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.


Myrhaf said...

I notice there is a contradiction in this post. First I say Hollywood give people what they want, and the people want comic books. Later I say what the people want is formed by the producers. It's a chicken and egg question.

I do believe that producers creates culture, not consumers. The innovators and great artists form the models. These geniuses are the creators of our dreams. the second rate producers who follow are the ones who give the people what they want, which has been formed by previous giants.

Anonymous said...

I do believe that producers creates culture, not consumers. The innovators and great artists form the models. These geniuses are the creators of our dreams. the second rate producers who follow are the ones who give the people what they want, which has been formed by previous giants.

Kant and Hume inject skepticism into the universities in a way previously unimagined. Two centuries later, post-modern philosophy has dominated the colleges and has taken the culture. It permeates EVERYTHING in our world. There is no escaping it. And the purest, most consistent cultural expression of post-modernism is... ...the Left.

This is why I get angry when O'ists bang on the "imminent Christian theocracy" drum. Our culture is NOT dominated by conservatism. If it was, you would see that reflected in movies in TV. Christianity and Conservatism, as wrong as they are, believe in standards. The PoMo Left has waged a war against standards. Movies and TV, the essence of popular culture, are venues for Leftist propaganda and nothing else. Nothing is allowed to challenge Leftist ideology. Nothing. Some ESPN announcer when commenting on that Asian player on the Knicks used the expression "chinks in the armor" and he was fired. Do you understand the evil that shows in the Left?

And what are the fundamentals of Leftist ideology? Skepticism, subjectivism, moral relativism, Comtean altruism, Rawlsian egalitarianism, artistic naturalism (which is now pure nihilism), and throw in "hate-on-straight-male-whitey"ism to boot. That is what our culture pushes. And that is why I hate it.

We truly do live in a cultural dark age. But O'ists live in fear of Rick Santorum and Christian theocrats. Which is why sometimes I want to cry.

Maybe you and Jim May can knock some sense in them. If the two of you can put the pieces together yourselves.


Rob Sama said...

I remember renting Rear Window in college circa 1992 and having my roommate walk in and exclaim, "wow, dialogue..." he was being serious.

Re teen novels, google Amanda Knox. Thar be gold in them hills...

Rory said...

Heh, yes, that's a good way to put it. Subtext is important, but so much writing today... it's people walking into rooms and having ulterior motives but... none of it is ever actually *expressed* in any way. It's just assumed that there is a whole other world of secret intentions and motives going on, and, when it is convenient and they need some drama, they can just pull back the cover and say "A-ha, this is what was REALLY going on! What do you mean there was no sign of it in amongst the groaning and whining? Well it's SUBTLE, innit?!"

Also, I know someone else who fits your description. I wonder if we're thinking of the same person, if they're an O'ist. He thinks the colouring looks stupid and the film is of poor quality and the acting is wooden, etc etc. He often wheels out some claim that "they were just doing films as if they were plays". Which is true for some, particularly the ones that are forgotten today, but not for the classics that still get re-printed.

Anyway, don't worry over-much: all us young'uns ain't all like that. Some of us appreciate the same stuff as you old farts. ;)

Inspector said...

Yeah, I would have to say I fall somewhere in between you and your friend. I can see the problems with both eras of film, and have my favorites as well.

Very good point about that kid. I remember that, when I was a kid, I certainly noticed that a lot of media was being aimed at kids, starring kids. And I hated it. I thought it was stupid. And trite. I wanted adult, or at least adult-acting protagonists. I remember at least one time that I actually yelled at the TV, informing it of this fact.

Even as a kid, I had the feeling that much of the world around me had gone mad.

As I got older, this feeling intensified. As a freshman in high school, we read a short story called The Secret Lion; it was one of those cliche stories about the loss of childhood. I wrote a diatribe against it about how only foolish children valued childhood qua childhood, and the adults that did so were even dumber than said children.

I remember when we read Catcher In The Rye. My notes in the margins were universally sarcastic. I wrote the word "crap" across the cover. I thought the protagonist was a bum and a loser, whining about nothing. I liked Heinlein, Asimov, Twain, Tolkein, and their ilk. Their protagonists were people who got things done.

Inspector said...

I feel like I've said a lot of the above before. If so, I apologize for my repetitiveness. I'll chalk it up to my eclectic memory.

Myrhaf said...

What?! You repeated yourself? You are hereby banned from the internet!

Inspector said...

[Does the walking away thing from the end of The Incredible Hulk series, with the sad music playing and everything.]

Myrhaf said...


Inspector said...

I will see that and raise you this:


Myrhaf said...

Pardon me for going high-brow on you:


Inspector said...

That was awesome. The strength of Scifi shows is their Shakespearean actors. Victory is yours, sir.

Myrhaf said...

I'm content to call it a draw. Hard to beat the Klingons.

It's interesting that the Klingons say "You are no longer of this world" and the defiant Coriolanus says, "There is a world elsewhere."

Inspector said...

I listened to it a couple of times and I think Gowron was saying "You have no place in this war."

But that would have been totally great if he was saying that.

Man, now I want to go find some clips of Patrick Stewart, Peter Jurasik, Andreas Katsulas, and Wayne Pygram for classically trained scifi actor goodness.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid to say I only half agree with you.

While kids are being directly marketed to in very broad ways, rather than kids seeking out their own path through existing 'adult' media, to say that modern media is more infantalised than previously is a classic case of rose tinted spectacles.

Pandering to the lowest common childish denominator has always been a feature of western culture. Look at Chaucer, who chose to write about a man "farting as loud as a thunder-clap" in the Miller's Tale.

Shakespeare, often resorted to smutty references:

Do you think I meant country matters?

I think nothing, my lord.

That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.

The Victorian Punch magazine was very crude, publishing such things as a man with an erect penis riding a horse, on the front cover no less.

Culture has always had a tendency to lean towards childishness, it's just that today it has become a paradigm of its own and thus capitalised on.

The problem is adults revelling in their own introspection and accepting their infantalised selves. Men at 40 years old still clinging on to their Star Wars toys, 25-year-olds needing therapy because accepting full responsibility for their own lives becomes too great (and sudden) a burden.

Perhaps the opposite is worse. While my grandmother was married by 19 and had her first child at 21, this isn't how I would envision an ideal society to work. But today's men and women need to, as far as is possible, free themselves from cultural and capitalist* designations and get out and see the real world. Be less introspective and obsessed with the self and how people perceive them.

Just some thoughts.


*I'm not an anti-capitalist, but people need to realise how it puts them into categories. Categories which the individuals do not need to settle for.