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ALL IN THE FAMILY

Respect and accountability

(Second of three parts)

Family shows that tout decency, respect, accountability over gratuitous humor, one-upmanship, deviant behavior are needed now more than ever.

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Upon the recommendation of the writer and critic Jonathan Chua, I watched Amazon Prime’s “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street,” where the protagonist, with his friends Mel and Ranger, 14 years old at the start of the series, live in a seemingly ordinary suburb, but with magic all around.

Science fiction and fantasy propel plot points: a mobile dispenses misfortune, an eraser deletes memories, a gavel bestows power, a game foretells the future, a rainbow forces everyone to be happy.

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Children learn accurate academics from the show.

“No discipline is made fun of,” says Chua. “Science is respected as are athletics, art, literature. The ‘Metamorphosis’ episode is a nod to Kafka. A book report on ‘Catcher in the Rye’ is correct! A simple math problem: a book goes missing for X years and when added to the publication date brings the story to 2012 or so, and no one uses a smartphone to solve this. Videos are made with a handy cam. When Ranger becomes a counselor, he morphs into a black hole for absorbing other people’s woes: psychology and physics!”

What I love most about the series is its unapologetic stance on solid values, behavior and mindset. Children do not talk rudely to their parents (at least not without reason). Peer pressure is positive, as friends call each other to account. Sometimes they screw up but in the end, they face consequences, guided by adults who love, but do not coddle.

When a lovesick Gortimer inadvertently puts his younger brother in danger to woo a girl, he asks his mother, “I’m in big trouble, right?” “Tomorrow, definitely,” she says as they hug, “but not tonight.”

In this show, (most) parents and teachers act like sensible adults. They guide young people to do well. They do not spoil kids. They eschew instant gratification.

On the first day of class, the social studies teacher welcomes students thus: “Last year, you were just a bunch of kids. If you behaved immaturely, your teachers would say, ‘Well, what do you expect from a seventh-grader?’ Things are different this year. Most of you are teenagers—we expect more from you. I expect more from you. Welcome to Eighth Grade Honors Social Studies.”

When Gortimer cannot open a pickle jar because of a cast on his arm, he panics: “I’m going to starve.” His mother deftly opens the can while balancing a toddler on her arm and puts things in perspective: “Try doing that while holding a 4-year-old.”

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When Gortimer wishes for eternal happiness, his neighbor says, “You cannot have a rainbow without the rain.”

Characters wrestle honestly with often painful dilemmas and still uphold values of family, friends and society.

Gortimer generously volunteers to thwart the jinx endured by a friend before he himself gets into trouble with a mobile of ill luck. Another time, after realizing that magical amnesia exacts too high a price, Gortimer calls on reserves of courage to deal with repressed painful memories.

When Ranger becomes student council president because of a magic gavel, he finally realizes that power corrupts and that all of us, incidentally, have different abilities, so social comparisons make no sense. When he accidentally destroys stuff in the family bakery, his absent-minded grandfather gets the blame. How Ranger finds the courage to own up and take responsibility is a lesson all of us, young and old, need to learn.

When Gortimer tries to force a shy classmate to join a public contest, betraying her trust, he finally learns that we have to accept each other’s different personalities.

“Some people are drawn into the spotlight, others run from it. I guess the trick is figuring out how much light you need to make you happy.” This is good advice for parents and business founders who desperately try to make their children and successors into copies of themselves.

(To be concluded next week)

Watch “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street” on Amazon Prime.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” via Lazada and the ebook version on Amazon, Google Books and Apple Books. Contact the author at [email protected]

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