The Hulu original miniseries, Little Fires Everywhere, is based on the 2017 best seller by Celeste Ng. The story is set in Shaker Heights, OH on Cleveland’s east side in 1997. Perhaps because I lived on the west side for almost a decade while working for the national offices of the United Church of Christ and often visited Shaker, the show resonated and became deeply personal. It was hard to watch, though, as I felt a growing melancholy overlay the action.

In a series of flashbacks (so, this is not a spoiler alert), the writers meticulously craft a story of inter- and intra-familial relationships that expose power and privilege, race and class, sexuality, adolescence and coming of age in our complicated world. It is also one of the few programs I have seen where, refreshingly, female characters are rich and complex whereas males tend to be one-dimensional props non-essential to the story’s core plot lines.

I watched the unfolding action with deepening dread that there would be no escape from the unrelated threads that became increasingly entwined. The very private dramas of the characters onscreen moved inexorably toward a seemingly unavoidable conflagration—symbolic and actual—at the series’ end.

As recent real-life events unfolded, I found this intricate interpersonal drama to be a microcosm of the broader reality we are all living through. The headlines are rife with unrelated vectors that seem to be tightening in a Gordian Knot around the President and, by extension, the rest of us.  Little fires are burning out of control everywhere as an election day reckoning approaches that seems increasingly unpredictable and out-of-control. While much has been written about President Trump viewing his tenure though the lens of reality television, it is heart-stopping to hold a mirror up to the program Little Fires Everywhere and see this TV drama as a metaphor for our contemporary world.

The embers are many, some smoldering, some shooting sparks into the air:

Credible witnesses say Donald Trump has called US service personnel who were captured, wounded or killed “suckers” and “losers.”

The oft-predicted V-shaped economic rebound is not materializing.

Almost every week there is a new incident where law enforcement personnel shoot a Black person while the President advocates for “law and order” and seems incapable of showing empathy or compassion, or understanding the legacy of systemic racism.

He admits to having downplayed the coronavirus as the number of dead passes 200,000; and he continues to hold rallies without social distancing and with few masks.

The President continues to forecast massive voter fraud, laying the groundwork for widespread suspicion of election results.

Sober thinkers ponder multiple scenarios whereby the President will not peacefully his office while rumors abound that federal officials will declare Martial Law if there is no immediate winner.

And now, fires rage in the West and the President can offer only simplistic solutions about forest management while refusing to acknowledge the role of climate change in the devastation.

And so, life has imitated art on the macro scale as we watch the earth ablaze. The conflagration is here. Little Fires Everywhere is an intimate predictor of a national catastrophe in the making. Fearing this made watching the miniseries almost unbearable.

Last week, I asked you to participate in an unofficial survey: whether or not you thought President Trump would actually participate in the Presidential debates slated to begin later this month. Virtually everyone—those who commented on my website and those who contacted me individually—said “yes.” Often, your reasons were more because of the President’s hubris, than of any astute political calculation. “He thinks he can devastate Joe Biden” and that confidence (arrogance?) would lead him to agree to appear.

I will swim against the tide, though, and predict that he will not debate. He will find a reason and be convinced that the debate has been rigged against him. He will then convince his base of this bias and respectfully decline because he (and his supporters) are not shown respect (besides, the controversy will make good television). I know this is clearly a minority view and we’ll know soon enough. I hope he does debate because I think Joe Biden will demonstrate superior honesty, character and knowledge of the issues, thereby further shrinking the number of the President’s die-hard supporters. Not willing to risk this, I think Trump will decline.

4 thoughts on “Little Fires Everywhere

  1. Thanks for this, Bob. I hadn’t even considered that he would “chicken” out. But you make a good case and could well be right. Thanks for “alerting” me.

  2. Thanks for this, Bob. I will find a copy of this book immediately. Part of my first husband’s family was in
    Shaker Heights (all are gone now) and my uneasiness there (sixty years ago) was probably real. Morbidity is not my thing, and I will try to get through it however I can. No bets on whether the Donald will debate or not. I am sure he is ill-prepared or not at all prepared for this debate, as he is and was not at all prepared to be president of this country.

    1. For what it’s worth the book is much richer than was the mini series despite its stellar cast. I’m not sure you will find much to be gained reading the book after your having viewed the big-budget TV production.

      I lived for a short time nearly 30 years ago on one of the Shaker Heights street prominently featured in the narrative. For that reason, and pretty much that reason alone, the story resonated with me. Sad to say that race, class and economic realities (re: disparities) played out then in much the same way they do now. We have a ways to go on those issues. Little fires everywhere continue unabated.

  3. Never been to Cleveland but came very close to relocating to Dayton in 1994. A good friend, banking on the hope of getting tenured as a prof at U.D., invited two friends to share a house. It didn’t work out as planned but I’ll always remember that stay. That’s all I know of Ohio but on your recommendation, I’ll check out Little Fires.. For much of this tough period, I’ve enjoyed an occasional episode of ‘Madame Secretary.’ It lets me escape just by watching responsible diplomats in Washington do the things that leaders do, make decisions that are difficult but fair, (always with the welfare of all citizens and weight of history in mind.) I know they’re actors but it comforts me to pretend..

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