How I Met Your Mother, Modernism, & Storytelling

So the wife and I broke down and decided to watch the finale of How I Met Your Mother Last Night. The reason I put it this way is because we  had decided to boycott this ridiculous last season of the show months ago when we felt like the writers were simply treading water in order to fill up a final season. In all honesty we weren’t that big of fans of last years season either. All that being said, I’ve been a HIMYM fan from the start. The show began when I was in high school and myself and a couple of friends would watch it every week “before it was cool”, thus making us cool.

[Spoilers are contained from here on out]

My thoughts on the season finale are (like most other people) critical. On a surface level I didn’t like the fact that Robin and Barney get divorced, that Ted and Tracy get pregnant before the wedding, that Barney gets some girl we don’t meet pregnant, that they kill off Tracy so Ted can finally go marry Robin, and on even more of a surface level I didn’t even like the format of the last episode covering about 10 years time in about 15 minutes. But my critique goes a little deeper than these seemingly disjointed and disruptive plot lines that steer the story away from its supposed long appointed destination.

In the end I believe that HIMYM’s season finale is a product of Modernism and bad storytelling (these two things are really just ONE thing). In the modern conception of life the universe (as Ted likes to call it) is completely random. Further, we are all at the mercy of this machine-like universe that is just as apt to grind you to pieces as it is to give you “happily ever after”. This conception of reality gives an extremely subjective bent to both heroism and conclusion. Put more simply, considering the state of the world, the hero is the one who makes the best of the particular brand of angst the universe places him in. Now, in one sense this is admirable, often times a hero is a person who is able to deal with difficult situations he has been put into. However, the reason it is not commendable in this sense is because modernity offers no hope. Regardless of the hero’s ability to endure great adversity he ultimately has no objective hope that any of it is “worth it” because the universe is just random.

This is what you call “a bad story”. In the terms of the ancient greeks this would be a “tragedy” (community is broken in the end) and not a “comedy” (community is restored in the end).

The story that Modernism presents is and ever will be “tragic” in the greek sense. There is no point to anything so no matter how well or how bad things go for you, ultimately things are tragic. If this is your worldview then the season finale of HIMYM will actually resonate with you. In fact this worldview will resonate with a lot of people in modern society because in many cases the world seem rather hopeless.

The problem with this view of reality is that it is wrong. The world we occupy is a world of deep comedy. That is because the world that we live in is the same world in which death has been defeated. Jesus really did rise from the grave and in doing so he changed everything. As Doug Wilson put it recently, Jesus’ resurrection did not simply change his body, it changed the entire world. Hebrews 2 says that because Jesus conquered death he has freed everyone who has been enslaved to the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). Because of what Jesus has done we no longer need fear the tomb of death. As Peter Leithart puts it,

He twists death inside out, just by the fact of tasting death and submitting to its silence. He removes the sting, and death becomes a gate to new life; death ceases to be the end and becomes a new beginning; he cuts a backdoor in the tomb, so that it becomes a passageway. (God Gone Silent)

Great stories should reflect the way the world really is in spite of the way the world seems to be. This means that all great stories are ultimately comedies (in the greek sense). This does not mean that great and true stories are painless. Of course not! The greatest and truest story is the story of the Jesus. And yet while he endures the shame and loneliness of the cross he also experiences the resurrection. True stories reflect the fact that even while there is pain and suffering in the world the ultimate destiny is glorious communion with our brothers and sisters in light.

HIMYM falls short of this mark. Being a work of popular culture it is always a stretch to reach such a mark. I believe, in an effort to not be cliched, the writers of HIMYM wanted to avoid your typical fairytale ending.

But that is exactly what the world is and needs.

We live in a fairytale!

St. George really did conquer the dragon!

The slipper really does fit!

When we run off into the land of fairies in the right way we return to this world seeing more similarities than we ever thought possible!

Our own personal lives might actually reflect Ted’s from HIMYM. They might be filled with death, divorce and and ultimate decay of beloved community. But the writers of HIMYM allow these themes to win the day. The Christian worldview allows room for these themes but only as the serve the purpose of greater glory and greater community! This is why it is okay for stories to be cliché! It’s okay for the guy to get the girl and for the whole gang to get back together again. This is our destiny and only those who don’t want to be there will be mercifully excluded to sit by themselves in a dark corner.

Food for thought.

Michael

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