When trying to help the world, we too often are either trying to make others like ourselves or trying to prevent them from becoming like us. There is another way, of course. It's called empathy, and it means encouraging without pressuring, involving without judging, loving without demanding...
We all know that social progress occurs from originality, not conformity. We like the most the stories that we haven?t heard before, or that give us a new perspective about things. In the words of Daniel Greenberg, "The future belongs to the imaginative, creative cultures that can sustain their freshness, their willingness to break new ground and experiment with new ideas and new forms." "Let variety flourish; let unmanaged differentiation develop unhindered." [from Reflections on the Sudbury School Concept, pg. 263]
But society is very good at doing the opposite, isn't it? Harvey Pekar's house is stuffed with his collections of records and comic books, and he doesn't exactly keep things clean. He's really interested in these things, and doesn't have time to worry about unimportant details like organizing one's possessions. But he lives alone. His second wife just left him, and the loneliness is starting to get to him. Society, of course, would tell him to get his things organized, cultivate an attractive appearance, learn how to relate personably with others, and Eureka! He could once again be considered a "good catch," and his problem of loneliness should soon be solved.
But this time, Harvey rejects such "mainstream phoniness." In fact, his whole life becomes a rebellion against it. He looks for the phoniness everywhere, he calls out his coworkers at the VA hospital. Riding the bus, waiting in line at the supermarket, whatever. The subject is always on Harvey's mind. We've all had such epiphanies about the role-playing that goes on in public interactions. But Harvey thinks the issue should be discussed more, that there could be a market for talking about it. And then he catches his big break.
The scene in the movie is wonderful. His friend introduced him to Robert Crum, a comic illustrator who has sway with the underground comic book industry in San Francisco. While Crumb is in Cleveland, Harvey presents some simple comic sketches about his thoughts on daily existence to Crumb. Also, Harvey's been recovering for some time from a throat surgery that caused his voice to sound somewhere between speaking and croaking. Crumb takes a look at the drawings, likes them, and immediately asks Harvey if he could take them to San Francisco to illustrate them. Harvey is so overtaken, he forgets about his throat surgery and begins talking naturally again. The point is that he realizes the rarity and uniqueness of the opportunity he has just been granted, and plans to take full advantage. "I guess you cured me," he says.
Where does Harvey's uncompromising stubbornness come from? No doubt his two failed marriages played some role. But within his stubbornness, there's an undeniable genuineness that you come to appreciate, and even admire, as you get to know him better.
Harvey's uncompromising stubbornness is both the key to his success and the cause of all his misery. But he knows that, and consciously chooses to be that way. That's who he is. In a TV interview for the Eddie Marshall Show, the real Harvey Pekar states one of his life philosophies "I don't take no baloney from anyone, unless they're paying me a living wage. [If not,] to hell with'em." For those who can handle the probable miseries of such an existence, it's an admirable way to live.
Really loved the themes this movie deals with. What prevents us from pursuing our highest ambitions? How much should we sacrifice for a shot at greatness? Watch if you care deeply about these questions.