Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Infantilization of the West

A young man in college that I know says Hollywood did not perfect the art of making movies until the late '70s. He won't watch anything before the Blockbuster era. Forget Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, M, and a thousand other classics; give him Terminator.

I suspect most young people would agree with him, though they might not be so arrogant as to dismiss Hollywood's Golden Age in bold contempt. And not just young people: my Mother, who grew up watching the movies of the '30s and '40s now finds them too tedious to sit through.

It sickens me. I think just the opposite, that movies used to be good, but with Jaws, Excorcist, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc., Hollywood learned it's a fool's game to try to write intelligent movies for adults. They give the people what they want, and the people want comic books.

I recently read an anecdote from a writer who took his young son to see "Aristocats." It was a cartoon, so he thought his boy would want to see it. About five minutes into the movie he noticed his son had turned his back to the movie and was crying into the seat. When asked what was wrong, the boy said, "I don't want to watch a movie about grown ups!"

Apparently, "Aristocats" is about teenage cats who have teenage concerns such as falling in love. The boy wanted to watch cats his own age.

Now, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this child. I think he is representative of kids today. But I must say, things have changed, and not for the better. When I was that kid's age, my favorite movie was Lawrence of Arabia. I enjoyed James Bond, horror movies, war movies, westerns, Jason and the Argonauts, Doris Day movies, Elvis Presley movies; these cats are all adults. Seriously, I can't think of any movie about children that I loved. The closest thing that comes to mind is Sound of Music, Mary Poppins or Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang.  But those were more about adults who had children around, like Father Goose.

I also noticed recently that Barnes and Noble has a large section, in its dwindling space alotted to those relics called books, for Teen Books. A whole aisle of books written for teenagers. Maybe I haven't been paying attention, but when did this happen? When I was a teenager, I was reading, among others, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Asimov, Heinlein, Ellison, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Dick, Simak, Farmer and Tolkien. (I also read comics, which are for kids, but even they are about adults trying to save the world. Not many comics deal with the agony of acne.) Teenage literature? You must be kidding me. Are today's teens retarded?

Western culture is being infantilized. I don't think it's a conspiracy, and I'm dubious of the claims that the Frankfurt School of communists is behind it all. I think it's a manifestation of the death of reason in philosophy. I don't know the exact chain of cause and effect. I suspect that consumers get used to what producers give them: no one knew he couldn't live without an iPhone until Steve Jobs invented it. The producers of our culture, the intellectual elite, long ago lost all confidence in reason, and the virtues dependent on reason, such as independence, productivity, integrity, and so on. They give us the reality they can believe in -- sensationalist action without thought, without mature values.

Open any book written by George Eliot. I am always struck by how characters talk in 19th century literature; they speak in rounded, complex, grammatical sentences. They have the respect for other people to speak in considered propositions, as if communicating with reason were important.

Compare that dialogue to just about anything you get in post-modern literature. Today's writers think subtext -- the hidden, unstated meaning -- is more important than explicit communication. (An idol of mine, Henrik Ibsen, was a pioneer in subtext, and it can be breathtaking when done well.) So you get inarticulate louts saying uh a lot, because they're experiencing a midlife crisis or hung up by their oedipus complex, or whatever. After a century of naturalism and modernism, we have lost all confidence in rationality; it just doesn't seem true to fiction writers.

The ramifications of all this will reverberate profoundly throughout the 21st century. It won't be good.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Superbowl XLVI

The New York Giants beat the New England Patriots 21-17. The experts on sports talk radio assured us that the Pats did not deserve to be two-point favorites with the strength of the Giants' defense, and they were right.

The game was a textbook study in the importance of field position. Tom Brady of the Patriots had his back against his own end zone much of the game, and was sacked in the end zone once for a safety. The Giants on the other hand started only two drives on less than their own 20-yard line, and started one drive on the 48. Congratulations to the Giants' kicking, punting and special teams for keeping New England in bad field position.

It was an exciting game, only the second NFL game I watched all the way through this year. I find the NBA immensely more entertaining. I'm more interested in watching my Lakers play the revitalized 76ers tonight than I ever was about the Superbowl.

Oh, and then there was the rest of the spectacle. Madonna was good. I don't know why anyone would sit around listening to her bubblegum/disco music and her chipmunk voice, but her live show is kitchy, campy fun. She entered like Cleopatra on a float pulled by slaves, wearing some headpiece that looked like it was stolen from the Asgaard set of Thor. Come on, who couldn't love that? It's better than some geriatric rock band singing songs of young lust from 1969.

The commercials were okay, but they have become too belabored and self-conscious for me to pay more attention to them than the ranch dip on the table. Their purpose is to make everyone talk about the commercial, which seems like a postmodern distortion of the purpose of advertising.

Like everything in American pop culture, the Superbowl spectacle long ago ossified into self-parody. It is important because we want important values in our lives and we return to such rituals in some nostalgic quest to find thrills that once meant something. Perhaps to the young Superbowl XLVI had real meaning.

I'm overthinking this, huh? Yeah, I'm no fun at parties.