Trumbo was a movie director that won a number of Academy Awards, however, he was not able to accept them because he had been blacklisted for being associated with the commies in an era when red was definitely not in vogue.
His name was sullied for the next 10 years when in 1947 he refused to testify in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) about how communism was impacting Hollywood. Trumbo’s refusal to testify earned him 11 months in prison for contempt – a charge he never denied, even after his release.
Is this modus operandi a relic?
If one does not live a life that is the result of conscious decision-making that is based upon core values, what steers the course of one’s life?
Trumbo’s actions and other similarly principled lives have become a bit like wallpaper to us, in two ways.
Firstly, like wallpaper, they are a bit eccentric. Like the passionate violinist who bothers us at the restaurant table for some coinage on a Friday night – quirky, but a bit odd, cute, but a little on the pongy side – they stand out from the crowd. We go on eating our penne polo and drinking our Belgian pilsner hoping the next mouthful will be minus the accompaniment. But this vain attempt to rid them from our dinner existence is futile. They do exist and they will impact our meal and our evening whether we succumb and dish out the spare change or not.
Never mind, it will soon be over. The eccentric violinist who was wrecking our meal vanishes to table 34.
Out of sight and out of conscience.
People like Trumbo confront our conscience. They stand up and stand out because they stand on principles. We are forced to deal with them whether we like it or not. I find ignoring them or placating them is easiest.
Secondly, people like Trumbo are like wallpaper because in the end they do disappear into the banality of our own principled-less lives. At first they shock (good or bad) and then they becomes like the off-white paint. You don’t see them. They blend in and become a part of life’s clutter. You walk in and you don’t notice the lively colour and difference anymore.
But wallpaper is wallpaper.
Trumboesques make the principled-less life not only seem banal but prove that it is banal. Through a sleight of mind trick one might move the inconvenience out of sight and out of conscience, but this bares little on the real contrast between their lives and our own.
No, Trumbo’s actions against the un-American, House of Un-American Activities Committee were not something that someone just does. People rarely stand for the sake of standing. Most often they have worked through the issues and have decided on which hill they will die.
And so we arrive at one pertinent monologue that stood out to me in the documentary. I forget now his exact words, but Trumbo pinpointed what he thought was the modern curse, or perhaps more accurately put, the Western modern curse.
One can decide to go with the pastels and off-whites, or one can decide to go with the bright colour. The problem, which Trumbo highlighted, is that the sheer quantity of choice is blinding.