Straight news accounts and routine reporting cannot hold readers’ and viewers’ interests for long. When I was publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette in the 1700s in Philadelphia, I found that in order to be more successful in the newspaper business, one occasionally needs to spice things up with some stories that cross the line between news and entertainment.
Why, once, the Gazette even carried the story of a witch trial in Mount Holly, in the colony of New Jersey—which actually turned out to be more of a humorous feature than a news item! (It was simply laughable how the trial was carried out, with the accused witches being proven innocent at every turn, no matter what outlandish methods were employed, from a comparative weighing of the accused next to a Bible, to the traditional measure of dunking.)
It had been suggested, but never proven, that I was secretly the author of that particular farce. From my new vantage point as a time traveler here in the 21st century, I believe it would be far more judicious of me to continue to leave that question a mystery. So the reader will have to decide for him or herself as to the truth of that allegation.
Personally, I prefer to think of the story as a helpful way to relieve the readers of all undue seriousness that has befallen them. Too much seriousness can really weigh you down!
The force of gravity
Speaking of weight and seriousness, did you know that a few definitions of the word “gravity” are seriousness, heaviness, and sternness? (This sounds like some of my Puritan forebears.)
As many of you are aware, my own philosophy of life is not one which demonstrates a preponderance of “gravity.” In fact, given the choice between gravity and levity, I think I shall usually choose the latter. Life is too short to never allow oneself to take pleasure in a well-crafted joke or some amusing, witty banter.
There are, of course, a wide variety of ways one can be entertained in this manner. One of the numerous humor writers from my time, Jonathan Swift, was a well-known Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and priest. (Which leads one to wonder, how serious was he about religion?) One of Swift’s best-known works was Gulliver’s Travels, an ingenious social satire that masquerades as a child’s adventure tale.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, where is Franklin going with this “shaggy dog” of a blog? Well, dear reader, my intent is quite simple: I have recently had the privilege of attending a performance of a Broadway musical entitled “Wicked.”
Wicked wins when good goes astray
As I understand it, Wicked is a tale that actually begins with another story, “The Wizard of Oz.” Wicked picks up where Wizard of Oz leaves off, revealing the ultimate fate of characters like the wicked witch, the wizard, the tin man, and others – while also attempting to explain some of the plot twists that have propelled these characters into doing the not-so-nice things that they did. So it is a sort of “sequel/prequel,” as you 21st century folks might say.
I was thoroughly enthralled and entertained by this play, in part because I undoubtedly appreciated a lot of the satirical humor scattered throughout what otherwise might be experienced as a serious, heavy story of hurt, betrayal, sorrow, anger, and regret. The music, of course, succeeded marvelously in helping to tell this story, and keeping the audience well entertained.
And that leads me to share what I found most fascinating of all: the song “Defying Gravity,” which expresses a spirit of freedom, liberty, creativity, and rebellion, which of course are hallmarks of my own days as a patriot during the Revolutionary War.
I began reminiscing about those times, and realized that like the story of Wicked, nothing in America’s fight for independence was very clear or black-and-white, either. We, too, had all sorts of complications, plot twists, surprises, and very muddy understandings of what our Revolution was all about. Heroes turned into villains, good deeds and noble plans had unexpected consequences, and all sense of right and wrong became strangely warped and twisted. Even my own son William was a Loyalist — a member of the other side, who remained loyal to the British. Now, that is a good example of turning the world upside-down! I would also wager that Sir Isaac Newton could see the irony in that demonstration of “anti-gravity.”
To see where my imagination took me, after viewing this performance of Wicked, you might want to watch a little “video” of my adventure, by going to http://youtu.be/BsAWxcOzFwk on Youtube.
Whether it is defying “gravity” of the physical, Newtonian kind — or rebelling against the stern “gravity” of smile-less, Puritanical purveyors of propriety — I trust that you will find this brief escapade of mine somewhat amusing.
As a way of putting things in proper perspective, however, I think I shall conclude today's blog with some words I penned so many years (and centuries ago), in which I speculated on the progress I foresaw, asking that we imagine the scientific advances that could come over the next 100 years: "...we may learn how to remove gravity from large masses and float them over great distances."
As I survey the state of science here in this 21st century, I realize that my original vision has not yet come about, in a literal sense, but, when one considers the miracle of air travel, it has actually been realized in another way, "defying gravity" through effortless trips across the oceans.
Your humble servant,