Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Entertainment And The Culture, And Vice Versa"

Getting into global, uber, mega “Umbrella Topics”, I run into two problems.  Possibly more.  We’ll see.

First, the subject is too expansive for a single posting.  Second… yeah, I already see myself going past “two problems”. 

(Note To Myself:  Change “I run into two problems” to “I run into a number of problems.”  And when you do, delete this paragraph, because it won’t make any sense.)

(Second Note To Myself:  I did not change it.  So it still does.)

Second, writing about too big a subject opens the undertaking to massive generalization and mountains of contradictory information.  Three, I am reluctant (Read:  too lazy) to do research, rationalizing that engaging in a comprehensive research effort is endless, and doing incomplete research is as unhelpful as doing no research at all.  I therefore do no research, which may be unhelpful, but it’s faster.  

And four, I could easily be wrong about the entire issue.

What issue do I think I could easily be wrong about today?


I have long been interested in the relationship between entertainment and the culture.  Does the culture influence entertainment?  Or does entertainment shape the culture?  Or, if the causational arrow points in both directions – and more than likely it does – then which element gets the original ball rolling, and how exactly does the phenomenon play out?

My generating interest in this matter arose from my reaction to the “Top hat and tails” movies of the nine-thirties.  Although in this case, the relationship between entertainment and the culture appears to be counter-intuitive.

Think about it for a second.

It is the heart of the Depression.  You are sitting in a movie theater, having scraped up the necessary nickel for the ticket.  You have no job, your prospects are minimal and you can feel the cold theater floor through the gaping holes in the bottoms of your shoes. 

And what are you watching?

Elegant people dining at sumptuous banquets.  Drinking, laughing…

And dancing. 

My question is:

What exactly is that doing for you?  

“Distraction” is the traditional answer.  People went to the movies to forget.  (SEE:  Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo {1985}.)

Okay, I get that.  (Though I intrinsically don’t buy it.  Sometimes, when I do not have stuff to be angry about in my own life, I get angry for other people.  I don’t know why that is.  Maybe to remain sharp during the lulls in my personal annoyance.  Or maybe I’m just super-empathetic.  Whatever the reason, I get irritated at those Depression Era movies on behalf of those “others.”  Others who may have actually enjoyed them.)


We are leaving Noah Baumbach’s recently released While We’re Young, a movie that is observantly funny, but a long way from sunny.  (Ben Stiller rarely smiled.  And when he did smile, it was downright uncomfortable.)

I am noticing that the movie did not make me feel good, and I am wondering out loud what exactly we had collectively experienced.  To which the savvy and insightful Dr. M replied,

“Self-absorbed people watching self-absorbed people.”

After assimilating (with a certain discomfort) the “self-absorbed people” description – since I was one of the people who was watching – what occurred to me – and what inspired today’s writing – was that many of today’s mainstream movies – I’m not talking about the adolescent comedies or the comic book franchises – are not, as were many of the “A-List” movies of the Depression – about distraction.   They are instead about description, as in an insistent chronicling of the contemporary human condition. 

In my view at least, the contemporary human condition, as determinedly delineated in today’s movies is…

Congenitally depressed.  (Not unlike a Noah Baumbach protagonist.

We got terrorists.  The government’s snooping on us.  People keep kidnapping our children – if you are Liam Neeson’s children, on multiple occasions.  And the disparity between rich and poor is perhaps greater even than during the actual Great Depression itself.

And yet our movies choose not to distract us, but to remind us of all the things that moviegoers of the 30’s went to the movie theaters to forget.

Today’s Moviegoer:  “Really?  A movie about how unhappy I am?  I could have stayed home and looked in the mirror.”

What does this say about us?  Does it say today’s moviegoers are more honest, mature and demanding of “The Truth?” 

Or that we are nutritionally deprived of intermissional distraction? 

(Note:  Did you see how I changed sides here?  First, I decried distraction in movies; now, I want more of it.  And they say I’m not flexible.  Ha!)

There are ancillary issues at stake here as well.  Issues of hope and possibility.  And of the appropriate strategy required to ultimately prevail.  Is it an intellectualized understanding of the problems that confront us?  Or is it the spiritual energy to successfully take those problems on?

I shall leave it at that for the moment.

And await the tidal wave of response.


Pidge said...

Tidal ripple:
This explains why we hardly ever go to movies anymore!
There's a film out there now that may answer your needs. It was a huge hit in Toronto at TIFF and is, apparently, the top grossing movie in Argentina, from whence it comes...and they have a lot of people there!
It's shocking, hysterical, socially relevant and delightful, although violent at times...and I may have already mentioned it to you but don't remember (sigh).
"Wild Tales".
The acronym OMG was invented for this movie!

Erin said...

Ripple and tinkle. I'm one who wants to be distracted most of the time, not just in the movie house! And yet, in the last month or so, I've seen nothing but non-distracting flicks. Just last night I saw UNBROKEN, which I'd been looking forward to since Xmas. And yet, I was disappointed. In the preceding month, I've seen THE IMITATION GAME, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING and BIRDMAN. IMITATION and THEORY piqued my interest in the subjects...BIRD just disappointed - where many critics found genius camera work and lots of humor, I found one narcissist trying to outdo another with just a few chuckles and little else of interest. BIRDMAN might have been a distraction movie but it only distracted me from being interested. The others were biographies of great individuals, one of whom is still living. Looking over the list of DVDs I've seen in the last 6 weeks, I'd say there's an even mix of distraction and meaningful productions. And I'm guessing that's the routine throughout the year. I'm too lazy to check further. Looking ahead to new releases, 5 of the next 6 titles are meaty, non-distracting. Maybe I need to re-evaluate my interests!