The Netflix series is a huge hit. Is it the phantasmagoric wall coverings? The oddly wide eyes of lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy? Is it the scintillating action of chess? The acting is great as is the casting, the storyline and, of course, the sets, which are Hunter Thompson-level mental. The special effects are somewhat cartoonish, but we don’t mind.
Decency and Cheering for One Another
For us, it is something else: it is the decency of the characters. With a couple of minor exceptions, they are all good, solid people who are pulling for each other. Wow, who would have thought that decency would be a remarkable trait? Her opponents become her fans. Her mom has some demons she is battling, but still comes through to support her. The main character’s biggest obstacle is herself and her relationship with drugs and alcohol, which is eventually vanquished. Is it that this is all taking place in the ’50s and ’60s, and that’s just how people were then, pre-cable TV and pre-Facebook?
After decades of reality TV shows where the de rigueur line was “I’m not here to make friends,” it is a delight to not have to endure another backstabbing, spotlight-grabbing, morally adrift egomaniac on the screen. Enough of that already. It is true the main character is obsessed but, being wildly talented, we don’t begrudge her, we cheer her on. Orphan, young woman, drug addict, genius makes good? Who would not pull for her?
Optimism Is On the Rise
The feeling we are picking up in the air these days is one of optimism. A deliverable vaccine seems imminent, the political transition in the US is underway and the stock market just hit an all-time high. We still have to get through the winter, and it could be a very dark Covid season, but this is different than the spring — there is an end in sight.
In Generations by …, writes about the grand cycle theory of history. If one subscribes to this concept, we may have maxed out on our personal-autonomy wave, now entering a more collective look-out-for-your-neighbor wave. The air has changed; even cable news seems to have taken a chill pill, with a distinct lack of bickering panel discussion around the latest political outrage. That will return, as drama is the currency of cable news channels but, for now, we are in a moment of quiet exhaling.
It is in this mindset that The Queen’s Gambit fits perfectly into the zeitgeist of the moment. It is about believing in the better instincts of people to do the right thing. The idea that maybe if we pull for each other, rather than just exist in our self-centered bubbles, we may be better off. Exceptionalism, of the personal and national flavors, has a ceiling and is particularly vestigial in an age of global pandemics. I find myself excited for the future in a way I have not for some time.