “nobody.”

Rob said...

hmm. double negatives means that you are somebody, 'cause if you are not a nobody, then you are a somebody. maybe there's a caste system here. you know that there will be levels of being somebody. It's human to be more of a somebody than the other somebody.

Reach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reach said...

Somebody? Nobody?
This is the question to ask of each individual of their day, and not of the collective group. The person, whose role of the day is to be a 'Somebody', also desires a day of being a 'Nobody'. Call it balance. Even the person in the 'Nobody' role, is a 'Somebody' by the sheer virtue of presence and occupancy. Much like the ‘Yin Yang’, there would never be a Somebody without a Nobody; therefore, even the person holding the ‘nobody’ position is equally important.

A somebody was once a nobody who wanted to and did.
-John Burroughs


Seven said...

I know all of you are speaking from your heart about the worth of all individuals. I think the context of the quote is that we have to strive to be all we can be, (yet I also understand the actor is being the best gangster he can be, not the best individual he can be), of course I didn't write the quote, nor have I seen the movie so I could be all wet about the context. I think the question itself is a good example of how language is interpretive and can have multiplicity in the meaning perceived by each individual. For example I can see this quote being the meanest and most despicable thing any individual could say.
On the other hand, it could serve as the impetus for an individual to strive to be the very best human possible, if the context of the quote is defined in a positive manner.
I think the multiplicity of perception within the quote is what intrigued me.

kathi said...

I've not heard of this movie. Charlie's had written in one of his songs a while ago 'you're either somebody or your somebody's somebody'...kind of reminds me of that. Some are leaders, some are followers...some are lurkers, but everyone is somebody.

kathi said...

Oh, and I loved that line of Nicholsons in The Departed.