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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

SUCKLING THE TEAT OF "SUNNIER" SCRIPTS

Not too long ago, I read an article in Variety magazine about how “sunnier” scripts get the vote from the Academy.  Not that the granting of an Oscar actually is a reflection of the quality of the script or film, but how strange that such a “redeemed” American institution like the Academy does not understand its own prejudices and biases.  
            But I’m not writing to criticize the Academy or the politics behind it.  I am more interested in what this gesture reflects about the larger social perception of American film.  If films that receive such recognized awards like the Oscars are usually fare that makes an audience feel positive aspects like laughter or successful romantic escapades, then we are missing the inspection and recognition of other genres that explore the multiple other aspects of human emotion and experience. We are, in essence, extolling the idea that darker shades of reality really aren’t worth recognition and respect within cinema.
            “Big deal,” you might think. “We get enough violence and catastrophe in the daily news.” 
            Sure. We do, I agree.  But, the news is a different forum than film and has its own agenda driven by so many countless factors.  Film, on the other hand, at its best, explores all aspects of human nature, including all the crap that we don’t want to look at that journalism laps up like a hungry cat does with milk.
            Discussing the biases of most American film viewers with a friend, we both felt that American audiences don’t like to be uncomfortable.  As a culture on the whole, we try very hard to shield ourselves from the harsh realities of life that many other cultures generally have to deal with on a daily basis: hunger, government corruption and abuse of human rights, genocide, racial and religious violence, etc. etc.  We like our films to reassure us, protect us, make us relax, feel like life is going to be okay, that our children are going to turn out fine, and our marriages and relationships are going to be happy. 
            I wonder, however, what turning away from violence, sexual deviancy, racism, corruption, and all the other darker sides of ourselves does to us in the long run.  I firmly believe that by ignoring the “evil” aspects of our natures, we, in turn, only amplify these traits within our culture.  There is a lack of balance if the “good” American film scripts, by looking at the history of what the Academy prefers, are only works that reflect some Disney-fied perspective of the world. This continues to create the escapist approach to most of American entertainment, and pigeon-hole films into a rather stagnant arena where motive numero uno is to placate, calm, and soothe the audience.  It’s like feeding everyone one great big tit to suckle while tucking a blanky around our necks.  
            But the kids gotta grow up and be weaned from the breast or they just end up as adults who live in the basement of their parents’ houses. Chicks get kicked out of the nest or they’ll never be able to realize that they have wings and can fly. Okay, corny reference to birds and flight, but I think I’ve made my point.  Denial of what people do to each other and themselves at their worst does not prevent that which we fear from happening, it only increases its chances of occurring.

2 comments:

  1. Great post Nicole - just read your piece Script v. Story over at filmmaker mag and found it to be so true and so inspiring. But yeah, this post here, reminded me of this interview between Pitchfork and musician/producer Jarvis Cocker:

    Pitchfork: Despite saying music isn't useful, when you moderated the Observer Music Monthly roundtable, you said you were driven by the suspicion that music isn't as central to peoples' lives as it once was. Perhaps the act of listening to music is more passive now, and it's not the youth or pop culture force it once was. You kind of presented those ideas but let others comment on them: Were you coming at that agreeing with those thoughts?

    Jarvis Cocker: It was just a question that had been on my mind a lot at that particular time, because there seems to be a contradiction in the fact that there's more music around and more channels or downloading music or more channels on TV, and yet at the same time, in some ways it doesn't seem to be as vital as it once was. It seems to be just another entertainment option or lifestyle enhancement aid or something. And it's something that I've been thinking about. I just got given the curatorship of this Meltdown Festival in London, where I can kind of program all the music and art stuff at the South Bank for eight days, and I think it's something that I'll probably continue investigating a bit there.

    Because culture shouldn't be a pacifying thing. It shouldn't be something that you just passively accept. I think it should be something that, in some ways, is quite disruptive-- makes you think and question things, and actually sparks debate. And a lot of the time now, people use culture and music and films and stuff in the same ways you use them on kids. If kids are driving you mad and chucking stuff around the house, you put a Disney CD or DVD on, and then they shut up and watch it, and you get some peace. I've done it. I feel guilty about it sometimes, but I do it. And I think that kind of thing, in some ways, has moved into adult culture as well. In a way, if you're watching a film on DVD, the time passes, and-- do you know what I mean?-- there's a bit too much just letting things wash over you rather than actually engaging with what you're watching, or what you're listening to.

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  2. Hi John,

    Thanks for writing back. I enjoyed reading Jarvis' comments on media as pacification/life style enhancement. While I find that it's certainly fine to use media to "escape" or "tranquilize," (I listen to drone-y ambient to help me concentrate and relax), it's totally unacceptable that ALL media has to play into some positive, uplifting affirmation that we are cool and life is good. Too much of this really prevents us from understanding how messy life is and how to deal with its mess when it hits us (rich sheltered people are an example). That's why I think Hollywood films have largely failed to expose and explore the human spectrum, and as a result, have contributed to the pompous arrogance and ignorance typically attributed to Americans. But this comes down to...film as art or film as a way to make a buck. And we all know Hollywood cares more about a buck then art.

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